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    The WVU quarterback has tremendous confidence in what he can do, which is good, because he can do a lot.

    Thumbnail bio:Will Grier, redshirt junior quarterback for the West Virginia University Mountaineers. Stands 6’2 and weighs 214 pounds if he’s soaking wet, because he tends to stay skinny, despite growing up in North Carolina and attending school in Florida and West Virginia. If someone manages to stay thin after all that, that’s being an elite ectomorph.

    Threw for 77 TDs at Davidson Day School, won a mess of national awards, and committed to Florida. Like every Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow, transferred to another school where he would thrive.

    In his case, the move was not entirely voluntary. After leading the Gators to a 6-0 start in 2015, Grier tested positive for Ligandrol, a steroid that is banned by the NCAA, but not listed on the NCAA’s list of banned substances. Did you know the NCAA prohibits substances it doesn’t tell people are prohibited? College sports is not run by smart or kind people.

    Grier served a year’s suspension, and under pressure from then-Florida coach Jim McElwain, transferred to West Virginia. McElwain recruited other quarterbacks, never really found one, and was fired, largely due to anemic offense. Grier threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2017 at West Virginia and is off to a torrid start in 2018.

    TL;DR: This worked out well for everyone except McElwain.

    Hair: Was better last year when he had the Jesus locks, but still pretty nice. Has a beard because it’s 2018, he lives in West Virginia, and he’s a dad.

    Virginia Tech v West VirginiaPhoto by Rob Carr/Getty Images
    2017 Will Grier

    Other personal notes: Comes from a family of social media stars? His brother Nash has 9 million followers on Instagram, so Will is actually the disappointment in the family. Stop focusing on follow routes and start focusing on followers, Will.

    Environment: Playing in a QB-friendly conference like the Big 12 is great, but Grier plays for Dana Holgorsen, which is doubly nice. Holgorsen is a former student of Mike Leach and coordinated scoreboard-rattling offenses at Texas Tech, Houston, and Oklahoma State. Holgorsen’s Hair Raid — nicknamed after Holgorsen’s flowing, Bill Murray-in-Kingpin coiffure — is an evolving mutation. It generally runs the ball more, but also tinkers with passing concepts, too. (Including a few NFL-type concepts, as noted by Chris Brown here.)

    General type: A pocket-friendly but mobile QB who is, unlike a thousand other college quarterbacks, accurate, especially on short stuff like this from early in 2018’s Tennessee game.

    short stuff

    It is a different offense in a lot of ways, but on early downs, West Virginia likes to run quick-hit air raid staples like stick for easy yardage. Grier can happily dink and dunk all day long.

    Comparisons: Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said Grier reminded him of Johnny Manziel. He’s not quite the same kind of runner, but Grier has a good (but not cannon-quality) arm, can extend plays beyond the five-second mark, and does it mostly for the benefit of his team.

    No one gets ready to jump off the lip of the stadium when he takes off, is what we’re saying, even if it looks terrifying sometimes.


    Grier scrambled out of that possible disaster on second and 12, gained four yards, and stepped out of bounds to save a field goal attempt. It’s not panic-free game management, but it’s a functional concept.

    Things that may upset you about Grier: Um ... if he’s off, he’ll do things like this.


    Grier, like any QB, can be streaky, and when he’s cold, he tries to force the issue. A lot of college quarterbacks suffer from Magic Legs — they do not fully realize they are no longer the quickest person on the field, like they were in high school — and sometimes, this continues deep into a professional career.

    See: all pro QBs who drift forever toward the sideline, waiting for someone, anyone to come open, unaware they can no longer just sidestep the linebackers barreling in to rodeo tackle them into the bench.

    When Grier isn’t settled, he’ll miss throws like this shot at an open wheel route.


    You can almost feel how bad he wanted that, and how quickly he saw that pre-snap, right? We all wanted it, man. That thing sailed like a lot of throws early in games, when a QB is just a little too excited.

    Confident as hell in his arm and his receivers, he’ll force the issue when he probably shouldn’t.

    forcing the issue

    His accuracy at least turns a lot of potential disasters into mere incompletions. But because he can scramble and has confidence in his arm, Grier has a bigger menu of things to force. Sometimes that means trying to throw into double coverage in the endzone after escaping pressure, as he did in the Magic Legs clip earlier.

    Sometimes he does this even without scrambling, though.

    Triple coverage

    That’s three orange jerseys around his receiver. There is a fine line between confidence and insanity. This is well over that line, which Grier occasionally straddles.

    You got a pretty play as an intermission here? Yeah, because I’m about to talk about how awesome Grier is, and also just happened to make a GIF of this insanely beautiful draw West Virginia gets to run because Grier is such a threat in the passing game.

    just a pretty draw play

    But wasn’t there a hold on that play? There is a hold on every play. No one cares, including offensive linemen, who admit to holding on every play, too. Accept some beauty in your life without questioning too much, y’all.

    Now let’s talk about how awesome Grier is when he does everything right.

    Grier is awesome to watch, 1: He can make more than one read and hit open receivers underneath with ease.

    taking the under

    Such a clean and responsible young man, taking what the defense gives him and moving the chains for a first down. Combine that with the consistent accuracy, and Grier’s practically a savings bond between the 20s. Steady, unsexy, but reliable returns, opening up running lanes with the pass game, and keeping the poor defense on the field.

    Grier is awesome to watch, 2: Quick-ass reads. This third-down conversion gets to the receiver on a greased rail, and the receiver can run through the catch.

    That’s some Kurt Warner-y stuff, the quarterback I think of first as leading receivers so they got the ball in the flow of a play, not at a station-to-station exchange.

    Grier is awesome to watch, 3: Infinite chill (when needed). A weather delay at the half of the Tennessee game must have relaxed WVU. When play resumed, the Mountaineers came out on fire, with Grier throwing for 275 yards and four scores on 16-of-19 passing in the second half.

    Not all of those throws were uncontested. At the start of the fourth, West Virginia stood in its own end zone. With his feet in dangerous territory and a free rusher closing in, Grier does this on third and 11.

    endzone pressure

    Grier helped flip the field with a smart, composed, and accurate bullet 30 yards downfield. It almost looks easy, and it is anything but, but that’s what composure and a near-perfect mesh of system, plays, and players will do.

    Grier is awesome to watch, 4: AAHHHHHHHHHHH OMG THAT THROW —

    Just —

    over the top where no one else can get it

    — I mean —

    ball placement


    just what the fuck do you do

    Take all this in before summing Grier up: Gary Jennings Jr. and David Sills V are excellent receivers, and the line looks like it’s going to be solid, and backs like Martell Pettaway make the offense work. There is a coaching staff dedicated to an aggressive style. The conference West Virginia plays in is notorious for its generosity.

    I get that, and you get that, and anyone who watches football gets that.

    I also get that there are only a few quarterbacks in college capable of dropping a backbreaking TD pass directly into the hands of a receiver not just over the back shoulder, but at the exact angle to make it indefensible. People talk about creating plays with the feet, but Grier can create throwing lanes simply through touch, trajectory, and velocity. An otherwise covered receiver is suddenly open.

    He does not play perfect games, but no one will. But this system gives him plenty of chances to show out, because the Hair Raid, air raid, or whatever it gets called requires quarterbacks to throw 30, 40, and sometimes 50 times a game. This has been a place for so-called system QBs, even if it’s also been a place for serviceable NFL starters, and also Brandon Weeden.

    But even with all the qualifiers, there is something really spectacular here. Unlike almost anyone else in college, he will make arguments to a defense that have no counter. For Grier, there will be three or four throws a game that are nothing less than pure evil, laced right through a defense doing everything it should be doing.

    Anything else? Yeah, he’s a hopper. Just one of those QBs who really likes to jump a little in the pocket, looking for his man. Bouncy, like a kangaroo that can throw a wicked post pattern. Once you notice it, you will never unsee it.

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    The Top Whatever ranks only the college football teams it feels like ranking, as of this exact second.

    1. Arizona State. Oh, who’s 2-0 right now, with a gritty comeback victory in a desert heater against a mean Michigan State?

    Not Chip Kelly, the vaunted college genius whom no one made fun of when he was hired. Not Jimbo Fisher, who got $75 million guaranteed to move to Texas A&M. Not Dan Mullen or Willie Taggart, other coaches who got hired to no ridicule by the so-called pundits. Certainly not Scott Frost, who’s lost not one, but two games in his much-ballyhooed debut at Nebraska.*

    *Losses for Scott Frost: Lightning and Colorado, respectively. Shut up, lightning is undefeated.

    Who is 2-0?

    Michigan State v Arizona StatePhoto by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    None of you considered Herm Edwards, and that’s fine. Herm doesn’t need your help anyway. The Sun Devils are undefeated with a 64-year-old former ESPN commentator leading them.

    Down 13-3 going into the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils rallied behind timely passing from Manny Wilkins, a game-winning field goal from kicker Brandon Ruiz, and the exhortations of a crazed man who hasn’t coached in college since 1989. UNDEFEATED AND NUMBER ONE, BABY.

    You might ask: Will the Sun Devils be here next week?

    Will any of us, really? Does it matter? What matters for The Top Whatever is that for a shining moment seen by at least 58 people on the East Coast at 1:30 a.m., Arizona State stayed undefeated after getting ridiculed for hiring a man with a worse Kansas City Chiefs winning percentage than Todd Haley.

    The point is: Week two national champion Arizona State Sun Devils, you have been considered and considered well.

    P.S. Arizona might want to look at hiring Todd Haley, now that we look at that Houston box score. There have been worse ideas.

    P.P.S. The Big Ten is now 0-10 in Tempe against Arizona State, per the AP. Herm is going to win the Big Ten title, too.

    2. Georgia. Let’s just make this a rule. It’s a rule Georgia fans can understand fully, because it involves golf.

    Par for Georgia in this particular era of Bulldog football is 20 passes. If Jake Fromm throws more than 20 passes, then there is a tiny but real chance Georgia may lose. If he doesn’t, Georgia will not lose.

    Since Fromm threw 18 passes on the day, that puts Georgia at 2-under for the day, in the clubhouse with a 41-17 win over South Carolina. The Bulldogs ran the ball like Sony Michel and Nick Chubb were still back there, let the Gamecocks do absolutely nothing on the ground in return, and appear to have lost nothing from the formula that got them to the national title game last year.

    The Dawgs get No. 2 this week for facing a division opponent, changing nothing from 2017, and reducing one of their toughest opponents to an easy 18. If you think these are mixed metaphors, you are not a Georgia person, i.e. someone who has repeatedly skipped the spring game to watch the Masters without blinking.


    3. Trevor Lawrence’s hair.

    Sir Lance-a-Big-Lots is over here with the “Immigrant Song” blasting out of nowhere every time he takes his helmet off. Look at that butterscotch god. Ain’t even a starter, and he’s got someone with a fan standing in front of him like he’s about to launch into an encore version of “Halo.”

    4. Clemson. The takeaways from an early 28-26 road struggle against Texas A&M will be fast, furious, and fickle on both sides. So: let’s state a bunch of things that could all be true at once.

    • Texas A&M has great wide receivers and an elusive quarterback in Kellen Mond. These are precisely the kind of things someone needs against Clemson’s defense, where the primary strength is a line that will swallow up quarterbacks whole. Get the ball out fast to talented wideouts.
    • Generally if a team is going to beat this version of Clemson, they’re going to have to do it through the air. The Pitt loss in 2016, to a lesser degree the loss to Syracuse in 2017, and Texas A&M coming close in 2018 all involved teams short-circuting the Tigers’ advantage at the line of scrimmage. This isn’t something a lot of teams can do.
    • Dabo Swinney’s teams usually have a scrum on the schedule, and usually win in ugly but admirable fashion. The 2015 team had a 20-17 brawl on the road with Louisville. The 2016 team had a 19-16 drudge over Auburn to open the season, too.
    • They also had a 30-24 game over Troy — Troy! — that no one remembers because Clemson went on to win the national championship. That still happened, though, which is why after a day of hyperventilating over narrow road wins, it helps to remember that this is September. Approximately one team in college football has its problems figured out, and no one cares what Alabama’s problems are anyway.
    • Texas A&M didn’t win, but looked great in a loss that could have easily gotten away from them after Clemson took a 21-6 lead. Take a lap and feel great about losing by two to one of the top five teams in the nation, Aggies. Not even making a joke about how much your little motormouthed coach gets paid. He got A&M within a two-point conversion of overtime with Clemson in week two of his tenure.
    • If that seems like what he should have done anyway, well: LOOK AT WHAT FLORIDA AND FLORIDA STATE DID UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. RECONSIDER YOUR FORTUNES.
    • Oh, and two of those best teams in the nation seem to be doing just fine at getting one quarterback the majority of the reps while also making playing time for another, so maybe we all need to rethink the position at the college level? It’s a sport with shifts at every other position.
    • Steve Spurrier has said this for over 20 years, because Spurrier is pretty much right about everything.

    5. Pitt fullback George Aston’s Neck. Pitt lost 51-6 to Penn State, but it wasn’t because George Aston didn’t lift enough weights.

    Aston is down to 240 pounds and can now only do 30 reps at 225 on the bench. Pitiful, son, just pitiful*. That neck is now probably down to a mere 30 inches in circumference.

    Now that Pitt has lost by 45 points to Penn State, I feel confident, now more than ever, that they will beat someone they absolutely should not. Hey, look, Pitt plays Notre Dame on October 13th! That’s certainly not the game I’m talking about, nope.

