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    The Top Whatever is a weekly ranking of only the college football teams that are ranked in The Top Whatever.

    1. Iowa.

    The Top Whatever does whatever it wants and what it wants to do. What it wants to do this week is put Iowa at number one.

    Why? Because of all the cataclysmic beatdowns, ass-handings-to, and defeats handed out on Saturday, none — we repeat, none — were more unexpected, complete, or stunning than Iowa beating Ohio State, 55-24, effectively throwing the Big Ten’s Playoff hopes into the river and handing Urban Meyer the starkest loss of his lifetime.

    Don’t say you saw this coming. Maybe you hoped for a solid Ferentz-ing, sure, in which Iowa turns the game into a whole lot of nothing, like Iowa’s 14-13 upset of Michigan in 2016. Some other inert foolishness like a safety or two or a blocked punt would happen.

    Playing an underdog Iowa and losing is supposed to be like being crushed to death by a refrigerator. It’s your fault for trying to move it alone.

    This was not that kind of Iowa win. This was three hours of raining sledgehammers without a single piece of shelter. This was a battering. This was the point in a wrestling match when a desperate wrestler reaches for the rope, almost grabs it, and is then dragged back to the middle of the ring by their heels, kicking and screaming.

    It’s not just that Iowa pulled off the Stone Cold Stunner. It’s that Ohio State sold it so theatrically, with J.T. Barrett throwing four INTs and the defense giving up about 500 yards to a team that struggled to score 10 on Northwestern ... in an overtime game. I mean: Iowa QB Nathan Stanley — who’s fine, but not the quarterback on the field being considered for the Heisman — threw for five TDs.

    That stat alone is spitting out the beer on the flop, Ohio State, but if you’re into history: this was the most points an Urban Meyer team has ever given up, ever. The list of teams Iowa scored more points than in that data sample includes the scorching 2008 Oklahoma Sooners, who scored an FBS-record 702 points that year before only getting 14 in a loss to Florida in the title game. (The offensive coordinator for that team, Kevin Wilson, called the game for Ohio State this Saturday.)

    Iowa topped that, and even threw in two fakes, including a fake punt deep in their own territory when up by 35. Iowa is a mild-mannered account manager most of the time, just hoping to mostly go 8-4 and get a nice vacation in Florida once a year. Then, one night a year, they get way too drunk and start a bar fight with someone who wakes up on the floor, thinking, I did NOT see that coming, and certainly not from that guy.

    It’s your floor, Ohio State. Lay down on it for a minute. Find a pizza down there. It’s been there way longer than five seconds, but it’s a bit late to care about food safety.

    The Big Ten’s reaper wears black and gold, and he runs outside zone all game long.

    2. Clean underwear

    Your parents might not be happy with you charging the field to celebrate, sir. But they are happy that when you did it, at least you had a clean pair of drawers on to show that you were raised to make yourself presentable.

    3. Georgia.

    Defeated South Carolina, 24-10. The teams most people rightfully compare this Georgia team to are Nick Saban’s Alabama teams, and that’s fine. They play suffocating, pattern-reading defenses, run the hell out of the ball, and get timely play from their quarterbacks. Like a lot of Saban teams, the smartest guy on the team does happen to be an inside linebacker.

    In this case that’s Roquan Smith, who knows exactly what your play is at least 90 percent of the time. Smith is a football genius, and watching him diagnose plays in real time is mandatory viewing for football geeks.

    But — and this is no small compliment — it’s also hard to not compare them to the undefeated 2004 Auburn team. There are two running backs, presenting different challenges to defenses, but each strong enough to carry a team by themselves if necessary. There’s a mobile quarterback who refuses to make mistakes. There’s a rock-solid defense.

    The one key difference, historically speaking: 2004 Auburn played The Citadel, ULM, and Louisiana Tech, while UGA played fellow Playoff contender Notre Dame on the road and won. That might make all the difference in the world when selection time comes.

    If this offends Auburn fans, that’s also fine. The Tigers host Georgia this Saturday. They can shut down this comparison themselves, if they like.

    4. Miami.

    Led Virginia Tech around by the nose in a 28-10 win. Since we’ve been saying this for a month now, we’ll keep saying it: the Canes are the team that’s totally comfortable in a close game, because they’re the source and solution to all of their own problems.

    Miami took a 14-0 lead, then helped give that early lead away when QB Malik Rosier threw two interceptions, allowing Virginia Tech to creep to 14-10 in the third. Counterpunchers are happy to wait. The Canes waited for VT to make a mistake — a fumble for turnover, followed by a penalty for a late hit on Rosier — and then capitalized on a deep strike to Christopher Herndon IV that effectively put the game away.

    The rest was Virginia Tech thrashing away in vain, followed by shots of Jennifer Lopez holding up her own turnover chain. It’s not science, but when a team has a pet celebrity mascot or two, a couple of good props, and the ability to stay chill in single-score games, the issue of having overwhelming talent doesn’t matter much.

    This is all working, and if it works against Notre Dame in Miami this coming week, everyone will have to come around to America’s Most Relaxed Team being a Playoff contender, single-digit wins and all.

    5. Turnover Plank.

    Kennesaw State is 8-1 and defeated Montana State 16-14 yesterday. They do not have a turnover belt, turnover chain, or turnover trash can. They have a turnover plank.

    That’s an Ed, Edd, and Eddy reference on a college football sideline. It does not overstate the case to say that I would take a knife for Kennesaw State and the Turnover Plank right now.

    6. Notre Dame.

    48-37 over Wake Forest reminds us: Notre Dame is so good that we can all start drafting compliments based off their innate strength. If a good chunk of Georgia’s excellence is based off beating Notre Dame, why not note Wake Forest is pesky as hell and pressed the Irish harder than a lot of other, allegedly better teams on their schedule? That’s how good you are right now, Notre Dame. We can talk about how good the other team was.

    What isn’t good is Brandon Wimbush suffering a nasty contusion to his hand when a Wake defender ran helmet-first into it or running back Josh Adams missing the second half with what Brian Kelly called “not feeling right”, whatever that is. Also, the Irish gave up over 500 yards offense to Wake Forest, including 331 yards through the air. Miami might notice that.

    They might also notice that, even without Adams, Notre Dame still ran for 380 yards, because 2017 is the year the best teams all decided the forward pass was overrated.

    7. Oklahoma.

    62-52 over Oklahoma State on the road in Stillwater. The entire box score is summarized below.

    BAKER MAYFIELD HAS ALWAYS BEEN MAGIC

    There is not a game Oklahoma’s defense cannot lose, and there is not a game Baker Mayfield’s offense cannot win. He threw for 598 yards and five TDs — and also two INTs, including a late pick in the redzone to give Oklahoma State its last chance.

    Any Playoff involving Mayfield vs. the Alabama defense is a matchup we would endorse. Win or lose for Oklahoma, it would be four quarters of breathless, hell-for-leather football, and at the end, everyone would be very, very tired.

    After Bedlam, the combined offenses of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have gained six miles of offense this season, or double the three miles or so of distance gained by the combined Florida and Florida State offenses. The worst offense for this in the country is UTEP, which has gained just over a mile through nine games. UTEP can’t even get you to the nearest gas station, man.

