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    For nine years, a since-fired assistant coach was accused repeatedly of domestic abuse, all of which is now becoming public.

    This is where Ohio State would have to start, if it wanted to defend its football coach, rather than fire him.

    Don’t misunderstand me: firing is very much an option here. Ohio State has already placed Urban Meyer on leave as it investigates his handling of domestic violence allegations against longtime assistant Zach Smith.

    If Ohio State comes to the conclusion that Meyer knew of the allegations and yet did nothing until the public found out, it could decide to fire him for, among other possible reasons, fostering a toxic culture.

    Defending Meyer would be more difficult. To defend Meyer, Ohio State would have to defend him bringing on a coach with a domestic battery allegation, just for starters.

    It would have to defend the head coach then claiming there was “nothing to” a 2015 domestic incident, saying so as recently as a week prior to a report that Shelley Meyer, a psychiatric nurse and his closest confidant, had received pictures of a bruised Courtney Smith in her text messages.

    Meanwhile, Courtney Smith is laying out a public case that Zach Smith abused her for years, as records of her police claims against the assistant coach are becoming public.

    Let’s start with what we know.

    In 2009, Smith — then an intern under Florida head coach Meyer — was charged with aggravated battery against his pregnant wife, Courtney Smith. Meyer later said he reported it to his superiors. Per Brett McMurphy, she says former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce (Zach Smith’s grandfather and Meyer’s mentor) and Meyer’s “life coach” Hiram de Fries asked her to drop charges — which she did.

    In 2015, police visited her home on suspicion of felonious assault, recording an arrest of Zach Smith before later changing the report, per McMurphy. Records show several other domestic reports to Powell police.

    She says in 2015, she texted Meyer’s wife and other women around the program about abuse by Zach Smith. Per Courtney Smith, Shelley Meyer said she would tell her husband, but there is no evidence she did.

    In 2018, after the public learned in July that Smith had been charged with trespassing in May, Ohio State fired him.

    Legally, this is all defensible right now, if that’s the standard.

    But that won’t be the standard. It shouldn’t be the standard, even if Meyer’s employment survives Ohio State’s probe.

    There is a years-long, first-person account of Zach Smith abusing his wife. According to McMurphy, there are text messages showing Shelley Meyer was aware of Courtney Smith’s abuse injuries and that the wife of another staffer said Urban knew.

    If Meyer’s wife knew, then believing the head coach knew nothing would strain the imagination of even the most skeptical observer.

    And that’s in addition to a July report that Meyer had been quietly trying to push Zach Smith into other jobs over the offseason.

    Upon completion of its investigation, Ohio State must at least admit Urban Meyer had a consistently alleged domestic abuser on staff, and that multiple domestic violence investigations were nothing at all until a local magistrate said they were, as previous court actions became public.

    That skeptic would have to convince themselves that a judge was the one to inform Urban Meyer of things about Zach Smith that Meyer hadn’t noticed in nine years prior.

    Football coaches are some of the most detail-obsessed people on the planet. Their programs live and breathe off information control, both on and off the field. Meyer is one of the most successful football coaches alive. If he didn’t know, it would either be willful ignorance or negligence.

    If he did, it would be deliberate negligence and show Meyer only acted to fire Smith once the law made keeping Smith an impossibility.

    But it shouldn’t take a court order to recognize signs of domestic violence and act accordingly — unless, of course, you didn’t really want to do anything all along.

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    Myth, memes, and Muscle Milk: studying the leaders of the pack, with the help of several FBS specimens.

    The stories about them aren’t all the same, but they hit a lot of the same notes. Strength coaches drive up to the football offices at 4 a.m. in F-850s, trucks so large they’re only legally sold to men who can deadlift more than 500 pounds. A full barbell power cage and a Ford Mustang GT sit in the back. They carry both everywhere, sometimes without the truck.

    Their height: somewhere between five and seven feet tall. No matter the height, they all weigh 400 pounds of rock-solid, creatine-fueled muscle. The physique might not look like 400 pounds; cracks in the sidewalk are the proof. They wear weightlifting shoes with raised heels in the shower, drink steaming black coffee from rain barrels they carry in one hand, and spontaneously appear with scowls behind linemen about to pick fried food off buffets.

    Strength coaches eat steaks from bison they caught themselves with nothing but knives and loincloth. The thrill of the hunt would be enough by itself, but lean protein in bulk is too much to resist.

    Observers report yelling — different yells for different occasions, some positive, some very positive, and some a specific kind of agitated, but still positive. The strength coach’s call is a hoarse one, starting around 4:30 a.m. and continuing until nightfall, sometimes over ear-splitting Metallica.

    Strength coaches reportedly bench your max for a warmup. They wear heavy coats in July to show the power of the mind over matter, or wear shorts and an undershirt on the field in November. Strength coaches headbutt players wearing helmets and pick up entire assistant coaches like bags of mulch, to keep them from getting penalties.

