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Articles on this Page
- 09/11/15--07:57: _Explaining ¡El Assi...
- 09/13/15--10:56: _Ranking the college...
- 09/15/15--07:46: _Ole Miss won't scor...
- 09/20/15--09:40: _Ole Miss and Notre ...
- 09/21/15--11:06: _Leonard Fournette d...
- 09/27/15--05:35: _TCU gets full credi...
- 10/04/15--08:09: _College football do...
- 10/11/15--06:04: _Charlie Strong beat...
- 10/13/15--09:09: _Waylp, bye: Steve S...
- 10/18/15--06:33: _LSU is scary and un...
- 10/25/15--11:54: _We can probably sto...
- 10/30/15--07:38: _What we talk about ...
- 11/01/15--09:22: _I'll rank Memphis a...
- 11/08/15--08:52: _The Clemson Tigers ...
- 11/08/15--10:10: _Someone, please bea...
- 11/15/15--05:32: _Alabama will never ...
- 11/18/15--08:46: _Death took Jonah Lo...
- 11/22/15--07:32: _Did Iowa play Charl...
- 11/26/15--06:40: _How to fight your r...
- 11/29/15--05:25: _We had to watch Ala...
- 09/20/15--09:40: Ole Miss and Notre Dame are the country's 2 best teams right now
- Baylor, relaxing on the bye week.
- Oregon, who looked shaky on defense against Georgia State (i.e., let GSU score more than once).
- Clemson, because beating Louisville might not mean anything.
- Florida State, which would have lost if Boston College had anything like an offense.
- Missouri, "winners" of a 9-6 game against UConn?
- Texas A&M, which knocked off Nevada while yawning theatrically.
- Oklahoma, which beat Tulsa but still hemorrhaged 603 yards of offense to the Golden Hurricane.
- Miami, which gets some praise for handing Nebraska its weekly soul-crushing loss at the wire.
- Alabama, because beating a Mark Richt team with expectations shouldn't count for much.
- Georgia, because hiring Brian Schottenheimer to run your offense was going to show up sooner or later.
- UCLA, still being carried into the end zone by Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage.
- Stanford, whose loss to Northwestern looks way less embarrassing.
- Notre Dame, narrowly missing thanks to injuries and one atrocious two-point conversion call at Clemson.
- Memphis and Temple, undefeated but doomed by mid-major scheduling.
- Ole Miss, blowing its credit limit immediately in a loss to Florida.
- 10/11/15--06:04: Charlie Strong beat Oklahoma. Your argument is invalid.
- 10/13/15--09:09: Waylp, bye: Steve Spurrier up and left
- 10/18/15--06:33: LSU is scary and unhinged, like the best Les Miles teams should be
- Stanford, which has a loss already but flattened UCLA 56-35 on Thursday.
- Alabama, beneficiaries of having all quarterbacks in the game playing hard for the Tide in a 41-23 victory over A&M.
- One loss Notre Dame, winners of a 41-31 tennis match with headless USC.
- Oklahoma, which beat K-State 55-0 and WHAT DID YOU DO TO POOR BILL SNYDER? WHAT, INDEED?
- The undefeated Memphis Tigers, whom, by transitive property, would smoke Alabama by three TDs easy.
- 10/25/15--11:54: We can probably stop worrying about Ohio State for now
- Alabama, winners of a mean, 19-14 rivalry game against Tennessee.
- Stanford, maybe the most punishing team to face in college football right now, flatteners of Washington in a 31-14 wrestling match.
- Florida State, which still has plenty to play for in spite of a last-second, 22-16 road loss to a two-win Georgia Tech on a blocked field goal.
- Oklahoma, casual dispatchers of Texas Tech in a 63-27 practice session.
- Utah, which despite a 42-24 loss to USC could still easily end up in the Pac-12 Championship.
- Notre Dame, whose one loss was to a consensus top-three team on the road and which somehow gets to play Temple and Pitt and have it mean something real? 2015 is WEIRD.
- Undefeated Memphis, winners of a 66-42 free-for-all against defense-free Tulsa.
- Temple, scrappy scrapeteers who scrapped through a scrappy 24-14 scrappening against East Carolina to remain scrappily undefeated.
- Toledo, standing at 7-0 after a brief scare with UMass in a 51-35 win.
- Houston, which with a 59-10 win over UCF, guaranteed another week of free beer in Orlando.
- 10/30/15--07:38: What we talk about when we talk about work and football
- a butt
- hot right now
- maybe cold
- that song's good
- when do I tax file
- there's another butt
- can they cut off your power when it's cold out is that even legal
- oh god where's my ATM card
- Alabama. Bye week hero. Gets as good of a shot as it needs when it faces LSU in Tuscaloosa this Saturday, provided it doesn't stumble over Auburn. That is not a joke. It's pretty easy to stumble over Auburn, as it's not moving a lot these days and just kind of blends in with the leaves and logs and other things just lying on the ground.
- Stanford. Still the best team in the Pac-12, even after barely surviving a 30-28 horror show in Pullman. Kevin Hogan can either play running back or quarterback, though he cannot play both at the same time, and you will never know which he will play on any given weekend. It also takes Stanford a few quarters to figure out, and thus the confusion against the Cougs.
- Notre Dame. Looked as tough as they've looked all season against a ridiculously durable Temple in a 24-20 win. This is an accurate sentence in 2015, and do not laugh at it, because Brian Kelly will find you and fight you.
- Utah? That question mark is intentional, because sure, the Utes are a one-loss Pac-12 team who could meet Stanford in the Pac-12 title game and ruin everything. A 27-12 win over lowly Oregon State isn't much of a data point, but theoretically they're still alive for a Playoff slot if they blow through the rest of the slate. Utah:not completely dead, yet.
- Florida State. Beat Syracuse 45-21 while missing its starting quarterback and tailback. Looking to completely upset the current natural order of the universe by beating Clemson next weekend on the road. If the Seminoles had not lost to a three-win Georgia Tech on a blocked field goal, they would very much control their fate, but: They lost to a three-win Georgia Tech on a blocked field goal. 2015 has some regrets, man.
- Oklahoma. Whooped up on Kansas 62-7. The only team that has beaten the Sooners this year got shut out 24-0 at Ames on Saturday. 2015 HAS SOME REGRETS, MAN.
- 11/08/15--08:52: The Clemson Tigers finally outrun Florida State
- 11/08/15--10:10: Someone, please beat Alabama
- Memphis, which suffered its first loss, 45-20, to Navy.
- TCU, losers to Oklahoma State.
- Michigan State, screwed royally by a late call in a 39-38 loss to Nebraska.
- LSU, which challenged Alabama to a wrestling match and lost badly in a letdown of an entire nation.
- Florida, which got into a baseball game with Vanderbilt and won 9-6.
- Temple, which turned into a basketball team in winning a 60-40 game over SMU.
- Utah, still sitting there with one loss after a 34-23 win over Washington.
- Navy, now at 7-1 after defeating Memphis.
- Toledo, which fell for its favorite running joke of losing to NIU by taking a 32-27 loss.
- 11/18/15--08:46: Death took Jonah Lomu, because no one on a rugby pitch could
- 11/26/15--06:40: How to fight your relatives at Thanksgiving dinner
The Hawkeyes and Cyclones are going to play a bad football game (4:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, FOX), sure, but the great part is you have nothing better to do at the time.
Q: What is ¡El Assico!?
A: Only the best rivalry game involving Iowa State and Iowa played all year long.
Q: Isn't there only one game involving Iowa State and Iowa?
A: Maybe, but that is beside the point. The point is that Week 2 is so sparsely populated with games of interest that ¡El Assico! easily stands out as one of the top five of the weekend. If you're going to watch ¡El Assico!, you'll need to know a few things about what you've signed yourself up for, and what you can expect. Which is pain.
Q: Why pain?
A: Because ¡El Assico! brings out the worst in both teams. They fumble. They punt. They punt some more. They play down to each other, or under each other, and sometimes rent heavy equipment and begin tunneling under the very surface of the earth to submarine even your lowest expectations. They do not score.
¡El Assico! hears your order for a steak, and returns to the table holding a charred hamburger patty. You ordered this steak medium-rare, btw. ¡El Assico! is so bad at this and refuses to buy a meat thermometer or apologize.
Q: For example? The pain, that is?
A: We can start with 2014. Iowa State won ¡El Assico!, 20-17, on a last-minute field goal. The kicker had already missed it in a previous attempt, but Kirk Ferentz called a timeout that allowed Iowa State an ultimately successful shot. This came after Iowa blew a halftime lead to an Iowa State team that would go 2-10.
Q: This is a pattern?
A: No, this is beyond that. This is tradition. In 2013, Iowa won, 27-21, but still had to put away a 3-9 team by recovering an onside kick and ending a comeback bid by a gimpy quarterback. In 2012's ¡El Assico! it was worse: Iowa State led 9-3 at halftime, Iowa State scored zero points after the half, and Iowa needed just ONE SINGLE MERCIFUL TOUCHDOWN to win. The Hawkeyes got nothing and lost, 9-6, in a game so ghastly it came full circle to "horrifying, but also strangely compelling."
In 2011, Iowa and Iowa State combined for an astonishing (for this cheap-ass, points-pinching rivalry) 85 points, something ¡El Assico! could only achieve by playing three overtimes of American football. In 2006-2010, Iowa State went 17 quarters without scoring a touchdown against Iowa. The 2007 ¡El Assico! featured an ISU team that opened the season by losing to Northern Iowa and Kent State, so of course it won 15-13 on a late field goal.
Q: Who dominates this rivalry?
A: Besides sudden onset mediocrity? Iowa, which leads ¡El Assico!, 40-22. That should be mentioned alongside another weird fact. The last three coaches at Iowa State have records below a .400 win percentage, and yet are all better than .500 against Iowa and Ferentz. Even if Iowa wins this year's ¡El Assico!, Ferentz -- whose record is 116-85 overall -- would be 8-9 in ¡El Assico!
The Cyclones are the neighborhood speed bump everyone else speeds through. Ferentz breaks an axle on it every other time he drives over it.
A: Rivalry? ¡El Assico! tried to warn everyone by posting the lowest possible score in football: 2-0 in a 1906 Iowa State victory. To be fair, Iowans appear to have made a good faith effort to kill ¡El Assico!, skipping the game entirely after 1920 and not remembering to play it until 1933. That revival lasted two games; after 1934, Iowa and Iowa State dropped it for four peaceful, ¡El Assico!-free decades.
Q: WHY DID THEY BRING IT BACK?
A: Because politicians are bad and have bad ideas. Under pressure from the governor and the state legislature, Iowa and Iowa State thawed out the prehistoric corpse of ¡El Assico! in 1977. To commemorate the event and motivate players, Iowa State's Earle Bruce had his team wear special jerseys with "BEAT IOWA" across the chest. The Cyclones lost a 12-10 horror show in which neither team scored in the second half.
Like we said: ¡El Assico! tried to warn you, Iowa, and to this day you refuse to listen.
Q: Is there an ¡El Assico! trophy?
A: There are several, including one you may find in a Des Moines pawn shop. The old Cy-Hawk Trophy depicted a football player refusing to look at a football, symbolizing most sane reactions to ¡El Assico! A new trophy sponsored by corn farmers emerged in 2011. It appeared to depict a family worshipping corn, was universally reviled, and earned this quote from legendary Iowa Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry:
'The farmer, family and corn is all wonderful, but I don't really get the relationship to a football game.'
Q: Why call it ¡El Assico!?
A: Because like El Clasico, this pits two passionate rivals in an annual contest.
Because it's kind of an assy game, even if one team is pretty good at the time. Because this game is built on a hellmouth of mediocrity and rarely fails to live down to its fiery foundations. Because it's fun to fill up your lungs, place both hands up in a praise position, and bellow, ¡EL ASSSICOOOOOOOOO! Because branding a game between two hordes of Cornfield Jimmies with a butt joke based on an immortal international sports rivalry's nickname makes the whole thing seem way more festive than it should be.
Because, despite all our ridicule and mockery, it's a dysfunctional classic in its own right.
Q: Is ¡El Assico! important this year?
A: Oh, not one bit. Neither Iowa nor Iowa State harbors any realistic goals beyond making a bowl, and for Iowa State, even that might be a pipe dream. This is not a conference game, nor a game that seems to have any connection to how either team performs for the rest of the season.
Someone will fumble at the worst imaginable time and the opponent will fail to capitalize. Getting to 30 points is going to be a struggle, and everyone watching -- including the people in the stands -- will be confused and angry. Watching ¡El Assico! will be like watching via webcam as novice boaters get lost in the Bermuda Triangle, and it's like that EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
Q: Should I watch it?
A: Oh hell yes.
Welcome to the second 2015 edition of The Top Whatever, in which Spencer Hall ranks every team he feels like ranking.
1. Ohio State
Complete arrogance is a luxury, but when you got it, flaunt it. Ohio State can phone in a sloppy home performance against Hawaii, rotate two misfiring QBs ineffectively, waltz into halftime with a measly 14-0 lead, and still stride across the finish line with a 38-0 win over the Rainbow Warriors. (In their full rainbow throwbacks, no less.) The Buckeyes are like an elite marathon runner with a lead so big they can stop for a roadside donut, even if you want to fret over the two-QB system and make something out of nothing.
They got a nice political boost when every team openly questioning their strength of schedule did foolish things like losing to Toledo at home. Enjoy that donut, Brutus. It ain't flaunting if you got it.
2. Michigan State
Since the Top Whatever ranks teams based on games actually played, the Spartans get the 2 spot via beating the Oregon Ducks, 31-28. Sure, they almost blew a lead and had to fend off Vernon Adams, but they did it, including four times on fourth down.
Note this is the second half of a home-and-home that produced two compelling games people enjoyed. Both teams emerge as stress-tested products. Meanwhile, someone else lost to Toledo at home or struggled with East Carolina or barely put away an FCS team at home in overtime. NOT NAMING NAMES, MIND YOU, BUT JUST NOTICE THAT.
P.S. Michigan State's lines are good enough to keep them up here as long as they'd like to stay.
3. Notre Dame
Virginia now plays the role of Designated Losing Team Of Quality for the entire universe this year. They played a game second to UCLA in Week 1, lost to Notre Dame on a bombed TD this week, and will probably surrender a game-winning punt return to Boise in two weeks in Charlottesville. (Or worse, since the rule with UVA is "it could always be worse and will be 10 minutes from now.")