    8. Alabama.

    Their 24-10 processing of LSU. Speaking of excellent teams who believe the forward pass is a detriment to American society, Alabama had one of those games when, for a few tantalizing moments, it looked vulnerable.

    LSU outgained Alabama, outrushed the five-headed Alabama running attack, and did a few things downfield to suggest Alabama’s defense might let a competent team push the ball around. Alabama is basically running Kansas State’s 2014 offense with five-star talent, right down to the pop pass over the middle of the field. Better teams, like LSU, know it’s coming and can sometimes clamp down on it.

    Unfortunately for everyone else, this is usually when Alabama sees this on tape, too, and locks down those weaknesses in the system. The Borg didn’t get the whole galaxy scared by being sloppy for long, y’all, but it does knock them down a few pegs for the week.

    P.S. The Borg also need to work on that strength of schedule, but it’s not their fault they’ve laid such thorough waste to everything around them that finding a test is a real challenge.

    9. Clemson.

    Outraced NC State, 38-31, because this NC State team and this Clemson team under current management only play close games. Kelly Bryant is coming along nicely after an ankle injury, and the defensive numbers might be a bit deceptive because a.) Ryan Finley is an underrated QB, and b.) Clemson forced turnovers when it had to, including a game-clinching INT with NC State driving in the waning seconds.

    The Tigers also made an NC State fan so mad he did this, and I believe this is a bullet point on their Playoff resume.

    10. TCU.

    Winners of a rare Big 12 slugfest with Texas, 24-7. A loss to Iowa State and an otherwise clean slate? TCU is basically Oklahoma minus one Mayfield and plus one very good defense. (See: Allowing Texas to rush for exactly 27 feet.)

    Everyone’s forgotten about the Horned Frogs after that loss to the Cyclones. Everyone should remember them real quick, provided they get a chance to beat Oklahoma and then finish out the rest of their schedule against Texas Tech and Baylor. Let’s check the schedule ... ooh! Guess who they play this coming week?

    Surprise! It’s Oklahoma.

    11. Wisconsin.

    Suddenly the obvious best and purest team in the Big Ten, following a 45-17 dispatching of Indiana. The Badgers still haven’t played anyone, but as if on cue: Iowa, fresh off that epochal cratering of Ohio State, comes to town. Combine that with a hypothetical win over whoever shows up in the Big Ten Championship, and the Badgers have a chance at the Playoff.

    P.S. WATCH THE HELL OUT FOR IOWA. THEY’RE ON ONE.

    12. Washington.

    Beat Oregon, 38-3, a team that once upon a time used to beat Washington like a rented mule. Dog. Whatever, I don’t even know if you can rent dogs. Change it back to a mule, but the point is that Washington has now fully reversed the order of power in the Pac-12 North. Last year, this defeat for Oregon seemed like a reckoning. This year, it barely raised an eyebrow, and not just because the Ducks lost their starting QB to injury last month.

    Statistics still love the Huskies, even if the polls and national punditry don’t. Math isn’t a friend, no matter what your teacher in middle school told you. They were saying that to make you feel better because they were kind and because lying is free.

    While we’re lying: you’re still in this, Washington! Even though you had the weirdest loss a really good team had this year, one that not even your friend Math can explain!

    13. UCF.

    Won, 31-24, over a very game SMU, but that’s deceptive thanks to three turnovers by the Knights. They still had an obscene 615 yards despite SMU stacking the box against UCF’s run.

    TWO-LOSS TEAMS THAT EFFECTIVELY ENDED THEIR PLAYOFF RUNS BY LOSING THIS WEEKEND AND ARE NOW PLAYING FOR SPITE

    Oklahoma State: Bedlam’d, still going squirrel-hunting today, because life goes on.

    Penn State: Tedium only makes Michigan State stronger, and nothing is more tedious than a huge weather delay. Penn State never really had a chance, and that’s before you take Spartans QB Brian Lewerke throwing for 400 yards into account.

    Ohio State: Good lord, what the hell was that?

    Virginia Tech: Not the first to wake up disoriented in Dade County after a long night.

    MEMPHIS?

    Got the palindrome going by beating Tulsa, 41-14, and preserving an 8-1 record. Props to Tulsa, though, for Goldie the tee-fetching dog and Goldie’s best friend, a 135-pound Newfie named Willis.

    Yes, they have a social media presence.


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    Thirteen thoughts on the big, messy life of one of wrestling’s greats.

    1. The Ric Flair documentary Nature Boy features a story about Ric Flair surviving a plane crash. The plane was a Cessna 310 headed from Charlotte to Wilmington, N.C., and it overloaded at takeoff with beefy wrestlers and a promoter, David Crockett. The pilot dumped fuel to compensate for all the extra weight and tried to switch to the tanks in the wings — empty fuel tanks, it turns out — and the engine died. The plane fell rapidly, narrowly missed hitting the water tower of a prison, and hit the ground just short of the runway in a stall at around 100 miles per hour.

    The crash cracked three vertebrae in Ric Flair’s back. When Flair healed and got out of the hospital, he became Ric Flair, the flamboyant, rhinestone robe-wearing, trash-talking, luxury-brand wrestler completely. There is before the crash, when Flair would live as Richard Fliehr off camera, and there is after the crash. That’s all in the movie.

    What isn’t in the movie: The time he was struck by lightning and lived while another man died, or the time a well-past-60 Flair got pantsless onstage at a Myrtle Beach bar and ordered drinks on the house, or the time he went overseas for a tour where he desperately needed the money, but found a bar on arrival and bought drinks for the bar with money he didn’t have, or ... oh god, the spaghetti incident. The spaghetti incident is not in the movie, and if the spaghetti incident isn’t in the movie, well, it has to make you wonder what other lunacy sits on a cutting room floor somewhere.

    2. That is not the fault of Nature Boy as a documentary. Like almost everything in the documentary, that is Ric Flair’s fault. Ric Flair is at fault for so many things, according to the principal witnesses in Nature Boy. Ric Flair is to blame for losing the money, all of it, every night to bartenders, to attorneys, to the former Governor of North Carolina from whom he bought a limo after bragging about having a limo, and then realizing he didn’t have one. Ric Flair paid a random teenager in Charlotte $25 a night to drive him around and called him “his driver.” That’s not in the documentary either, by the way. Ric Flair told the audience that afterwards in the Q and A in Atlanta. Ric Flair can’t even tell all of Ric Flair’s stories at once.

    2017 Summer TCA Tour - Day 2Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

    3. The witnesses detailing this include a legendary roster of wrestlers and friends, sure, but the principal witness — and most damaging one — is Ric Flair himself. He is situated front and center, interviewed by director Rory Karpf sitting just off camera. Flair looks like someone who treated his body brutally, but honestly given what wrestling for 40 years while drinking heavily could do to a person, Flair — on the outside, at least — looks great.

    4. He starts to look even better when he talks about what being Ric Flair entailed: At least 10 drinks a day, to start, along with wrestling two or three times a night for years on end, the aforementioned random plane crashes and other perks of constant travel, all while somehow staying in wrestling shape year-round. Despite attempting to destroy himself with prejudice in his prime (and well beyond it), the documentary brings in heavy hitters and bit players in wrestling to all acknowledge the same thing: For most of his career, Ric Flair was a brilliant technical wrestler who made everyone around him better.