    They have been seen fretting in spreadsheets over bar speeds and plateauing power clean numbers.

    The reports agree on one thing: strength coaches do a lot of the heavy lifting, literal and figurative, in making a team stronger and faster. They often do this when no other coaches are around. They run workouts, track totals, count steps. They do this all with the help of a loyal pet wolf.

    Some of these things might be true. Somewhere between myth and meme, the strength coaches are often appreciated, but proper documentation is lacking. There needs to be more study.

    Here is an in-progress field guide. Fortunately, the subject is not an elusive one. (No one that huge is.)


    The strength coach emerged recently, first appearing in the Midwest. Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney hired Boyd Epley — a scholarship pole vaulter, albeit a ripped one — in 1969 at the urging of future Cornhuskers head coach Tom Osborne.

    Devaney agreed to let his players lift weights, but with one caveat: “If anyone gets slower, you’re fired.”

    So Epley started Nebraska’s strength program alone in an un-airconditioned shed and used paint cans as weights. No one got slower.

    Strength programs popped up pretty much everywhere. Everyone eventually started doing what Nebraska was doing.

    Fifty years later, strength coaches manage weight rooms the size of Nebraska’s old practice facility. They manage their own staffs. When NCAA rule changes limited the amount of time position coaches could spend with players, strength coaches became the staff members with the most rule-sanctioned player contact.

    That change did not escape the notice of head coaches, who pumped up the position to become more swole with responsibilities than previously imagined. Their organizational importance bulked up beyond proper squat technique. Strength coaches now talk about being “culture drivers,” have gameday duties, and yes, still teach 18-year-olds how to be physically uncomfortable in the name of becoming a better athlete.

    They are the front-line evangelists from the program to the players. Their voice is often as loud as the head coach’s and heard just as often. (If not more, and at much greater volume.)

    Ask Mike Gundy. He’s a head coach.

    “Rob (Glass) is such an important part of what we do at Oklahoma State in terms of setting the culture and in developing our players as men. His impact goes far beyond the weight room.”

    Dwight Galt is the head of strength and conditioning at Penn State, so he is obviously biased on the topic. But he is also in his fourth decade of making players stronger and faster — see Vernon Davis’s legendary combine or Penn State’s recent tear through the NFL’s meat market for proof — so he might know what he’s talking about: “If you mess the strength coach hire up, you’re in trouble.”


    That all strength coaches have beards or shaved heads is unsupported by observation.

    For instance, Galt rocks the bald head/goatee combo. Gus Felder at Miami wears the same, minus goatee. Glass is old school like Epley, clean-shaven with a perfectly normal haircut. Adam Smotherman at Clemson has a goatee because his beard is “patchy,” and also because his wife has forbidden him from growing a mustache.

    Smotherman singles out fellow strength coach Rhett Brooks at Arkansas for facial hair excellence:

    “He has a great red beard. It’s just a hard, awesome beard.”

    LSU’s Tommy Moffitt has no facial hair or trademark haircut. However, “I had a mean mullet back in the day.”

    Matt Hickmann at MTSU wears a true combo-breaker, proof that there is much variation in the species: just the beard, sans mustache.

     Oklahoma State
    Rob Glass


    Definitely diurnal. Barring some early or late film study, strength coaches are usually the first in the building.

    The general rule: The strength coach’s day starts 30 to 90 minutes prior to the players arriving.

    At Miami, Felder gets in at the crack of 4:25 a.m. He guides the day’s workouts while wearing a necklace with a miniature, gold version of a 45-pound plate hanging from it. Each member of his family has one. His is engraved with Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

    Galt gets in the door most days around 7 a.m. He describes himself as “right in the middle” of the standard schedule. Smotherman gets in earlier, especially during the summer, when his alarm goes off at 4:45 a.m. for a 5:30 arrival. (“I’m a morning person.”)

    Moffitt gets in at 6:30 a.m., and checks his email and plans for the day. For summer drills, Hickmann peeks in around 5:30 a.m.

    Glass is in the lot at 5:30 a.m. He says being up that early has one significant benefit: “We don’t have to worry about getting a parking spot.”


    There isn’t one exact path to growing into a mature strength coach. But there is no substitute for experience. No one ever really stops training, ever, because everything changes a little all the time.

    This is especially true for veterans. Galt graduated with a business management degree from Maryland, then volunteered for six years in the gym. In the interim, he worked as a meat cutter, for the Washington Capitals as an assistant strength coach, and as a framing carpenter.

    In 1989, eight years after he graduated undergrad, Galt was making $15K a year and still working at the grocery store.

    Glass began around the same time, as an assistant football coach with a business administration degree. Glass has now been around Oklahoma State since 1985, so long that he trained his current boss, Gundy, when the mulleted coach was a Big 8 quarterback.

    (Glass’s summary of Gundy as an athlete: “His competitive fire was off the charts. It wasn’t like he was a real gifted guy, but his competitiveness was astronomical.” Also, the first version of the Gundy mullet? It had “a little perm” to it.)