Losing Malik Zaire is horrible and no, no, stop saying anything Ohio State did in 2014 has any bearing. It doesn't, especially when you start comparing any backup to Cardale Jones. Jones is an incomparable real-life Jaeger and has two small pilots who control his every action. Both of them are really good at Twitter.
Eh, playing MTSU in a workmanlike 37-10 win at home counts for something, especially when other SEC West teams were doing things like losing to Toledo or letting Jacksonville State take them to overtime. Ooh! Lane Kiffin appears to have learned who Derrick Henry is and to let him carry the ball in the red zone. This is slow progress, but this is the state of Alabama.
Honestly, does Alabama's slate make you feel any better about judging their talent level after this weekend? Does anyone's, now that you're two weeks into the season and realizing no one is really that great at football yet? Good, let's stop shitting on people's schedules for the moment, unless you lost to Toledo or almost lost to Jacksonville State. Which SOME TEAMS did.
Just repeat that last bit about testing yourself early and seeing what happens. Then disregard that advice for Tennessee, which beat Oklahoma for the better part of three quarters, then sat idly and watched Baker Mayfield figure out OU's new offense in front of a horrified Neyland Stadium. That may have had almost as much to do with playcalling down the stretch (Is that when you remembered Lloyd Carr's old offensive coordinator is running Tennessee's attack? It should have been.) but there's a kind of credit due to teams that play miserably for that long and still pull out a road win.
When everyone else looks as bad as they did in Week 2, Stoops Brother Chicken Salad will have to serve as a main course for dinner.
A good loss loss to Michigan State, if possible, should keep them in consideration for "teams that played another really good team and barely lost on the road." Adams should get better, the skill players are still unreal, and you might excuse an inability to stop the run if you credit Michigan State with having very large and mean people along the line. Oregon doesn't have quite as mean and large people, which is no insult to the large and mean Ducks.
7. Ole Miss
Haven't really played anyone, which is against the rules of the Top Whatever, but Chad Kelly at QB might have radically changed what this team is capable of. Still have the most piecemeal approach to running the ball ever -- Robert Nkemdiche ran for a TD against Fresno State in a 73-21 win this weekend -- but that might be a formality. If they put up half as many points as they're averaging against decent competition, they stand a chance with anyone in the nation.*
*Unlike some teams who can't score more than 12 against a MAC team at home or put away Jacksonville State at home before overtime.
If Notre Dame gets the vaunted UVA bounce, UCLA barely clings to the Top Whatever, even if going on the road to maul UNLV 37-3 barely qualifies as a road game.
Baylor and TCU, both out after playing patsies Lamar and Stephen F. Austin, respectively. (Lamar gave Baylor fits for a half, which: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .)
Texas A&M, though it did beat the MAC team it scheduled UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE in defeating Ball State, 56-23.
FSU, even though Dalvin Cook had a billion yards rushing against USF, because USF's offense makes me want to weep openly in public like a beloved world leader has died tragically.
Georgia, because Vandy is on the schedule and that is no one's fault but history's.
USC played Idaho, which is not really like playing a game at all.
Arkansas, because YOU LOST TO TOLEDO AT HOME.
And four other somewhat measured reactions to the first two weeks of college football.
1. Ole Miss will score fewer than 70 points in a game at some point soon.
This is disappointing to hear, but we are sorry. There are many reasons for this.
First of all, even the 2013 Seminoles did not do this, averaging just 51.6 points a game on their way to an FBS scoring record. Second of all, Ole Miss scored 70-plus points against UT Martin and Fresno State, two schools incapable of keeping up with half of the Rebels' roster in a straight line once, much less for an entire game. Third: scoring 70 points twice or more is something only four teams have done since 2000.
Scoring massive piles of points, even in blowouts against wretchedly overmatched competition, is still a good sign. It means Chad Kelly can operate the offense on a dry run against papier-mache defenders. Regional competitors Arkansas and Auburn failed this test; Ole Miss will play those teams later this year.
This also puts Ole Miss in some charmed company. Those other teams to score 70 multiple times in a season: 2004 Texas Tech, 2010 Wisconsin, and 2013 Baylor. Baylor did it four times, which even under these terms seems excessive, but finished 11-2. Texas Tech went 8-4 thanks in part to giving up 30-plus points five times, while Wisconsin finished 11-2. Those Badgers had the honor of putting up 82 points on Indiana and getting so far into the depth chart that the fifth-string quarterback was taking snaps. Remember: it's not running up the score if they let you walk leisurely into the end zone.
So Ole Miss would have to be historically anomalous to finish worse than a zero-defensed 2004 Texas Tech, especially with Robert Nkemdiche lurking on the defensive line. (And sometimes the backfield? You're so weird sometimes, Ole Miss.) It's not perfect company, but it's definitely not bad company.
2. Ohio State's schedule makes the Buckeyes a lock to-
STOOOOOOPPPPPPPPP. There are no locks, because that's not how human error works. Listen, all you need for a college football team to implode are a few key factors arriving at the same doorway at the same time.
It's not like the Buckeyes can be inherently superior the minute they step onto a field. No, this is a team sport, and that means all another team needs is a.) luck and b.) the exact low ebb of Ohio State's attentions and powers.
A team doesn't have to be good to beat Ohio State. It would really help, but it's not like that piece of toffee you broke your tooth on had a plan to be great that day. No, it just hit the right spot at the right time by being there and letting misaligned elements do the work.
Did I just describe Maryland as a piece of cheap candy that can get caught in your teeth? Do you have a better, clearer description of Maryland right now after it lost to Bowling Green?* Maybe you do, but what Ohio State might do to botch an otherwise turbulence-free forecast to the Michigan and Michigan State games at the end of the schedule involves a huge mistake in which the other partner is at best a reluctant accomplice.
To lose, the Buckeyes have to scuttle their own ship, something that only happens every single year in college football.
*Marshmallows? Fluffernutters? The Randy Edsall of candies is a mystery.
3. It's too early to panic.
WRONG. There are so many reasons to panic. Everett Golson has looked positively mediocre at quarterback for Florida State. Notre Dame just lost starting quarterback Malik Zaire to a leg injury, and even though backup DeShone Kizer threw a game-winning TD in relief, you should still be concerned about your backup being called to full-time duty after two games.
LSU barely squeaked past Mississippi State, Oregon outright lost to Michigan State, and Alabama still hasn't totally decided on a quarterback. Neither has UGA, and what it's showed doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the Bulldogs being anything but a thump-and-punt team. (Which might be good enough to win the SEC East, if that means anything.) UCLA and Notre Dame both lean on beating Virginia for credibility, or in other words, writing, "Paid off a loan to our dude Steve once," under their credit history.
Clemson hasn't played anyone of note, and neither has Ole Miss. Ohio State is rotating two quarterbacks. Auburn almost lost to Jacksonville State, and former dark horse title contender Arkansas looks like Stanford with lower academic standards. (To be fair: it's easier for Stanford to get into Stanford than score a touchdown in the red zone.) Even in a win, Michigan State's Connor Cook made some ghastly mistakes against Oregon.
You want us to depend on Texas A&M or UCLA, something we've all done before with disastrous results? Or Baylor or TCU? No, it's much easier to just accept that no one is demonstrably great. You'll have to live with that and the lingering sense of panic.
You'll laugh either way in eight weeks, when a.) your team has become pretty good or b.) the wheels have fallen off, and you're drinking heavily to cope. (Again.)
4. The hardest thing to be is a UVA fan right now.
The evidence is as follows (and interviewed here by our Virginia blog):
Two losses, with the last one being a straight dick-kicking last-minute TD by Notre Dame's backup QB. I dunno. I'd understand anything at this point, right down to canceling the football program and doubling down on equestrian sports. Which would be a very UVA thing, so go ahead.
In a world of pain, I'm not going to stop you from grabbing whatever you call a painkiller.
5. Oklahoma back?
Eh, they didn't go anywhere. The 8-5 2014 Sooners lost three games by single digits, both because their offense lost the ability to pass and their defense decided to lapse at the most inopportune of times.
Fix those up, and you get a 10- or 11-win team that probably still finishes with a whimper in the bowl, but still ends up looking like any other Bob Stoops team. They're capable of winning 10 games consistently, missing on certain talent they used to get on the regular, and generally doing very well against the SEC nonetheless.
There's something to be said for looking as derelict as Oklahoma looked for three quarters against Tennessee, yet saving the game. There's also something to be said about struggling against an SEC East team, ever, in the year 2015, and it's: "That's not real good."
Welcome to The Top Whatever, in which Spencer Hall ranks however many teams he feels like ranking.
1. Ole Miss
The model hasn't changed. There are tall receivers, a quarterback playing on the verge of self-destruction at any second, a running game that makes cameos once or twice a quarter, and a defense built on blistering speed.
The differences so far: Chad Kelly appears to be a much better quarterback than Bo Wallace was, the run game's foibles don't matter when you're throwing to speedy trees capable of outpacing Alabama's secondary, and the defense seems to be a step faster than last year. (And before its post-Auburn malaise, it was faaaaaaaast last year.)
This kind of thing is happening for Ole Miss, too.
You can say that's a random event we shouldn't credit supernatural spirits for, but to paraphrase Kierkegaard: just because something mystical happened in the scope of our experience does not mean it didn't happen.
The Rebels, for one night, had the master controls of the universe in their hands. Maybe they'll use them to get a proper run game and a Waffle House built closer to Oxford.
2. Notre Dame
Honestly, the Fighting Irish never looked close to challenged by Georgia Tech in a 30-22 game only made less lopsided by a noble late flurry. They looked bored, especially on defense, where they might as well have been calling out Paul Johnson's plays before they happened. Oh look, a counter option; wow, another dive play we stop for no gain. WR Will Fuller has the best push-off move in college football, and that's not even a knock on him. It's a work of art.
3. Michigan State
In a marketplace of underperforming name brands, good ol' generic Michigan State continues to offer the performance you need at half the price. A 35-21 victory over an annoying Air Force doesn't look that impressive, but remember Michigan State is not about impressing anyone, ever.
Mark Dantonio is the plumber who'll come to your house at 3 in the morning in his pajamas in the dead of winter to fix a busted pipe. He won't look pretty, and he may not even speak to you, but dammit your pipe got fixed, didn't it?
One thing Michigan State might want to fix, though: its run game. Sparty didn't even get to 80 yards and averaged just 1.8 per carry. BUT WHATEVER: STRONG GENERIC AMERICAN FOOTBALLS FOR THE PEOPLE BE HERE.
4. Ohio State
#Goutwatch is so real for the Buckeyes right now. A 20-13 win over Northern Illinois leaves Ohio State undefeated and very much on track to win out, but highlights all the ailments a rich diet of easy games can let loose on the unsuspecting aristocrat.
There's having two stellar quarterbacks, neither of whom can seem to get in a rhythm, thus resulting in them playing like un-stellar quarterbacks. There's the sudden lack of play by the receivers and the struggle to get everyone the ball at once. There's the general sense that winning games by seven or 10 or 20 isn't enough anymore and that every victory means less in the face of mounting expectations.
You know, the usual symptoms of Championship Gout, a disease every successful collection of nobles must face.
He beat Auburn 45-21 with 228 yards on the ground and three TDs on just 19 carries. LSU came with him. Shut up, Leonard Fournette is a team. You try to tell him he isn't. I dare you to try and do it.
It might not mean much to beat South Carolina this year, but beating a nemesis, 52-20, in a division game still gets you some credit at the company store.
NOTE: A quarterback should not go 24 for 25 pass attempts ever against an FBS defense in any context, but if he does, it probably means the other team is just a bucket of ass. The last people to do something like this were West Virginia's Geno Smith and Tennessee's Tee Martin, who hit 24 straight against the 1998 Gamecocks. That team went 1-10, and this South Carolina team is apparently more than capable of that kind of low. Steve Spurrier might want to book some fall golf dates for 2016 soon. Like, a lot of them.
Jury's still out on what struggling to pull away from SMU means, since SMU might be approaching something like "good" status. Trevone Boykin's back to mind-boggling, though, and that's a positive sign: 21 of 30, 454 yards, and five passing TDs on the day. (He also ran for one. Boykin just throws in extras for his customers all the time.)
I CAN DO THIS IF I WANT TO EVEN IF IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE AND IT DOESN'T. GO HOOSIERS, WHO BEAT WESTERN KENTUCKY 38-35 AND ARE UNDEFEATED. WE WON'T DO THIS AGAIN BUT IT FEELS SO GOOD.
The LSU star put 228 yards and endless humiliation on Auburn on Saturday. What he can do against better defenses is the part to get excited about.
1. Let me clarify a few things before we start. An athlete is not his or her body in motion. Leonard Fournette is a really nice young man, generally regarded as pretty quiet and relaxed around his teammates and friends. People who covered his recruiting mentioned nothing of a daywalking werewolf throwing strangers into trees and car windshields.
He is a nice person and a vicious, dazzling athlete, and the two should never be confused for the same thing. A ton of bad sportswriting lives and breathes off the confusion that athletes reveal themselves on the field, as if sports are the ultimate test of character. They're not, and never were, and this is why people get so confused when an athlete turns out to be a mediocre person and a stellar athlete, or vice versa.
2. In real time, it's easy to confuse the varying factors of a situation. This is especially true in football, the game of chess in which all the pieces are designed to blow up when moved.
For instance, Fournette -- personally pleasant Fournette -- had a brilliant stat line in LSU's 45-21 trouncing of Auburn. Fournette carried the ball 19 times for 228 yards and three TDs. More significantly, he did terrible things to defenders unlucky enough to catch up with him.
3. The mythbusting should start now, if only to make Fournette look even better once we're done. Hopefully this won't be the most impressive tape Fournette has this year, because that would mean every defense in the SEC plays as ineptly as Auburn. And while turning the SEC West into the Big 12 South would be entertaining, it would do Fournette no favors. A great thing needs to be challenged, and Fournette's running is a great thing.
This is bad, bad, bad defense. LSU is running power here. The guard (No. 64) pulls, runs to the other side, picks up his blocker, carries him to the Grand Canyon and throws him deep into the cold embrace of the earth.
He's only in the frame for a second, but William Clapp flattens his man, opens a run lane and frees Fournette from the backfield without pesky interference from defenders. Power works in a lot of mean ways. Putting 300 pounds of beef on the hoof is the meanest one.*
*Clapp is a redshirt freshman. He'll be throwing people into canyons for a while.
4. Power also works by taking someone like a fullback and throwing him into space at the first thing he sees off the edge. To his surprise, No. 44 John David Moore flies around Clapp expecting contact and finds ... nothing.