    5. That part might be the most comfortably compelling part of the entire documentary. A genuinely humble-seeming Hulk Hogan shows up just to admit he could only wrestle four kinds of short matches, while in comparison Flair could go full-bore for an hour in any scenario you liked. Ricky Steamboat talks about Flair’s unreal stamina and the brutal workouts they endured as rookie trainees in Verne Gagne’s wrestling camps. The Undertaker not only talks, but thoughtfully and approvingly breaks down Flair’s technique in the ring. That’s not surprising to anyone who knows Mark Calaway outside of the ring, but is still jarring for the casual viewer used to only seeing his face rise ominously out of a coffin or glowering from under a hat.

    The file footage backs that up brilliantly, too. When Sting laughs and says Ric Flair was “the biggest whiner in the ring ever,” there’s a fantastic cut to scenes of Flair operatically flying to the mat, pleading to the referee, and taking a theatrical beating from Sting. There’s also the follow-up by Sting: That as a young wrestler, Sting wasn’t owed any of that. Yet Flair went out of his way to coach up-and-coming wrestlers in the ring, and sold their moves with complete commitment to the bit, all out of a real generosity he showed to his partners in the ring. If anything in a story about wrestling is real, it’s that. Flair, at least in the ring, appears as the most caring, charismatic, and giving man who ever eye-gouged someone in a Loser Leaves Town match.

    6. The rest of his life is the expected disaster — maybe more so than expected, actually. There are all those interviews and file footage, but Most of Nature Boy is told by Flair himself, in his own words. Note: Not told by Richard Fleihr, but Ric Flair. According to Flair, the guy with his birth name was “some guy who couldn’t last one year at the University of Minnesota.” The interviews with his first wife, Leslie Goodman, are particularly haunting for that switch: At some point after the plane crash in North Carolina, the persona of Ric Flair took over, and Richard Fleihr ceased to exist.

    7. It would be possible to watch the entire documentary and take it as a standard sports dramatic cycle of rise-excess-fall-tragedy-redemption. That could be done, if you wanted to watch it that way. There is a fantastic segment about Flair’s rivalry and in-the-ring creative partnership with Dusty Rhodes. There are all the stories of Flair’s drinking and profligacy and his distant relationship with his parents. (Who according to Flair saw him wrestle a total of three times in his life.) There is — with some careful editing — the redemption of Flair’s failure as a father with his son, Reid, through his daughter Charlotte’s entry into professional wrestling.

    8. Nature Boy can go that way, if you want it to. It’s also possible to see Flair slowly sink into the horror of his later career and demolished personal life and see a person so devoured by his onstage persona that he never recovered. Seeing Flair talk about his son Reid — who overdosed at the age of 25 trying to start a professional wrestling career like his father — is excruciating. It’s also made excruciatingly clear that Ric Flair had no ability whatsoever to parent his children, much less deal with their problems when they became adults and needed real help. The attention to detail and generosity in the ring translated to outright negligence outside it.

    2017 Summer TCA Tour - Day 2Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

    9. Worse: By the time all 90 minutes of Nature Boy rolls by, it’s clear that there really is no difference between the in-ring character and the man. It’s not that the tears aren’t sincere: It’s that at every point in the interviews with Flair — even the most emotional, vulnerable points — it feels like Ric Flair is selling. It’s genuine, but it’s the kind of genuine you get from someone with an overpracticed, stage-ready genuine. At the end Nature Boy has Flair holding his daughter’s hand up in triumph in the ring after Charlotte wins her first WWE title. The scene is heartrending: He’s clearly a proud father, but also Ric Flair basking in the role of being Ric Flair in the spotlight.

    10. The most moving scene in the documentary, appropriately enough, involves his other family: Wrestlers. More specifically, it involves a wrestler, Shawn Michaels, chosen to retire Flair in a Career-Threatening Match at Wrestlemania XXIV. Present-day Michaels is interviewed for the segment. He sounds little like his in-ring persona, and openly mourns for what Flair had become: A wrestler who stayed too long, gave almost everything to the business, and let whatever was left leave with his alter ego. For Michaels, Ric Flair went from an idol to a warning.

    Then Nature Boy lets the scene roll: The retirement match, after nearly 30 minutes of classic Flair struggle, ending with Flair eye-poking Michaels, nearly pulling off a pin out of nowhere, then taking a massive counter hit and staggering in the ring waiting to be finished. Michaels plays the role of remorseful finisher to the hilt, even pulling a move before it starts, too overcome to end a legend’s career.

    Michaels then says “I’m sorry, I love you,” and ends the match with a pin, a post-match kiss on the forehead, and a grief-stricken retreat from the ring.

    It’s not real, and it’s also as real as anything else in Nature Boy.

    11. That’s probably Ric Flair’s fault, too. With no separation between the ring and real life, Ric Flair in Nature Boy is never off duty. Everything is a sell, or a work. It’s bad enough when his ex-wife or his son says as much. It is much, much worse when the bulk of the evidence comes from the man himself through on-camera interviews. Flair happily admits to the excess of Ric Flair being completely real, but also shows no ability to introspect and consider why it all happened in the first place. Karpf tries gamely and repeatedly to get Flair to talk about his chilly relationship with his parents. He gets nothing. The overwhelming sense is not that he’s stonewalling, but that after years of embracing the act there might not be anything back there anymore.

    13. This wasn’t in the movie, either. After the screening I attended in Atlanta there was a Q and A with Flair, where he talked about the aforementioned spaghetti incident, how he got drunk after a match in Philadelphia, went to dinner, screamed “I GOT ELEVEN OF THESE” at the table and threw his $30,000 Rolex watch into a plate of spaghetti. The next morning, he had to go through the trash trying to find it. This is also when he told us about the time lightning struck his umbrella while he was getting off a plane in Charlotte in 1983, bounced to the man behind him in line, and killed that man. He explained neither of these, and then offered to buy everyone drinks next door.

    12. TL; DR: It would be very hard to write a wrestling version of Sunset Boulevard and not cast Ric Flair as Norma Desmond. Nature Boy’s biggest fault is being too short to encompass the extravagant, rhinestone-dotted plane crash that Ric Flair’s life evidently was and still is. But after 90 minutes you get the point: Ric Flair was ready for his closeup, and after 90 sometimes hilarious minutes of looking at it, the face looking back after a lifetime of hard-lived wheelin’, dealin’, and kiss-stealin’ can be a terrifyingly empty one.

    13. In conclusion, say it with me in a sad, low Ric Flair voice after considering the impermanence of humanity’s greatness, and and the hollowness of fame writ large on a single man rendered incapable of taking care of the ones he loves through ego-driven self-deletion and alcoholism: Woooooooooo.


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    The Top Whatever is your weekly ranking of only the college football teams that really need to be ranked at this exact moment in time. If you’re looking for the polls for some reason, they’re here.

    1. Miami.

    Got Notre Dame the hell out of here for the year by humiliating the Irish 41-8 in Miami.

    Notre Dame did hand the Canes four turnovers, turnovers Miami tidily turned into a blowout with timely offense. Take out those four turnovers, and we’re all looking at a much closer game between two teams that are really not that far apart in overall talent.

    That is a charitable reading, one that’s almost as giving to Notre Dame as the Notre Dame offense was to the Miami defense.