    * This is joking please do not hurt me I am old and you are very young and strong and fast

    6. Stanford. Punted eight times and only had 13 first downs over USC in a 17-3 win. These are all positives for Stanford, who likes to book very short football games, ugly on the field and pretty on the spreadsheet.

    Counterpoint? USC might be kinda mediocre without departed QB Sam Darnold papering over a lot of weaknesses with late game heroics.

    Still, punting that many times and strangulating USC had to make David Shaw very happy. To the photo tool!

    USC v StanfordPhoto by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Ah, yes, that’s practically ebullient for Shaw. It’s “mildly pleased” for anyone else, but trust us, as experienced David Shaw watchers, that is beyond giddy. If he looks like that, the Cardinal are in a good place.

    7. Mississippi State. 31-10 over Kansas State but it wasn’t even that close. Kylin Hill and Nick Fitzgerald combined had 370 yards rushing. The defense prevented K-State from setting sail on 28-play drives. Everything Mississippi State wanted to happen happened, and nothing K-State wanted to happen happened.

    The Bulldogs should be 4-0 when they host former coach Dan Mullen on September 29th. They should be 5-0 after that, because Florida just lost at home to Kentucky, looked inert at best on offense, and lost top cornerback Marco Wilson for the year to an ACL injury. Do you like watching ineffective blitzers giving up huge plays while Miss State head coach Joe Moorhead cackles and draws up plays on the sideline? WATCH THIS GAME THEN.

    That’s a request, I’m a Florida fan and I’m not going to watch it, so someone will have to tell me what happened without getting too graphic.

    8. Penn State. 51-6 over Pitt, so that 45-38 result over App State might have been an aberration. Either that, or App State is much better than Pitt, which is difficult, given how hard Pitt is to pin down, quality-wise.

    Either way, the terrifying stat for anyone facing Penn State is: even after losing two fumbles, Penn State still outpaced Pitt by 45 points. James Franklin’s teams can do some weird things to math.

    9. Alabama. The Tide smoked Arkansas State 57-7, but do not have a quarterback named “Justice Hansen.” There’s one advantage not even a 50-point blowout can take away from the Red Wolves.

    Alabama has done nothing interesting this year. That ends this week with a trip to Ole Miss, a team with the only consistent winning strategy against Alabama. No one can beat the Tide in football? No problem. Ole Miss has decided to turn everything into basketball.


    Brilliant strategy, since Alabama is a much more beatable franchise in this sport. As long as Jordan Ta’amu hits 40 percent from 3, the Rebels should be in this one.

    10. Oklahoma. 49-21 over a rehabbing UCLA isn’t overly impressive, but what everyone is scouting is the offense’s ability to replace Baker Mayfield. This week against a stingy Iowa State is a way better test.

    I mean stingy in every way. Iowa State only allowed 13 points to Iowa this past week, but only scored 3 in return, with 19 yards rushing. If a normal person can throw a frisbee as far as your team rushed on the day, I feel confident in saying that’s not good.

    11. Ohio State. Let Rutgers score on them, 52-3, for the first time since 2015. Really lucky they’re ranked at all after that, but I’m charitable for downtrodden programs like Ohio State’s.

    Consider this: The Buckeyes started 2017 with Urban Meyer on the sideline. In their first two games, they went 1-1 and only scored 65 points. In 2018, the Buckeyes have 129 points and are 2-0 without Meyer.

    I know it’s not popular, but I’m going to say it anyway: could Urban be the thing holding this program back? I’m not afraid to ask the hard questions, Buckeye Nation. The mirror sees what it sees. And I’m a just a mirror, one that refuses to hear excuses about “omg you idiot we played Rutgers and Oregon State, not Oklahoma and Indiana.”

    Just sayin’, Ohio State. I’d go with the hot hand. Please email me at with all of your thoughts on this definitely serious suggestion, Buckeyes.

    Lurking undefeated and played lesser competition this week: Wisconsin, Auburn, LSU, TCU, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, UCF, Kentucky.

    Had a weird game against Ball State, of all teams? Notre Dame, who won 24-16 against Ball State? Let’s just ignore this one and assume everyone was gassy from the pregame meal.

    Boise State? 818 yards against UConn in a 62-7 win isn’t a resume line. It is a felony.

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    Look at the margins in the box score, if you can stomach it.

    Coming off a 3-9 season in 2017, the UConn Huskies have a long list of problems, including a few that only time and playing actual football can fix. For example: there is only one upperclassman on their starting defense, and not much experience or depth anywhere else.

    A road game at Boise State is a lot to ask of anyone. In 31 years on the blue turf, Boise State has only lost at home 37 times. It was a lot to ask of UConn, especially.

    This was never going to be a good game for UConn, but what it turned out to be was so much worse.

    It was enough to make me think, “This is the most lopsided game I have ever seen in my entire life watching college football.” That was just a feeling, though, right?

    No. It turns out that feelings, for once, are actual facts.

    This past weekend, Boise State might have actually destroyed UConn in the most lopsided FBS vs. FBS game I have ever seen, but it goes beyond the scoring margin.

    On the rewatch it looks ... worse than the box score?

    And that’s just talking about the UConn offense. On the Huskies’ first eight full possessions, they punt seven times and throw an interception. UConn’s offense doesn’t cross the 50 until the middle of the third quarter and only does that once. The Huskies’ lone touchdown drive is it. The rest is handing the ball back to Boise, then watching that ball head back towards their end zone with horrifying efficiency.

    The defense has a worse night.

    Boise’s offense does not need help to blow someone out, but gets it anyway. After about seven and a half minutes, the Broncos score five TDs on just 15 plays.

    • TD drive one: Two. Plays.
    • TD drive two: Four plays, 43 yards, practically demure by Boise’s standards, thanks to great field position.
    • TD drive three: Six plays. Brett Rypien is just pitching and catching at this point, even the runs are all huge gaps, this is clearly an atrocity, and we are all accomplices.
    • TD drive four: 55-yard end-around TD run. This is heinous.
    • TD drive five: Six plays, and it already feels like Boise is trying to burn clock IN THE FIRST HALF OF AN ACTUAL GAME VERSUS AN FBS OPPONENT. They still score.

    It’s over in about 10 minutes of game time.

     ESPN’s live win projection during the game

    In a situation this bad, even the circumstantial things add up badly for UConn. For instance, after all that, did the Broncos get the ball to start the second half? Oh you bet they did. Did they score in one play, a simple screen pass designed to nibble away at the clock? Seventy-four yards later, yeah, they did.

    For once, the way I felt about a game was accurate statistically.

    This was a biblical-type plague for UConn, but not an unfair one. UConn only committed one turnover. Both teams had seven penalties, with Boise getting more yardage taken by infractions.

    The Broncos putting up 818 yards of offense — 418 through the air, and an even 400 on the ground — is remarkable all by itself, sure.

    Only 15 teams since 2000 have done that.

    But most were in shootouts or blowouts in which the losing team did some scoring. There’s a 72-43 Missouri State-Mizzou in 2017, a 63-17 Nevada win over Idaho in 2010, a random 70-21 Toledo blasting of NIU in 2007. One of those games featured two teams who did it in the same game: 2016’s 66-59 Oklahoma victory over Texas Tech.

    Those are things that make sense.

    This game, though? There is no sense in here.

    Boise gained 818 yards of total offense, while UConn finished with just 193.

    Search all records since the year 2000, when College Football Sports Reference picks up full stats. This is the complete list of games in which one FBS team gains more than 800 yards and the other gains fewer than 200:

    • UConn vs. Boise State, 2018

    That’s it.

    If this felt like a historical-type asskicking, well, it was.

    The yardage gap between the two teams was unprecedented in 21st century FBS football.

    The biggest yardage gaps in total offense in a single game since the year 2000 are:

    1. Boise State vs. UConn 2018 (+625)
    2. Boise State vs. NIU 2015 (+621)
    3. Oregon vs. New Mexico 2010 (+613)
    4. Alabama vs. Vanderbilt 2017 (+599)

    These are statistics confirming a few things.

    First, that Boise State has dealt out not one, but two of the most lopsided annihilations in college football history.

    Two, that if you felt like UConn-Boise State 2018 was, in your gut, as lopsided a game as you’ve ever seen, then your gut is pretty good at math.

    Three, you don’t want Bama, but on the wrong night, you definitely don’t want the Broncos either, unless you want to be a footnote.

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    The Top Whatever is your weekly ranking of only the teams that must be ranked at this exact moment.

    1. LSU. 22-21 over Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium. A warning, first: Take very little away from this, a random outcome between two teams so closely matched in talent that S&P+ had them within a half-point of each other coming in. It will almost always be this, almost always decided by a field goal or some tragic mistake.

    Spare us the idea that anyone has anything figured out that they didn’t have figured out coming in. LSU looked the same against Auburn as against Miami, their other test so far. Quarterback Joe Burrow completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, but somehow made the ones he completed count at crucial times. The defense gave up yardage, but forced stall-outs and field goals in the red zone. LSU special teams will generally make their kicks and keep the hidden yardage to a minimum.

    I’d call LSU a good marginal team. They know they need small margins, and play accordingly and without panic. The 2018 version of LSU won’t blow many people out — even the initial landslide of Miami leveled into something that, by the box score, didn’t look like a mismatch — but that’s fine. A team that plays close games in tight conditions needs a few things to go their way. So far, they have.

    Don’t let this sound like damning with faint praise. LSU is dangerous as hell. They are clearly this year’s best grappler, the one totally fine going to the mat and fighting on its back.

    There are more dazzling teams, sure. LSU’s score cards are ugly, but wins by submission don’t need numbers. LSU might be capable of putting anyone in the country in a triangle choke and watching that dazzle drain away.

    P.S. LSU please don’t make all of this sound very silly by losing by 30 to Mississippi State like you did last season. Thanks.

    P.P.S. Hey, you say, this sounds a lot like Notre Dame’s M.O. and resume so far. We’re so glad you noticed that, but it’s getting late and I really have to get to the [mumbles incoherently], gotta go—

    2. North Texas. The Mean Green: Undefeated so far in 2018, but now legendary, too.

    There’s a whole story behind how they did that, of course. But so far, the Mean Green have staged a free wrasslin’ match featuring Hacksaw Jim Duggan after a football game, beaten the daylights out of everyone they’ve played, and done that. The person who doesn’t list them in their top 10 has no understanding of greatness.

    3. Ohio State. Finished off a stubborn TCU 40-28 in the JerryDome. Fine, fine. FINE. It’s early for sincerity, but Week 3 means ranking the team that actually went on the road, actually played a tenacious opponent, and actually had to play four quarters.

    Ohio State couldn’t get anything better than in-store credit for beating Oregon State and Rutgers. In-store credit sucks, and is the scourge of every broke American’s dreams of trading in terrible Christmas gifts. However, Ohio State should consider itself lucky to even get that for the Rutgers win. Rutgers lost to Kansas by 41 points and is approaching Truly Legendary TrashStatus. (If a relative gives you Rutgers for Christmas, this relative hates you and is trying to send you a message!)

    But the Horned Frogs consistently pull recruiting classes a full 20 spots or so lower than Ohio State does. When they face top-five competition, they generally play at a marginal size disadvantage. They do not pull five-star quarterbacks. They will field a 155-pound football player like KaVontae Turpin in the 21st century, mostly because they have to, in order to put as much speed on the field as they can, height and weight be damned. They somehow manage to play excellent defense in a conference where teams all but spot each other 20 points to start the game.

    TCU does a lot of confusing, well-executed things on offense and defense, punches above its weight in every way possible, and is a potentially disastrous pull early on in the schedule.

    They were almost a disaster for Ohio State — until a 20 point third quarter marked by TCU mistakes changed the dynamic completely. Dwayne Haskins didn’t get rattled at QB, the Buckeye defense finally managed to pin down TCU’s wiry, lightning-bug skill players, and the Ohio State offensive line really started moving some ass in the wrong direction for TCU.

    Side note: Watching Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell get the ball in the right situation just once in a game and still seeing him break a defense’s back? Cruel majesty. When he was even with the defender, it was still obvious how badly that defender was about to get scorched. Ohio State doesn’t always seem to know exactly what to do with him, but when Campbell is in the right spot at the right time? The rest is howling obscenities and burning cleat marks.

    A team that can deliver knockout third quarters is my favorite kind of team, while a team that can lean hard on another with the run game in the fourth is the most bankable. This is a great combination for Ohio State, and they did it against one of football’s most consistent overachievers.

    Some worries: Ohio State’s defense giving up some baffling yardage on blown assignments up front, and the injury to Nick Bosa.

    4. Oklahoma State. 44-21 over Boise State in Stillwater. The most shocking result of the weekend, not because of the score — either team could have gotten on a roll and pulled away laughing — but because of the way it happened.

    The Cowboys usually torch people, sure. What made this so surprising was how the defense beat up Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien so badly, tagging him for seven sacks. DE Jordan Brailford had three all by himself. By the third quarter, Rypien was clearly flailing and had no run support whatsoever. Oklahoma kept Boise to just 34 yards on the ground, just a week after the Broncos put up a whopping 400 against UConn.

    All we do is underestimate Mike Gundy’s people, is what we’re saying, and all they do is keep putting up wins a team in Stillwater, Oklahoma has no obvious right to claim.

    But let him drink his smoothie while you keep doubting the Pokes.

    5. Georgia. 49-7 over woefully mismatched Middle Tennessee State. I’m mentioning Georgia for two reasons.

    1. They run the ball and play defense. If no one stops them, they will do this until they are playing in another national title game they will probably lose to Alabama. Georgia is less a football team than a reliable system of physical behaviors and outcomes.
    2. Though he only passed for 138 yards in a 42-point loss in blazing Athens heat, Blue Raiders QB Brent Stockstill is still a winner this season. Stockstill is taking water aerobics and “Teaching Water Safety” to stay eligible in his fifth year on campus.