Moore reroutes and aims for Auburn DB Tray Matthews, already coming off one block by a wide receiver. Matthews gets thrown around twice and finishes with a 235-pound fullback flying over his back. Why anyone ever wants to play defense is a legitimate philosophical question deserving of academic inquiry, but Matthews is definitely trying.
5. It takes a whole lab to make a monster, and Fournette has one. You don't average 8.6 yards per carry before contact without an offensive line sweeping clear turf for you. Want to know why Fournette ran through so many arm tackles?
The first reason is Fournette has balletic balance and an underrated ability to make subtle shifts. It's weird to call a running back this nasty a delicate thing, but his first move (TEN YARDS DOWN THE FIELD UNTOUCHED, JESUS, AUBURN) is usually to break slightly to one side or another.
The other reason defenders are arm-tackling him: a lot of those arms belong to defensive backs, because their friends in the linebacking corps and defensive line are flattened beneath LSU's linemen.
6. Now that we've stripped about 8.6 yards of possible mythmaking, let's add some back on.
Cornerback Jonathan Jones, No. 3, has done well by throwing his blocker away. He makes a valiant effort to tackle Fournette from behind.
That's him, flying sideways and off the screen, his arms reaching out like a child's toward its mother on the first day of daycare.
No coach would say this, but I think this is what everyone under 200 pounds should do in proximity to Fournette. Make a good effort. Flail your arms a little. Fly in one direction or another so long as that direction is anywhere but in Fournette's way. If you can't make a tackle, make some theater for the people in the cheap seats. We know what you're doing, and we appreciate it.
No. 24 Blake Countess tries. He really does. He even looks like he's trying to get low on Fournette, which you want to do in order to avoid the worst possible outcome: a running back trucking your ass in front of a national television audience, a packed stadium and your family. Fournette either closes the gap intentionally or is simply moving so fast he steps through Countess like he's an Under Armour-clad irrelevance. Either way, at the point of attack, Fournette cocks a shoulder and drives through him.
Leonard Fournette weighs 230. Blake Countess weighs 180. This is what happens when you mess with physics and physics messes back.
Grabbing the shoe is endearing. It's a sign of professionalism. Countess was not going to give up on the play, even after it was over, even after he'd gone sideways against gravity. I kind of kept waiting for him to slide sideways for a while, maybe down the ramp, out through the tunnel, past the Parade Ground and across the street to Walk-On's in full uniform, where he'd slide up to a barstool, stop in a seated position, and order a beer and some chicken fingers. He'd do that, but not before the noble attempt to tackle Fournette by his heel, something as admirable as having to stop a landslide with only a crossing guard's stop sign.
7. Fournette will see better defenses, and that's when his best games should come. There are hints of what he can do in traffic: moving piles, sitting passively while defenders literally roll over his back, finishing with undistilled vengeance. What happens when Fournette is in space is thrilling, but what you have to do just to get to him should be what worries opponents most. LSU's brute-simple, rugby-grade scrum is the thing Arkansas wanted to be, but failed at achieving.
It's a thing defenses don't see a lot of anymore, even in the SEC West, where most teams have spread the field in hopes of shooting holes in Nick Saban's defenses. It's the world's worst obstacle course just to get to Fournette, and when you get there -- if you get there -- you still have to tackle that. It might seem strange to think of Fournette not as a start to a play, but as a finish, but the run game in LSU's brand of football does that by design.
The most physically gifted person on the field will be the last one you see, the final boss after somehow plowing through the entirety of Dark Souls, the Hillary Step after making it all the way up Everest.
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SB Nation presents:Ole Miss and Leonard Fournette highlight Week 3 action
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of as many teams as he feels like ranking at the moment.
Won in Lubbock. This could read "won in Lubbock in strange circumstances," but that would be redundant, since you already know about random appearances by wildlife, tortillas flying through the air, and the rarest bird of all, a Texas Tech defense getting a three-and-out when it needs it. TCU overcame all this and finished with a game-winning, tipped-ball TD that created the largest documented collection of surrender cobras ever caught on camera.
John Weast, Getty
55-52 over Texas Tech in Lubbock on a fluky last-minute TD is a giant, sprawling, take-the-over, five-hour, Big 12-style, manic mess of a game. It's also a win on the road in a stadium built on a rift in space-time, where Trevone Boykin played like 2014 Unstoppable Football Drone Trevone Boykin (34 of 54, 527 total yards, four TDs and no INTs), so count it.
56-30 over Arizona, and it wasn't even that close in reality. The Bruins flattened the Wildcats before they even had a chance to get far past the first quarter, had 42 points at the half and only allowed 16 in a second half composed of nothing but the garbage-est garbage time.
A well-rounded offense with two good running backs, a rapidly maturing QB in Josh Rosen and a disciplined defense makes UCLA very hard not to like, even if you suspect they'll blow up without warning sometime in November. (Why? This is the Pac-12 football, a constellation of beautiful stars of incredible radiance that often blow up without the faintest shred of a warning.) For the moment, they're pretty close to flawless, though.
3. Ohio State
Beat Western Michigan, 38-12, in a game that really can't claim to have too many answers about what Ohio State really is in the year 2015, but did feature Cardale Jones throwing competently to multiple receivers for at least half a game. There was also the usual defense, and Ezekiel Elliott quietly soaking up yardage, and stop it, just stop it, because we're trying to find something like certainty here.
On a day when almost everyone looked mediocre, the Buckeyes handily threw a MAC team aside. In Week 4, that will be enough to say the Buckeyes might be figuring some things out, good things, like how to play offensive line consistently again, which was really the thing that fueled their title run last year.
4. Michigan State
Grim, workmanlike, 30-10 win over Central Michigan. This looks a lot like Ohio State's claim to excellence, until you realize the Spartans were at 17-10 in the third quarter and that they lost tackle Jack Conklin to what appears to be serious injury.
Then again, we kind of trust Michigan State more when they're passing for fewer than 150 yards and grinding out featureless wins no one notices. (Mark Dantonio doesn't trust football with big numbers and hard math, something the deplorable student in everyone can appreciate.)
5. Notre Dame
Struggled with UMass for a very exciting 15 minutes or so, then everyone remembered who was wearing which jerseys.
The return to script meant a 62-27 blowout of a team so bad it's tempting to not even give Notre Dame credit for playing a game this week. Then again, if I did that, I'd have to give Mississippi State a bye, too, and you can't just go making things up in what's already a totally made-up poll. They get to stay, Minutemen on the menu or no, and enjoy the bonus of a real rarity in Notre Dame's 2015: a game without losing a starter to season-ending injury.
6. Ole Miss
Falling this week on the basis of a 27-16 struggle at home with Vanderbilt. On one hand, some letdown was inevitable after the big win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. On the other hand, it's Vanderbilt, and you were tied in the third quarter.
The Rebels' best goal line running back is still a 300-pound defensive end, and their goal line QB is a 300-pound defensive end who happens to play quarterback, and this team still looks like an NCAA 14 dynasty mode squad brought to life. Seriously, Ole Miss: what the hell kind of freaky odds-and-ends beast squad are y'all?
Who the hell knows if they'll be here next week (or after their game with Cal in two weeks), but: 62-20 over Oregon.
The Utes took everything. They took every damn thing in the house, Oregon. They ate the food out of the fridge. They poured the spices down the sink. They took the hot water heater and sold it for scrap. They took the old cable box you were never going to return to Comcast, a dead iPod they can't even use and everything in the safe. You don't even have a safe. They brought their own, filled it with money, and stole it just to make you feel bad about losing something you didn't even know you had.
Believe me when I say this: the score was 62-20, and if not for the 3 ounces of mercy in Kyle Whittingham's soul, it could have been much, much worse.
Moves down after a tough 34-24 tussle with Syracuse, but still a definite shot to win the national title he may or may not have to share with LSU. It's up to Leonard, really.
Baylor, which hung 70 on Rice but also played Rice.
Georgia, plush and feasting on HBCU Southern University.
Texas A&M, since we're not even really sure what beating Arkansas means at all this year.
Northwestern, both because we have no idea how to justify ranking the Wildcats and also because they played Ball State.
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of what he feels should be ranked at this exact moment.
1. The social media coordinator at Clemson
Since college football has given us no clear No. 1, the social media coordinator at Clemson will have to do.
HOW. HOW DID YOU DO THIS. If, in the dark ages of the Tommy Bowden era, you told a sane person that Clemson would be filming its coach twirling a towel around his head like Petey Pablo and doing a dance called The Whip, all to a song called "Jumpman" by Drake and Future? That sane person would have quietly backed away before you started talking about chemtrails and the Phantom Time Theory, that's what they would have done.
But we're here, in 2015, a better and stranger place than the past. If we have no clear No. 1, we at least have Dabo Swinney somehow becoming the top brand of the season. Oh, in pregame they had Dabo high-fiving fans to the beat from the Drake diss track "Back to Back." I swear it kinda works, for reasons unknown to man, science, or the heart.
I dunno, they beat a team I had in the Top Whatever last week -- Notre Dame, by the score of 24-22 -- and did it despite reaaaalllllly looking capable of blowing a late lead. That's giving credit to a.) the Irish, who came back hard despite their injury situation and a driving tropical storm, and b.) Clemson, who overcame Clemson and some ridiculously tight-assed play calling down the stretch. I feel pretty confident calling them a good football team even with the gradual change in philosophy on offense.
The Gators start as many as three freshmen on the offensive line. They had something like 20 people on the roster with the flu, including starting quarterback Will Grier. Their coach, prior to this game, was best known for screaming at a player on camera following a penalty. Their resume thus far involved playing East Carolina too closely at home, a skull-numbingly narrow victory over Kentucky, and pulling a win from the clenched butt cheeks of Butch Jones' Volunteers.
They then turned around and beat the hide off Ole Miss, 38-10, in all three phases of the game. This is because 2015 will give you nothing easy, and also because Florida's defense and defensive line in particular turned out to be a very bad matchup for the Rebels, and because with just a bit of offense this might turn out to be a fairly good team.
I have no idea what they're doing here, but the Gators -- the young, inexperienced, still-rehabbing Gators -- are here after beating the No. 3 team in the AP. That might change after playing Mizzou next week, sure, but for the moment, they're somehow here.
P.S. Florida's defensive line is in your kitchen and wants some eggs. Make them before Jon Bullard gets cranky and starts eating the cabinets.
Maybe in Week 5, you just want a stone cold killer to bank on. Just one soulless apex predator who won't get upset by Florida (THANKS OLE MISS), pounded at home by Alabama (HI GEORGIA), or struggle on the road against a team nearly beaten by FCS Southern Illinois (GO BUCKS). Just one amoral natural disaster of a team, leveling all in its wake with equanimity.
Someone who, even when faced with a struggling Texas team, will not only throw the Longhorns into a well, but fill it up with biting ants and garbage before sealing it up with concrete. TCU beat the Longhorns 50-7 and it could have been so, so much worse. TCU is the psychopathic beast you know, and familiarity will buy you a lot of affection here. (Even if you happen to be a well-oiled, heartless death computer like the Horned Frogs.)
Enjoyed a 44-24 victory over West Virginia, a team thought to have a very good defense before Baker Mayfield threw for 320 yards and three TDs against it.
Why this team sometimes misplaces running back Samaje Perine in key situations is baffling, but consider this: what does it say that sometimes the Sooners completely forget one of their best players exists, and yet still win? That they're pretty good? And that Bob Stoops probably loses his keys pretty frequently, then blames it on his brother until he finds them? Yes, all of this.
The Utes did not play football this week, but the team they obliterated to stay undefeated and earn national credibility bounced back nicely at Colorado, which is kind of what Colorado does for struggling teams in the Pac-12. Utah plays Cal next week, ensuring the Pac-12 will be down to just one team without a loss.
The Bears ran for 368 yards on Texas Tech in a 63-35 victory, but sure, they're the mythical spread offense of a curmudgeonly football commentator's dreams.
TCU and Baylor do not play until Nov. 27, and in the meantime will both be favored in every game they play, so if you hate the idea of continually ranking two Big 12 teams in the top 10 (or Whatever) every week, ration your hate. It'll have to last two months, and that's before we all start talking about where Oklahoma fits into this equation.
Shut out Minnesota 27-0? What are you doing here Northwestern? Who's working the door, dammit don't leave it open like that, that's how you get flies and undefeated Pat Fitzgeralds in your walls.
That Stanford win and a stingy defense are enough to buoy them well past reason here, especially when you look at their body of work versus, say, LSU's, a team relying on wins over Auburn and the SEC West's designated crash test dummy, Mississippi State. That'll change, but that's where we're at.
Sleepwalked through most of a 44-22 win over Eastern Michigan. As is usual with Les Miles teams, the quarterback played badly, Leonard Fournette gained more than 200 yards and no one seemed to exert themselves too much until they had to. LSU's either the smartest or laziest team, and it's so hard to tell whether it even matters with the way this offensive line is playing.
10. Michigan State
An Iowa-type, in that your confidence in its quality is inversely proportional to the margin of victory. You hear about a narrow 24-21 victory over Purdue and think, "Oh, they must not be good," but that's deeply misunderstanding the soul of Michigan Stateness. Mark Dantonio will get this entire family to Disney World on just $17 and years of saved-up Marriott Rewards points. He'll do it, even if he has to eke out wins over MAC teams and Purdue. You'll even suspect that he likes it better that way.
11. Texas A&M
Quietly amassing a resume of quality by working its way through the SEC West. Related: Mississippi State's tragic role seems to be to provide quality wins for better teams without looking too bad. It's hard, but it's a living.
Beat a ranked Wisconsin 10-6, which should be the score in this rivalry every year by law. C.J. Beathard threw for 77 yards on 9-of-21 passing, the defense slowed the game to a crawl and the run game ate clock. Iowa's back, man. They're going for it on fourth down a bit more often, but otherwise this is prime Ferentz-ball. You might not want to watch it, but you also do not want to face it.
13. Ohio State
#Goutwatch and the struggle out of championship hangover are so real right now. But the Buckeyes are still undefeated, even if they're playing Indiana to the final whistle of a 34-27 road win, and even if their fan base is so poisoned by success they're resorting to online cannibalism.
The good news: Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line can run a counter consistently, which is progress when the offense seems to miss the large brain of former offensive coordinator and current Houston coach Tom Herman. (Houston's undefeated, btw.)
Beat Wazzu 34-28, a measly score qualifying as a defensive struggle for both. Cal might be the Pac-12's crazy man on the bus with a knife, but please: address it as "the Pac-12's undefeated crazy man on the bus with a knife."