    On the other hand: Miami spent most of the second half in complete shutdown mode and ran the clock like it had to get to Club LIV by 11 for a recruiting meetup. This might actually be accurate. The Canes rented out the LIV at the stadium as a reception area for incoming recruits.

    Your school could never, mostly because it doesn’t have a nightclub inside its stadium. (Yet.)

    Calling a program BACK is so dangerous, but facts only here:

    • Miami looked a full standard deviation faster than Notre Dame at almost every position.
    • The Hurricanes are undefeated a week shy of Thanksgiving, won the ACC Coastal Division for the first time ever, and only need to beat Pitt and UVA to finish the regular season without a loss.
    • There was a pretty solid brawl by the concession stand between UM and ND fans, as is tradition.
    • Never mind who got the better of that.
    • Never mind, I said. SCOREBOARD. SCOREBOARD, OK? SCORE. BOARD.

    It’s fine to say it, even if the Miami that rolled over Notre Dame didn’t look much different than the team that squeaked out a 25-24 win over Georgia Tech at home. The Canes play blazing defense. They aren’t spectacular on offense, but they take efficient advantage of field position and turnovers. The Canes are counter-punchers and know it — after all, what other team chose its sideline trophy based on the understanding that it was going to make youmake a mistake?

    Miami remains a team of managed margins on most nights. Those can add up to something huge when Miami forces the other team into mistakes.

    Still, go ahead and say it: Miami is back. Please remind everyone of this when the Canes regress to the mean and need a late field goal to beat UVA next week. The 2017 Miami Hurricanes, America’s Team Most Comfortable In Close Games™.

    2. Northwestern, postgame only.

    23-13 win over Purdue, but that’s not what we’re celebrating here because WHY IS NORTHWESTERN DANCING TO BOOSIE AND WHY IS IT WORKING???

    No. 71 is moving like he feels this song in his bones and is about to spell out “Boosie Badazz” at the top of his lungs. Also, good form in immediately fading out the song before the rest, because it gets problematic in a mixed crowd quickly.

    Northwestern’s Twitter handle is “NorthWWWWWWestern Football” right now, begging the question: How are the Wildcats America’s realest candidate for the title of swaggiest three-loss team? We have no answers, only evidence and Pat Fitzgerald probably signaling in a blitz next week with the “shoulders, chest, pants, shoes” dance.

    3. Auburn.

    There’s the kind of blowout Miami had over Notre Dame: over early in a flurry of turnovers and touchdowns, then as they say in soccer, “a firmly parked bus.” The point being proved, the blowout-er is happy to throttle down and grant the blowout-ee a dignified end.

    That was not this 40-17 blowout. This was a one-sided ejection from the premises, and Georgia was the drunk who thought he could take three bouncers at once. This was full-bore cage match only one party knew about in advance. This was the kind of blowout the insurance company won’t cover. Check the policy: “acts of God” are covered, and “the devil whalin’ on your ass for three hours with a two by four” isn’t.

    Georgia’s lowest rushing on the year had come on the road against Notre Dame, when Sony Michel and Nick Chubb totaled only 185. Against Auburn, the entire team gained 46 yards, nine fewer yards than Auburn’s Eli Stove got all by himself on Saturday. Stove is a wide receiver.

    This is one of a thousand signs that something went VERY, VERY, VERY WRONG, GEORGIA, but there’s more. Auburn’s defensive line not only eliminated Georgia’s elite running attack, but became the first team to really pressure freshman QB Jake Fromm, sacking him four times and forcing him into impossible situations early and often.

    As for Auburn’s offense:

    Darius Slayton’s catch here is a sublime example of body control and position relative to the defender, with a breathtaking set of hands to bring in a touchdown other receivers might have dropped.

    This entire game could represent something for Auburn as a whole. This kind of game didn’t come out of nowhere. People were bullish on them in the preseason, and with reason. They had talent on both sides of the ball, a new and touted transfer quarterback with plenty to prove, and a manageable schedule, despite challenge. When Auburn catches Georgia like this, it validates what a lot of people thought the Tigers could be. They can’t undo a blown 20-point lead to LSU and sputter in an early matchup with Clemson. They can, however, ambush Georgia in one of the more shocking blowout upsets of the year.*

    * No one is beating Iowa for this title. No one. Not even Cal, and Cal beat Wazzu 37-3.

    Auburn has a game against ULM to get through before the Iron Bowl. A win would usually be a forgone conclusion for Alabama under normal Saban-era circumstances. However, an injured Alabama light on linebackers just gave up three rushing TDs to Mississippi State in a thriller on the road, marking the first time anyone has scored three times on the ground against Alabama in a single game since 2006.

    Auburn might have noticed that. The World’s Most Dangerous Team Of the Week is halfway to upending the SEC’s chances at the No. 1 seed and two-thirds of the way to making its case for stealing the Playoff bid for themselves. To do that, Auburn would have to beat Alabama, then defeat Georgia again in the SEC Championship Game. The first step involves matter of luck, but the second step — after watching what Auburn did to Georgia this weekend — feels like a given.

    P.S. With a minute and 25 seconds left, up by 23 points and with the backups in, Auburn threw a pop pass downfield for one last first down. Auburn might love you as a brother on Sundays, Georgia, but on Saturdays, they still haaaaaaaaaaate you.

    4. Wisconsin.

    Beat Iowa 38-14. The good news is that no one can ever take away putting 55 on Ohio State, Hawkeyes. The bad news? There was a fight in the parking lot of the Woodman’s, and you lost real bad. Wisconsin’s defense limited Iowa to 66 yards and five first downs, which is bad even by the standards of Florida Gator offensive football. That’s not a place you ever want to end up in, Iowa.

    Wisconsin is still undefeated. Using some transitive math, if Wisconsin were to play Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, the Badgers would beat Ohio State by a conservatively projected score of 93-38. That is a joke, something we have to say, because there are 15 Ohio State fans with a sense of humor. The remainder spends its time scanning the internet, looking for any opportunity to point out how you should be discussing Ohio State at this moment and how disrespectful it is that you’re not.

    That is a bad place to be, especially when you’re just looking for creative storage solutions on Pinterest, and suddenly someone in the comments says something like, “These are clever, but you know what else is clever? Kevin Wilson’s halftime adjustments and grooming of J.T. Barrett as a legitimate NFL-caliber quarterback.” (You’ll spot that same Buckeye in the Weather.com comments a week later, calling for Barrett to be benched.)

    That’s almost as bad as getting your ass handed to you In the parking lot of a Woodman’s a cold night in November. (Almost, Iowa. Almost.)

    5. Ed Orgeron, the rent man.

    Life’s a circle. Fortunately, Ed Orgeron is wearing roller skates.

    6. Alabama.

    Survived Mississippi State 31-24. Most Alabama fans probably feel like a one-score win on the road where the defense lets a team rush for three touchdowns on the Crimson Tide is a loss.

    This is incorrect. Losing to a suddenly dangerous-looking Auburn would be a loss, and a devastating one. However, the great luxuries of Alabama mean a.) the fall-back option in an emergency is QB Jalen Hurts winging the ball to WR Calvin Ridley for easy TDs, and b.) we’re only acting like Alabama isn’t going to win out to keep from getting bored.

    Because the Tide will win out, and the only ranking that matters is the last one. In the meantime, we can put them down here like they’re not death itself. An inevitability we’re avoiding at all costs. Both, whatever, same really. I don’t have to write about it until it happens, and no one can make me.