    If anyone in Murfreesboro wants to talk to him about this, head on down to the campus pool around 10 a.m. He’ll be the only dude bouncing his ass off to “Please Don’t Stop the Music” before heading back to his apartment to play the new Spider-Man game for a few hours before practice.

    6. Oklahoma. Beat Iowa State 37-27, which is better than OU did against the Cyclones last year. Also gave up 447 yards, which seems bad because Iowa State’s offense is not very good.

    The solution is clear: Make Baker Mayfield the defensive coordinator.

    100 percent fire tweets > Mike Stoops’ defense. If you can disprove this statement, please do not email me. I will not answer it, as I am not accepting diverse viewpoints on this topic at this time.

    7. Alabama.“Beat” Ole Miss 62-7. Listen: Alabama might have assembled the greatest football team of all time, and great football teams are supposed to beat mediocre ones like Ole Miss this badly. We are not even a month into the season yet, so let’s continue to treat Alabama like death. It’s coming, but that’s no reason not to enjoy everything else while we can. Sometimes, on rare occasions later sold as movie scripts, you manage to avoid it for a while.

    They’re incredible, but let’s also not act like Alabama’s had a proper test yet. They have played three teams.

    • The first, Louisville, barely beat Western Kentucky 20-17 this past weekend.
    • The second, Arkansas State, just earned a not-overwhelming 29-20 win over Tulsa.
    • The third, Ole Miss, recently surrendered 629 yards and 41 points to Southern Illinois University. It’s one thing to give up Big 12 yardage to a Big 12 team. It’s another to hand it over to an FCS school whose mascot is an aloof, purebred sight hound.

    The good news for Alabama: If they only play half as well against the rest of their competition, they’ll still slaughter them by scores something like 30-3.

    Let’s not even talk about them until they play LSU on November 3 if we don’t have to, and keep the discussion to GIFs of Tua Tagovailoa making pretty throws against iffy-to-okay coverage.

    8. Clemson. 38-7 over Georgia Southern, which is fine. It’s not super impressive, though limiting Georgia Southern’s annoying triple option to 83 yards on the ground is commendable. QB Kelly Bryant suffered something called “a chest bruise” and did not play much in the second half. Reader: Imagine how bad a “chest bruise” feels, and now wonder why anyone sane plays football at all.

    9. BYU. A 24-21 upset of Wisconsin in Camp Randall is the most powerful anti-alcohol PSA our nation has ever known.

    This Cougars team lost 40-6 in Provo last year to the Badgers, and finished out the home slate by losing to UMass. Their first loss this season came with a 21-18 defeat by Cal, who might actually be pretty competent-approaching-good*. BYU might truly be good again, and at the end of the year, Wisconsin might feel no shame about this. Kalani Sitake has cleared the wreckage beautifully so far.

    *No, I’m not ready to consider whether Cal is good, because the minute we consider it a real possibility, the Bears will lose by 40 to someone. That’s just how a team that plays its games standing astride an actual fault line rolls.

    10. Notre Dame. Defeated Vandy 22-17. This might mean something if Vanderbilt is actually good, or might just be another red herring on the way toward an inflated ranking and slotting Notre Dame into a Playoff spot it will inevitably waste?

    It can mean either, depending on your needs, really. Fulfill those first, and the rest will work itself out. (Probably with a baffling, slow loss to Stanford in a few weeks.)

    Etc.? Syracuse? Boston College? The former beat Florida State 30-7, a score that doesn’t really represent how badly the Orangemen beat up on the Noles. The latter is leading the ACC in total yardage and points, winning shootouts with ease like it’s not Boston College.

    Translation: The ACC is on something powerful right now. Don’t take it. The hallucinations are too much to take for the amateur-amateur pharmacology enthusiast.

    Other good teams not ranked for reasons of underwhelming opposition: Penn State, Mississippi State, defending national champions UCF, Duke (see: more ACC hallucinations), and Cal/Colorado/Wazzu in one big lump of Pac-12 undefeated ambiguity.


    An undefeated Indiana? LEAVE.

    How bout 3-0 Kentuck— LEAVE NOW.

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    This is The Top Whatever, the weekly ranking of only the college football teams that must be ranked.

    1. UCF. Champs stay champs with a 56-36 win over Florida Atlantic. McKenzie Milton might have telekinesis, or he might just be a great quarterback. That we can confuse the two is probably the highest compliment a quarterback can get, and only really applies to one other quarterback in college football right now.

    That’s right: LSU’s Joe Burrow.

    * It is not Joe Burrow, but instead Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama.

    2. Stanford. 38-31 over Oregon. Don’t look at the box score, don’t watch the tape, and don’t try to figure out why Oregon, with the ball and needing only to run out almost all of the clock by taking a knee, decided to instead call an actual run play. Oregon running back CJ Verdell fumbled, Stanford kicked a tying field goal, and Oregon looked shellshocked. Overtime was probably over before it even started.

    Do know this: Stanford got hammered around the field at Autzen Stadium for a half, nearly went down 30-7 at one point ...

    ... and kept plugging away numbers in their spreadsheet football machine until something worked. The Cardinal vultured easy scores off turnovers, and after a frustrating start used Bryce Love on play-fakes while turning the game over to K.J. Costello at quarterback.

    It worked because Stanford receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside matched up against most DBs looks like a dad playing backyard ball against his son. It worked because the Cardinal on the road in a brutal environment followed their game plan like they were running through practice.

    It worked because Stanford got lucky, sure. But luck has to be handled well, and it is hard to handle luck better than turning what seemed like an imminent Oregon TD into a fumble run back for a TD of your own. It is hard to do much better than getting the gift of a fumble with the clock winding down and trailing by three, yes, but lesser teams have panicked in the situation, too.

    Oregon outgained Stanford by huge margins in every major category (including, well, turnovers). That didn’t matter in the end, because Stanford plays the right kind of cold, opportunistic football that doesn’t sweat — especially when they get the gift of three turnovers.

    It’s Stanford, the coldest rich school in college football. Giving them freebies is just an insult.

    3. Kentucky. Won 28-7 over Mississippi State.

    Kentucky is 4-0. The last time the Wildcats were 4-0, the year was 2008, and the American banking industry nearly collapsed. Am I saying that Kentucky football being actually good will trigger a new financial crisis?

    No, what I am saying is that Kentucky fans don’t really care what happens because a.) a lot of them don’t trust banks anyway and would be fine living by barter in a post-apocalyptic society, and b.) no one, not even Kentucky fans, is sure of what to do with this information either.

    Mississippi State came in averaging 311 yards a game on the ground. They left Lexington with 56 rushing yards and the justified opinion that Kentucky — in football — might be good.

    Again, this is confusing for everyone, so the deeply underrated Benny Snell posting pictures of himself carrying a bulldog like a loaf of bread seems like a great coping strategy for all concerned.


    4. Alabama. 45-23 over Texas A&M. The Aggies didn’t look too overmatched, actually. They stifled the run game, holding the Tide to a measly 109 rushing yards. In fact, they outgained Alabama on the ground, though most of the Aggies’ 130 came on one 54-yard sprint by QB Kellen Mond.

    What I am saying is that Tagovailoa — four TDs and 387 yards passing, no big deal, all done with the shining aura of a natural born demigod, the touch of a young Aaron Rodgers, and adorable cartoon birds singing on his shoulders — is perfect. There is nothing to be done about that.

    The run game, however, is not perfect. The defense lost some battles one-on-one with Texas A&M’s skill players. All of this is building to an epic and well-rehearsed Nick Saban detonation in the middle of a press conference this week about how Y’ALL THINK WE CAN JUST ROLL ‘EM OUT HERE AND WIN, DON’T YOU? Book it, despite Alabama having no real obvious peer right now.

    5. Clemson. 49-21 over Georgia Tech. A game that didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know about either team, save this: freshman Trevor Lawrence is Clemson’s quarterback now, and incumbent starter Kelly Bryant is on the way toward spot play at best.

    Everyone pretty much knew this already, so yeah: nothing new.

    The Yellow Jackets look like they’re going to focus on their coursework this season and instead let football be the pleasant weekend diversion that it should be.

    6. Georgia. 43-29 over Mizzou, a result that depends on the editing, when it comes to saying whether it was good or worrying for Georgia.

    For example:

    • This was the Bulldogs’ closest win of the season! (They won by 14 on the road in a game that never really felt out of control.)
    • The defense allowed 172 yards and four scores on the ground, far too many for any team, much less one that prides itself on run defense! (The defense held Mizzou QB Drew Lock, who averages like 900 yards a game against anyone else, to 221 yards and no passing TDs.)
    • The offense struggled early! (They did, and it still didn’t matter, and this is all Kirby Smart struggling to find something wrong with a team where very little is going wrong.)

    7. Penn State. That 63-24 win over Illinois followed the same pattern of every Nittany Lion game. There is a sluggish start. Then, the gassing-up of the opponent in response to that team looking competent.

    See the moment this week when, for a few precious seconds, those watching Illinois take a lead over Penn State for in the third quarter thought “Maybe Illinois is good this year!”

    Then, Penn State unloads all of the points in about 15 minutes of play and destroys everything in sight. Remember this if they get down by any margin to Ohio State: it’s fine, because Penn State has 35 points tucked away somewhere. Once they find it, oh buddy, that’s when you are in trouble.

    8. Buffalo. A 42-13 win over Rutgers doesn’t count for much. We’re talking about Rutgers, one of the few completely verified terrible teams of 2018.

    Still, credit to the MAC’s big blue monster for being 4-0, and also for not being content to eke out a win over a Power 5 team. Nope, Buffalo dropped the entire house on Rutgers, then had that house demolished, and then dropped another house on top of that house.

    See, Buffalo? There is at least one actual sports franchise in your city.

    9. Notre Dame. A 56-27 win over Wake Forest does mean a little something. The 56-point outburst came about mostly as a result of Brian Kelly starting backup QB Ian Book over Brandon Wimbush.

    Book threw for 325 yards and two TDs, the offense blew the hell up after struggling for much of the season, and Notre Dame played a great defensive game against an offense that had been shredding opposing defenses. (No, really, this is a thing in 2018. They’re good.)

    Also, Wake Forest tried to come out in a field goal formation without a kicker.

    10. Ohio State. A 49-21 win over Tulane doesn’t say much, though it does help answer the question “Which school where even the smart students have puked on themselves in a social setting has the superior football team?”

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    Which kind of sadness is right for you?

    Sports can make people emotional. Emotions are tricky things, especially sadness.

    Happiness can come in only so many shades. Sadness, though? Sadness has a thousand variations, some so subtle they’re hard to tell from the other.

    That can make deciding exactly how you feel a truly difficult thing. Fortunately, there is help. The words for exactly how you feel may escape you, but these photos of sad sports fans should help distinguish one kind of sad from another.

    Point to the one that shows how you feel.

    Now let’s discuss each.


    The instant when sadness is realized. Sadness is not here yet, but you’re in the middle of the road, and it’s coming down the road without brakes.


     Michael Shamburger

    This is going to be bad, you say to yourself, all the while not fully feeling the bad thing’s full impact. Like going ankle-deep into into the pool of bad feelings, but understanding that things won’t get real-real until you have to get your shoulders under the water.


     Michael Shamburger

    The moment when, emotionally speaking, you get your shoulders under the waters of sorrow. The physical reality of the emotional disaster, as unavoidable as an onrushing defensive tackle seconds from sacking your quarterback. (Again.)


    NCAA Football: Tennessee at AlabamaMarvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    The sadness that makes you want to flee far from everything, even though you cannot. The precursor to alienation, shame is the bridge to divorcing yourself from the world. Shame says “I’d rather not be here, but there is still an I to think and feel these things, even if that I is wearing a paper bag over their head to hide.”


    Tennessee v South CarolinaPhoto by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Putting an entirely new face between yourself and the world. Shame is wearing a paper bag, because the paper bag says yes, this is a paper bag over my real face. Alienation is a step further, i.e. making a whole new self and walking around with it in the face of unimaginable sadness.


    Georgia v TennesseePhoto by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The look on the right.

    The colloquial way of putting this emotion: the exact instant someone realizes that someone else “ain’t shit” and will never redeem even a percentage of the hopeful checks you’ve written against their personal credit.

    Disappointed forgives that. Embittered, though? Embittered spent a hundred bucks in gas and took off work early and paid for a suite at the Comfort Inn to get to the game for the noon kickoff. And dammit, it wants all that money back if you’re gonna do this against some knockoff West Virginia like Appalachian State. All of it, y’all.


    Less a state of sadness than a defense against it, the panic room of the emotional home. However, spend too much time there, and it just becomes your new living room.

    Please note that this feeling can be so extreme that you must place your hand on your head to a.) keep it from flying off from sadness and b.) verify that this sadness has not in fact destroyed you on the spot.

    If you need another reference to check if this represents how you are feeling: are you a Nebraska fan? This has been you for the better part of 20 years now.


    Is someone reading this aloud to you because you cannot take your hands off your eyes for fear of seeing the world still in front of you? You’re here at the apex of sorrow and pain.

    You are inconsolable and want nothing more than to block out all inputs from the world. Just like your offensive line, blocking is something you cannot do. Is powerful emotion really the best pass rush? Yes, yes it is.


    You can’t twist your head off, but losing to Florida by 26 points at home will make it feel like the only option.


    Here we go. It’s here. There is no more before or after, only sadness, on all sides like a rising tide. That word choice might be intentional, and I’m not sorry about it.