15. Oklahoma State
No really, they're undefeated after a 34-32 win over Kansas State. That counts for something even if Big 12 refs were awarding free first downs for no reason whatsoever.
16. Florida State
Avoided an upset at the hands of Wake Forest in a 24-16 win. My, isn't that a confidence-inspiring statement. Florida State and Ohio State feel like the same team right now, except that FSU has the excuse and promise of youth.
Just missing and/or thrown clear of the Top Whatever through vicious and decisive loss
Welcome to The Top Whatever, in which Spencer Hall ranks the teams he feels like ranking at this moment, and not a team more.
1.Charlie Strong. No. Don't fight this. Look at him.
Charlie Strong was dead and gone. Texas fans were measuring new drapes in the football offices for Chip Kelly or Nick Saban or whatever other pipe dream replacement they wanted. Bevo didn't even make the game, though a life-threatening illness was both a legitimate excuse and a painfully obvious metaphor for Longhorn football.
AND YET THE HAT.
Dead as a doornail, fretted over even by the charitable critics of College GameDay and given zero chance of survival by anyone daring to forecast the Red River Rivalry, Strong and Texas did what Texans do in hard times: they got legal and filed a counter-suit. The plaintiff accused Oklahoma of a negligent inability to defend the run game (verified with 313 rushing yards) and an inability to protect offensive assets (as demonstrated by six sacks on Baker Mayfield and only 17 points for OU on the scoreboard).
The field back at Texas is named for a trial attorney, and he beamed at the verdict. The jury rules in favor of Texas, and commends Counselor Strong on an astonishing result. He's No. 1 this week, and if you feel like arguing with him, be warned. He has a golden cowboy hat, and you do not.
2. TCU. Everyone should be familiar with the Bill Snyder Game. Every high-powered Big 12 team must play it. The pace slackens. Your offense spends a lot of time on the bench while Kansas State's quarterback stares at the play clock before snapping the ball with one second left. Your defense, for reasons you will never understand, has its hands full with a shockingly talented converted long snapper Snyder found at a Wyoming community college, or wherever.
So if TCU runs a paltry 53 plays and only has the ball for 20 minutes and still pulls out a 52-45 win in a hostile Manhattan, give the Frogs all credit. They endured their attempted Bill Snydering for 2015 and will have the handwritten thank you card to prove it as soon as Snyder gets it in the mail on Monday. Hope you don't mind purple ink and very neat handwriting.
3. LSU. The Tigers hosted South Carolina for a 45-24 drubbing, but were heavy on the hospitality. For instance, they courteously limited Leonard Fournette to 158 yards rushing and one polite TD. That was nice, as was letting Brandon Harris off the leash just enough to pass for an unheard of 228 yards, but then reining him in before things got too out of hand. (They also scraped together a home game for South Carolina at the last second, sure, but the football was courteous.)
The Tigers still have their massive pool of unknown quantities, but at this point, they remain appealing unknowns. That's enough to keep them up here for now.
4. Clemson. Won 43-24 over Georgia Tech, a preseason favorite for the ACC championship! (The Jackets are 0-3 in the conference.) Limited the Yellow Jackets to just 71 rushing yards, a real accomplishment given the Yellow Jackets' run-first offense! (The loss against Clemson marks GT's fourth straight game under 260 yards of offense, which coincides with a four-game losing streak.) Overall, a productive victory over a team sure to break out of its slump and finish strong. (Georgia Tech is fried, and a win over GT can only mean so much, but you're still clearly an excellent team, Clemson.)
5. Utah. Going to the wire with previously undefeated Cal in a 30-24 victory does represent an accomplishment. Cal plays crazy-making football. For example, Jared Goff threw five interceptions in this game and yet still had the ball on the Utah 21-yard line with time for a shot at a winning score. Unlike everyone else stuck in Cal's vortex of madness, however, Utah did not flake out, miss a crucial extra point, fumble out of nowhere or make the kind of pressured mistakes the madcap Bears can force you into.
They ran the ball with Devontae Booker. They got enough production out of QB Travis Wilson. Most impressively, the Utes defense knocked around Goff enough to force a normally unflappable player into mistakes. This was one.
Utah has beaten Oregon by an embarrassing margin, gave Michigan its only defeat and made Goff do this. If forcing the nation's best quarterback into unsuccessful figure skating lifts isn't the stuff of potential champions, nothing is.
6. Florida. Did have a letdown game in a listless, punt-heavy, 21-3 win over Mizzou. A letdown game for Florida now consists of farting around on a road trip and winning by 18 points, a vast improvement over the Will Muschamp-era definition (i.e., losing to Missouri by 28 points at home despite only allowing 119 yards of offense, the football equivalent of being let down into a well filled with centipedes).
7. Michigan State. Struggling with Rutgers in a 31-24 win and involved in a game in which one team spiked the ball on fourth down? Ah, Sparty, that's the kind of deeply unglamorous, marginal victory that makes me trust you even more. The Spartans look awful and still beat those upstarts at Michigan on a last minute safety next week, thus forcing a nation aghast with its options to rank them highly.
8. Baylor. Pulled up when up 52-7 at the half and only finished with 66 points while allowing Kansas to score a touchdown. That's seven points, Baylor! We're worried about your lack of killer instinct. Score 50 on West Virginia next week to signal that you're not sick or something.
9. Ohio State. Still undefeated after a 49-28 win over the Terps, and still this year's 2014 Florida State. Oh, they might look like they're losing to Maryland or some MAC team or Indiana or another MAC team or Virginia Tech, but a heroic fourth quarter and one or two dazzling Ezekiel Elliott runs later and nope, you just wasted another hour waiting to see Ohio State lose. On the positive side, the Buckeyes might have delivered the death blow to Randy Edsall's career at Maryland, so don't say they didn't do anything nice.
10. Florida State. Handed rival Miami a 29-24 loss and have a Dalvin Cook. FSU will slog through its underwhelming ACC schedule, and in defense of this, one can point to Cook and say: but they have that. Cook ran for 269 total yards with a sore hamstring. The atrocities he could commit if fully healthy boggle the mind. Florida State is undefeated and has a Dalvin Cook, something you should look into getting for yourself if possible. Beating Florida State without one of your own seems like a very difficult thing to do.
11. Oklahoma State. Only plays nail-biting thrillers, but ends them well. With a 33-26 overtime win at West Virginia, the Cowboys are undefeated. This is a fact that seems to confuse even Cowboys fans, but there's a reason psychiatrists like to say things like "feelings are not facts" a lot. OSU's pretty good and can clearly win close games. (Even if they have to drive to the brink of disaster and peer over the edge to get properly motivated.)
12. Iowa? Undefeated? Iowa? We'll double check this, but the numbers appear to be solid. Iowa is undefeated and ran poor Jordan Canzeri 43 times for 256 yards in a 29-20 win over Illinois, so the possibilities of this happy run coming to an end when he suffers a month-long full body cramp are very real. So is this possibility: with this schedule, Iowa could pretty easily go undefeated and get into the Big Ten Championship.
Cal, which somehow had a chance to win against Utah despite turning the ball over five times.
Alabama, which has a loss.
Michigan, because the Wolverines have a loss but are flattening everything in their wake.
Undefeated Temple and Houston and their peers, via schedule.
Oklahoma, via losing to Texas.
Ole Miss, via a loss to Florida.
Most coaches get fired. Some retire. The man who won at three schools where he wasn't supposed to win is just gone.
If Steve Spurrier had a speech for his team Monday night, you didn’t want to hear it.
When he left Florida in 2002 for Washington's NFL team, his press conference was short, unsentimental and unpolished. When he left that job two years later, he left millions of dollars on the table and did it quickly. In his own words, his "give-a-damn was busted." When that happened, in Spurrier’s eyes, it was time to go, and immediately.
He quit. You could ask him to explain it, but it wouldn’t go well. Spurrier is not Lou Holtz or Bobby Bowden. He really isn’t Bowden, who even in losses would ride a West Virginia twang over the thorniest questions. Spurrier's best locker room speeches were accidental, like one prior to a 1996 drubbing of the Tennessee Volunteers in Neyland Stadium. He was just launching into it when an assistant bumped the light switch and sent the locker room into darkness. The players thought it was a motivational tactic, went nuts and stormed out to the field.
Anyone who hired him for a corporate speaking junket knew they were getting someone who would reheat John Wooden, talk about winners and losers in a meandering way and then drink a few beers before disappearing into the night. Spurrier is fine one-on-one, and a great chatter with reporters, but podium oratory was never one of his strengths.
This is a way of getting to the point that Spurrier is stepping down, and that the last person you want to ask about it is Spurrier. For all the one-liners and whiplash halftime interviews and sometimes bracing candor, the Head Ball Coach has been notoriously bad at explaining himself or his motivations. That is, unless he had an enemy to work against, in which case his motivations became crystalline.
At Duke, his first head job, that oppositional other was Mack Brown at North Carolina. Spurrier called the eventual Texas CEO "Mr. Football" while taking pictures of the scoreboard after the Blue Devils humiliated the Tar Heels at Chapel Hill. While he didn’t have to say it in so many words, the implications about someone else said as much about Spurrier as anything. Brown represented the glad-handing booster with a football hobby, the politician who loitered by the whiteboard waiting for a real coach to show up and teach him how to score a few touchdowns on game day.
At Florida, it would be Georgia head coach Ray Goff, a coach he almost single-handedly humiliated out of the profession and into the fried chicken business. After him, it was Phil Fulmer at Tennessee or Bowden at Florida State, depending on the year and how confident he felt about his team.
Later, in the NFL, he’d cite the ruined careers of lesser coaches as justification for his methods.
"Some coaches who spent a lot of hours had a lot of success," he said. "Some got fired quickly. I know Brad Scott had a cot at South Carolina."
Spurrier took that South Carolina job and won, a transaction that implies two parties: the loser, who did losing things and lost all the time, and the other guy, the winner.
That guy, it was strongly implied in any of these relationships, was always Spurrier.
In a goodbye speech, there’s no opponent, so why would he have anything to do with it in the first place? He is bad at pitching, bad at explaining, but pretty good at the doing of the thing. When athletic director Jeremy Foley asked him to submit a resume for the Florida job in 2004, Spurrier reportedly told him to go look in the trophy case. He was insulted to point out something with words, like some endlessly lobbying huckster of a coach. That was beneath him, unclean, something only losers did. There were trophies, and a scoreboard. Read them for yourself.
Things always seemed obvious to him. If he quit and walked out of the South Carolina building, his only explanation would be pointing to the scoreboard. That decided things. The rest was just speechifying.
Another coach Spurrier liked to tweak later in his career was Nick Saban, someone Spurrier would point out had taken the Alabama and LSU jobs.
"If he wants to be the greatest coach or one of the greatest coaches in college football, to me, he has to go somewhere besides Alabama and win, because they've always won there at Alabama."
You could take favorable jobs as a bad coach and look okay, or take great jobs as a good coach and look orders of magnitude better than you might actually be.
Spurrier, in contrast, took the Duke, Florida and South Carolina jobs, jobs that were garbage scows before he arrived. He won at all three, in biblical fashion — the Old Testament Bible, where locusts ate your crops, lightning blew up your houses, and your village was flattened by a tidal wave before your rescue boat was swallowed by a whale. He drew the ire of illiterate nanny-take pissmerchants like New York columnist Mike Lupica, who accused Spurrier of running up the score, whatever that means.
The Old Testament thing ran a little deeper than mere cruelty. Spurrier had and still has an intense sense of fairness, at least by the judgment of his own rules. When Nebraska decimated Florida 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, Spurrier was visibly enraged when the Cornhuskers spent most of the fourth quarter running the clock out rather than scoring as many points as they could. He strained his relationship with Alabama coach Mike DuBose by asking him, point-blank in a letter, if Alabama was committing recruiting violations. Spurrier allegedly disliked Bill Clinton for one reason: he cheated at golf, and if he’d cheat at golf, he’d cheat at anything.
That ledger of grievances and judgments ran long. Sometimes the turnaround on vengeance could be short, like when Mississippi State beat Florida in 2000 in Starkville and a Florida student manager was knocked out on the sidelines by a cowbell thrown from the stands. The following year, Spurrier put in Brock Berlin in relief in a blowout, then called a deep pass that went for a touchdown, admitting in the postgame that he’d scored a TD for the trainer in a 52-0 blowout. One reporter mentioned Mississippi State having the best pass defense in the nation going into the game. "Won't be coming out, though" was Spurrier's response.
Sometimes that long arc of account-settling ran very long. When Bill Curry came to Georgia Tech in 1980, he didn't retain Spurrier or the rest of Pepper Rodgers' staff. Spurrier retaliated by going 6-0 as an assistant and head coach against Curry in the ACC and 7-0 in the SEC, including a 73-7 game against Curry's Kentucky I watched in person in 1994. If it sounds like three and a half hours of pure savagery, there is a very good reason for that: it was. Spurrier football at its most complete felt like uneven, sustained retaliation for an endless list of real and sometimes imagined offenses.
He retires as a singular presence in every sense. While he single-handedly changed the way the SEC plays football by winning with a pass-first offense, he has no great coaching tree or organizational legacy. While other playcallers bit his concepts, there is no philosophical heir, no real system like the air raid or the West Coast offense. There are concepts, and a loose playbook, sure, but most of Spurrier's offense walks in the door when he arrives, and leaves with him when he goes. He called plays largely by feel, and always standing on the sidelines.
He also stands alone institutionally. He just walked out of the South Carolina job, a job he clearly regarded as a job and not a family, or a kind of personal mafia he could in retirement work for connections or a partnership in a car dealership. Imagine Swinney doing the same thing; you can’t, because Dabo sees Clemson as a place he’s a part of, not a place that is a part of him. Part of their rivalry came from this stark difference, sure, but that’s part of the story. Swinney will coach his last season to the final whistle and take a final lap around the stadium. Spurrier just skipped town like a drifter headed for the train tracks.
Failure and rejection forged a lot of that singularity. His father was an exacting minister who would remind him, even in his best efforts on the basketball court or football field, of the mistake he’d made in the game, the bad pass, the shot he’d missed. Despite him growing up just down the road, Tennessee barely recruited him at quarterback because they ran the Wing-T. He went to Florida, where his success at an underachieving program was undermined (at least in his mind) by losing to Georgia in his Heisman season of 1966.
He entered the NFL and eventually became the starting quarterback for the worst team to ever play the game, the winless 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Players had beers at his house after games, mostly to avoid going out in public.) After washing out of the league, he caught on as a quarterbacks coach at Florida and Georgia Tech, then as offensive coordinator at Duke. He became the youngest pro coach in history at 37 in the USFL, but went 1-1 against Lee Corso.