    Glass knew he wanted to go into coaching, but wasn’t sure where he’d land. He found strength training when Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones asked him to run “the winter program,” i.e., what schools called their offseason conditioning.

    Glass fell in love with it. Unfortunately, he had no real training, a common dilemma in the ‘80s, when the profession was still in its infancy, something strength coaches still take care when discussing. Glass took graduate courses in kinesiology and working (in his own words) “in scramble mode,” traveling to other programs to bring proven ideas back to Stillwater.

    A lot of strength coaches do have relevant undergrad degrees. Moffitt majored in health and physical education. (“I’m a gym teacher!” he texts when I ask him for his major.) Felder majored in kinesiology. Felder and Smotherman have master’s degrees.

    Their resumes come with long chains of acronyms: CSCS, SCCC, SSN. They denote types of certifications, something the NCAA has required full-time strength coaches to have since 2015. The NCAA’s definition of what makes up certification is broad, and the requirements can vary.

    For example: The Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association’s offers the SCCC, the Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified Certification. It requires a 640-hour practicum/internship program, a written exam, and a practical exam done before a panel of certified strength coaches. A certification offered by the National Strength and Conditioning Association— Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist — requires a college degree or enrollment as a senior, a CPR certification, and passage of a written exam.

    Experience matters most, though. That’s gained the hard way, through interning, volunteering, and hustling until full-time work comes. From 2008 to 2010, Hickmann lifted in the morning, mowed lawns, trained MMA in the afternoon, worked in a bar, and slept when he could. Somewhere in all that, he volunteered at Cumberland College until they brought him on full time in 2010.

    Sometimes coffee helps.

     USA Today
    Adam Smotherman


    Hickmann’s tastes are more particular than most. He prefers Kimera, a brand describing itself as “amazing artisan high-altitude coffee with powerful vitamins proven to boost cognitive function.” Felder drinks black coffee, no cream, no sugar. Clemson’s Smotherman is a fan of gas station coffee.

    Coffee isn’t as big a thing as one might think, though. Galt has gotten through three decades of getting up early without regular caffeine. Glass also makes his 5:30 a.m. without caffeine.

    Consider the terror in that sentence alone. Some strength coaches just wake up likethat at 5 in the morning.

    Then, if you’re Scott Cochran of Alabama, you rub Icy Hot in your armpits. You know, just for a little edge on big days.


    What gets them there? Moffitt believes the job found him.

    “As far back as I can remember, I was enamored by the strength game. I think strength training found me, not the other way around.”

    His upbringing helped. His family was both obsessed with hoss-level strength and blessed with it. Moffitt’s father was strong enough to grab support poles in the basement of their house and hold his body in a flag pose, his legs parallel to the floor. His brothers broke bricks in their hands for fun. Tommy grew up reading about strongmen like Paul Anderson, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s childhood idol Reg Park, and O.G. iron fiends within football.

    There were more practical reasons for being strong. Growing up in rural Springfield, Tennessee, most of the jobs involved some kind of heavy labor.

    “It paid to be strong. If you were strong, you got good work,” Hickmann says.

    He likes the job — the training, coaching, and friendly yelling — but he also enjoys the connection.

    “We’re here to do a job, and it’s to make sure athletes are safe and strong and can perform. But we’re also here to serve as examples. These guys are maturing. I didn’t have a lot of direction growing up, so coaches always served that role for me.”

    There are benefits other coaches can’t have: the year-round impact on players, the hands-on job, the slightly fewer meetings, and the satisfaction of taking powerful athletes and approaching monster status.

    Even over the phone, every strength coach sounds at least a little giddy when telling someone about a player with a gigantic power clean or back squat. Strength and power alone do not pay the bills, but they are a narcotic that comes with the job.

    Those bills do get paid now. The rise in coach salaries came twice as fast for strength coaches. The USA Today NCAA Salaries database shows the lowest-paid Power 5 strength coach in 2017 still made $150,000, while Chris Doyle at Iowa made $675,000 as the highest-paid in the nation.

    Like almost everything else in the amateur game, strength salaries look increasingly professional.

    Which is a long way from Moffitt’s first college job. When Tennessee called in 1994, Moffitt was coaching at John Curtis Christian High School in River Ridge, Louisiana. The school had won three state titles during Moffitt’s time as a strength coach and assistant. And until television money beefed up college football’s payrolls, the move was not the bump in salary and benefits one might assume.

    “Financially, at the time, it was a lateral move.”

    Tommy Moffitt


    The strength coach may be found in the wild, commuting from home to the weight room. Spotting them is easier than sighting other wildlife, because strength coaches usually drive vehicles proportional to their size. Most of them drive — and this is the correct word — big-ass pickup trucks.

    Moffitt is demonstrative about it. “I drive a King Ranch. And I LOVE it.”

    Smotherman drives a smaller model. (“The other guys make fun of me for it.”) Glass drives an F-150 because “it’s good for hunting.”