    7. UCF.

    Handled UConn 49-24. The Knights did not receive the Civil ConFLiCT trophy because everyone has forgotten it ever existed, including Bob Diaco, the man who invented it.

    Unrelated but also important: UCF’s beefy-ass Viking of a punter squats 585 pounds.

    Hard to have one big leg if you don’t have two, y’all.

    8. Oklahoma.

    A 38-20 win over TCU that ended at the half, when the Sooners were up 38-14 and figured it was time to stop putting the playbook out there. The Sooners play Kansas next week. After Baker Mayfield gets to 400 yards of total offense in the middle of the second quarter, Oklahoma fans should sedate him and place him in bubble wrap until the West Virginia game.

    9. Clemson.

    A low key, 31-14 win over Florida State. The lack of buzz about beating the Seminoles would have looked very odd preseason, but an awful 2017 for FSU will do that to what should otherwise be a trophy win. Clemson can work a Playoff slot out for itself pretty simply: Beat The Citadel and South Carolina, then Miami in the ACC Championship Game, and it’s in. The first two are doable. The third is a mystery, because you’re not the only one adjusting to a world where Miami football is a dependable quantity.

    10. Ohio State.

    Proud dealer of the week’s biggest asskicking, handed to Michigan State 48-3 in a game that could have been much worse. The Buckeyes are a brilliant team with one explicable loss (to Oklahoma early in the season) and one no one will ever be able to explain (to Iowa on the road).

    We have no idea what the Playoff chances are, but this is certain: If Ohio State does not make it, it is going to incinerate someone in a consolation bowl with the fire of a thousand suns, then claim it was the best team in the nation at the end of the year. That is a title no one will be able to take from you, Buckeyes, mostly because it is imaginary and self-awarded.

    11. Army.

    Being 8-2 and within reach of 10 wins for the first time since 1996 is enough for honorary placement. But where Army really shines is being the team whose style is most consistent with its school’s entire reason for existing: the ground attack. The Black Knights have thrown the ball 57 times for the entire year, just once in their last two games against Air Force and Duke.

    Those were both wins, but we all already knew that, because nothing is more humiliating than beating a team without even throwing the ball once. Georgia Southern is an amazing football program.

    LOST THEIR SECOND GAME OF THE SEASON, ENDING ALL PLAYOFF HOPES, AT LEAST UNTIL EVERYONE ELSE LOSES AND EVERYONE REMEMBERS THAT THEY’RE REALLY GOOD AND MAYBE DESERVE A SLOT WE DUNNO

    Washington. Lost 30-22 to Stanford despite the advantage of facing Cardinal RB Bryce Love on one bad ankle. Too bad for you, Washington: Bryce Love’s one good ankle is INCREDIBLE.

    TCU. Lost huge to Oklahoma, but still holds an inside track on a slot in the Big 12 Championship, where it would face ... Oklahoma. The Horned Frogs’ consolation gift after a hammer to the toes is an offer of more free toe-hammering. Life sucks like that sometimes, TCU.

    Notre Dame. A gigantic loss to Miami is bad, but recovering with a win in the conference title game wait—

    UM WHAT ABOUT USC?

    Beat Colorado 38-24 in Boulder. Doesn’t remember a lot of what happened, but that’s typical for Boulder. Probably going to win the Pac-12, no big thing. Just livin’, bro. Just livin’.


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    Other websites will tell you how to talk to your relatives. We will help you fight them and escape your Thanksgiving in mostly one piece.

    Grab the right weapon. The kitchen, where all the sharp things are, is the high ground, eh? WRONG. The garage is the mother lode, stocked with all the nastiest implements to survive a prolonged bit of hand-to-hand combat with your family. I like a shovel for the ideal combination of heft, versatility and durability. If you're forced to fight from a young boy's room, salt the floor with Legos to slow down any approaching threat. Home Alone was real; take its lessons seriously.

    Humility is survival. No one can fight. Unless you know you can, and have a proven record of hulking out like Stephen Jackson and taking on an entire arena, survive by knowing your limitations. Stick to proven tactics. Aim for sensitive joints and body parts. Ric Flair poked opponents in the eyes and punched nuts and blindsided opponents from unsportsmanlike angles. You know who survived five decades of vicious professional wrestling? That's right: Ric Flair. Make a little "Woo!" as you come off the top of the steps to knock your brother-in-law out with a cheapshot from a Dyson vacuum cleaner if it helps you remember. Play like a rat, survive like a rat.

    Your dad. Your dad's tired, he doesn't want this. Point him at the couch upstairs and give him the option of a dignified surrender. He will take it, because Dad's tired, and the best weapon to defeat him is that marathon of MythBusters on SyFy. Your dad's a Jamie man, because he never talks and doesn't like anything, either.

    Your brother. With the weed-whacker, again. Or the Blower, the weapon that does no damage but makes everyone want to beat his ass twice as bad. Don't waste effort on your brother. Like Vince Vaughn in a serious drama, he is there to annoy, not to be taken seriously. Keep it moving.

    Your uncle. Oh, he got really into CrossFit after his recent divorce? Too bad dodging this heavy-ass casserole dish thrown at your head isn't part of a WOD, eh? A hundred and twenty bucks a month to get knocked the hell out by five pounds of crockery and complex carbohydrates. Elite fitness, my ass.

    Your mother. Another target to avoid, as she has more reasons to be mad at you than anyone in the building. Flee any room she enters; parry and stall if possible; do not, I repeat, do NOT engage.

    Your aunt. Underestimate her and die. Your aunt is a master of emotional jiu-jitsu, the most lethal martial art. She also stabbed your uncle once after he lost the mortgage in a backroom craps game at the Sleep Inn on Exit 76. Stuff your ears with napkins to blot out the sounds of her telling you how your mother didn't really love your father; apply quick submission hold; pray she doesn't have a dagger concealed in her boot. (She will!)

    Your nieces and nephews. It will try your emotions to fight children, but they will turn on you.  It's necessary to have a strategy. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot fight more than five third-graders at a time. A good rule to follow is to divide your own body weight by the average opponent weight. For instance, if you weigh 210 pounds, you can fight three 70-pounders to a draw, or at least beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen from the dining room. Break them psychologically if you can by destroying their tablets. A broken arm will heal; a broken iPad is forever.

    EXCEPTION: Your giant nephew Tommy. The one who weighs 285 and is the starting tackle for his high school football team. Pay him money and make an ally of him. Do not attempt to fight him. You are not Red Viper. You are not Red Viper. You are not Red Viper.

    Keep it moving. The goal is escape. You can't beat them all, so treat this like a classic Jackie Chan fight scene involving more than one person: run, fight if you have to and then keep running. Were you thinking about making a dramatic stand on the stairs to prove a point for yourself? Well, you go ahead and do that, General Custer. You go ahead and do that.

    Forget the turkey. Unless it was fried AND brined, it was going to be dry and kind of subpar anyway.


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    The Top Whatever is your weekly ranking of the college football things that must be ranked right now.

    1. Josh Rosen.

    There was so little happening this week in college football that I can do something weird and overdue here: actually pay attention to a player. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen lost a 28-23 rivalry defeat to USC in which he looked good and sometimes amazing while his team won or lost at random rates.