He had a losing record against Bowden, lost one of the most lopsided games in national championship history and never won an SEC title at South Carolina. Spurrier would be the first to remind you of all this, too.
Spurrier will also remind you that he won a lot of games, games those teams would have never dreamt of winning without his assistance. He did not belong to you, or the school or the fans. He did not belong to Dan Snyder, even after the owner tried to pay him for another season of toil in the NFL. You could buy someone like Jim Haslett, another lesser Spurrier enjoyed needling during his brief tenure in the NFL. At any level, you could only rent Spurrier, and only then with terms he could change at any second. He was the first coach to make $2 million dollars a year in college, and maybe one of the first to openly admit his careerism. He was, to some degree, a pioneering forefather of the modern bastard coaching model.
To wit: Spurrier just ditched the team full of players who committed to play an entire season for the man. Then again, most of the people making that accusation would also have to admit that most players at South Carolina have barely had contact with Spurrier, who’s happily let his assistants run the program for the past few years. Spurrier’s public indecision on retirement was a chewtoy for both offseason column-raking and opponents recruiting against South Carolina. When Spurrier put a number on exactly how many years he had left, there was an uproar. When he changed course and said he’d stay for longer, he came off as unstable.
Leaving now probably doesn’t change much. It's shocking, but it inadvertently lets South Carolina get a jump on hiring his replacement and answers the longer-term questions about recruiting sooner, rather than later. That replacement will walk into a much, much better situation than Spurrier walked into, and with better facilities and higher expectations than Spurrier had when taking over a program Lou Holtz left in the recycling bin.*
*Let’s be honest: the garbage pile, because Holtz probably believes recycling is a Communist plot.
Leaving now is awkward and unsentimental and selfish, but again: this is Steve Spurrier. You didn’t pay him to cuddle, though he was affectionate enough. You paid him to not only win, but to pick rivals out of a crowd, fixate on them and beat them until their teeth rattled. You paid him. It was a job, one where he showed up to thank the band each year and do all the delightfully antiquated things college football coaches do, sure.
But in the end it was a job, and one that had devoured peers and mentors of his in ghastly ways. Bowden spent the better part of five years fighting the inevitable at Florida State, capitulating to a humiliating coach-in-waiting arrangement. Fulmer was flat fired at Tennessee, while a coach Spurrier admired, Joe Paterno, fell into abominable scandal in his old age at Penn State. Even his original Most Despised Rival, Mack Brown, could not politick or manage his way out of a grisly demise at Texas. (And if that’s what it came to in the end, the politically limited Spurrier was done before he even started that fight.)
He’d leave the job to someone else and go do something else. That’s an unemotional way to look at it, but it's part of a system. There are rules, and you should follow them. The defense never backs up if you don’t throw it deep. The game’s based on points, so you better be able to score more than the other team. If you make money, you pay the coach, and if you make some more, you pay the players. If someone cusses at you, well, you cuss back, provided you don’t use the f-word, 'cause that’s a rule Spurrier had, too. No f-words, but sure: drop a dammit or a hell or even a shit, if you had to in the heat of a fight.
Don’t work too much. No really, don’t work too much, or at least not all year long, if you can help it. He’d grind during the season and in recruiting, sure, but he’d also show up at Daytona shirtless and drinking a banquet beer. There might be something to that: Spurrier outlasted one generation of coaches, and then outlasted most of another while happily admitting to extensive time spent on the back nine. It helps to have a singular genius for your job, sure, but with all that dark, sleepless misery, Saban still only managed a head-to-head record of 1-3 against the Head Ball Coach. There’s probably a lot of make-busy waste work done in the name of looking like you’re working hard in coaching. You might, for longevity’s sake, want to avoid it.
Oh, and if there’s time on the clock, you do your best to score, because that’s the whole point of the game. If there’s no time left on the clock, well, you have a beer, go home and figure out what do next. Maybe cry a little or celebrate, if you're the kind of person who needs to do that.
Spurrier walking into the room - "alright, let's get this over with."— Chris Dearing (@CDearing82) October 13, 2015
Photos by Scott Halleran/Getty Images, Matthew Stockman/Allsport, Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of exactly the teams he feels like ranking.
1. LSU. OK, so it needed a specially designed fake field goal to beat Florida, 35-28, in Death Valley. But with LSU you accept that the trap doors, secret passages and two-way mirrors are just part of the whole haunted house-type package.
There really isn't a lot to dislike, save for the occasionally deplorable special teams play, which is kind of an SEC West thing now? Presumably because you're all too busy worrying about recruiting the next 260-pound linebacker who can run a 4.4 to bother much with kickers over there?
Leonard Fournette had to grind for his 180 yards on 31 carries but still got his, the defense held Florida to a desperately earned but paltry 55 rushing yards and, most importantly, Brandon Harris passed the ball like an actual quarterback when he had to.
There are fewer questions after this weekend with LSU than there were going in, and the answers are largely positive. Oh, and the Tigers still test positive for lunacy, at least the kind of lunacy you want in a good Les Miles team. We'll take them, especially since they feel like a team that hasn't really shown everything it can do yet.
1a. This man.
Memphis beat Ole Miss, 37-24, and this man got to show the entire nation his sweatshirt. AS WAS HIS DIVINE RIGHT AMID SUCH GLORIOUS VICTORY.
2. Utah. An ugly-ass 34-18 win over Arizona State that was a struggle until the dam broke late in the fourth. (As in really late, since Utah scored 20 after trailing 18-14 in the third.) Devontae Booker was corralled for much of the game until a few key late runs, Travis Wilson took some huge losses in the run game and the Utes actually did this live on national television:
They did that, and looked as ugly as they've looked all season long, and yet still somehow won.
The Utes are peers with Michigan State: ugly even at their most functional, completely devoid of any sense of style points and dependent on a charismatic but sometimes inconsistent quarterback. And like Michigan State, I can't tell you not to respect the hell out of their unevenness and inability to surrender in dire game situations.
3. Clemson. Got some Boston College in their bloodstream in a 34-17 win. That's gonna require some fearsome antibiotics, because once Boston College's offense gets on you, it has the potential to take weeks to clear up, but champions keep fighting no matter the obstacle.
In the Tigers' case, it will be their schedule, which is on the downswing in terms of difficulty and features only Florida State as a "win that we can point to and get appreciative nodding from committee members." Good news: FSU might be really good again!
Bad news: FSU might be really good again, as in good enough to beat Clemson and end Playoff hopes completely.
4. Baylor. A 62-38 victory over West Virginia in which QB Seth Russell ran for 160 yards wait wait wait SETH RUSSELL CAN RUN FOR 160 YARDS? WHY? WHAT PERSON ON YOUR OFFENSE IS NOT A WARLOCK OR ESCAPEE FROM A GOVERNMENT EXPERIMENT GONE WRONG BUT YET ALSO SO VERY RIGHT?
TO BE HONEST I DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW GOOD YOU ARE YET, BAYLOR, BUT YOU MAKE STUFF BLOW UP REAL GOOD. AND I THINK THAT'S THE PLAN, TO JUST BE SO SHINY AND EXPLOSIVE AND TO LET 400-POUND MEN CATCH THE BALL AND RUN WITH IT AND HOPE IT OVERRIDES ANY DEFENSIVE CONCERNS, AND YOU KNOW WHAT, BAYLOR? IT'S WORKING. FOR NOW IT IS TOTALLY WORKING.
P.S. AFTER TODAY, COREY COLEMAN HAS 16 RECEIVING TDS, WHICH IS MORE BY HIMSELF THAN 111 ENTIRE NON-BAYLOR FBS TEAMS HAVE.
5. Michigan State. TRIGGER WARNING, MICHIGAN FANS: Beat Michigan on a muffed punt, 27-23. The Spartans looked streaky and inconsistent and needed the biggest last-minute dickpunch of a play to beat their most hated rival, so of course we're all feeling more and more confident than ever about putting Michigan State up here, because the scrappier and more desperate they look, the more we like them.
It's not pretty. In fact, they have become the thing that went bad in the fridge that I want the whole country to taste. No really, try it; it's terrible and unforgettable and undefeated. I can't explain what Michigan State is, but a team capable of winning under such desperate circumstances is totally the Malort of football teams. You might not like the experience, but you have to admit that it wins every time you taste it.
6. TCU. Shook off a flirtation with an upset, composed itself, and then hit the afterburners in a 45-21 win over Iowa State in Ames.
A public service announcement: We're all getting a little cavalier about the kind of numbers Trevone Boykin amasses each week. Look, I can type 436 yards on 27-for-32 passing for 4 TDs and 13 rushes for 74 yards and one TD on the ground all I like, but if you're numb to his excellence at this point, you couldn't be blamed. He does this every week, and when you do something incredible every week, you risk spoiling everyone with your otherworldliness. That's why Dr. Manhattan left Earth. One day they're calling you a god, and a couple of weeks later when they're used to you, they're bored when you cure cancer for the 50th time.
7. Ohio State. Defeated Penn State 38-10 and made their two-quarterback system sort of work, something the Buckeyes can continue to do as long as Ezekiel Elliott stays healthy. We're getting into the region of the Top Whatever where one hamstring separates a team from also-ran status, but that really is how important Elliott is to Ohio State's continued viability as a Playoff contender. If he's running well behind a coordinated and forceful Buckeye offensive line, they're in. If not, not.
8. Florida State. Beat Louisville 41-21. Speaking of seasons resting on a single hamstring: to say that Dalvin Cook is the sole reason to consider the Seminoles a contender is not to insult the team as a whole. It's just that he's that freakishly good and capable of altering the course of a game by himself, and that even with a bad hamstring he puts up 163 yards and two TDs and makes things so much easier and more efficient for Everett Golson. Hamstrings are notoriously finicky and slow to heal.
Then again, if Jimbo Fisher can magically regrow a full inch or two on his hairline in an offseason, then miracles like Cook holding together for the rest of 2015 are possible, too.
9. Iowa. Beat Northwestern 40-10. No, I don't know how this is happening, either, but Iowa winning a national title by beating Baylor 8-4 is both the sweetest football dream we've had yet and the funniest possible ratings disaster for ESPN.
10. Oklahoma State. The undefeated Cowboys wisely decided not to play football this week. They also play Kansas next, so it might be said that they won't be playing what you and I would call football next week, either.
More college football for you
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of specifically the teams he feels like ranking right now. If you'd like to look at some polls, those are here.
1. Clemson. Since the Top Whatever moves based on who you've played in 2015, Clemson rises to No. 1 based on a historically embarrassing 58-0 blowout of Miami.
You could argue that Miami might no longer be a valid test of a team's overall talent, since they have three losses now and appear to be in full-blown program death spiral mode. This is a valid argument, but credit Clemson for throwing a theatrical amount of gasoline on the trash fire that is the Hurricane program. For example: Clemson had 33 first downs, while Miami had six. For the whole game!
There are blowouts, and then there's handing someone the worst loss in program history with conviction and a smile.
2. LSU. 48-20 over Western Kentucky doesn't offer much of a data point, even if WKU might be a better program right now than, say, I dunno, the Miami Hurricanes, just to select a team at random. The Brandon Harris rollout seems to be going according to plan, as the coaching staff allowed him to throw a whopping 20 passes for a productive 286 yards, and Leonard Fournette did not get hurt.
LSU plays at Alabama in two weeks in what might be the ugliest, headbuttingest game between two major college football powers this year, barring an LSU-Stanford bowl game. We must never let a Stanford-LSU postseason game occur, unless you want to be the one who fills in the six-foot-deep ruts left on the field afterward.
3. Baylor. "Pesky but doomed" should go on Iowa State's tombstone for this year, or really for any year under Paul Rhoads. The Bears won 45-27 in soggy conditions despite Iowa State going for onsides, mobbing clock and somehow preventing Baylor for scoring for 35 whole minutes.
They also may have lost their starting quarterback Seth Russell to a broken bone in his neck, but that's pending a visit to a specialist this week. That doesn't seem like something you should even think about playing through, but Art Briles saw "Baylor football" as an opportunity and not a death sentence for his career, so no one can really tell him what is a good idea and what isn't at this point.
Oh, and Corey Coleman caught two more TDs to give him a total of 18. Did you know that's more than any team has by itself? That's totally true.*
*No, it's not. There are 13 teams out of 127 who have more TDs than Coleman has by himself. Guhhhh, it's like he's not even trying anymore.
4. Ohio State. Dominated on both sides in a 49-7 erasure of Rutgers. Is it cheap math to say, "Cool, Urban Meyer's got a QB who can get 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing and a running back and shut up, they'll be fine now?"
It is cheap math, but now that the quarterback tussle is over and the defense is holding up nicely, Ohio State seems to be fine for the stretch run into the Big Ten Championship as long as it doesn't do something insanely stupid like losing to Illinois. THE UNSETTLING QUIET OF MEMORIAL STADIUM: SO DESOLATE YOUR OWN THOUGHTS BECOME A 12TH MAN FOR THE OPPONENT.
5. Michigan State. The most deceptive final score of maybe the year comes from Sparty's 52-26 defeat of Team Chaos, aka the Indiana Hoosiers. On third-and-7 with 12:57 left in the fourth quarter, the score was Michigan State 28, Indiana 26. In the remaining 12 minutes and change, after a Michigan State field goal, this happened.
There is an old gag in which a plane lands and comically disintegrates the second the pilot pats it affectionately. This is that gag when you pat the plane six feet above the runway. Not that margin of victory matters with Michigan State, ever.
6. TCU. Didn't play football, and Josh Doctson had six catches for 83 yards and a TD somehow.
7. Oklahoma State. Still undefeated after beating a hapless Kansas team, 58-10, albeit under terrible circumstances in Stillwater.
8. Iowa. Didn't play football this week, which is the best way to stay undefeated IMHO.
More college football for you
THE NEXT TIER OF TEAMS JUST WAITING TO FINISH THE SEASON AND MAYBE WIN A CONFERENCE TITLE DESPITE HAVING A LOSS AND THEN SHINING UP RESUMES FOR THE COMMITTEE
THE GLORIOUS MID-MAJORS WHO WILL PROBABLY BE SCREWED OUT OF A PLAYOFF SPOT DESPITE BEING REALLY FUN AND GREAT AND EVERYTHING
1. This is the thing where we talk about work during sports. For some reason we, as a nation, like to do this during sports, the thing we watch when we're not working presumably to forget about working.