    When sadness leaves you feeling naked. The nude version of misery, basically.


    Sep 15, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers fans react to their teams loosing to the Florida Gators during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Florida defeated Tennessee 37-20. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE
    Sep 15, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers fans react to their teams loosing to the Florida Gators during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Florida defeated Tennessee 37-20. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE

    Accompanied by a crossing of the arms to defend yourself from how the situation is making you feel. Displeasure, while unpleasant, is again still invested in the situation. It’s not happy about it, but it’s still part of a relationship. Differs from discontentment in that discontentment is ongoing and can be fended off, while everyone is defenseless from the instantaneous onset of displeasure.


    Barely with the living. The urge to hide is almost animal. The need to respond to anything exterior, minimal at best.


    The wave of anxiety flying over you like the beating wing of a huge hawk, hunting for something to use as an anchor point for its claws. This local man portrays the emotion perfectly: something might be wrong, and the possibility of the possibility is enough to upset his equilibrium.


    When it’s too much and not going anywhere. If you’re suffering but using the industrial strength version of suffering — i.e. the intense, long-lasting version, bought in bulk from the sadness store — that’s misery.


    Are you not sad, but on the lookout for things that could be sad? Overly worried by it, even, to the point of that worry ruining perfectly normal and good things? That is wary, as in “I am wary that this 17-point deficit to Alabama, which is bad, could get worse by double before the game ends.”


    When the sadness is so powerful you simply cannot advance past the beginning and get the urge to pull your face off from the top of your skull.


    A novel emotion, but a real one I think needs to be added to the lexicon. Elendfreude is a completely made-up German word meaning “misery-joy,” and it is the best way to come close to the feeling of seeing something awful happen to yourself, yet feeling a perverse joy in it.

    Example one: Your team leads with a 1:26 left and has the other team at fourth-and-14 around midfield. The other team somehow throws for a game-tying TD on that fourth-and-14 and wins.

    Example two: Any time on the internet when someone says “lol” accompanying an announcement of devastating personal news, like “Got cancer, this absolutely owns lol.”



    When the normal mechanisms of humans comforting other humans cannot break the wave of sorrow, you have reached inconsolable. (The man here probably does not help by smelling like fear-sweat and Dickel, but the illustration stands.)


    Just a long walk beneath a blanket of emotional permacloud, usually with regret and disappointment as outriders.


    NCAA Football: Florida at TennesseeRandy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

    If you’re disappointed, but also a little surprised, like when your team finds a novel and shocking way to lose in year 11 of an anticipated three-year rebuild. It’s not the sadness that stings the most. It’s how it got here in the first place.


    The kind of sadness you clock into like it’s an hourly job, or a fandom worn proudly but with pain for years on end. Woes transcend troubles in that they are their own historical period and multiply with time.

    Woes are the mortgage. They go nowhere, require payment and attention, and only disappear with the passage of decades.


    When the badness hits before the sadness. Horror has to pass first, because horror is the body realizing it has seen something deeply wrong or against nature.


    All this sadness just makes you tired.


    Let the wisest elders show you the face of survival, the vision of the only way out of all these strains of anger and sadness.

    The Buddha believed that life was pain, that accepting pain was the only way toward a truly whole life.

    This fan embodies that. If life has given him four turnovers, he will take a fifth if it comes.

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    The Top Whatever is a weekly ranking of only the college football teams/things that must be ranked at this time.

    1. UCF. 45-14 over Pitt. The champs stay champs until further notice. How long will I keep doing this? Years, if necessary.

    2. Ohio State. Defeated Penn State 27-26. There are two keys to victory in any football game:

    1. Be a big, sturdy team with great depth, superb talent, and the ability to endure stretches of bad play and bad luck. Ohio State gave up huge plays to Penn State. The Buckeyes struggled on offense at times. They looked both shaky and shook on the road for whole chunks, yet managed to win.
    2. Make sure your opponent sets themselves on fire at worst possible moment.

    It’s the scream that really makes this. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. It sounds like he just watched a loved one plummet off a cliff and watched them all the way down, which he sort of just did.

    If anyone wants an explanation for Penn State’s play call on fourth-and-5 with the game on the line — a muddled-looking handoff to the running back for a loss and, um, the loss — there are only a few possible explanations. Penn State checked back twice on the play, never really looked set, and ran face-first into a buzzsaw anyway because they never had their communication straight.

    That happened after taking two timeouts. This would be incompetent, and that is a very mean thing to assume about someone.

    The other possibility is that James Franklin and his staff called that play because they all have rabies. Rabies is the kinder assumption here. Everyone involved with this play call has untreated rabies. They need to seek medical attention immediately, or they will die.

    3. The Fox graphics team.


    Colorado WR Laviska Shenault is having an incredible season, even if the teams the Buffs have played are a combined 1-16 so far. And that’s good, but damn, y’all, it is just a third of the way into a long, long season. Stretch a little before pulling that graphic out or risk serious injury.

    4. Clemson. Won, 27-23. This looks a lot better if we take the labels off. Two undefeated ACC teams met in a closely fought contest! One lost their quarterback to injury, yet mounted a determined comeback anchored by the run game. The other held in gamely against the more talented opposition but gave up a game-winning TD drive on the road. These are all reasonable things good teams do under the pressure of a live football game.

    This sounds a lot worse when I say this was Clemson and Syracuse. It sounds even worse if I say that the injured QB was Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, and if I remind you he started over established starter Kelly Bryant, who’s said he’s transferring elsewhere after losing the job. Ha, ha, look, Dabo Swinney gambled and now he has to use a mere three-star quarterback — Chase Brice, who was middling in relief — as starter.

    That intentionally misses a few things in order to laugh at Dabo.

    • Clemson was going to make this switch anyway. They knew this situation was possible, unless they believed Lawrence was the first player in the history of football to be 100 percent immune from injury. They probably did not believe this!
    • Syracuse beat Clemson 27-24 last year, and for some reason or another gives Clemson fits on offense and defense.
    • Clemson pulled the game out anyway by running with Travis Etienne and daring Syracuse to stop it. Etienne finished with 203 yards on 27 carries and scored three times, including the two-yard TD run to cap a 13-play, 94-yard drive for the win.
    • Most people think the longest straight road in the United States is a 31-mile stretch on Highway 46 in South Dakota, but it’s actually a 35-mile I-80 along the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

    TL;DR: Clemson lost this game last year without Bryant, and they won this game this year without Bryant, and sometimes everyone drastically overthinks things based on one game. IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL, YOU SAY? Never.

    5. Notre Dame. Outpaced Stanford 38-17. Heyyyyyy, look: another team that replaced a QB and kept winning. Notre Dame replaced QB Brandon Wimbush with Ian Book, picked up an entirely new passing game, and stopped Stanford from winning four in a row for the first time in the history of the rivalry.

    This brings up the very good question of how Stanford lost this game. I have an answer.

    It should be apparent, but in case it’s not? Stanford refused to do the obvious and powerful thing. The Cardinal ran plays that were not indefensible fade routes to JJ Arcega-Whiteside. I’m not saying Stanford should do this every other play. I’m not saying they should do this even one out of every three plays.

    No, I’m saying that, especially if Bryce Love is not in the game, this should be Stanford’s entire offense. If starting QB K.J. Costello misses a throw to Arcega-Whiteside, immediately replace him with the backup. (I learned this strategy by watching college football in 2018. Quarterbacks can be switched out like bad spark plugs in an engine, but Arcega-Whiteside is a nine-foot-tall literal tree with the hands of a classical pianist.)

    Oh, and this was the first time Notre Dame won at home over a top-10 team since 1993. They might be really, really good. They also might lose to Pitt or miss the playoff because they do not play a conference championship game. This is why Notre Dame should just plan on showing up to the ACC Championship Game like indignant wrestlers and demand to face both teams at once.


    Tell me that man can’t hit the camera with spittle during a righteous promo.

    6. Georgia. A 38-12 function over Tennessee. QB Jake Fromm went 16 of 22 for 185 yards and was fine, but just assume he’ll be benched next week for freshman Justin Fields because ... well, just because Georgia feels left out of all the luxury quarterback shuffling going on this year.

    7. The Michigan Athletics Twitter account. Dunking on someone statistically? WE COULD NOT BE MORE BIG TEN RIGHT NOW, MICHIGAN.

    Northwestern blew a 17-0 lead in a 20-17 loss, probably because Michigan is a better school that makes harder-working people with better connections and a deeper appreciation of the musical Hamilton. Just one man’s opinion, but please email me about what a really good school Northwestern is at celebrityhottub at gmail dot com. Be sure to drop the name of at least three semi-famous people you sort of know just so I can confirm you’re really a Northwestern grad.

    P.S. I am not worried about you actually emailing me because an email address is a lead, and Northwestern loses those.

    8. Oklahoma. 66-33 over Baylor. It’s always good when you can come out on the high side of a football game in which the score could also be an international basketball game’s score.

    9. Kentucky. 24-10 over South Carolina, a team that has now tasted the wrath of Big Blue five years in a row. Looking down the schedule, it is entirely possible that with their next three games — Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Missouri — Kentucky could be 8-0 going into a matchup against Georgia. The SEC East game of the year will probably be Kentucky versus Georgia, and with factual statements like that, drugs aren’t even necessary.

    10. LSU. 38-16 over Ole Miss. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow threw for three TDs, which against any other team, would be great. Against Ole Miss in 2018, that might be underachievement, but this game took place in the rain, and also hit some kind of wormhole where it had to take five hours? Don’t act surprised that Baton Rouge would be the site of a rip in the fabric of space time. Don’t even try.

    11. Alabama. 56-14 over UL Lafayette. Alabama allowed 200 rushing yards in this game. Is this a weakness someone else can exploit to beat the Tide??????*


    5,219. All quarterbacks. Replaceable now, evidently.

    0 0

    The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall’s weekly ranking of only the college football teams that really must be ranked at this time.

    1. Georgia Tech. 66-31 over Louisville. The entire idea of the Top Whatever is that I can throw off the shackles of polling, actually move teams around based on their accomplishments that week, and salute teams that actually lived this week, man.

    And because living well is the best revenge, I’d be derelict in my duties if I didn’t put Georgia Tech No. 1 this week, their 3-3 record be damned. For Paul Johnson, revenge is best put into a barrel for 12 years and aged to perfection.

    In short: Louisville defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and Paul Johnson have a long beef about Johnson’s triple option and whether it works in the 21st century or not. Read the whole saga here, but it revolves around Johnson, then coach at Navy, trying to schedule Georgia Southern because “I want to beat the hell out of Brian VanGorder.”

    Something like 4,380 days passed. Johnson left Navy, and VanGorder has had seven different jobs since then. Since 2006, there have been three different presidents, babies have become middle schoolers, and people stopped using MySpace. (In retrospect, we should all probably still be on MySpace.)

    Most people probably would have let that slide, or even forgotten about it. Twelve years after getting pissed at VanGorder for saying some pretty standard stuff about the triple option, Johnson reminded everyone that he is not most people.


    The funniest part of this: when most teams get a lead, they slow the game down by running the ball and letting the clock run. This would have been fine here for Louisville, except for one thing: ALL GEORGIA TECH DOES IS RUN THE BALL ANYWAY. Even if they were trying to end the game, they still scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.

    Georgia Tech is the best team in the nation this week, and Johnson will be waiting in the parking lot with a tire iron for you. When? Sometime in the next 12 years. You’ll never know exactly when, though. Good luck!

    2. UCF. 48-20 over SMU. Our defending national champs stay champs, and I’m ashamed my national colleagues continue to ignore them.

    3. This play.

    That is an Aussie rules move, punching the ball ahead so a teammate can catch it and continue forward. Cal punched it to the wrong team, but that will happen when you’re learning a new game. It would explain so much about the history of Cal football if it turns out they’ve been trying to field an Aussie rules team on a college football field for the past hundred or so years.

    4. Notre Dame. 45-23 over Virginia Tech. The Irish are very good, but getting lucky is a large part of having any successful season, and my goodness Notre Dame is catching every ace in the deck so far.

    • Caught Michigan in a one-score win before the Wolverines figured out a few things about their offense
    • Switched QBs midstream and got ... better?
    • Stacked simple wins against Vandy, Wake Forest, and Ball State
    • Got Stanford in South Bend with a gimpy Bryce Love

    They eventually blew Virginia Tech off the field in Blacksburg, but again caught VT in about as good a spot as imaginable: depleted defensively, and playing backup Ryan Willis at QB for only his second start of the year.

    The rest of the schedule reeks of fantastic timing, too. Pitt, Syracuse, the worst FSU team in recent memory, an inconsistent USC with a freshman starting QB, a seemingly down Navy ... in collegiate terms, Notre Dame is acing a senior year slate of ballroom dancing, water aerobics, and Growing Fruit for Fun and Profit. <— actual class at Florida when I was there.

    This is all to say two things:

    1. I know Notre Dame is really good and really lucky, and that’s a great combination for a team looking to make a College Football Playoff.
    2. I also know that because of their unique scheduling arrangement as an independent, it is entirely possible that Notre Dame could get a playoff slot and then get absolutely smoked by a grizzled team that’s dragged its way through the gutter to get there.

    That sound familiar? It should. It’s basically the script for the 2012 Notre Dame season, or how Notre Dame gets to live as an independent completely at the mercy of its schedule. The Irish don’t get assumed value off conference strength alone and have to hope rivals like Stanford, Michigan, and USC all come through with strong resumes.

    When they don’t, a superior team like the 2018 Notre Dame Irish get to coast for a while through an easy semester. Then they get invited to grad school and run face-first into exams they might not be able to pass.