    That sums up Rosen’s entire career. Rosen came in a five-star, can’t-miss prospect from a powerhouse in California, St. John Bosco. Rosen never sat on the bench, starting as a freshman and playing well enough to elicit slobber-worthy commentary from scouts. He threw for 3,669 yards and 23 TDs, looked as beautiful as he was supposed to, and got UCLA to an 8-5 record.

    Rosen also had a hot tub in his dorm room. That’s important, but only for spiritual reasons.

    It seemed like a beginning. It just wasn’t the beginning people might have assumed, one in which UCLA takes advantage of a USC laboring under a coaching change and NCAA sanctions, rides a brilliant young QB to glory, and fulfills the promise of an entire program. In L.A. terms, this is a pretty good pitch.

    It is not the one life picked up for option, however. The script Rosen got instead: go through three offensive coordinators in three years, take a beating in year two when the offensive line loses three starters, finish your career throwing beautiful passes in a losing effort to your crosstown rival, and wake up the next day to find out your head coach has been fired on his birthday.

    It wasn’t what it could have been, but it will be nice moving forward. The setup for USC-UCLA this year was a comparison between Sam Darnold and Rosen as NFL talents in an already heated rivalry game. Rosen arguably got the better of Darnold in direct competition, throwing for 421 yards, making some jaw-dropping throws, and calmly rolling through progressions and taking easy throws when he had them. Unlike Darnold, Rosen threw touchdowns, didn’t let the clock run out on his offense in the first half with a field-goal attempt in the making, and appeared to make solid decisions.

    UCLA could never get most of its parts working at once during his three-year stay. It wasn’t Rosen’s job to get them all working at once. The guy responsible for that lost his job.

    Rosen’s job was to play quarterback as well as he could. Despite his pedigree as a super-hyped five-star, Rosen did. Rosen limped through games behind patchy lines and threw TDs to an ever-changing cast of receivers. Only in his freshman year did he have anything like the protection of a run game. Rosen worked the last two years alongside some of the worst rushing in the nation and still managed to produce.

    This isn’t a song of woe for Rosen. But it feels necessary to say something before he goes over the lip of the horizon and into the NFL. Where others might have bailed, Rosen stuck it out through a situation he never felt was hopeless.

    That might have been madness, from a professional perspective; even in 2017, when Rosen stayed upright for an entire season, he took the most sacks of his career. But fans aren’t rational, and neither is football all the time.

    From a UCLA fan’s perspective, Rosen was down for the team even when being down for the team made little sense. That’s something endearing, like being a fan of a program that never won more than eight games even with a first-round pick at quarterback.

    If it were his fault, Rosen would have been the one who got fired.

    2. Miami.

    44-28 over Virginia.

    You, smartassedly: Oh, Miami isn’t good. They were tight with UVA until the fourth quarter.

    Me, wisely: Miami was overdue for a letdown after a massive beating of Notre Dame, Kurt Benkert is actually officially Pretty Good at quarterback, and you probably only watched the Notre Dame game. Miami’s thing all year long has been playing close games and still winning them.

    You, owned: I will delete my account now.

    Me: [makes U sign and is crowned king of the internet and granted all powers obligated to that title].

    3. Wisconsin.

    Bellied up and butted guts with the Wolverines until they gave in, 24-10. When Wisconsin plays a similarly built team, something fun happens: Both teams do a Wisconsin imitation, and whoever flinches first loses. Michigan found out it’s hard to do a better imitation of Wisconsin than Wisconsin does, especially when running against Wisconsin’s defense becomes impossible.

    4. USC kicker/punter Reid Budrovich

    Per USC’s depth chart, No. 46 Budrovich is a 185-pound walk-on backup punter. Per this clip, he is a 270-pound, 8’0-tall Viking who can snap a caribou’s neck like a stale candy cane. Watch the large man with a beard on the bench and tell me he’s not seeing an 8’0-tall Viking.

    5. Alabama.

    Beat Mercer 56-0.

    Being a longtime Georgia resident and expert on the state, these are the things I know definitively about Mercer University. I know that Mercer University is a private university in Macon. I know if you go to Mercer, you can be at least three things: a future member of state government, a Nancy Grace, or a Big James Henderson, the first man in the world to bench over 700 pounds in a drug-tested competition.

    If you have a choice, I’d go with being Big James Henderson. Somewhat related: Bench-pressing 700 pounds to the sound of gospel music live on Christian television is absolutely one of the most Georgia things to ever happen anywhere.

    Oh, and Mercer is not an FBS program, and no one has to mention this game or Alabama playing it. Did things get so out of hand that the Vultureback got carries? Yes they did, because Alabama’s sixth-string running back, Ronnie Clark, got four carries. RESPECT THE VULTUREBACK.

    6. SHANK.

    SOMETIMES AN OUTSTANDING LACK OF EXECUTION IS A FORM OF EXCELLENCE TOO

    It’s not just that it misses, it’s that it travels three times as long laterally as it had to vertically and takes four seconds in slow motion to find its final resting place in the stands. If a kicker is going to miss, he might as well make it a masterpiece. And this by Texas Tech? This is a masterpiece.

    7. Georgia.

    Beat Kentucky 42-13, avenging a three-point win from 2016. Shut up, a three-point win over Kentucky is still a kind of a loss. It just is, because in a time of turbulence, some things in the SEC simply have to stay the same, and that might as well be “feeling bad about barely beating Kentucky.” Georgia’s fine unless it loses to a 5-5 Georgia Tech team this week, which it won’t do.*

    *wiggling eyebrows and nodding and winking as hard as I can while saying this

    8. Oklahoma.

    Let’s talk about Baker Mayfield grabbing his crotch during a 41-3 blowout of the Jayhawks.

    It should be possible to say watching Mayfield is great — and that he has a tendency to get emotional — without being overly hysterical either way. Because I want to dismiss it. I really do. Mayfield is unreservedly fun, and pointing out that he shouldn’t have done something while also not siding with people who hate fun should be something a fan can do. Someone should be able to move on without making it a capital-T Thing!

    Watch us do that right now, then join me after the three seconds of attention this deserves.

    9. Clemson.

    Beat The Citadel, 61-3, and no one was seriously harmed, and that’s all that needs to be said about Clemson.

    Yes, that includes, “The team Clemson lost to got blown out by Louisville to the tune of 46 points.”

    10. Auburn.

    Turned back an early challenge from Louisiana-Monroe and cruised to a 42-14 win. Auburn stands at 50 percent BUTTS OUT at the moment, with the most difficult step remaining in the form of Alabama waiting in the Iron Bowl. Make no mistake: A full 100 percent BUTTS OUT rating would be Gus Malzahn’s finest achievement since taking a team to the national title game with a defensive back playing quarterback.

    11. Ohio State.

    52-14 over Illinois. We thought we were immune to the sadness of Illinois football, but then the box score spells out “Chayce Crouch: 4/14 for 16 yards passing” and the darkness just kind of spreads through your chest all over again. DID YOU KNOW: Every Sufjan Stevens song isn’t about Illinois football, but all the sad ones are.

    12. UCF.

    45-19 over Temple. Now leaning toward UCF creating a special Citronaut alternate uniform for the bowl game, so that when the Knights take out their frustrations of having a perfect season and getting no Playoff bid, they do it wearing this.