    Felder drives an F-150, too. He owns a couple of motorcycles, too. Felder is 6’3 and weighs somewhere around 300 rock-solid pounds. The Harley might look proportional. There is no way his rocket-fueled Suzuki Hayabusa does, however.

    Hickmann has the other option: a muscle car, in his case a 2005 Mustang GT.

    Galt might be the most strength-type. He has a Shelby GT500 and a big Ram pickup.

     Penn State
    Dwight Galt


    Twenty-four years ago, when Moffitt arrived at Tennessee, a lot of players went home for the summer. They got jobs, hung out, and fell off the workout wagon. Fall camp really wasn’t for refining technique. Fall camp existed for getting players back in shape.

    Summer workouts are all but standard now. Early enrollment is more common, too. More training equals players staying in shape year-round; less time spent on conditioning means quicker installs and more efficient practices; more efficient practices are said to equal fewer injuries.

    Counterintuitively, staying in shape year-round creates a novel problem for coaches like Moffitt: making young players rest.

    “Before, you looked for opportunities to get them into the weight room. Now, you’re looking for ways to give them rest.”

    More has not necessarily been better. At Oklahoma State, Glass and his staff have to balance the demands of conditioning with the realities of competing in a power conference, one where a team from Stillwater has to go four quarters in Norman and Austin. That requires a flexible coach like Gundy.

    “He’s totally carte blanche with me, which lets me do a lot. We may not have the roster depth that other people have. We’re getting better as coaches, and we used to overdo stuff. We really work together with Coach Gundy on that, with tracking.”

    Moffitt uses GPS tracking at LSU, along with other apps, to track player readiness, output, and distance covered in practice. There are ways to test hydration, sleep, or anything that can be measured within reason, and maybe a few things well past it. This means instant feedback on an iPad, later pored over in the offices.

    Other coaches admit the challenges of keeping up with technology.

    “Me, I’m an older guy, and the technology is kicking my ass,” says Glass. “The younger guys help me with that. If I had to do that by myself, I’d probably fail now.”

    As for working with millennials — whether they need to be coached differently, and whether millennial athletes question methods too often — opinions vary. Hickmann thinks they need answers because they get so much more information than previous generations did. Moffitt worries about motivations, whether they play football because they love it.

    Felder has no problem with athletes who ask questions.

    “I actually like the ‘Why?’ guys.”

    According to Felder, there’s another issue:

    “Millennials just aren’t used to being pushed as hard. It’s our job to work with them, to push them.”

    There are new techniques, programs, and fads. No one is immune to them, but strength coaches agree on a few principles:

    • Players are nothing without effort.
    • Effort starts in the weight room.
    • The weight room requires commitment and attention to technique.

    Smotherman speaks for everyone when he reiterates that the work has to be done, and the weights can’t be light.

    “I heard a preacher one time say, ‘If you want to get strong, you gotta pick up something heavy.’ That’s kind of the foundational piece of it.”

    And if it all the gear had to come out of the gym except for one thing, what would be left is obvious.

    “Nothing will ever replace the barbell,” Moffitt says. He pauses for emphasis. “Nothing.”

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    No, Alabama alone is not obnoxious enough yet. It’s time to make the Tide truly nauseating by giving them the best thing about your team.

    To do exactly what the Warriors have done to basketball, we’re going to start with the team already closest in college football.

    Actually, until the Warriors win five out of 10 titles, it will technically be Golden State doing the Alabama thing, not Alabama doing the Golden State thing.

    But we can still make Bama far more obnoxious by stealing the best things about other teams and adding them to what was already the most loaded program, just as Golden State has done.

    So here’s all the stuff that now belongs to Alabama. (In many of the following categories, Bama already is the best team, so we might or might not choose to just leave something as is.)

    Alabama’s new head coach: Still just Nick Saban, but with a clone understudy

    Once, Saban’s dad took him down to a coal mine to show him what happens to kids who don’t work hard in school. No, really. Is your coach motivated to this day by the horrors of a life spent in the mines of West Virginia?

    The resume is filled with accomplishments beyond just the national titles. Saban worked with Lane Kiffin happily effectively for years. He has Bill Belichick’s private number. Other coaches are measured by who has the least-losingest record against him. For fun, he destroys every coach in his conference and then hires them as assistants.

    How can we possibly improve Alabama’s coaching situation?

    Simply begin cloning Saban. No team can afford to take its foot off the gas for a second. What better way to keep Alabama ahead than by making sure that foot is the same (slightly undersized) foot forever?

    Alabama’s new scenic backdrop: BYU’s and Tennessee’s combined

    Southern Utah v BYU

    We’re going to have the boosters relocate the Wasatch Range to Tuscaloosa. Then, we’ll reroute the Tennessee River to make our stadium the only one with both scenic mountains and its own deepwater-vessel-navigable river.