    P.S. Irish RB Dexter Williams is absolutely ridiculous.

    5. Texas. Won the Red River Shootout 48-45. Texas was averaging about 28 points a game on offense coming into the Oklahoma game. The Longhorns then came out and put up 501 yards of offense while facing a superb Oklahoma offense, more than doubling the Horns’ average 2018 output and winning a huge rivalry game.

    This is the correct way of saying this: against a superb Oklahoma offense.

    Because if we’re being honest, all teams compete directly with the Oklahoma offense and bypass the defense completely. The Oklahoma defense is no longer necessary as a competitive factor in games. It is a speed bump. Mike Stoops molds each speed bump into a fresh lump every offseason and presents it proudly at the end of fall camp. I present my next lump. Please clap.

    6. Florida. Beat LSU 27-19. I’m just as confused as you are, but evidently the Gators got first downs when they needed them, and then did not collapse down the stretch? And they’re 5-1 somehow, and just handed LSU their first loss of the year? I’m asking this like I didn’t watch the whole thing. I watched the whole thing and only have one answer: magnets. Ancient, powerful, and mysterious magnets are behind Florida being okay at football again.

    7. Alabama. 65-31 over Arkansas. Tua Tagovailoa went 10 of 13 for 334 yards and four TDs. He did not play after the first drive of the second half. Tagovailoa has not passed in a fourth quarter all season. This opens the possibility of Tagovailoa doing two of the flossiest college football things ever: being a modern Heisman favorite while a.) never playing a full game and b.) not getting 3,000 yards passing in the regular season.

    Alabama’s defense giving up 31 points and over 400 yards to Arkansas is a thing, but let’s be clear about what kind of thing it is. Chad Morris picked on Alabama with wheel routes, misdirection, and all kinds of evil little calls that every defense struggles with in the open field.

    Inexperienced units especially struggle with those. Believe it or not, Alabama’s secondary is still one of those, and was Nick Saban’s biggest concern coming into the season. It would probably be more of a concern if Alabama wasn’t scoring 60 points in games, and that’s surely something Saban understa—

    —and it turns out that no, no, Saban does not understand this, and never will.

    8. Georgia. 41-13 over Vanderbilt in another installment of “Let’s Beat Up On A School With Better Test Scores.”

    9. Ohio State. 49-26 over Indiana. See all that stuff up there about Alabama? That’s sort of all true for Ohio State, who continues to paper over lapses in the defense with a QB who can put up six TDs without breaking a sweat. The big difference: Ohio State gives up huge plays when they have those lapses. Indiana got four plays over 30 yards against the Buckeyes, continuing Ohio State’s streak of being one of the worst defenses for big plays in the nation.

    10. Clemson. Demolished Wake Forest 63-3. The Tigers had three players rush for a hundred yards each and ran up 471 yards on the ground alone. Clemson also played Wake Forest, a team that is not capable of hanging onto Clemson’s back bumper for longer than one quarter. Balance your enthusiasm over this accordingly, but this is still something most teams even don’t do against their fluffiest FCS competition.


    • NC State, who is 5-0 after beating Boston College, but usually ends up 8-4 anyway, so let’s not count that as meaning much.
    • Cincinnati, who defeated Tulane to go 6-0 but really hasn’t played anyone, but hey bowl eligible is bowl eligible.


    • West Virginia. Will Grier is brilliant because if you’re going to have a four-turnover game, be sure to have it against Kansas.


    • Penn State.

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    The Top Whatever is a weekly ranking of only the teams that must be ranked right this second.

    1. UCF. Champs stay champs, even if it happened to be in a one-point, come-from-behind win over a 4-3 Memphis. UCF should be in the College Football Playoff, but will instead have to blow out Auburn in a bowl game again.

    You know this is a joke because I said Auburn is going to make a bowl game.

    2. Qaadir Sheppard, Ole Miss.



    3. LSU. Cracked Georgia 36-16 in the most shocking result of the day. Playing a close game against Georgia and pulling it out would have made sense. LSU plays nothing but close games, and the idea of the Tigers getting deep into the fourth quarter and catching a break? That could have reasonably happened.

    But this didn’t make sense, based on literally anything anyone has seen from either team. For example:


    Georgia was so broken by the time the fourth quarter rolled around that they allowed LSU QB Joe Burrow to pull the ball on a zone read, ramble into the open field, and then sprint untouched. Joe Burrow is a fine, sort of mobile quarterback. He is not someone who should ever run 59 yards through the Georgia defense without a police escort.

    LSU ran for 275 yards on the day, controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and forced Georgia to rely on Jake Fromm to pass them out of trouble. Spoiler: Fromm, at this point in his career, is not capable of just passing Georgia out of trouble with ease.

    LSU made Georgia into something they had not been for the better part of two years: helpless, controlled by the other team, and playing on terms they could not change. When that happens, the Tigers can win any game they want. When they win any game they want, they can play any song they want.

    And when they play any song they want, they play “Neck.”

    P.S. When Alabama was asked to stop cussing during the return of “Dixieland Delight,” most of them seemed to obey. Meanwhile, the LSU administration had been asking students to stop yelling profanities for a decade during “Neck.” When the Great Hunger comes, l will choose the real ones at LSU because unlike some self-styled freedom-lovers, they actually don’t obey anyone.

    P.P.S. It’s also possible that LSU and everyone in Louisiana in general don’t even understand the entire concept of authority, much less that they would obey it in the first place. Which is also fine. Geaux Tigahs.

    4. Michigan. Flattened Wisconsin 38-13. Reduced Alex Hornibrook to a turnover-spitting shell of himself. Ran for 320 yards, which is not only the thing Wisconsin is supposed to do, but is also the most ground yardage given up by a Wisconsin defense since 2011’s Rose Bowl against Oregon. Didn’t pass the ball really well, but that’s like having a subject in your sentences. Not really necessary when you’re flexing like Michigan is right now. Kinda superfluous to be honest.

    5. Iowa State. Whooped up on West Virginia, 30-14.


    Something that happens every single year: one week when teams that have been through real hardship run into teams that have experienced none. This was that week.

    Take the case of Iowa State, a team that’s been through things. They’ve already played an entire football game with Iowa, as unpleasant an experience as anyone can have. They’ve slogged out games with TCU and gotten strafed by Oklahoma. They’ve experienced bad things.

    Meanwhile, West Virginia’s been living high on the hog, scoring 3,000 points a game and breezing through defenses with ease.

    So when the two of them met, the possibility for vengeful ugly was real already. How real did it get? So real that the Mountaineers weren’t even given a chance to try on offense, much less turn the game into a shootout. Iowa State had 498 yards of offense and 25 first downs, mobbing possession and keeping the Mountaineer defense on the field.

    Iowa State held the ball so long, the West Virginia offense didn’t even get a chance to exist. In a regulation American football game, West Virginia only ran 42 plays on offense and only got seven first downs on the day. West Virginia barely got to throw a punch before Iowa State hammered them into a corner for an hour.

    And now, bad things have happened to you, Mountaineers. The Iowa State band members in T-Rex suits? They were a warning, not a joke.

    6. Arson. Huge week for arson, the celebration of choice for the discriminating state college fan.

    Michigan State is still the Undertaker because a.) their matches are sometimes unwatchable, and b.) they will always find a way to come back from the dead in a season after being written off completely.

    Do the Spartans need a Turnover Coffin? YES THEY ABSOLUTELY NEED A TURNOVER COFFIN. Make this happen, Michigan State people. It would be weird for any other team besides the perennial Dead Man of college football.


    Okay, we cnotinue.

    7. Oregon. 30-27 in OT over Washington.


    Washington and Oregon were both overdue for this. Washington’s credit rating plunged over the last month with lackluster performances against UCLA and Arizona State, and the heavy devaluation of their Quality Loss™ to Auburn to open the season. Oregon’s sole loss to Stanford, meanwhile, was way, way flukier than it looked and hinged on a single bad/weird bit of time management by the Ducks.

    Which is to say that the predictions of Washington going on a decade-long win streak against Oregon were greatly exaggerated, and Oregon became the first team in the Pac-12 to actually call the Huskies out for being incapable of pulling away from comparably talented teams.

    Also, Washington gave up that unearthly catch by Jaylon Redd off an equally unreal throw by Justin Herbert at the end of the first half, and if you give up TDs with time expiring in the first half, it’s almost 100 percent a sign that your team is doomed. It’s like giving up a safety: it’s not a guarantee that your team has suffered an irreparable core breach, but it’s definitely not a good sign.

    8. Alabama. 39-10 over Missouri. The story of Alabama’s 2018: after an injury scare to their otherworldly dual-threat QB, the Crimson Tide were forced to put in their national championship-winning, 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year quarterback who can squat over 500 pounds, bench 405, and run a 4.5 40-yard dash.

    What passes for drama for Alabama is for anyone else the definition of disgusting luxury.

    9. Ohio State. A bad, 30-14 win over Minnesota? The Golden Gophers have one of the least productive offenses in the country and spent the better part of three quarters putting real digits up against the Buckeye defense. Like, their best yards per play of the year (7.07 per play) in a season when the Gophers opened with New Mexico State.

    QB Dwayne Haskins can throw for a quarter of a mile per game, and it won’t matter when the Buckeyes continue to play like a Big 12 team that’s taken up guest residence in the Shoe. If only there were a team capable of playing defense on their schedule BY GAWD THAT’S MICHIGAN STATE’S MUSIC.

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    Learn to identify one in the wild

    Q: Is that a strength coach?


    Yeah, that’s not main LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt, but that is still a strength coach, because:

    1. no neck
    2. beard
    3. on sideline manhandling and yelling at people bigger than he is without fear
    4. shaved head
    6. seems like he lifts weights a lot
    7. works for the football team? <—— kind of an assumption here, and not at all proven!

    In summary: Strength coaches have a built-in helmet, and it’s called their skull. It was good enough for David when he faced Goliath, and it’s good enough for strength coaches.

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    The Top Whatever is a weekly ranking of only the college football teams that must be ranked at this time.

    1. UCF. 37-10 over ECU. Champs stay champs until further notice.

    2. Purdue. 49-20 over Ohio State. The Purdue Boilermakers lost to Eastern Michigan earlier this year. And Missouri. And Northwestern. The Purdue Boilermakers have lost to some very bad teams, is the point, and have three losses on the season and generally should not beat Ohio State in a football game.

    So last night? Last night Purdue ran Ohio State, the No. 2 team in the country, into a brick wall with the accelerator flat to the floor. This was a complete domination. Purdue passed when they wanted to, ran for three TDs, and generally confused the Ohio State defense to the point of comedy.

    For instance, Ohio State’s defense has evidently never defended a simple trap run play, which Purdue ran a couple of times late in the game for the big runs that turned this from “shocking upset” to “appalling blowout.” Greg Schiano makes $1.5 million a year. The market is perfect and never makes mistakes.

    This generally happens over the course of a season. Teams can start off looking awful, then tweak a few things and suddenly look way, way better. Purdue, for instance, settled on a starter at QB and started scoring 40 points a game. David Blough threw for 378 yards and three TDs last night against the Buckeyes.

    He also earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running out onto the field after the Boilermaker defense finished the game with a pick six off Dwayne Haskins. An incredible teammate is always there to help you talk shit, and Blough is obviously an incredible teammate.

    Ohio State is unraveling, saddled with a defense unable to defend even mediocre offenses and an offense losing the ability to run the ball at all. It’s kind of hard to talk about how any of this without mentioning that, or how Ohio State in 2018 is slowly turning into Missouri With Five-Star Talent.

    There is one difference between Missouri and Ohio State, though. Missouri actually managed to beat Purdue in 2018.

    3. Wazzu. 34-20 over Oregon. Wazzu, not Washington State. Washington State is a fine state university in Eastern Washington. Wazzu is the football team, the erratic, sometimes disastrous, and occasionally brilliant squad that will do all of the following in its best of games:

    • Race out to a 27-0 lead, making Oregon look hopeless and hapless
    • Roll out for the second half flat as old roadkill
    • Immediately let Oregon back into the game, 27-20
    • Convince everyone watching they will collapse
    • Somehow turn around and score a game-clincher on an angelic TD by Gardner Minshew to Dezmon Patmon
    • More improbably: hold defensively and finish out the win over the Ducks

    The usual runaway mine cart hell-ride for the Cougars fan, in other words. This is why they drink and why they’re better at drinking than you. This team is going places — terrifying, possibly haunting, possibly thrilling places. Possibly places where they rocket off a cliffside highway without hitting the brakes, for instance.

    The really funny part: they are, right now, the Pac-12’s last shot at a Playoff slot. This is hell, Pac-12 people, and Mike Leach is sunning himself in a lawn chair, asking why everyone’s complaining about the heat.

    P.S. Serious Uncle Rico vibes from QB Gardner Minshew here. He’s got a headband AND armbands, and thus may not ever lose a game again.

    NCAA Football: Oregon at Washington StateJames Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    4. Michigan. 21-7 over Michigan State in a bitter, ugly rivalry game with ugly, bitter football to match. One quibble: the postgame accusation that Mark Dantonio enjoyed the pregame theatrics between the two teams, though.

    This accusation is clearly untrue. It suggests that Mark Dantonio has ever smiled during Michigan-Michigan State week.

    5. That Brief Moment When Rutgers Was Winning a Conference Game

    6. Clemson, 41-7 over NC State, with 308 yards passing for QB Trevor Lawrence proving Clemson really is using the entire schedule as practices with different focuses. One week they decide to see how well they run. The next is a passing drill, where they try out a bunch of new stuff with Lawrence.