    FLORIDA TECH WAS REALLY WHEN UCF PEAKED FROM A DESIGN PERSPECTIVE

    Nothing would be more humiliating than losing by 20 to the Citronaut.

    13. Memphis.

    66-45 over SMU. Just want to note Memphis came so, so close to the Devil’s Box Score here: 66 points on 663 yards of offense.


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    The evidence of what happened in the Iron Bowl is all over the lawn.

    AUBURN, Alabama — The hedges at Jordan-Hare Stadium sit between the stands and the field on two sides. In the event of an emergency, they can be scaled, jumped, or tumbled through on the way to the field. The first wave always has a few casualties, brave souls, stuck ass over teakettle for a moment before the shrubbery spits them out onto the field. Note to those who might try it some day: You will win, but not before the hedges throw you around a little.

    The list of those emergencies worthy of fighting the shrubs at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama includes but is not limited to: fire, earthquake, lightning strike, stampede, and Iron Bowl.

    There is no debate about Auburn’s 26-14 win over Alabama being an Iron Bowl. It qualifies categorically for hedge-stomping.

    However, exactly when the hedges were doomed is up for debate.

    A scientific person would have written the hedges off at the half. After 30 minutes, Auburn had run 42 plays, stymied Alabama’s run game, and had the Crimson Tide in the rare situation of working from behind. When Alabama can’t get off the field on third down, the play count creeps up. (Auburn went nine-of-18 on third down.) When the play count creeps up, the short gains get longer, and even the big, relentless bodies of the Alabama defense fatigue. (Hint: It’s the same thing that happens to everyone, i.e., you give up yards, points, and ultimately a loss.)

    The superstitious person might have called it at another point. Trailing 20-14 in the third quarter and in good field position after a 55-yard kickoff return by Trevon Diggs, Alabama sputtered around on offense, though not before Jalen Hurts launched an insane third-down pass into double coverage in the end zone, had it tipped, and sent the entire stadium into a temporary state of delirium when Alabama tight end Hale Hentges nearly caught the tip for a touchdown.

    Note: Hale Hentges isn’t even from the state, and his name already sounds like an Alabama governor’s name. If he’d caught that TD, he would have been made governor eventually, if not immediately. It’s bad for the Tide that he did not, but probably good for Hale Hentges personally, given how many Alabama politicians end up indicted.

    Then Alabama faced a fourth-and-9 on the Auburn 17 and sent out the kicker.

    This should be a normal moment in a football game. It can’t be for Alabama against Auburn, because once upon a time, a kindly mountain sorcerer helped a young Nick Saban out of a jam in West Virginia. In repayment, the sorcerer asked for one thing: that Saban never, ever kick a field goal in a crucial situation on short yardage, because field goals are for cowards. Saban agreed, and the wizard was appeased.

    A young Nick Saban forgot his promise, though, and called for a field goal in his first game at Toledo. From that point forward in crucial situations, Nick Saban’s teams would be cursed on field goal attempts.

    This is an absurd and completely fictional explanation of what happens to Alabama on crucial field goals, particularly against Auburn. But it works as well as any other theory because nothing else explains why, on a routine attempt, Alabama’s otherwise reliable holder J.K. Scott bobbled a snap, reset, and found himself playing improv quarterback with the entire Auburn defense after him. Holder/placekicker Andy Pappanastos is in the box score officially as a receiver, because Scott did complete a pass to him for a loss of 9 yards.

    Maybe all that greenery was doomed before this ever started, though.

    It might have started after LSU beat Auburn 27-23 in Death Valley on Oct. 14, when, after some soul-searching, Auburn went on a blind tear through the rest of its schedule. The Tigers topped 40 points in each of their next four games. That run included the outright alarming, 40-17 upset of Georgia that proved Auburn was definitely no longer the same team that lost to Clemson and was maybe even a real threat for the conference championship.

    Gus Malzahn said as much himself, post-Alabama: “This time of year, very few teams are playing their best football, and we are doing that.”

    What also started well before this game: the sideways slide of injury and attrition for Alabama.

    Alabama started out by ruining Florida State’s season in a 24-7 game that looked a lot like every other Alabama game ever under Saban. That similarity, however, faded down the stretch. The defense got injured, particularly at linebacker, something that most observers laughed off because of Alabama’s almost unfair depth at every position. That laughter stopped vs. Mississippi State and became a dead serious issue against Auburn, especially with Jarrett Stidham gaining crucial yardage off zone reads and scrambles.

    That’s not all. The offense — don’t laugh — did really lose something with the departure of Lane Kiffin. The plays are still there, including the quick horizontal stretches Alabama used early to spread out Auburn. Jalen Hurts, Calvin Ridley, and the stable of running backs are still there, too. The rhythm, timing, and ball distribution, though: They’re different, and not for the better. When Alabama gets behind the sticks or on the scoreboard, it’s all on Hurts to bail out the offense with QB runs and long passes.

    It works, sometimes. It only worked sporadically against Mississippi State. Against a disciplined Auburn line, it ceased to work altogether. The entire Auburn defense is too young to know what a phone booth is, but that’s what it had Hurts playing in for much of the night.

    For the first time in recent memory, Alabama’s offense looked inept. Auburn did that to it.

    When the hedges and Alabama and all sense of order were collectively doomed doesn’t even really matter.

    With the final seconds ticking away, a mob poured out onto the field. Over the hedges, past former Auburn QB Jason Campbell, past a sheepish but clearly pleased Tim Cook of Apple, past grinning offensive line coach Herb Hand, past boosters and random grandkids gawking for selfies with players, past ESPN’s Marty Smith, diving into the scrum to get a mic in the face of Malzahn, who was was so swarmed with cameras that bystanders could only point at the flashbulbs and yell, “I GUESS THAT’S GUS,” while holding up cellphones.

    Auburn was what it is by charter: an engineering and agricultural school. First there was the controlled demolition on the field, done cleanly in 60 minutes. The celebratory vandalism is designed, too. Toilet paper in designated trees (and a few unofficially chosen ones here and there), a rush to the field, and the removal of the hedges that the groundskeepers already know they will have to repair and regrow.

    The Kick Six four years earlier was the most glorious robbery in the history of college football. Auburn took away Alabama’s offense, defense, special teams, chance at a national and conference title, undefeated season, and did it all with a single play. That’s a robbery — a swift, effective, and stunning theft accomplished in a single 109-yard swipe of the football across the field.

    This was different.

    When you do all that according to plan for four quarters, dominate Alabama at almost every position, accomplish all the same things in 60 minutes of clean work, but then play Alabama’s “Rammer Jammer,” followed up by a just-sarcastic-enough singalong of Alabama’s crowd favorite “Dixieland Delight?” afterwards? When it all happens by the numbers, and then you steal their theme music?

    That’s not a theft, Auburn. That’s a heist.

    And like any good crew of jewel thieves, Auburn left its calling cards behind so everyone knew who did it. A set of decimated hedges here, a light dusting of toilet paper waving in the trees over there.

    NCAA Football: Alabama at AuburnJohn David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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    Tennessee's attempt to hire Greg Schiano was a bad idea for obvious reasons, and it revealed the real power behind the program.