    Vol Navy, you’ve been conscripted by the worst overlords possible. This might sound like yet another defeat at the hands of the Tide, but consider your new life. Now you can watch a team with a 50 percent chance of winning each title, rather than a 50 percent chance of missing bowl season.

    Alabama’s new offensive coordinator: Lincoln Riley

    He’s a head coach somewhere else, you say? Not for $8 mil a year he’s not. Poach him to run Alabama’s attack, which accomplishes three goals at once:

    1. Scoring a lot of points.
    2. Entertaining everyone.
    3. Irritating Saban by having too many points in a football game.

    Alabama’s new arena: Tiger Stadium, LSU

    McNeese State v LSUPhoto by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Big ol’ concrete reverb machine from hell. Gigantic subwoofers. Classic coliseum looks to go with old-school, H-style goalposts. Pressbox can drop the top and open the windows when the weather is nice. Seats an intimate, cozy-ish 100,000, if that makes any sense. Doesn’t have the biggest video board, but there’s a solution in this list. Comes with free live tiger.

    Bama’s gonna put Death Valley on a trailer and take it a little ways up the road. Bryant-Denny will be the backup stadium, because a Saban team is prepared for anything, including a situation requiring a backup stadium. Maybe store all those trophies in it.

    Alabama’s new defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart

    Saban is a sneaky bargain as a head coach. Whoever gets the title of defensive coordinator is just a robot programmed by Saban anyway. Twice the Saban at the same price? That’s affordable luxury, y’all.

    Failing that, if we have to answer the question for real? Well, if Alabama is the Borg and has made Lincoln Riley OC despite him being head coach at Oklahoma right now, then find the price that works for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. His keys probably still work, since he was Bama’s coordinator until 2016.

    Alabama’s new fight song: USC’s “Tribute to Troy”

    Step back, pedantic types. Yes, this is not even USC’s official fight song.

    That said, a great fight song not only sounds like a gladiator’s walkout music, but also burrows into the skulls of the opposition like a hungry brainworm. And this, more than any other piece of college football music, is that.

    Best on its 35th or 36th repetition, so play it frequently. Too frequently to be reasonable, even.

    Alabama’s new defensive line: Clemson’s

    It’s really not fair when a college line has one elite player. Clemson has four of them, all healthy and peaking at the same time. One played safety in the spring game for fun! Effectively! Good luck, and bring snacks!

    Alabama’s new secondary: Washington’s

    Returns every starter from the Pac-12’s top defense. Has experience defending passes frequently, unlike SEC secondaries.

    Administration: Still Alabama’s

    In a 2013 interview, University of Alabama Chancellor Robert Witt said, ”Nick Saban is the best financial investment this university has ever made.” That was five years ago, and Saban makes even more money and has even more resources than he did then — and he was already making $5.6 million, with the largest support staff in college football.

    Alabama’s administrators are going to pay someone whatever they need in order to win. Might as well be you.

    Alabama’s new entrance: Clemson’s

    Florida State v ClemsonPhoto by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    We’re already rerouting the Tennessee River and trucking an entire mountain range in from Utah. In comparison, a few tons of dirt and some sod doesn’t seem like too much.

    Be sure to drag it out as long as possible by busing the players around the stadium before they trot down the hill. It ramps up the anticipation and shows you’ll pay to rent buses just to go an eighth of a mile.

    Exclusive rights to celebrity fandom: Drake

    Stop wandering, Aubrey, and settle down with one winner: Bama.

    Boosters: Alabama, still

    They pay up without messing around, and that’s what gives them the edge over somewhere like, say, Texas. (Where boosters might write bigger checks, but also want to be petted and listened to because: rich dude stuff.)

    Alabama boosters paid off Saban’s $3.1 million house and pay the taxes on it every year. Win, and they will set up whatever you need. Hell, lose, and they’ll write the buyout check with a quickness.

    Alabama’s new offensive line: Wisconsin’s

    There are two massive things I’ve always wanted. One is a huge, impractical, gas-guzzling, and unkillable Land Cruiser. The second is a Badgers offensive line.

    There might be more critically acclaimed and efficient units, yes, but are they as cool? Do they make the same THUD when they smash into something? Are they as fantastically heavy? They could not be. There are no substitutes for a perfect blunt object moving at speed.

    Alabama’s new uniforms: Oregon’s, but just for safe-keeping

    Every last variation. Just taking them wholesale, because we do not want you to have them, Oregon.

    Is Bama going to wear them? Let’s answer a question with a question.

    Have you seen how those things do in a national championship game?

    No, no we aren’t going to wear them, ever.

    Alabama’s new video board: The Auburn JesusTron 5000 circa 2015

    We’re going to steal Auburn’s 190’ x 57’ flatscreen and duct tape it over LSU’s scoreboard. The heat might set the stadium on fire, but that would only add to the atmosphere of a night game in Tuscaloosa’s historic Tiger Stadium. Also, Bama recruits will play Fortnite on it.