In baseball, you talk about the right way to play. The "right way to play" is some joyless assembly of rules amounting to a grim acceptance of your own excellence and refusal to admit anything happening is enjoyable. It also tends to bend toward judgment against non-white players, but that is an entirely separate complaint.
2. This is college football's variation on that.
Part of college is learning how to conduct yourself as an adult. Baylor should tell him to put a shirt on. pic.twitter.com/SjpOhvghWU— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) October 24, 2015
That's an opinion, and he can have it. The last thing I want to do is point and go, "This is stupid, and you should feel bad for being stupid," because that's just a really Internet thing to do. Having bad opinions is an American right, and George Washington stabbed Hessians in their sleep to guarantee it for you.
What I'd rather ask is this: have you watched Baylor WR Corey Coleman play? Do you realize that he is by definition unpaid? And that part of college football is lying about this being a professional league, but also about that casualness? Do you know Coleman goes back to a dorm, and that despite this, he plays every single down like a Tekken character flashing through violent combos? Did you go to Adult College, a place where you learned joyless, overly particular adult habits*?
* I went to the University of Florida, where I learned about getting my car towed, the play-action post and pretending I'd read Derrida. Worth every penny that I did not pay for it.
Have you talked with Baylor's coaches, who said Coleman probably should have worn a shirt, but don't really seem to care? Why did you even think, "This is unprofessional," instead of, "This is funny; that young man is addressing the media shirtless, perhaps because he just juked himself out of it on the way up to the podium?" Because Corey Coleman could do that.
Why on earth are you choking on a detail like this? What has work done to you that you notice the wrinkle in the shirt and not the resume? Why do this after we've already handled players like cattle, interviewed them semi-naked or worse, and dictated absurd degrees of control over their behavior? What has work done to you that your idea of professionalism creeps into your enjoyment of something as amateur and frivolous as a press conference?
Seriously, what the hell has work done to you?
3. This is another time where we talk about football like it's a job: when someone gets fired.
Iowa State fired offensive coordinator Mark Mangino on Monday. It is a little odd to fire a coordinator in late October, but not totally unheard of.
In 2008, for instance, Auburn fired current Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin in late October. Franklin walked out of his office in the middle of the day, with his hands full of books and white cardboard office boxes stuffed with his playbooks. It was sad, but also relatable to anyone who's ever watched a co-worker toting a professional life away from a workplace on a moment's notice. You can see the calendar and the random work award peeking out of the box.
None of Iowa State's players saw it coming, per Iowa State's players.
Players rarely see it coming. Staffs usually do a good job screening players from internal strife, and even when they don't, the chances of 20-year-old athletes noticing the subtleties of work remain low. If you doubt this, think about the things you noticed when you were 20. In any given scene, they probably looked like this:
That may not be that different from your thoughts at any age, actually. Leave that to yourself for now.
At the age when most players play college football, people are not aware of how fast things can change, or of how impermanent all the arrangements governing a daily routine might be.
Time dilation is real. For a football player recruited at 16 by a coach, their relationship at age 20 is 20 percent of the player's life. For someone in their 30s, four years might constitute the bare minimum of time required to consider remembering someone's last name or asking them to check on a pet when you go out of town.*
* Maybe. Even then, this might be too personal.
4. This is when someone learns a painful lesson applicable across every desperate acre of work life: your job, for better or worse, is not your friend, and even if you're friendly with it, it might drag one of your friends into the bushes for a late afternoon snack.
It's probably something you're blasé about now, because you've been living in a workplace for a while and realize just how much it can suck in ways you've come to accept. No one is safe. Every relationship is a tenuous one underwritten by a bottom line. Being sympathetic can make things worse for everyone involved. You become jaded not out of decay, but by design. The people around you might leave or be thrown clear of the corporate hide at any time. You might be thrown with them, but even if you are, you will land separately.
It's heartbreaking, but maybe a little more so when you watch players learn that work will spend the rest of their lives introducing people, then randomly pulling them away for both good and totally inane reasons.
Even when someone like Al Golden loses 58-0 to Clemson and practically begs to be fired, his Miami players might get it from a rational perspective, but they can't accept it emotionally.
One of the few guys who ever believed in me and gave me a legit shot to play college football. This hurts.— Brad Kaaya (@BradleyKaaya) October 26, 2015
That's a good thing in one sense. Players care, and maybe more than they ever will again.
People get fired, people have to move, lives change at the whims of a brand, a logo, or the ownership. We forget that. For coaches, this often remains just a business. A lot of players say that, too, but nothing in the aftermath of a firing looks like it. You have to watch them learn this live, because that is another way we talk about college football. It's just a business, even when it isn't to the people playing it.
Jerry Kill resigned as Minnesota's head coach this week. Kill, by all accounts, is a person who was completely consumed by his job, slogging his way up the ladder through the Saginaw States, Southern Illinoises, and NIUs of the world. Then he got cancer, and the treatment for the cancer gave him recurring seizures. Those seizures became so severe his doctors told him his long-term health was at risk unless he gave up work, the thing he loved so much he ignored those same doctors.
It was so, so hard watching him do that, and for so many reasons. It's odd to see anyone dare that kind of naked honesty and emotion in a public forum, much less from the mouth of a football coach known best for being bitterly, uncompromisingly tough. It was hard, after years of coming to terms with the cold business side of football-as-work, and college football as a business, to see someone at the end object to the entire idea with tears and gratitude and, yes, a bit of real fear about what was next.
The real terror might be that life without work or football or however you want to conflate the two is something lesser for people who've poured themselves into their professions. Kill is like a lot of people who fell in love with work. It's hard not to, if you fall into or the step in the right vocational bucket and find yourself stuck hopelessly to something you both happen to love and need. And inevitably, you will need it more than it needs you. There will be no line between you and work, or at least not one that isn't bulldozed every time work calls.
There is genuine terror there. Kill said that a part of him "died" when he left the practice field for the last time. He'll probably be fine. He's pretty well off, and that helps things. He has a loving family, which he cited as the only real reason he'd ever leave football.
But fear creeps in when you think about that part of how we talk about work when we talk about football, maybe the realest part of the counterfeit comparison of the two. How much of you is left when it's over?
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of teams that must be ranked.
1. Clemson. Unlike many undefeated teams, the Tigers did have to play football this week, and had to do it on the road against NC State. They won 56-41, which might seem like a sloppy score begotten from negligence and the inevitable slumping of a team's attention midseason.
WELL ACTUALLY okay, that's sort of what this was, but really good teams inevitably turn potential scares like this into forgotten wins on spotless schedules.
Deshaun Watson had five passing TDs and one rushing TD and 383 yards passing. He and Trevone Boykin might be the same brilliant person living his best life as quantum twins splitting the same reality. If both are invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony and shake hands, the meeting will likely rip the very fabric of reality asunder and destroy time-space itself. No, we don't hope this happens, that'd be terrible!
P.s. We so hope this happens.
2. Kirk Herbstreit shrieking.
3. TCU. Came out of a Thursday night matchup with West Virginia with a 40-10 victory, an intact Boykin, and a 30-point margin in a conference win.
Sure, winning with offense might be slowly killing Gary Patterson's will to live, but at least this quarterback is getting high-fives from the opposing coach for mind-bending play. Did you find this offensive to your sensibilities and beliefs about what football should be? Good, person whose existence is so numb you have to get mad about sports etiquette just to feel. TCU is helping everyone out this year, even miserable bastards like you.
4. LSU. Did not play football this week, which, if you watched any of the games, turned out to be a pretty great decision.
5. Baylor. Also smart not to play football this week.
6. Ohio State. Did not play football this week, which would have been really smart had it not had J.T. Barrett get a citation for OVI, and thus earn a suspension for the Minnesota game. Bye weeks, now sponsored by Uber or the DUI-prevention service of your choice.
7. Oklahoma State. The governor completely came off this engine in the first quarter, but that's fine because Okie State can win 70-53 like it did over Texas Tech. Your standard Big 12 three-way knot of destiny will unravel Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State -- they play each other down the November stretch -- but Oklahoma State should be thrilled with being 8-0 and capable of surviving sprinting melees.
8. Iowa. The opposite of whatever Oklahoma State is. Beat Maryland 31-15. Iowa didn't even have 300 yards of offense, and only outgained Maryland by 52 yards, but Iowa is on some financial district hedge fund mathematical evil right now. You give the Hawkeyes $10, and they come back with the deed to an Indian hydroelectric plant and $6 million in cash. How? Shhhhhhh, never you mind, honey.
9. Michigan State. Did not play football this week, but underperformed anyway. And still won. They're the Spartans. They put this bye week away 21-20 and are FINE with it.
10. Memphis. Whatever, it's time to throw shame to the wind and embrace the American Athletic Conference. In lieu of anyone else putting stripes and neon on this season and just strutting, Memphis happily obliges week after week, giving consistent value like a 41-13 immolation of Tulane.
Holders of a transitive victory over Alabama. Fun as hell to watch. Fight me. If you do not like watching Memphis play football and want to joykill about their schedule and their freewheeling style of play, then fight me. It's the Memphis thing to do, and that's fine.
11. Houston. Shamed a desperate and theoretically shameless Vanderbilt team 34-0. See "Memphis, but without the win over Ole Miss." Houston's awesome, and I will fight you over them as soon as I am done fighting people over Memphis, which should be sometime next week if I hold up. (I won't; send paramedics.)
AWAITING OTHER TEAM'S MISTAKES AND HOPING TO PRESERVE SEASONS AND MAYBE GET SOME GOOD RECOMMENDATION LETTERS TO GET INTO THE PLAYOFF
No team led by Dabo Swinney could ever stop moving, no matter which way it needs to move.
1. There is no illusion here. Dabo Swinney hauls ass on that run off the hill. He half-steps at first, which is only prudent since he's going down a slippery grass decline in front of 81,500 people and millions watching at home. He's careful for something like 30 feet, then goes into a full sprint something like 15 feet from the bottom.
He is not just trotting out. He is sprinting. He is in full fight-or-flight mode, doing exactly what you would do if you had a few thousand pounds of football player bustling behind you. He is running like a man about to be trampled or a man about to trample someone.
2. The last time Florida State went to Clemson. Oh, that was a bad thing, a game in 2013 starting with two undefeated teams and the best team the Tigers had in years and the worst thing of all: Legitimate hope to win the ACC and plan for a national title run. That was a real thing until Jameis Winston's first pass landed in the arms of Kelvin Benjamin for a touchdown, and then another, and then there's No. 3 Clemson, losing 51-14 at home to a freshman quarterback and blowing up again under the national spotlight.
There was a word for this once, for this particular team and that particular phenomenon. If you say it here, you will get cut.
3. So there's Dalvin Cook, too, the blippy, two-cut Florida State tailback whose 1-yard runs turn into 3-yard runs, and whose 3-yard runs turn into 7-yard runs, and whose 7-yard runs can turn into 75-yard touchdowns.
This happened exactly 45 seconds into the 2015 game. A linebacker nudged right when he should have nudged left, someone left a crack in the fence and that was all Cook required to go untouched. He's a human light leak in a dark room, even tugging at a sore hamstring.
4. Seeing a running back like Cook fighting his own body and still putting up 100 yards in a quarter. One of the best things you can say about an athlete is that he or she has the ability to create both exasperated and delighted profanities on any play. Hopefully, that would be exasperation for the opponent and delight for your team. Cook keeps the attention span at a constant boil, and the noise made when he hits the stove top is always the same: Oh, shiiiiiiiit.
5. There was Clemson's offense, which, despite moving the ball, couldn't convert third downs consistently in the first half. This all looked bad, bad, bad, the kind of badness Florida State needed.
"We were missing layups," Swinney said in postgame, another way of saying that on a third-and-3, quarterback Deshaun Watson missed an open receiver for a conversion, or that on another third down, he held the ball too long. The Seminoles did not force a turnover, but they did force hesitation, indecision and the kind of arrhythmia that forces field goal attempts. Watson missed a wide-open and streaking Jordan Leggett down the middle for a huge gain; he spiked the ball on third-and-goal at the end of the first half.
Despite Florida State starting Sean Maguire for the injured Everett Golson and Cook playing on half a hamstring, the Seminoles led 10-6 on the road.
6. Pardon Clemson fans for the hindsight, since now it seems obvious. Now that you can see that Clemson ran 85 plays to Florida State's 59 and had 29 first downs to Florida State's 14, now that you watched it all. You have a nice stat sheet to point to, but nowhere on that sheet will you find the kind of existential dread you get when, after losing to Florida State three times in a row, you trail. Remember the 2014 game?
It seems obvious now. Watson rushed back into the game, scrambling for first downs before passing for more. Clemson ratcheted up the play count, nibbling away until the inevitable breaking point. A screen pass broken for a Deon Cain touchdown in the third quarter to take the lead; a field goal in the fourth to take it again. Wayne Gallman breaking tackles for a game-clinching touchdown with 2:34 left? It came through a Florida State defense running several millimeters below empty.
7.Watson will devour you by the forkful or in hunks. Choose one. It doesn't matter. The Seminoles flustered him looking downfield in the first half, so he started the second by running. When Florida State covered the run, Clemson worked screens and the short game. Watson was malleable, the kind of quarterback happy to win the game he has to win on that particular night.
8. From this point forward, the Tigers get to use the big utensils for Saturday lunches and dinners. The remaining schedule is fat eating: Syracuse, Wake Forest and one of the worst South Carolina teams in recent history. Beyond that is the ACC Championship, and if they move past that, the Playoff. Two years after getting repo'd on its home field, Clemson has a manageable path to a national championship. You can say that without a hint of curse on the lips or a superstitious flinch in the direction of a football deity.
The Tigers are here; and the "there" they need to get to is close.
9. If you are in Memorial Stadium, do not stand between the masses and their beloved, sprinting leader. The fans sit within literal spitting distance of both teams, and the ribbon of turf between them and you is so narrow, the buggy-mounted boom camera sends cheerleaders, sideline officials and rando sideline badge-holders scrambling when it rolls downfield after a first down.
Clemson never makes any attempt to keep its fans off the field. If you happen to be standing on the sideline when the game ends, when Clemson beats Florida State 23-13, they are coming over that wall. At that point you have two choices: Attempt to swim upstream like the loneliest salmon in the world and get body checked by five tiny Clemson ladies in orange body paint, or run to the middle with everyone else.
I ran for my life to the middle, and the entire stadium flowed downhill into a bobbing ball of body heat, football players still in full pads stranded in crowds of back-patting smaller humans, camera people elbowing to get through the ring of stadium security and state troopers swarming Swinney in the middle.