    They’ll probably spend the second half against Florida State working on long field goals and punting. Clemson will already have a 24-point lead.

    That they can casually do this against NC State — a good football team — is slightly terrifying, but Clemson can beat other teams so badly we have to remind everyone that their hopeless opponents are, in every other world, good teams with good players.

    For example, Ryan Finley is the best quarterback NC State has had since Russell Wilson, and on Saturday he looked exactly like Russell Wilson ... the one that threw five interceptions against Green Bay in 2016. If you’re an NC State fan, try not to remember why Wilson left for Wisconsin in the first place. It will make you mad, and you have enough things to be mad about right now.

    7. Nebraska. 53-28 over Minnesota. The Huskers got their first win of the Scott Frost era, and on Scott Frost Day, no less! We’ve just made every day Nebraska plays a Scott Frost Day in hope that eventually Scott Frost Day and a Huskers win would meet on the calendar. Lo: This week is that week, and Happy Scott Frost Day to you all.

    P.S. If we told you it would take five years to turn Minnesota into a decent program, you would believe us, wouldn’t you?

    8. Alabama. 58-21 over Tennessee in a game that produced one of the most mindbending moments in recent college football history.

    That’s the coach who helped put the Tennessee program into foreclosure, Butch Jones, getting a Gatorade bath on the Alabama sidelines. Jones received $200,000 this month from the University of Tennessee, effectively paying him to coach against the Vols because Alabama isn’t paying him much to be one of the 5,680 analysts who hang around the offices in Tuscaloosa. This is insane and also perfectly normal in 2018’s college football ecosystem.

    P.S. Alabama is still crazily good and will win the playoff easily. Everyone else has to scratch some meaning and fun out of the season without paying too much attention to them. This has been true for years now. The sooner you learn it, the happier you will be.

    9. LSU. Only mentioning an unwatchable, 19-3 victory over Mississippi State for two reasons.

    1. Good lord, Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald is passing the ball right now like he has a foot for a hand.
    2. LSU had 239 yards of total offense and still managed to win 19-3. GARBAGE GAME KINGS, STAND UP.

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  • 10/23/18--05:24: It Seemed Smart podcast
  • The Sportsperson’s Guide to Cheating Poorly.

    It Seemed Smart is a six-part storytelling experience brought to you by SB Nation and Vox Media Podcast Network that enters the amusing, diabolical, and entertaining world of sports trickery and mayhem. SB Nation’s Editor-at-Large Spencer Hall shares the absurd stories of stolen bats, pirated play calls, renegade cross-country road racers, and fantasy football’s own insider trading scandal.

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    In 1994, the Cleveland Indians crawled through a ceiling, stole a bat out of an umpire’s dressing room, and set off a chain of events that eventually involved a former FBI agent.

    In 1994, Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians had a bat confiscated by umpires during a game with the Chicago White Sox. Why did the White Sox ask for the bat to be confiscated? Because they suspected the bat was corked. Why did the Indians crawl through a ceiling, steal the bat out of an umpire’s dressing room, and set off a chain of events that eventually involved a former FBI agent? Because the Indians knew the bat was corked.

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    The Top Whatever is a weekly ranking of only the college football things that absolutely must be ranked at this time.

    1. UCF. Had a bye this week, but took that bye week to the woodshed and gave it the thrashing it deserved. Recovery naps? Dominated. Massages? Took them like pros. Downtime Fortnite sessions? SLAMMED IT. The Knights are waiting on the Battle Bus for Temple this week, rested, ready, and so well-hydrated they’re basically individual vegetable misters.

    2. Georgia. Beat Florida 36-17. The impressive things about Georgia coming back after a loss to LSU and slapping a rival into the St. John’s River:

    • Ran the ball 41 times for 189 yards on a good Florida defense and opened up the passing game for Jake Fromm. Georgia works a lot better when they remember they have two good running backs and a quarterback who needs play action!
    • Stifled Florida’s budding offensive renaissance and took advantage of three turnovers.
    • Killed the Gators on third down with pinpoint passing by Fromm, who came alive in the second half. He preyed in particular on Florida cornerback C.J. McWilliams, who had what we’ll call “a learning experience.”
    • There are many kinds of “learning experiences.” This was the “don’t drink Gatorade with tequila” or “maybe living off five credit cards for all of 2014 was a bad idea” kind.
    • It’s boring work, but they hit their kicks and punted Florida into horrible field position, eventually generating turnovers and points for Georgia.

    Those are all really simple things. Most football teams can’t do a lot of really simple things at once, though, and that’s why Georgia remains alive for pretty much anything they want to win in 2018.

    Oh! They also overcame an occasionally insane offensive coordinator who runs doomed sweeps on third-and-one. The Jim Chaney Experience is a Category One drug like that sometimes.

    3. UAB. 19-0 over UTEP. This changes nothing in the national picture, ensures no playoff slots, and doesn’t calculate things differently for a major bowl. It’s really just to point out that UAB didn’t even exist in 2015 and 2016 due to Alabamian political intrigue, came back in 2017, and is now somehow 7-1 and sitting atop the Conference USA standings.

    Taking a few years off somehow made them better. This might work for a few major programs, actually. For example: Florida State? Consider it seriously for a minute. Let it marinate before you dismiss it completely.

    4. Clemson. 59-10 over Florida State. Clemson is playing football so well, they’re raising reading rates across the entire ACC.

    There’s nothing like a patently unfair score to send you into the arms of a good book. For some teams — like say, Florida this week— that might be something that would take a week or so to read.

    Florida State fans might need something more substantial to pass the time until the pain stops. The Tale of the Heike is a blood-soaked 900 pages of medieval Japanese warfare and treachery. It’s brutal, gory, and at times incomprehensible, and that still sounds a lot better than watching this.

    5. Washington State. Defeated Stanford 41-38. Excuse us for a moment, but:

    Ahahahaahahahahhhahahahahahhhahahahahhahaaaaaa Mike Leach is piloting the Pac-12’s last real shot at a playoff team, and everyone’s gonna die.

    The Cougs are extremely Coug-y, and for people who need explanations, here’s one. Wazzu gave up 38 points to a Stanford team not even that fond of the concept of points. Their QB is an East Carolina transfer who dresses like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. He wears a headband. That’s how you know Gardner Minshew will be nails in the fourth quarter.

    Their defense is somehow both hard-hitting and negligent. Their kicker actually gets used, which is one more example of a Wazzu team refusing to be 100 percent predictable even about ingrained weirdnesses like “doesn’t really like using a field goal kicker.” They have a brilliant receiver in Dezmon Patmon. Their coach is the most predictable part of this team, actually, which is, again: weird.

    They face Cal, Colorado, Arizona, and Washington down the stretch. They could win all four of these games. They could lose all four of these games. No one is saying it is a good idea to place any hopes on Wazzu. No one’s even saying it’s not a terrible idea, but terrible ideas can also be very fun. That should be engraved in bronze over the door to the Washington State football facilities: A terrible idea that is also very fun.

    6. Kentucky. A felony theft of a football game in winning 15-14 over Mizzou. Seriously, just an absolute masterpiece of football atrocity. No one should ever watch this game again, and all rights to this game should revert to the CIA, who will blackbox it in a vault somewhere in Greenland for the protection of humanity.

    What you do need to know is the following:

    • Kentucky, the No. 12 team in the country before this game, was a seven-point underdog going in
    • Kentucky had just three points going into the fourth quarter
    • Kentucky scored the winning TD on an untimed down after a sketchy pass interference call
    • Kentucky absolutely stole this entire game despite looking like hot garbage for at least 50 minutes out of 60
    • Mark Stoops then had to crowdsurf to Sheck Wes and break the ceiling of Mizzou’s visitors locker room

    There, we told you the important parts so you don’t have to watch it, and can instead fast-forward to the real comedy: a top-10 matchup between Georgia and Kentucky with real playoff implications coming up this week.

    See? 2018 is kind of fantastic if you look hard enough.

    7. Notre Dame. 44-22 over Navy. The Midshipmen were 2-5, but a win is a win, especially one gained against a pesky triple-option team. (It’s always funny UNTIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU. Signed, any Louisville or Virginia Tech fan in 2018.)

    Notre Dame has these teams standing between them and an undefeated season: Northwestern, Syracuse, Florida State, and USC. Better still for the Irish: only one is a true road game, coming at USC on November 24th. And QB Ian Book shows few signs of regressing.

    It is time to prepare yourselves for a full-bore Playoff crisis involving Notre Dame, is what we are saying. It might also be time to prepare yourself for “Syracuse is a quality loss” as an argument, because the Notre Dame defense will give up serious yardage at times. This is also saying that Syracuse is the last, best hope between the world and Notre Dame getting housed by Alabama for the second time in a decade.

    TL;DR: We’re doomed.

    8. Oklahoma. 51-14 over Kansas State and my goodness, Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles is not to be messed with in the open field.

    9. Alabama. Also had a bye week. Tua threw three TDs. Don’t ask how, he just did. The long one probably came against Bye Week Ohio State’s defense, if we’re playing the numbers here.

    10. Michigan. Bye week spent conditioning Chase Winovich’s magnificent hair. Between Winovich, Porter Gustin at USC, Zachariah Hoyt at Virginia Tech, and Breckyn Hager at Texas, 2018 might be the best year since like 1992 for Giant White Dudes With Majestic Viking Manes.

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  • 10/30/18--07:09: The Real Cannonball Run
  • Or, how to plan to break the law in 20 states at once.

    Ed Bolian is a mild-mannered Lamborghini salesman who teaches Sunday school at his church. He is also the driver and organizer behind the fastest Cannonball Run time ever — a 28-hour sprint across the United States that involves a thousand small challenges, and two huge ones. The first: How to document a record-setting attempt of a highly illegal speed run conducted across 20 different states without creating evidence. The second: What to do if the cop who saw the pig heart on ice in his trunk didn’t believe he was transporting a human heart for transplant? Holly Anderson joins Spencer in this week’s episode.

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    The Top Whatever is a weekly ranking of only the teams that must be ranked at this exact second.

    1. UCF. Still undefeated, still champs, can still go to Disney any time they want, haters.

    Actually, this brings me to a terrifying point about Orlando and UCF: this exactly the city and team someone would have designed as an 8-year-old. UCF’s first shot at designing a mascot? Something an 8-year-old would make.

    Their all-aluminum stadium that looks like an Lego Technic set and at one point included such childish oversights as “whoops, we forgot the water fountains?” Also clearly the work of an 8-year-old.

    Being undefeated, yet unable to eat at the big kids’ table? Also a very Orlando thing, especially this year, when they could win the rest of their games and still not get any closer to the playoff because of their conference and schedule. But we got straight A’s! Yes, it’s third grade math, though, and Alabama is out here doing differential equations in their sleep.

    That is not your fault, UCF. That’s just where you’re at in a very unfair world. Some consolation: no other team is both 20 minutes from Splash Mountain and in a community where you can pay traffic tickets in fruit snacks.

    2. Clemson. Remember when Clemson won a close game at Texas A&M earlier this year? It was a 28-26 squeaker, definitive evidence of a lot of things people wanted to assume from one college football game.

    For instance, after the Texas A&M game, Clemson’s starter was clearly Kelly Bryant and not upstart Trevor Lawrence, the Tiger secondary had serious issues, and Travis Etienne and the rest of the run game were going to struggle. A&M, meanwhile, was just two points away from joining the elite, and Jimbo Fisher’s $70 million guaranteed salary was already worth it.

    It’s November now. Clemson’s run game has razed much of the ACC, averaging 265 yards a game and giving luxurious protection for Lawrence, the starting QB. The defense hasn’t allowed anything close to the yardage A&M earned in College Station that night and has only allowed one team to hit triple digits both rushing and passing in a single game. That was NC State, and Clemson won, 41-7.

    Texas A&M just lost to Auburn, a team desperate to fire its coach with a gigantic buyout.

    No one is getting anything from Clemson this year, not on the ground, not through the air, and not in turnovers or easy possessions from their offense. They move like a service academy on the ground, defend like an Alabama, and are grooming their next wunderkind QB in practice sessions everyone else calls “live conference games.” The ceiling for this team is theoretical, at an altitude high enough to require powerful telescopes to see.

    Oh, and they’re not even close to that ceiling yet.

    3. Alabama.

    I dunno. That’s Alabama, the team so unchallenged, other teams are resorting to desperate measures like “flying helmet-first into the apparently adamantine testicles of the immortal quarterback.”

    Tua Tagovailoa described the hit by LSU as “right in the goodies,” and he had to come out for a minute. He had a mediocre night, at least on the Tagovailoa curve: 344 yards total offense, two passing TDs, one rushing TD, and his first interception of the season, which still worked out nicely for the Tide.

    It is terrifying how far Alabama has come since Nick Saban’s arrival, but especially terrifying when the quarterback position is taken into account. Alabama won a national title with glorified placeholders like Greg McElroy at the helm, then turned to the workmanlike A.J. McCarron to run a standard pro-style offense for another pair of titles.

    Someone named Jacob Coker won a national championship? I think that happened, though if anyone says there was anything particularly memorable about Jacob Coker, they are either a.) lying or b.) talking to Jacob Coker.

    The final pivot is the really mind-bending one. Alabama switched to what looked a lot like a spread run game, started a quarterback who was nothing like his predecessors in Jalen Hurts, and ran him to another shot at a national title before switching to the next coming of Football Jesus himself in Tagovailoa.

    Switching styles of offense is one thing. It’s something teams don’t do much, much less without a head coaching change. But doing that in three or possibly four different variations over the course of a decade, with five or six differently styled players, all without losing momentum?