    Alabama’s new linebackers: Michigan’s

    Devin Bush might be worth the pick of the entire unit by himself. Then again, the Wolverines also have a very good linebacker-turned-DE named “Chase,” which is like having a punter named “Boot.”

    Alabama’s new tradition: Dotting the I

    Playstation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v ClemsonPhoto by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    “Alabama” doesn’t have an “I” in it, so I’m only taking this to make Ohio State mad.

    Alabama’s new local burger chain: Whataburger

    NASCAR XFINITY Series My Bariatric Solutions 300 - PracticePhoto by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

    The burger needs to be big like a Hardees burger, but definitely not served at a Hardees. It needs to be consistent like an In-N-Out burger, but not confuse drunken tastebuds with too many obviously fresh ingredients and lackluster french fries. It needs to be as deliciously hefty as a Five Guys burger, but not overpriced.

    The chain at the center of these overlapping circles is Texas’ finest. Throw in the hangover-killing, shovel-sized breakfasts, and this is a no-brainer. Like a three-star center who turns out to be a four-year starter, it’s big, cheap, consistent, and makes no promises it can’t keep.

    Running backs: Just Alabama’s

    Damien Harris might be the best back in America. None of us will ever know this for sure, because Alabama’s depth chart is always so deep that he’ll get like 10 carries a game while Najee Harris and whichever other hellbeasts soak up carefully rationed reps.

    Alabama’s new Twitter army: UCF’s

    There are only seven of them on the internet at any given hour. After claiming a national title, though, all seven stayed awake for six months straight, boldly defending UCF online and antagonizing the Tide.

    The posting power of a legion of thousands, at a fraction of the cost? Willing to take on college football’s largest fanbases? A commitment to never, ever logging off?

    That’s who you want: a guy in Lakeland with an unlimited data plan, two backup batteries for his cellphone, and a 450-page manifesto about how ESPN has conspired for 30 years to keep Orlando from greatness.

    Alabama’s new receivers: Ole Miss’

    Not trying to spread the ball around at Alabama. I just like productive receivers who are used to getting mugged at the line. That’s A.J. Brown. The Rebs get bonus points for having a big, headband-wearing tight end from a private high school named “Dawson Knox.”

    Talk radio: Alabama’s, as it is

    What you want is a focus on college football so complete it eclipses everything else. This is Alabama talk radio, where even political tangents are only permissible if they somehow lead back to football.

    “Paul, have we considered how a more restrictive immigration policy is going to affect recruiting? Just a thought, since we get our QBs from Hawaii now.”*

    *No, this is not an exaggeration about an Alabama fan not knowing Hawaii is part of the United States. He felt real bad about it.

    Alabama’s new mascot: The Duck

    Arizona v OregonPhoto by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    No other symbol of a university straddles the line between absurdity, comedy, and terror better than The Duck.

    Quarterbacks: Alabama’s, yes

    Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa have had the kind of QB controversy capable of destroying most teams. Most teams are not the Tide, who will come out stronger somehow, win the national title, and claim they learned a lot from the experience.

    Tagovailoa is a title-winner. Hurts has a 26-2 record. Perfectly normal.

    Alabama’s new special teams: Kansas State’s

    Special teams are annuities, so the obvious pick is a Bill Snyder team. It’s not that the Wildcats are always in the top five. It’s that over the lifespan of the investment, Kansas State consistently lands in the top quartile in all the little things, like extra points, kickoff returns, and punting.

    And also field goal kicking — literally the only on-field improvement that Alabama actually needs.

    Alabama’s new postgame tradition: Clemson’s

    Notre Dame v ClemsonPhoto by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    We’ll steal Clemson’s tradition of storming the field after every win, but with a few slight alterations. We’ll change “the field” to “University Boulevard to beat traffic,” and by “every win,” we mean “every second quarter with a 38-9 lead.” We already do all that, but now at least Clemson can’t embarrass itself by having fun in public.

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    One of the most powerful coaches in sports protected an assistant overrun with red flags. Why?