Dabo started the night sprinting and ended up stranded in a horde of hooting orange and white and purple. For a second, the only thing that could move was the overhead camera. It glided along on wires to pan down on Swinney, and then rose silently into the dark.
Images via ABC and Streeter Lecka, Getty
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of the teams that must be ranked. It's also now a plea for the Tide to be stopped.
1. Clemson. Beat Florida State 23-13 in a grind-y, frustrating, but rewarding victory. What no one will get from this is how Florida State played one of the best defensive games of its year, got outstanding production from Dalvin Cook despite injury and put together a superb game plan for quarterback Sean Maguire in just his third start at QB. FSU still lost, football is deeply unfair and almost all of your best efforts in life are sucked into the cold erasure of existence. GO NOLES.
P.S. Clemson remains really, really good.
2. Alabama. Crushed LSU 30-16. Les Miles would challenge a rhino to a head-butting contest. If you want anyone to write anything new and exciting about Alabama, you are looking in the wrong place. The only hope for humanity and a world without a 27-3 Playoff final in which Alabama gets a 21-0 lead over, like, Baylor is that Mississippi State, Auburn or Florida plays the game of its life against the Crimson Tide and saves us all the miserable asphyxiation of Nick Saban football. None can do this.
We're all going to have to watch more Alabama football than we want to, though there is one positive side effect: watching Lane Kiffin actually use a running back.
3. Ohio State. This is a pattern this week: an excellent team plays an opponent bound and determined to sludge up the game, eat clock, play good defense and collapse at the end while leaving the superior team with a less-than-beautiful mark on its resume (28-14 over Minnesota).
4. Oklahoma State. Okay, the Cowboys are going to lose this week.
Destroys TCU 49-29 and helps to force Trevone Boykin into four INTs.
But they played a close game; you know, that one!
Several, actually!They won them all.
Yeah okay, but their schedule!
You are going to object to this and include Baylor or Ohio State in your top 10? Okay, you do that.
But I don't want to rank them because I haven't watched them and know nothing about them!
This is honest. Stupid, but definitely honest, hypothetical reader.
5. Notre Dame. 42-30 victors over Surprisingly Decent Pitt. Hey, let's look at that only loss. Why, it's to the team up at No. 1! This must be a very good team, even if it gets shut out of the Playoff through no fault of its own. Will this be something Notre Dame fans complain about to Brian Kelly, even though the Irish have suffered a plague of injuries and are still in the running with a former third-string quarterback playing a good chunk of the season? Oh, you bet.
6. Stanford. 42-10 winners over Colorado. That lone loss to Northwestern looks slightly less bizarre now that the Wildcats are 7-2, and no, no, you are not allowed to go look how they got to 7-2. Just don't. It ruins this whole argument.
7. Baylor. Won 31-24 at Kansas State despite a.) freshman QB Jarrett Stidham making his first start on the road in the Big 12's most difficult environment, and b.) Bill Snyder doing that thing where he turns a game into a sprint through a tub of cold molasses. Like Clemson's eventual cracking of Florida State, the actual circumstances of this game will be lost to the slim margin of the score, so just tell everyone, "Snyder did this brilliant thing with nothing, but still lost to a team with a deeper roster."
8. Oklahoma. Dusted Iowa State 52-14. If not for a loss to Texas, would be the Big 12's easiest pick for inclusion in the top four teams in the nation. Fun to watch, interesting and talented. LOST TO TEXAS WHYYYY OKLAHOMA. WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO US AND A NATION THAT DOES NOT WANT TO WATCH ANY MORE ALABAMA FOOTBALL.
9. Iowa. Winners of a 35-27 #teamchaos special over Indiana. Help us, Iowa. Win everything and save us from the inevitability of an Alabama national championship. This is what 2015 has reduced me to: pulling for Kirk Ferentz as the more compelling choice.
10. Houston. Victorious in a 33-30 tussle with Cincinnati. Really only ranking the Cougars in solidarity with our downed brethren in Memphis.
TEAMS THAT MESSED UP REAL BAD THIS WEEKEND AND HURT OUR FEELINGS
ONE-LOSS TEAMS OF DUBIOUS AND/OR VARIABLE VALUE
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of the teams that must be ranked.
1. Clemson. Was supposed to play Syracuse, but politely allowed LSU to practice on the Orange before the Bayou Bengals' matchup with Arkansas.
"Clemson is overrated because they didn't blow out Syracuse" pic.twitter.com/045FQ3MARu— Not Danny Ford (@1981tigers1981) November 15, 2015
Very nice of you, Clemson. Good to see big cats stick together.
Clemson did actually play this game, traveling to the other end of the seaboard to fight off a pesky, but undermanned Syracuse team. The Tigers won yet another game, 37-27, this time overcoming three turnovers and the creeping ennui of the Carrier Dome to keep their loss column clean.
1a. Kicking off from Kansas State's 35 because of a thousand unsportsmanlike penalties
You should be able to take a field goal attempt off this.
2. Ohio State. Confused and terrified Illinois in a 28-3 defeat, to the point the Illini attempted the first play-action field goal ever. Ohio State's entire season turned around when Urban Meyer decided to just give Ezekiel Elliott every carry possible, give whoever was at quarterback a few more carries, and do things like keep a robust two-to-one rush/pass ratio. Oh, Illinois also tried to block Joey Bosa with three linemen. (Tried.) Elliott is healthy, and therefore Ohio State is fine, just like it has been for the past month.
3. Alabama. Beat Miss State 31-6. The Alabama defense sacked Dak Prescott nine times. I typed the rest of this part at halftime because Alabama is a glacier moving slowly downhill.
No one will ever come back against the Tide, ever. It's 21-3 at halftime and there is no hope and I'm going ahead and writing this. There was that loss to Ole Miss for some reason and now there is only the drought, and the nuclear wasteland, and Alabama wandering through it smiling. Derrick Henry is 245 pounds and can outrun entire SEC defenses. Death is the only real undefeated team.
Alabama does not need water or sleep or hope like weak human flesh, nor even require a functioning quarterback. Don't watch the Tide unless you like watching the football equivalent of famine, or are an Alabama fan, and these are the same things. They play Charleston Southern and Auburn to end the season, and then Florida in the SEC Championship. They are already basically in the Playoff. Give up hope forever. Give it up now.
4. Oklahoma State. Avoided the Dark Veil of Ames by outlasting Iowa State 35-31. The thing about a season is-
Ahem. The thing about a season isn't your margin of victory, and-
PSSSSSST. Hey there.
Oh hi there, Ghost of 2011 Brandon Weeden. What's up?
Ames is a very tough place to play!. I should know. I lost there in 2011, when I was a young college student with dreams.
You were 28.
Yes. So young.
Wait, how can you be a ghost? You're not dead.
I play for the 2015 Dallas Cowboys.
5. Iowa. A resounding, 40-35 victory over Minnesota. Iowa is 10-0 for the first time in program history. You have questions about how this happened. Well, buddy, you know what Iowans make a lot of? Sausage. Now I could show you what's behind this door of the old sausage factory, or you could just enjoy this delicious plate of piggy flavor-gold without seeing what went into the grinder. You say you taste Iowa State in there? Why, that's the same flavor that almost beat undefeated Oklahoma State this weekend! See? Iowa football: Quality ingredients for the people.
6. Notre Dame. Beat Wake Forest 28-7, and not too many people got hurt, which is the only possible goal one can have when playing Wake Forest. That's it. That's all anyone needs to say about this game before it disappears into the football memory hole forever.
For the sake of everyone, let's let Wake Forest's season disappear into a memory hole forever.
ONE LOSS TEAMS THAT NEED HELP OR MIRACLES OR HEAVY RUSSIAN-GRADE STEROIDS BUT MAY BE THEORETICALLY ALIVE FOR A PLAYOFF SPOT
Oklahoma. Beat Baylor, 44-34, and lost to Texas, 24-17. You know, back on Oct. 10, with the Texas loss thing. Oklahoma's entire season is currently caught somewhere between those two games, since not even the great accomplishment of rattling Baylor at home can be mentioned without noting the disastrous loss to Texas. Baker Mayfield had three passing TDs and one rushing TD, making him officially as difficult to defend as Baylor's out-of-conference scheduling.
Oh, if you wonder why Oklahoma's down here? See FILE: RESULTS AGAINST TEXAS VS. POSSIBLE NOTRE DAME TEAM IN COMPETITION FOR SAME PLAYOFF SLOT.
North Carolina. Happily rolled derelict Miami into an even less well-appointed gutter than the gutter it previously occupied in a 59-21 debacling. The score was nowhere near as close as that indicates, and North Carolina has a scarily real chance of sneaking into the Playoff if it wins out and beats Clemson in the ACC Championship. JUST AS EVERYONE PREDICTED. (No one predicted this.)
Florida. Slogged its way to a 24-14 victory against South Carolina. Still technically alive thanks to a waiting berth in the SEC title game. The Gators will be ground into a useless plaster by Alabama, but life's about the journey and not the smoldering heap of wreckage you leave on the way out.
Michigan State. The Spartans, too, are still theoretically alive after a 24-7 win over Maryland. The Big Ten's virus team: You're not sure whether it's categorically alive or not, but you definitely don't want to be too casual about ignoring its potential dangers.
TEAMS THAT ARE UNDEFEATED AND NAMED HOUSTON AND WHOSE AAC SCHEDULE DOESN'T REALLY PERMIT COMPETING IN A PLAYOFF BUT DOES ALLOW FOR SOME VICIOUS TWEET WARFARE AGAINST OTHER TEXAS SCHOOLS
Damn, Houston. Baylor's body wasn't even cold.
The improbable rugby star was even bigger than advertised.
It seemed like the pre-Internet world made him bigger than he was. That was a hard thing to do: Jonah Lomu stood 6'5 and weighed 270 pounds. If you saw him at all in the United States, you saw him on blippy late night Sportscenter clips, the ones the board operators and producers snuck in simply because they could. You did not get to replay him. He appeared, dressed in black like an undertaker, and he trampled lesser men on the field with thighs that looked like braided steel.
He was 20 in 1995 when he flattened Will Carling at the Rugby World Cup. Carling said afterwards that Lomu was "a freak...the sooner he goes away, the better." Brian Moore, another member of the English team Lomu rampaged through in that World Cup, was asked how to stop him. His answer: "I suppose you might stop him with an elephant gun." Anyone watching had to agree. Those late-night clips of him, the rare bits of BBC World coverage: They showed a terror whose only proper reaction fell somewhere between gobsmacked awe and fearful worship.
As an American, that was how you saw Jonah Lomu before the Internet: In flashes, horrifying, thrilling flashes. He was, for lack of any more accurate word, an alarming athlete. He made you worried for other competitors and their welfare. Lomu did not just shake off tacklers. He threw them, tossed them, shrugged them off like toddlers clinging to his legs, heaved them aside like cheap overcoats. Some of the best rugby players of his generation met him head-on. They all lost, and in spectacular fashion.
As it turns out, that was how everyone else ended up seeing him, too: In flashes, his career interrupted by arbitrary cruelties of circumstance and physiology. His best shot at a World Cup was broken up when 21 of 26 All Blacks contracted food poisoning before the final with South Africa. (Invictus, for Kiwis at least, is not an inspiring story of redemption, but is instead one of the royal random screw-jobs in the history of their national sport.) His career was hampered by Nephrotic syndrome, the kidney disease he was diagnosed with in 1995. When he died, Lomu was on the waiting list for a second kidney transplant to replace the one he received in 2004 that his body began rejecting in 2011.*
*Despite the obvious insanity of the idea, Lomu came back to play rugby after that 2004 transplant before finally retiring in 2007.
As a result of his disease, Lomu was never really at 100 percent. He scored two tries in the 1999 World Cup match against France, but that would be another flash of his stampeding brilliance interrupted by dazzling bad luck. The French, after falling behind 24-10, rallied for a 43-31 victory over the All Blacks. I watched that match in a bar in Kathmandu filled with Kiwis, and the silence after the game was unlike anything I've ever heard. Everyone had the same question: How could you lose with that man on your side, running out at the wing at a size and speed unheard of not just in rugby, but anywhere? Men that big were supposed to be playing in the interior of the line, not on the wing. They were not supposed to chortle with the ball in their hands, as a young Jonah Lomu did when hapless would-be tacklers bore in on him on a practice field at Wesley College. It was funny to those who tried to stop him when his coaches decided to listen to every devil on their shoulder and put him on the wing with the ball in his hands. It was funny to anyone watching.
It was, by all reports, funny to Jonah Lomu, though none of it had to be. Raised in Tonga and South Auckland, Lomu grew up covering up the bruises left from his father's beatings. When he was in trouble at home, he slept under a bridge, or at friends' homes until things cooled off and he could return. When Lomu finally fought back against his father -- throwing Semisi Lomu across the room bodily -- he was kicked out of the house for good. Lomu and his father didn't speak for 17 years. A Samoan/Tongan dispute resulted in Lomu's uncle's death in a machete attack at a shopping mall. Shortly afterwards, Lomu's mother sent him to Wesley College, where his rugby career began in earnest. Lomu was not supposed to happen, not in the geographic sense, not by class, not even by physiology. Lomu played his best rugby at, in his own estimation, about "eighty percent" due to his kidney disease. Jonah Lomu, in a lot of ways, was not something that was supposed to ever happen.
Despite all that, he did. The funniest part of all this is how, with the infinite replay of the internet, Lomu doesn't shrink or fade into something routine. Watch him. It's all still there: The frightening speed, the obvious glee at being let loose on the field of play in such a fearsome package, the power to grind opponents into the turf or toss them over his shoulder like a judoka. Lomu changed the game of rugby, sure, but don't pretend like this was a mold others could fill, or a position created by Lomu. Jonah Lomu played the Jonah Lomu position, one created by Jonah Lomu. His coaches were only giggling accomplices.
The other part about that exposure: Lomu was all too happy to reveal his humanity, even as his health declined. He helped make documentaries about his life, he appeared in ugly sweaters for UNICEF. Lomu openly talked of how he knew he might die young, and that he wanted to make it to 55 in order to see his young children reach adulthood. He kept busy, working the endorsement circuit and politely manhandling kids at youth rugby camps around the world. He visited Joost van der Westhuizen, the South African who prevented him from getting a try in 1995 in the final, and told him he loved him as Westhuizen sat in his wheelchair, paralyzed by ALS. Three days ago, he was in Dubai with his family, tweeting out pictures of the French flag unfurled across the front of the Burj Al Arab hotel. He was, in the end, a nice man with a horrible draw in life who played it about as well as one could.