    That’s something that would kill lesser regimes. It’s evidence that Alabama’s talent level is so absurd it can sustain decisions that have destroyed other teams. It’s also evidence that Saban, for all the jokes about how much he hates changing anything, is actually brilliant at managing change.

    They’re all so good at it, in fact, that Tua’s worst night of the year ended up bottoming out somewhere around other starting QBs’ best. Play your best game, and you might see eye-to-eye with Alabama’s worst. GOOD LUCK.

    4. Utah State. The Aggies are a combination of two things no one wants a piece of: overdue and over.

    Utah State is overdue in the sense that injuries and bad luck limited their production in 2015 and 2016. Rollover points aren’t real, but they might be for Utah State, a team on an eight-game win streak in which they’ve averaged over 50 points a game and destroyed everything in their wake.

    They’re over in the sense that they are literally over, beating the spread by 13 points a game in 2018.

    Most of that is due to the players, but some credit should also go to offensive coordinator David Yost for his aggressive schemes, play calling, and hair.

    Mostly his hair, tbh.

    5. Michigan. The 127 Hours of teams. Play Michigan, and they’re going to take a limb and immobilize you. Not in a super flashy way, no, but brutally enough to let you know: you live out here now, and you’re not going anywhere.

    Ultimately, to get away, your team will have to cut its arm off with a pocket knife. Only Notre Dame brought one this year, but fortunately, Brian Kelly regrows limbs like a starfish.

    6. Iowa State. The Cyclones switched to freshman QB Brock Purdy after a loss to TCU on September 29th. Since then, Iowa State has upset Oklahoma State in Stillwater, dealt out one of the most lopsided ass-kickings of the year against West Virginia, and fended off a frenetic Texas Tech for a win.

    They also beat Kansas, which was a team effort. We say that to differentiate the team win from Hakeem Butler getting KU’s coach fired with a single play. That was an individual effort, and Butler deserves credit for that.

    Is it possible to burn someone so badly it gets their boss fired? The evidence here seems to speak for itself.

    No one wants to play Iowa State right now, and no one should, because after years of joking about how playing in Ames is a recipe for disaster — without a lot of real evidence to back that up — that reality has arrived. Don’t go to Ames. There are no funny accidents out there anymore, just dark, sinister farm country, where good teams actually do go to die at the hands of a gifted freshman QB and the Big 12’s best scoring defense.

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    The Top Whatever is the only ranking of teams that considers a crucial factor: must this team be ranked right now?

    1. UCF. 35-24 over Navy. Wild how the team with the longest winning streak in FBS football is going to end up playing some SEC also-ran in a New Year’s bowl but still end up outside consideration for the College Football Playoff. Which SEC also-ran?

    Never mind, not important, next, move it along, nope—

    2. Pitt.52-22 flattening of Virginia Tech, bringing Pitt a full step closer to fulfilling the Pitt Prophecy:

    • Stack embarrassing losses early in the season, including a 51-6 loss to Penn State, a 45-14 drubbing by America’s Best Team UCF, and a 38-35 howler to UNC. UNC is 1-8 for the 2018 football season, and if you are very smart, you just realized who gave the tragic Tar Heels their only win on the season.
    • Improve out of nowhere and begin hammering people.
    • Lose to Wake Forest, but still beat Miami to finish the season.
    • Have three out-of-conference losses, one horrible conference loss, and another pretty bad loss, yet still make the ACC Championship.
    • Beat Clemson and screw the ACC out of a playoff slot.

    That’s just going to happen, and there’s nothing any mortal can do about it because that’s what the ancients decreed.

    In the meantime, appreciate Pitt piling up 492 yards against Virginia Tech coordinator Bud Foster’s defense. That sounds like a lot, and is a lot on a historical level: Pitt’s output of 654 yards is the most any Foster defense at Virginia Tech has ever given up in Foster’s 23-year tenure at the school.

    BUT THERE IS MORE. The 13.9 yards per play average by Pitt was not only the most Pitt has averaged since 2005. No, that 13.9 yards per play average was the highest by any team in FBS since 2005. Virginia Tech has spent the year giving up 70-yard bombs to ODU and stat-breaking run totals to Pitt. Virginia Tech’s defense needs a damn nap and a juice box, and they need it now.

    3. Jeremy Pruitt’s Coaches’ Show Face.

    Tennessee beat Kentucky, by the way, and yet that’s the face of a guy who’d rather be eating a bowl of tacks than doing whatever he’s doing at the moment. Tacks are not a vegetable, and thus definitely on Pruitt’s list of things he can eat.

    4. Clemson. 27-7 submission of Boston College. The score is underwhelming, given Clemson’s galling talent advantage, but remember a.) the Tigers were kind of sloppy and handed BC two turnovers, b.) BC is a very stubborn defensive team and played pretty well at home, and c.) Boston College’s only score happened on a kick return by a dude who wears a hoodie under his pads.

    If there is anything more New England than a kick returner who wears a hoodie under his pads, please send it to me at spencer at, and I will credit you for your discovery.

    5. Alabama. 24-0 over Mississippi State. It’s fun to talk about how Alabama is now an unstoppable scoring machine capable of incinerating scoreboards at will. But in a week when the Crimson Tide were kept to modest totals by the SEC’s nastiest speed bump — Mississippi State, the doorjamb every team in the conference stubs a toe on — it’s best to remember Alabama still has a defense.

    They have a very good defense, in fact. The Alabama defense has only allowed three rushing TDs, is No. 5 in S&P+, and held the Bulldogs to just 44 yards rushing.

    Tua Tagovailoa is the more obvious guy destroying the opponent, sure. But allow us to introduce a two-word counter into the conversation: Quinnen Williams.

    Quinnen. Williams.


    QURNNIN. WURRLGMasdlkadsjf;asd

    It’s OK if your team can’t block him. Alabama can’t, either.

    “I think we’re honestly a little relieved as an (offensive) line that we’re like, ‘OK, no one else can block him either,’” Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams said. He likens it to blocking “a nearly 300-pound bar of soap.”

    Anyway, Alabama has their usual possibly illegal power mutant on the defensive line, they have Tagovailoa, and the fact of their complete supremacy on the football field is something everyone will just have to take as a given to work around in enjoying the rest of the football season. Good luck and Roll Tide.

    6. Syracuse. 54-23 over Louisville. 187 to 61 over the past four years: That’s the point total of Louisville’s last four games against Syracuse, all wins for the Cardinals, and all administered with extreme prejudice. The Lamar Jackson hurdle happened against Syracuse. A 56-10 humiliation in the rain in Louisville happened just last year against the Orange, who’ve spent the past four years taking bricks in the teeth from Bobby Petrino’s team.

    So once the tables turned? Oh, Syracuse had no choice but to burn Louisville to the ground, especially because the Syracuse offense was built without brakes of any sort. The Orangemen ran the ball 55 times for 326 yards, embarrassed Louisville to a degree not even already-embarrassed Louisville thought possible, and got some revenge in the process.

    Then Petrino got fired the next day. To review Syracuse’s delightful 2018 in three easy points:

    1. Has eight wins for the first time since 2012, with three games left.
    2. Got Bobby Petrino canned.
    3. Has this quarterback:

    Someone should get rightfully ticked when someone says this year in college football has been boring. A quarterback who pours grape soda all over himself is leading the Orange to what might be their best season this century. If you’re bored, that’s your fault.

    7. Ohio State. 26-6 puntfest win over typical PuntFest Champions Michigan State.

    Ohio State got into a punt-off with Michigan State and didn’t die. This is a real achievement, since every team in a punt-off with Michigan State typically ends up on the butt end of a game when, despite out gaining the Spartans by 200 yards, they lose by some ghastly score like 15-11, and everyone watching has a very confusing time.

    Instead, Ohio State punter Drue Chrisman shanked his first kick for four yards and then went on A BLOODY PUNTING RAMPAGE THAT DID NOT CEASE FOR THREE PUNTIN’ HOURS. His remaining kicks put Michigan State inside the 10-yard line five times and inside the 5 three times.

    In response, the Spartan offense did nothing, then handed the ball back with great field position. It should say something about Michigan State that it took me a while to notice when was Rocky Lombardi in for Brian Lewerke, because both are pretty much good for 20-of-50 for 200 yards and no TDs with one INT, even against Ohio State’s dysfunctional defense.

    8. West Virginia. 47-10 over TCU. TCU had a Masters Sunday kind of game, in that they were -7 on the ground. This is great in golf, but terrible if you’re trying to run the ball in a football game.

    The victory leaves West Virginia 8-1 with two games to go. The most confusing result for the Big 12 would be:

    • Iowa State beats Texas
    • West Virginia loses to Oklahoma
    • Iowa State and Oklahoma play for Big 12 Title
    • Iowa State wins, screwing the Big 12

    This would be the most confusing result, and so yeah, that’s how the Big 12 rolls.

    9. The beard on Georgia RB Deandre Swift’s Dad

    Flawless beard game, sir.

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    The Top Whatever is your weekly ranking of only the teams that must be ranked at this exact point in time.

    1. UCF. Still the champs. UCF will probably go undefeated again and still get walled out of the playoff, but at least they’ve pulled the most Florida of moves: turning their rickety stadium built from recycled aluminum cans into a brand strength. Does your stadium barely meet code and vibrate under even basic foot traffic? BOUNCE HOUSE.

    Other schools could learn from this. Does your stadium still house unsafe levels of carcinogenic asbestos despite years of warnings by the city and state to clean it up? WELCOME TO THE COUGH TROUGH. Is it built on a Superfund site, and possibly not safe for human habitation even for just a few hours every Saturday? WE DARE YOU TO PLAY AT THE TOX BOX.

    Built on an active fault line that could go off and swallow the whole place in one huge tremor? TEST YOURSELF AT CAL MEMORIAL STADIUM. This is actually Cal Memorial Stadium’s thing, because the Hayward Fault runs right down the middle of their actual football field.

    Again, the weirdest thing we could make up turns out to be a real thing. The lesson here: Stop making jokes, and start taking dictation.

    2. The Citadel Bulldogs. Lost 50-17 to Alabama.

    The Citadel may have just posted the most dominant 33-point loss in the history of college football. The Bulldogs were tied with Bama at the half. They held the ball for 36 minutes against Alabama. Maybe you wanted to go to watch Tua Tagovailoa play in Tuscaloosa, random Alabama fan? TOO BAD, TIME TO WATCH FORMER HIGH SCHOOL WIDE RECEIVER BRANDON RAINEY RUN A QB KEEPER 25 TIMES FOR MIGHTY CITADEL.

    The Citadel lost by fewer points to Alabama than Arkansas, Ole Miss, or Tennessee did. Better still: They scored more points than LSU did against Bama, and LSU was playing at home.

    The Citadel is now no worse than like, fourth in the SEC West, and possibly better in the SEC East, if I’m going to be honest. Go Bulldogs.

    3. Notre Dame. Flattened Syracuse 36-3. Listen, I have nothing but jokes for Notre Dame when it comes to the Yankees-themed pinstripe uniforms. Notre Dame would be the first team to co-brand a uniform with Amazon, the first to do a dual-logo football jersey with Duke basketball, and the first team to wear Range Rover-themed cleats. None of this is a surprise. If Notre Dame played a game in Spain, they would 100 percent come out in all-white jerseys in honor of Real Madrid, and definitely not Barcelona.

    Unlike Real Madrid — another venerable, old money power — Notre Dame hasn’t won anything of note for years and has a hard time measuring success.

    This is not Notre Dame the Football Team’s fault. As college football’s last mighty independent, the only championship Notre Dame can win is THE national title. The Irish live in the unique position of having to decide whether they had a satisfying year or not without using conference play as a report card.

    If there’s a question about that for 2018 to this point, there shouldn’t be. Notre Dame deboned Syracuse, reduced them to a gelatinous thing so incapable of moving the ball that the Orange had to rely on an Officially Sad Field Goal in the fourth quarter to avoid a shutout. The offense barely had to sweat. Ian Book had open men all over the field, while the Notre Dame rushing attack clicked along nicely for 171 yards and two scores.

    And that’s been the story the whole year. They’ve been better than good, to the point where the only jokes are their specialty uniforms. Which are awful. Let’s be totally clear on that while saying things like “Notre Dame should stop having flashbacks to 2012, because it is six years later and they should get over that, because this is an entirely different team and a much deeper roster.” Because at one point, jokes aside, Notre Dame will have to realize that it stands a chance to seriously compete for the one title they can win outright.

    P.S. This isn’t me writing this about Notre Dame, and we will never discuss this again.

    4. Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert. Q: How does a Liberty University QB who didn’t even pass for a hundred yards in his team’s 53-0 loss to Auburn merit mention in any list of superlatives?

    A1: Is nicknamed “Buckshot”.


    5. Clemson. 35-6 over Duke. Duke will be an underrated victory for Clemson, and it really shouldn’t be. Duke consistently overachieves, is a top 25 defense in points per game, and has a pretty good QB in Daniel Jones. Please don’t make fun of Jones when he gets drafted too high because he is large, white, and was coached by the guy who coached Peyton Manning once.

    It’s not Jones’ fault he’s a dim NFL scout’s fantasy quarterback. That’s on the dim NFL scout, not Jones.

    Duke even tried a play I’d never seen before: a fake quick kick on fourth and short when Jones took the snap, began to punt the ball downfield, and instead pulled up and threw to an open receiver for the first down. The receiver was open because he pushed off, but I’ll never punish effort or innovation here.