    1. For years, Urban Meyer kept an alleged domestic abuser on his coaching staff. There was a press conference on Wednesday night in Columbus about that, Ohio State’s investigation, and how Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith will serve short suspensions for their leadership failures. Someone asked Meyer if being away from football had been hard on him personally. We’re glad someone is thinking about Meyer’s feelings in this trying time.
    2. Why? Why keep that staffer who also had so many performance issues, now public? The staffer missed recruiting visits and check-ins — unbelievable at a football program anywhere, much less at Ohio State. The report mentions the staffer’s history of “promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse, truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility, a possible NCAA violation, and a lengthy police investigation into allegations of criminal domestic violence and cyber crimes.” The university-commissioned report concludes that despite this, Meyer never wrote Zach Smith up or put him on a performance improvement plan, and instituted “no disciplinary action until July 23, 2018.”
    3. During that press conference on Wednesday, no one asked why, with all the resources at his disposal, did Meyer protect that staffer at all? Why risk this — a situation in which many believe Meyer should be fired, an ugly airing of Ohio State’s business, and a presser performance by Meyer that arguably only made his school look worse — for an underperforming wide receivers coach? What made him worth protecting at all?
    4. In Meyer’s paraphrased words, the staffer was kept on “because Zach was Earle Bruce’s grandson and Bruce had been a close mentor to Meyer.” Not because he was effective, brilliant, giving, an asset to morale, or hard-working. Meyer admitted he did not fire the staffer because of a personal connection.
    5. That connection and its power did not, by the way, extend to the staffer’s wife. Per the report, Meyer didn’t believe Courtney Smith’s account of abuse in 2009. He was skeptical of her account in 2015. The staffer, meanwhile, continued to receive a generous salary, benefits, and the benefit of the doubt.
    6. Meyer granted him that because he felt like he owed his mentor something. Bruce was fired at Ohio State after the 1987 season, but not before helping a young graduate assistant named Meyer. (Later, Bruce would coach at Colorado State, where players alleged Bruce had abused them, and in one player’s case, hit him with a closed fist during practice.)
    7. When Meyer had no choice but to act, he had few good answers about how it got to this point. Wednesday featured no fewer than four different excuses for Meyer’s behavior. That list included medication that gives Meyer “memory issues.” It included the loyalty argument. It included a lack of verifiable information making any action whatsoever difficult. Most damning, it included Meyer admitting that he did not give any credence to a woman’s claims that she was abused, then kept the staffer around despite all the other red flags.
    8. Meyer went to all those lengths because of a tradition of men getting credit simply for being born in a certain arrangement to other men. (Note: not women, who aren’t extended the same instant credit.) The staffer got a bizarre form of power he’d never earned from anyone. He then rode it until the reality of who he was exceeded that fantasy of loyalty.
    9. A capital-letters Leader of Men should demand accountability from his peers on a universal standard — not a standard that depends on financial status, for example. Ohio State is clearly not there yet, because no one who earns less than $400,000 a year could sign off on a description of themselves as “not deliberately lying” without being laughed off the stage. The rich get different laws in this country already, but 2018 has a new benefit: they get to use a different language, too.
    10. Those men get allowances because a lot of the time when someone says “loyalty” or “I wanted to believe the best,” what they mean is that they want the questioner to stop. What Meyer wanted to happen at Big Ten Media Days, when he accidentally lied about the staffer’s situation, was for reporters to believe he had it handled. Because he was in charge.
    11. In a club of men, Meyer acted on club rules. Those rules apply to men only, and then only men roped off from other men by circles of influence. Those circles in coaching get pretty exclusive quickly. No case for easing the rules could be less compelling than the Ohio State staffer in question. Yet the second most powerful man in his profession risked it all for that staffer, made allowances he made for no one else, and protected him to the point of provoking a public trial of his own character.
    12. Why? Because he was a man with a connection to another man, and that system of connections mattered more than the entire world outside it. It was worth Courtney Smith’s well-being and the horrible message it sent women at Ohio State and beyond. It was worth reminding anyone outside the bubble of influence that a job in college athletics goes first to the connected, and that the connected have different, easier rules.
    13. For years, Urban Meyer kept an alleged domestic abuser on his coaching staff. Whatever happens — whatever Meyer might have said at the press conference, whatever happens during the suspension, whatever trivial details of the team’s performance might seem important — that doesn’t change and can’t be forgotten. It will be, but someone needs to keep saying it anyway.

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    5. Mirrored Shades Guy

    Good energy. Terrible framing.

    Needs his own spinoff GIF to properly evaluate his talents.

    4. The GO PACK guy

    Intensity is consistent and unrivalled in this GIF. Sort of one-dimensional, though, and needs more backstory.

    Also concerned for the structural integrity of those bulging veins. He might want to take a breather.

    3. Plain Black Shades Guy

    Strong enthusiasm.

    Good range, as he does both a “WOO” and a “YEAHHHH.” Kind of hiding his obvious range behind the shades, though. Needs a chance to show just how multiple his talents really are.

    2. Eatin’ From A Big Ol’ Bowl Guy

    The pantomimes are first-class, but let’s salute the a.) unceasing consistent energy, and b.) fortress-like hairstyle. That’s a well-lacquered butt-cut you can bounce a quarter off of with a satisfying pinging noise.

    1. Girl Jilling Off In The General Direction of the Opposition: A Case for Monarchy

    A queen and a noble, precisely the kind of fan you need and want with you in the foxhole of intense competition. So intent on victory and so fierce that they’ll cross both the lines of common public decency and the laws of human anatomy. Let college football attendance numbers decline all you like. As long as she’s there, no team really needs anyone else in the stands.

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    Alabama fans in Orlando, home of UCF

    It’s the 2018 return of The Top Whatever, college football’s weekly ranking of only the teams that must be ranked.

    The Top Whatever exists for one reason: So I can rank teams however the hell I want to rank them.