Today he is dead at the age of 40, and those of us who saw him in blurry flashes in the pre-Internet era were wrong. The distance between the world and him did not make him bigger than he was. The first estimates were correct, and on review that was Jonah Lomu's proper size all along: Gargantuan, in every sense of the word.
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of exactly how many teams he feels should be ranked, whether those teams are Alabama or not.
1. Clemson. How much can one say about beating Wake Forest, 33-13, other than "Wake Forest should be relegated?" No one got hurt, Clemson is 11-0, and seriously, let's relegate Wake Forest to the SoCon and promote The Citadel or someone to the ACC.
1a. Michael Geiger, the Michigan State kicker who hit the game-winner on the road in a 17-14 upset of previously undefeated Ohio State.
Geiger postgame on Spartan Radio: "It was the biggest kick of my life, and I fucking nailed it."— Tony Garcia (@RealTonyGarcia) November 22, 2015
Let's have a non-denominational prayer on this Sunday.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to go on radio
and tell the entire world honestly and factually
about the times when
I absolutely fucking nail it out there.
2. Iowa. HELL YES I'M PUTTING THEM OVER ALABAMA FOR A 40-20 WIN OVER LOWLY PURDUE. Mostly because it really doesn't matter as long as both are in the top four, and also because Alabama deserves zero credit for the Charleston Southern game no matter how many colorful George Patton quotes Nick Saban drops. Iowa is undefeated and headed toward Nebraska (winnable barring total chaos) and a matchup against Michigan State. If you don't think the Hawkeyes can win both of these, you have not been paying attention, and deserve to be accosted by the vintage logo Hawkeye when you least suspect it.
3. Alabama. Played Charleston Southern and won, 56-6. Ahem. We're sorry, that's "eighth-ranked Charleston Southern." The Tide play Auburn next week and boy, shouldn't that be a treat for none but the most depraved sadists. In other words, for Alabama fans.
4. Oklahoma. Batted away a late two-point conversion attempt and outlasted TCU, 30-29. In bad news for the Sooners, they might have lost Baker Mayfield for a bit with a head injury, effectively robbing their offense of their most dynamic playmaker.
In good news, we all got to watch another of nature's greatest miracles: Gary Patterson sweat like a bomb squad officer in 30-degree weather in Norman.
Playoff hopes hinge on a.) beating Oklahoma State in Bedlam, a game in which OU's 8-2 over the past 10 years, and b.) someone else soiling themselves. This is college football. Someone will soil themselves.
5. Notre Dame. Turned the ball over five times in a 19-16 win over Boston College, one of like 10 teams in FBS for whom five generously donated turnovers can only be converted into 16 points. Look, the Irish did this and still won!
America is the greatest nation on earth because we defiled one of baseball's greatest chapels with the sloppy blasphemy of that play and still probably got better ratings than any game at Fenway Park this year.
6. Baylor. Beat Oklahoma State, 45-35, despite the loss of second-string quarterback Jarrett Stidham to injury. It's cool, the Bears just rolled Chris Johnson out there and kept scoring even though Johnson was listed as a wide receiver to start the season. Draw a face on a laundry bag, give it a name, and Art Briles will coach it into a 2,000-yard passer with at least 500 yards rushing and a positive TD/INT ratio.
Too bad for the Bears that they play in the Big 12, where the champions are made up and the points don't matter and everyone finishes with one Playoff-killing loss.
7. Michigan State. Did what Spartans do best by dragging a teetering Ohio State out of its limousine and beating it in broad daylight, 17-14, as an object lesson about the evils of excess. Without Connor Cook at QB, Michigan State reduced its offensive gameplan to a club and the will to swing it at every poor skull too slow to get out of the way. In the second half, Michigan State ran the ball 34 times. MSU attempted just four passes in the half and still won, an indication of what you can believe is either the Spartans' battle-tested and proven ability to win close games or Ohio State's complete dysfunction.
We'll take an option on both, for the moment, and credit Michigan State while also mentioning how beating Ohio State in 2015 might mean way less than one thinks.
8. North Carolina. Still theoretically alive for world-destroying Playoff scenarios after being invited to Frank Beamer's retirement party and eating all the cake in a 30-27 overtime victory. You don't even like carbs, Larry Fedora! Never invite Larry Fedora to your party.
9. Florida? Lost 20-14 in overtime in a win over 2-8 Florida Atlantic. That sentence is accurate. Has to play Florida State next week without the ability to move the ball at all, and the sooner I can all just look away from this and not watch whatever carnage happens in the SEC Championship Game, the better.
10. Navy. It's mostly a protest vote to point out that Navy is 9-1, beat Tulsa 44-21, has the nation's career TD leader at quarterback, and only has lost to possible Playoff team Notre Dame. I'll make it anyway.
YOU LOST. GO AWAY NOW
Ohio State. Lost mostly because of Michigan State clamping down like a pitbull on the pants leg of a terrified UPS man, but also thanks to some of the most bizarre talent management and game-planning you'll see.
An Urban Meyer team loaded with talent trying to defend a title after losing key offensive staff, and struggling to figure out the delicate balance between players' NFL ambitions and the season at hand? Huh. Seems like a completely novel concept that has never, ever happened before. It's like there's no historical precedent for it whatsoever and no comparison to be made between them and another team, especially not one Meyer coached himself.
Oklahoma State. Probably safely out of Playoff consideration. The Cowboys had 8 rushing yards on the night. That's 24 feet, or the length of a standard rental moving van. Briles won't even let you run for a respectable big-rig's worth of yardage, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have the right to bounce back up into the argument if they beat Oklahoma soundly next week, which is probably going to happen given everything that has happened in 2015 already. Then we would have two one-loss teams with countervailing losses shut out of the national title picture! This has happened before, too.
Houston. Not that there was any chance of the Cougars making it anyway, but losing 20-17 to UConn puts them into the explicitly uninvited category.
Other websites will tell you how to talk to your relatives. We will help you fight them and escape your Thanksgiving in mostly one piece.
Grab the right weapon. The kitchen, where all the sharp things are, is the high ground, eh? WRONG. The garage is the mother lode, stocked with all the nastiest implements to survive a prolonged bit of hand-to-hand combat with your family. I like a shovel for the ideal combination of heft, versatility and durability. If you're forced to fight from a young boy's room, salt the floor with Legos to slow down any approaching threat. Home Alone was real; take its lessons seriously.
Humility is survival. No one can fight. Unless you know you can, and have a proven record of hulking out like Stephen Jackson and taking on an entire arena, survive by knowing your limitations. Stick to proven tactics. Aim for sensitive joints and body parts. Ric Flair poked opponents in the eyes and punched nuts and blindsided opponents from unsportsmanlike angles. You know who survived five decades of vicious professional wrestling? That's right: Ric Flair. Make a little "Woo!" as you come off the top of the steps to knock your brother-in-law out with a cheapshot from a Dyson vacuum cleaner if it helps you remember. Play like a rat, survive like a rat.
Your dad. Your dad's tired, he doesn't want this. Point him at the couch upstairs and give him the option of a dignified surrender. He will take it, because Dad's tired, and the best weapon to defeat him is that marathon of MythBusters on SyFy. Your dad's a Jamie man, because he never talks and doesn't like anything, either.
Your brother. With the weed-whacker, again. Or the Blower, the weapon that does no damage but makes everyone want to beat his ass twice as bad. Don't waste effort on your brother. Like Vince Vaughn in a serious drama, he is there to annoy, not to be taken seriously. Keep it moving.
Your uncle. Oh, he got really into CrossFit after his recent divorce? Too bad dodging this heavy-ass casserole dish thrown at your head isn't part of a WOD, eh? A hundred and twenty bucks a month to get knocked the hell out by five pounds of crockery and complex carbohydrates. Elite fitness, my ass.
Your mother. Another target to avoid, as she has more reasons to be mad at you than anyone in the building. Flee any room she enters; parry and stall if possible; do not, I repeat, do NOT engage.
Your aunt. Underestimate her and die. Your aunt is a master of emotional jiu-jitsu, the most lethal martial art. She also stabbed your uncle once after he lost the mortgage in a backroom craps game at the Sleep Inn on Exit 76. Stuff your ears with napkins to blot out the sounds of her telling you how your mother didn't really love your father; apply quick submission hold; pray she doesn't have a dagger concealed in her boot. (She will!)
Your nieces and nephews. It will try your emotions to fight children, but they will turn on you. It's necessary to have a strategy. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot fight more than five third-graders at a time. A good rule to follow is to divide your own body weight by the average opponent weight. For instance, if you weigh 210 pounds, you can fight three 70-pounders to a draw, or at least beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen from the dining room. Break them psychologically if you can by destroying their tablets. A broken arm will heal; a broken iPad is forever.
EXCEPTION: Your giant nephew Tommy. The one who weighs 285 and is the starting tackle for his high school football team. Pay him money and make an ally of him. Do not attempt to fight him. You are not Red Viper. You are not Red Viper. You are not Red Viper.
Keep it moving. The goal is escape. You can't beat them all, so treat this like a classic Jackie Chan fight scene involving more than one person: run, fight if you have to and then keep running. Were you thinking about making a dramatic stand on the stairs to prove a point for yourself? Well, you go ahead and do that, General Custer. You go ahead and do that.
Forget the turkey. Unless it was fried AND brined, it was going to be dry and kind of subpar anyway.
The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of the teams he feels like ranking at this particular moment. This week, Bama is Subway.
1. Clemson. Fumbled three times and nearly got that transitive loss to The Citadel in a 37-32 win over South Carolina, but didn't, and will be cut an appropriate amount of slack because this is rivalry week.
This excuse should be used more often in life.
I apologize for my lateness. But I REALLY hate the guy I was talking to at the gas station. We got into a fistfight and ruined both of our days! We put our gas station fight on the calendar every year, just to ruin one entire day in the same miserable way. He broke my eye socket. I'm going home for the day now.
All Clemson has to do now is beat UNC in the ACC Championship. UNCscored 35 points in the first quarter against NC State. Clemson probably doesn't want to assume things about UNC or the ACC Championship, an event Wake Forest once won without scoring a touchdown. This is a way of not only saying that no game is a given, but that downright satanic things can happen to you in this specific game.
1a. This photo of Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
when the chipotle hits pic.twitter.com/za3ODfLSdM— HOLIDAY APPRECIATOR (@edsbs) November 28, 2015
2. Oklahoma. Moves up this week on the basis of beating the hide off Oklahoma State, 58-23, in a rivalry game. Is this more impressive than beating Auburn, you ask? Yes, both because Oklahoma State is a far superior team, and because Oklahoma played this game in the great ice pan stretching between Tulsa and Amarillo while Alabama played in beautiful, 72-degree weather.
Is this weather prejudice? No. Is this merely noting that it's harder to blow someone out when you can't feel your fingers, and that precision might be even more difficult to achieve in inclement weather? Mostly, yes. Is it also just kind of goggling at Oklahoma clocking its second straight game more than 330 rushing yards and seventh straight more than 230? Absolutely. (Is this also completely irrelevant, because all that matters is the top four, anyway? Also absolutely.)
3. Alabama. Registered another controlled, only slightly tedious dismantling against Auburn, winning 29-13 and erasing most of the fun in the immediate vicinity.
That fun-free zone includes Lane Kiffin, the offensive coordinator who can't even be the buttwad teen son the whole state of Alabama could bond over anymore, since Nick Saban's beaten him into just running Derrick Henry 46 times in a game (for 271 yards in this one) and behaving like another dull cog in a great football Subway franchise. They're one of the four best teams in the nation right now, and their bread tastes terrible no matter how many people say it's good. Eat fresh, Roll Tide, whatever; you're in, dismal and wildly successful football sandwich shop of the masses.
P.S. This is unfair. Alabama quarterback Jake Coker had to run around and make a wild TD pass, and Muschamp got so angry he got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, after which he still had to be restrained by coaches on the sideline. Those two things were fun and good.
4. Iowa. 28-20 victors over Nebraska, a score that might seem close if you did not watch. Mike Riley is not scared, and that's supposedly a great thing in a coach, until you see up close and personal just how terrifying this can be, i.e., your quarterback heaving pick after pick into the hands of a stunned defense.
America's Team moves on to the Big Ten Championship, where it will face Michigan State for a Playoff slot and the right to continue defying every statistical indicator of relative or absolute football quality. Support America's Team in this endeavor, because math's for people who hate freedom.
TEAMS WITH ONE LOSS WHO GET IN WITH A VICTORY IN A CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Michigan State. Let their center get a carry at running back in a 55-16 beatdown of Penn State. He promptly glided out of the backfield, stiffarmed a man, and then scored like he'd done it a hundred times before. They will score on you with 300-pound men and throw their hands up (and maybe not allow them to stay there, but you get the idea). This is the best evidence that the Spartans are a terrifying team right now, but there's a lot to pick from in their body of work.
North Carolina. Owners of NC State's estate after a 45-34 win. If the Tar Heels beat Clemson, they're probably in via a.) beating undefeated Clemson, and b.) everyone forgetting whom they lost to on the first night of the season, and shhh, it's a secret, let's just OK IT WAS SOUTH CAROLINA. VERY BAD SOUTH CAROLINA. We're terrible at this game.
TEAMS WITH ONE LOSS THAT MIGHT GET IN IF UM WELL IF STUFF GETS REALLY WEIRD I DUNNO JUST GO WITH IT
Ohio State. Scenario: Alabama loses to Florida, Stanford loses to USC, Iowa wins over Michigan State, and the committee fills the fourth slot with the Buckeyes out of desperation. This is far-fetched, but if Florida scores more than three points against Alabama, we'll all already be well past the point of desperation as a nation, world, and galaxy.
I can't tell the committee how to live. You just write their name down if you want to, because if we're seriously considering Stanford as a Playoff participant after next week, at least some things have gone 2007-level crazy. But it's a possibility, especially if Stanford rolls in the Pac-12 title game against USC.
TEAMS WE DO NOT HAVE TO TALK ABOUT ANYMORE
Notre Dame. Lost its second game, at Stanford. You already knew a bunch of Stanford students would outperform Notre Dame on a test, but add this to the data set anyway.
Florida. Didn't get shutout by Florida State, because the Gators did score a safety in a 27-2 loss. It's technically not a repossession of your whole car if you rip off the sideview mirror while the tow truck takes it away.
Baylor. Lost, 28-21, in overtime to TCU in a freezing rainstorm with its third-string QB, who was listed as a wide receiver to start the season. This sport is so, so dumb sometimes.