    Side note: David Cutcliffe would be the worst coach to face in a backyard Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving. He’d be using the water oak for dirty pick plays, intentionally spilling sweep plays into the holly bushes, and definitely pulling double passes. Grandpa loves you, but Grandpa ain’t here to show you what a chump looks like, either.

    Trevor Lawrence is coming along nicely, Clemson has at least three wide receivers who might be the next Nuk Hopkins, the defense allowed just six points, the rushing attack was balanced and deep, and Dabo Swinney learned a new word in the postgame presser.

    See: It’s late November and everyone is still learning and growing at Clemson, even the head football coach.

    6. Oklahoma State. A 45-41 fish stuffed into the glove compartment of West Virginia’s 2018 Dodge Challenger on a hot day and left in there for a week or two.

    There is one abiding rule in the Big 12: the conference is a bucket, and all the teams in it envious crabs. The minute one team appears to be heading for freedom, excellence, and a New Year’s bid? That is the moment that team is caught by the leg, then dragged back into the bucket with the rest of the other sad, petty crabs.

    Hmm let’s search the photo tool for “saddest pettiest Big 12 crab in 2018” and see what comes up and —

    Boise State v Oklahoma StatePhoto by Brett Deering/Getty Images

    — there we are. Stuck in a rebuild, starting a QB who would otherwise be starting at West Texas A&M, and stumbling into a game against West Virginia at 5-5, Oklahoma State had little reason to stay in the game against a rolling Mountaineers team besides the desire to ruin someone else’s season. This being the Big 12, that was more than enough for the Cowboys.

    Taylor Cornelius had 444 yards of total offense, including an improbable 106 yards rushing to doom the Mountaineers. Just go watch him run a few times, and you’ll see how improbable it is. It just shouldn’t work, but somehow, there it all is, toddling down field like an NBA small forward running a 40-yard dash with his legs tied together at the knees.

    West Virginia sort of forgot it couldn’t carry timeouts over into the next game, too? That happened, and likely cost West Virginia its best attempt at a last-minute score to win. This in turn cost the Mountaineers a possible shot at the playoff. This in turn means the Big 12’s best hopes are still in the hands of hated rival Oklahoma, who now has a clearer line towards everything, thanks to Oklahoma State. The circle of spite in the Big 12: it’s both endless and perverse.

    7. Washington State. Boat raced Arizona 69-28. That included a 34-point second quarter in which this happened:

    Arizona did this, but these kind of things happen for Wazzu this season. Their quarterback is a mustachioed, headband-wearing rec-league football god set loose in a fully functional air raid machine. Their defense is good all the time, and sometimes legit great in the second half of games. They’re ridiculously fun in the way that produces points and wins, which is a rare, rare thing to be treasured.

    8. This Fresno State Fan. Siri show me images for the city of Fresno, CA.

    Yeah, man. YEAH.

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    This hasn’t been a wild season, but there’s still plenty to enjoy at the margins.

    At this same point a year ago, the following had already happened in college football:

    • Iowa State’s upset of Oklahoma in Norman
    • Syracuse flipping Clemson’s season upside down in the Carrier Dome
    • Florida throwing a Hail Mary to beat Tennessee
    • Penn State winning in the last minute at Iowa

    There are more, if you want to look. There are a lot more, so many that just looking down the list kind of makes the point.

    If I asked you to make a list of the same games for 2018, you’d come to the same conclusion I have. It’s not a welcome one, nor one I really want to make, but it’s unavoidable at this point: the 2018 college football season has been without bangers.

    Very few dance-floor-shaking thumpers out there. There have been interesting games and teams having unusually good seasons, sure. There are great players and a few great moments. But if we’re all going to have a moment of clarity, then let’s have it at something above a whisper: 2018 has not been the most obviously entertaining college football season.

    There are reasons for this.

    1. Marquee games have missed hugely.

    LSU-Alabama ended without the Tigers scoring a point. Washington-Auburn opened the season with a struggle that turned out to be less about two titans testing their might against each other, and more about two underwhelming squads figuring out all the things they couldn’t do. Ohio State-Penn State concluded with a wet fart.

    Do you even remember 2018 USC-Texas, the followup to one of 2017’s best games? No, no you do not.

    Only the Red River Shootout really lived up to the billing, and that was a noon Eastern game, which people tend to forget by 5 o’clock of the same day. Night games have consistently disappointed (and this is saying something, in a year when teams as bad as a currently 3-8 Navy have been in the spotlight), big afternoon game have been iffy, and games touted as crucial showdowns have bellyflopped out of the public consciousness before the third quarter ended.

    2. The games that have been good — and the teams in them — have largely happened at the margins.

    It’s emblematic of the 2018 experience that when I tried to think of the most fun I’ve had watching a game, the immediate answer was: Oh yeah, Purdue blowing out Ohio State.

    FBS’ best stories have involved teams in college football’s hinterlands: Washington State in Pullman, Purdue in West Lafayette, UCF in the AAC, or UAB in Conference USA. They are delightful and obscure, relative to the teams one expects to be talking about in November.

    That’s been exacerbated by a lot of big brands — Penn State, USC, Florida State, Auburn, Miami, Wisconsin, etc. — having seasons that for one reason or another are at least 10 percent letdown. (In USC’s case it’s way, way more than 10 percent letdown.) This is cold demography, but if teams with lots of fans are less interesting, then fewer people are as invested in the sport as a whole.

    3. A lot of potentially interesting teams are in year one or two of rebuild. This is reason to believe 2019 will be a lot more fun.

    The hiring/firing season of 2017 was a bloodbath. The natural consequence: a 2018 with a substantial number of powers and important role players still testing out their depth charts in live games.

    Nowhere is this more obvious than in the SEC West. Alabama has barely broken a sweat in part because it’s crazily talented, but also because a huge chunk of their division is still figuring out where to put their furniture in the new digs. Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke is a recently promoted interim under NCAA sanctions. Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Arkansas are in year ones. At times all three teams have obviously looked it.

    Note: Arkansas might be in year one for another year. They might have two year ones and then jump right to year three, based on what I’ve seen out of the hard-fighting and deeply undermanned Razorbacks.

    That first-year malaise extends elsewhere. Oregon, Florida State, UCLA, Tennessee, and Nebraska are under new management, and for the most part have played like it.

    4. This adds to the temporary collapse of college football’s middle class.

    For instance, in 2017 at the same point in the season, there were seven teams with three losses in the AP top 25. This week, there are the same number of three-loss teams — plus FOUR four-loss teams. Texas could finish 9-4 and end up in the New Year’s Six bowls as a top-12 team.

    It is a bear market for quality, and it shows.

    5. The Alabama Effect.

    It doesn’t matter as much as people think it does, but it is real. The absolute certainty of Alabama’s dominance does take some of the drama out of a season, especially when other teams on its schedule fail to show up at all. Louisville turned out to be appalling, LSU couldn’t score a single point, and no one else has been able to stay on Alabama’s bumper for more than two quarters.

    That is a terrible formula for interest. Nick Saban majored in business at Kent State, though, and can’t write screenplays for shit. No, he will not apologize for it, either.

    6. P.S. The same is largely true of Clemson, too.

    This equals everyone expecting a Clemson-Alabama title game, something we’ve already seen three times! That kind of expectancy isn’t helping, either.

    7. Superstar players are either low-profile, following tough acts, or stuck in the margins.

    Fill out your own private Heisman ballot just for fun. I won’t share mine — because as a Heisman voter, I can’t — but theoretically speaking: How far do you get after Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray before you run out of slots? Could you even name the top rusher without looking it up?

    That top rusher is Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin, who plays for a 7-4 team that lost to BYU. Taylor’s situation is the point: take out Tua, and many of the game’s top performers play out of the spotlight, many for teams out of contention.

    Will Grier is having an amazing season, Gardner Minshew is overseeing Arena Ball madness, and Benny Snell, Jr. has been his team’s entire offense. It’s not fair, but the three of those playing at West Virginia, Washington State, and Kentucky show how off-map this season has gotten in terms of big stories. If they played anywhere else, we’d have a more obvious cohort of “SERIOUS PLAYERS GO HERE.” Instead, we kind of have to remind everyone that they’re having incredible seasons, even if they happen to be one block off Main Street.

    The best way to describe 2018 in sum: This has been the ESPNU season.

    It’s where I finally learned the channel numbers for ESPN2, the SEC Network, and FS1 by heart, because that’s where the season’s most interesting things have happened. It’s been a hipster’s season with subtle joys and slightly obscure heroes. Subtle is fine, even if we’d sometimes rather have something we could dance to without thinking about it too much.

    You know: A banger.

    0 0

    Each week, the Top Whatever ranks only the college football things that must be ranked. This week, every deserving item happened all at once.

    This photo contains multitudes, and we’re going to rank them.

    1. The photographer. Please note that Hilary Scheinuk of The Advocate took this photo. On the list of people who get proper credit for being good at giving people things they want to see, sports photographers sit way, way down at the bottom.

    She took this photo with little to no warning of what was happening, framed it beautifully, and delivered an iconic image of the kind of tomfoolery Rivalry Week is supposed to have. You wouldn’t have gotten it without her being great at her job, and pointing that out is something we need to do more often.

    2. Kevin Faulk’s extremely caught hands. Those are the hands of Kevin Faulk, former LSU running back and current director of player development. They are being caught by someone with an A&M sideline pass.

    I’m not here to suggest who is at fault, though there are tons of credible reports that this resulted from this Aggie-shirted person punching 53-year-old LSU staffer Steve Kragthorpe. Kragthorpe has Parkinson’s, and the punch landed on his pacemaker.

    While I can’t condone punching most people for most reasons, I do get it.


    3. That dude’s face. This is the face of a man who last fought someone as a child. He is now realizing exactly how long ago that was, thinking about how much bigger and stronger adults are than children.

    “This would be easier,” he thought, “If I were fighting children. Preferably 53-year-old children, if that is a thing.”

    This is the face of, “I really thought I would be better at fighting than this and am dealing with this new information in real time.”

    This is the face of someone realizing that the perfect roundhouse punch he believed he could just learn through osmosis did not take despite repeated purchases and viewings of pay-per-view MMA events.

    He is thinking about how — despite every dude’s suspicions that they are a basically trained cage fighter seconds away from springing into action when it’s go time — he is not, in fact, a trained cage fighter. Some part of him is surprised by this, because the male brain is deeply, deeply stupid like that.

    If he’d read it, he’d be thinking about this article I read once where Chuck Liddell — then at the height of his powers and knocking people out monthly for a living — was asked “how to win a bar fight.” His answer: Leave, because no one ever wins a bar fight. No one! Not even Chuck Liddell! Even if somehow you avoid other people, there are the bouncers. The bouncers are undefeated because Road House is a documentary, and everything in it is accurate and real.

    This man is parasailing and has just watched the cord connecting him to the speedboat snap and leave him rising into the dark depths of an oncoming thunderstorm.

    This man is in trouble.

    4. Scott, the peacemaker

    The conscience of the picture. No one is paying attention to him, and that’s how you know he’s the conscience.

    Don’t let him look too noble here. He’s the kind of person who passes traffic accidents and says “Bet they were going too fast!” or says, “well, you shoulda paid your bill on time!” when you get late fees.

    You’re not helping here, Scott. You never do.

    5. Jean-Paul, the voyeur


    Honestly, the coldest dude here. Everyone else is in some stage of reacting to or running from the situation, and Jean-Paul here is just chillin’ in a zip-up and seeing how the events of the evening unfold following a seven-overtime football game. Also, there was a seven-overtime football game right before this.

    Jean-Paul is not the person you want in a survival situation in which it’s you or the bear, by the way. Because judging by the cool but obviously interested expression, Jean-Paul might just wait to see how events unfold between you and the bear. You know: just to see.

    Jean-Paul is here for the show, and chances are that being that show is never, ever a good idea.

    6. Karen, living her best life at all times


    What everyone loves about Karen? Her carefree attitude, infectious laughter, and complete lack of situational awareness. She is a stock photo of “Happy lady taking vacation photos in front of a burning hospital” made real. If anyone in this photo has posted “Living my best life!” from the beach while unknowingly capturing a shark attack in the background, it’s Karen.

    There’s a full on brawl going on to her right, and yet she’s just going to keep on l-i-v-i-n like it’s nothing. Note: I love Karen, and she is invited to any and all future parties we’re having.

    7. Me


    I can’t lie: This is me, the person who in any situation of spontaneous chaos suddenly gets very happy. He’s bad and the opposite of help, but remember that he’s also about as helpful as Scott the peacemaker is. You useless, useless man, Scott.

    8. Kevin Faulk’s gym shorts

    Faulk’s face really isn’t visible in this photo. It is visible here ...

    ... and should make clear that no one who is 5’8 gets to win three Super Bowl rings and play in the NFL for 13 seasons without being willing to throw down in a very literal way.

    Faulk played every season of his NFL career for the New England Patriots, by the way. That is a rarity I now attribute to Faulk simply refusing to be cut. Starting in 2009, Bill Belichick probably informed Faulk annually that they were letting him go. Faulk replied with “nah” and the exact expression seen in that photo, and that was that. Faulk left the room still a Patriot, and Belichick just had to deal with that.

    I zoomed in on the gym shorts for a reason. Anyone who wears gym shorts under their tactical coaching khakis — Faulk is Director of Player Development for LSU, after all — is staying ready 24/7/365. Maybe it’s for a workout in the gym, or in the hotel staircase if necessary. Maybe it’s for some impromptu light grappling in a crowd situation.

    The point is: if you roll up on someone with the gym shorts on under the pants, punt immediately. You’re just trying this whole situation on for size. They’ve been waiting for it all along.

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