    This is because rankings are generally silly, especially amid Week 1. There is little actual evidence to say whether anyone is good. The stats will be half-lies. Everyone is rusty, and some teams are still figuring out which players they need to start to be successful. (Some good teams, even.)

    The formula for ranking teams after Week 1 looks like this for most people:

    • 70 percent credit carried over from last season
    • 20 percent performance in Week 1
    • 10 percent petty personal grudges about teams or coaches they do not like

    The most respectable part of that formula is the petty, because at least that’s consistent. My formula is much simpler:

    • 40 percent petty personal grudges
    • 30 percent strength of wins
    • 20 percent how good I think they could be potentially
    • 10 percent arbitrary judgment about whether a team was fun to watch

    The formula may change at any moment. There will be no clarifications or explanations going forward. If this seems silly, then consider that you’re the one who thinks this is science or even a good idea. I never said it was a good idea. I said it’d be fun.

    1. UCF. Champs stay champs by defeating bitter rivals UConn 56-17. HAIL.

    2. North Texas. Beat SMU 46-23, which is just fine. A lot of important teams did just fine in Week 1, because most teams schedule lightly, but only one team in FBS offered fans a postgame wrestling match free with purchase of a ticket. Was it a classy affair, you ask?

    HACKSAW JIM DUGGAN WAS THERE. Asked and answered, next please.

    No other football team in America gives its fans a win in football, the chance to see a real wrasslin’ match on the same field on the same night, and can also claim Stone Cold Steve Austin as a former player.

    For one week and one week alone, the Mean Green are among the chair-swingin’, beer-slamming kings of the sport. Hit us over the head with a folding chair if you disagree, but please swing hard, because the last thing I would want to do is live through the horrible experience of someone hitting me in the head with an actual folding chair.

    3. Alabama. 51-14 over Louisville, a good team that will do good things later this season. There are good players — new starting QB Jawon Pass looked pretty great at times — and a good coach.

    There is also a good chance this will be forgotten completely because this happened against Alabama, a team that sometimes makes FBS opponents look like FCS cupcakes. Some teams struggle when they play two QBs on offense. Some two-QB teams blow out pretty good competition by 37 points.

    Some teams give Nick Saban a thin excuse to be weirdly hostile to a reporter on national television, but Saban really doesn’t need an excuse to do that anyway. Don’t give Alabama credit for that. They did enough other actually good things on Saturday to keep their account full for a few weeks.

    4. Cody Thompson, Toledo. Author of the most efficient football play in the history of football plays, imo.

    One of the shortest punt return TDs in the history of football. #SCtop10

    A post shared by SportsCenter (@sportscenter) on

    Run that every time, never lose a game. See, football is easy.

    5. Auburn. 21-16 over Washington in a game that really was like a lot of Week 1: the same two teams from last year, playing a game this year with almost no changes in appearance. Washington still looked like a really well-coached team being torn to pieces at the line of scrimmage by larger defensive linemen.

    Auburn looked a lot like last year’s team, too — the version without running back Kerryon Johnson in the lineup. Auburn without a consistent running back played low-scoring games and scrapped along on defense and field goals. That might be what Auburn is for a minute until they figure out the red zone offense, and that was good enough to beat Washington anyway, so yeah. No complaints about plug-ugly-but-effective, is what I’m saying, Auburn. You could get plug-ugly and ineffective, but then you’d be Michigan.

    6. TACTICAL REF. Computer show me “swole-ass nerd.”

    King of swole-ass nerds, I salute you, and the “accountant who can brawl” look you rock so hard.

    7. Notre Dame. Made Michigan look a very exact king of plug-ugly in a hammering, 24-17 win. The Irish looked efficient. They had barely 300 yards of offense, but made it count. They let Michigan have about the same amount, but let it go nowhere and got timely pressures and turnovers when needed most.

    They’re actually not that categorically different than Michigan, except for the whole “We could actually run the ball” thing. This is basically going to be the reason Notre Dame can win any other game it plays this year, and why a three-loss Michigan will probably go to the Outback or Citrus Bowl and still end up beating Florida.

    I don’t write the rules, I just read them, and that’s what is going to happen. Go Gators.

    8. West Virginia. 40-14 flex over Tennessee. A rebuilding Tennessee, but whatever, the Mountaineers aren’t the ones to blame for Tennessee showing up for with a PARDON OUR MESS sign taped to each helmet.

    By October, Will Grier is going to have full season of QB-type numbers, because he just threw for 429 yards and five TDs against an SEC defense*.

    * Which one? Well, that’s a very good question, gotta go—

    9. Ohio State. 77-31 over Oregon State, and let’s just remember that Oregon State went 1-11 last year, is very bad at football right now, and in a soccer relegation-type situation would have been sent down a level years ago at this point. This makes Oregon State the Blackpool of the Pac-12, which is actually insanely cool. Congratulations, Oregon State.

    P.S. Ohio State is still disgustingly talented at every position on the field, this ranking means nothing, and I never answer my emails so don’t bother writing one.

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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.