    Trying to hire Greg Schiano to coach Tennessee football wasn’t a bad idea. It was, at minimum, four bad ideas.

    First: Schiano is an authoritarian program-builder with no local ties and a tendency to rub those around him the wrong way. That sounds a lot like Butch Jones, the coach Tennessee just fired, only more expensive.

    Second: Schiano’s record is good, but not great or inspiring enough to merit instant consideration. The program Schiano rebuilt was Rutgers in the 2000s. It took five years for Schiano to get Rutgers to a seven-win season in a conference weakened by the 2004 departures of Miami and Virginia Tech. In 11 years at the school, Rutgers won just four games over ranked opponents. Again: If Tennessee wanted this, they could just rehire Butch Jones. His keys to the building probably still work.

    Third: Schiano was tyrannical at Rutgers, disliked by NFL scouts, and was the cornerstone of a budget-trashing push for football funding at Rutgers. (Rutgers even cut out part of an ecological preserve and gave Schiano an interest-free home loan so he could build a house practically on-campus.) He became a laughing stock in the NFL. His time at Ohio State as an assistant has been mostly fine, provided you write off giving up 55 points to Iowa as recently as this season. Iowa has gone an entire month at a time without scoring 55 points as a program, even though the Hawkeyes probably went 4-0 in that month, because no one stretches groceries like Kirk Ferentz.

    Fourth: Schiano was a hard sell to begin with, and then was sold very, very poorly. The connections between Schiano and the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State are, by legal standards, hearsay. That can’t be stated enough. What also can’t be stated enough is this: If the public discussion about the coaching search begins with “Now, about his name appearing in a court document involving that child sex scandal,” then that chapter of the discussion is over before it even started. That is a horrendous visual for a university that just paid out a $2.48 million settlement to eight women in a sexual assault suit involving the football program, and whose previous coach got calls from the police about a rape investigation before even the players did.

    There are probably more reasons, but the point should be clear. In terms of earning a job or demonstrating an obvious, first-choice level of competence, Schiano was not a clear No. 1 choice for the Tennessee job. It could be argued that in this unusually deep pool of available coaches in 2017, Schiano wasn’t a top five or 10 pick for the Tennessee job — and that’s considering the list of coaches available after Chip Kelly and Dan Mullen were taken off the board.

    ***

    It should be easy to see who killed the Schiano deal: Everyone outside of the Tennessee athletic department’s offices, and maybe a few people inside it, too.

    There are other explanations. Some in the media claim Schiano was railroaded by an internet mob bent on using disinformation to scuttle an instantly despised coaching hire. That explanation feels marginally true, but maximally false, particularly when “social media outrage” can be given as a causal reason for anything. It seems especially inaccurate within a community as small and insular as the Tennessee athletics. To wit: If misinformation painted on a rock on campus is evidence of real, influential opinions, then Peyton Manning is running for president.

    The people most disappointed by the suggestion of Greg Schiano included those who know the program best, who were most invested in the program, and who understand the program’s recent history all too well. Yes, there are people in the Tennessee fan base who made bad faith arguments against Schiano. But they’re a margin, a fringe — albeit an ugly one — growing on the edge of a much larger, decade-long discontent within the Tennessee fan base.

    The likeliest case — and a way, way better mechanical explanation of what happened with Schiano — is more complex, local, and mundane. Tennessee’s big boosters obviously signed off on athletic director John Currie’s choice. In reaction, the vast upper-middle and middle classes of Tennessee supporters threatened to vote with their feet and their wallets when Schiano emerged without so much as a trial balloon or even a rudimentary PR campaign to test the idea. That included season ticket holders, donors, and Tennessee’s large and influential group of NFL veterans.

    Which brings up an important question no one really has a simple answer to: While we’re wondering about curious management decisions, does anyone really know who, on a given day, controls a college football team?

    In figuring out how this latest debacle happened, it means considering not a mob, but the actual group of ever-changing stakeholders who have an ever-varying amount of sway over how a college football program works.

    In Tennessee’s case, as a state university, it turns out a lot of people own the football program. As a state university, the number of stakeholders directly include bodies like the Board of Regents, or even something as distant as the Tennessee legislature. In a moment of good judgment so rare it has to be considered both coincidental and accidental, members of the Tennessee legislature roundly condemned the hire and applauded its collapse. To put that in context, consider that one of the only other things that has ever united the Tennessee legislature is a hatred of sagging pants.

    University administration is involved, particularly the director of the athletic department. One factor in the case of Tennessee to consider here miiiiight just be the unique and shaky position of their athletic director. An athletic director has power, sure — but that power can vary wildly from school to school, and depends greatly on their track record and connections. Unfortunately for him, Currie was hired in February of 2017. If all of this seems like the actions of someone still feeling out the terrain less than a year into the job, well: It might have been just that.

    There are big boosters like Jimmy Haslam, the Pilot Flying J gas station baron and owner of the Cleveland Browns. At Tennessee, they’re rich enough that they and their friends get $20 million yachts stuck on the river on the way to party at the Alabama/Tennessee game.

    Their influence is not exact or systematic, but it is powerful. Big-money boosters throw enough money around to get names on buildings, push hirings and firings at every level of the athletic department, and most importantly hold the ear of everyone powerful who matters in the program and beyond. In Haslam’s case, this is especially true: He’s close with former Vols coach Phil Fulmer, was a college roommate of Senator Bob Corker, and is definitely the brother of Bill Haslam, the current governor of Tennessee and former mayor of Knoxville. (When we said before that Tennessee was insular and small, we meant it.)

    That’s a lot of power, but eventually the middle matters. Football programs need actual butts in seats a lot less than they used to thanks to television money, but they still need the steady cash flow of season tickets and home-game revenue. Tennessee, in particular, with 102,455 seats to fill in Neyland Stadium, needs all the butts it can get.

    More than that, programs need proof of life to translate into revenue, something to take back to the administration while pointing to increased applications and cash given back to the university while saying, “We still matter, and are worth all the trouble and conflicts of interest a large football program can bring.”

    The answer to who controls college athletics is an extremely familiar one for anyone talking the SEC: A college football program, operationally, runs a lot like a church. Realistically, a few people pay for everything, but don’t really own it. The reverends set the table organizationally; the deacons run everything with help from volunteers. The financing can be mostly above board, or not at all; a good chunk of the labor is often of the unpaid variety.

    When deacons pick a preacher no one likes without even consulting, the collection plate dries up. To keep that from happening at any college program, the deacons might want to at least consider what the congregation is thinking before making a move. When they don’t, you get a Sunday as bad as the one Tennessee had before rescinding the offer to Schiano.

    Metaphorically speaking: They may not write the checks for the new chapel, but the congregation’s attendance is what makes it a church. If the congregation doesn’t see something like salvation in the service, they’re going to stop showing up altogether. And after a decade of bad-to-indifferent leadership at the pulpit, Tennessee football wants something, anything that feels like at least a peek at the promised land. If they get it with a new hire, that will be one piece of good news for Tennessee. The other good news will be that the congregation saw something it didn’t like, and still cared enough to yell about it.


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    The Top Whatever is a weekly ranking of only the college football teams that must be ranked. This week, noted lifelong Alabama hater Spencer Hall argues for the Tide in your top four.

    1. Oklahoma.

    Beat TCU again, 41-17, like that’s a thing a team can do routinely. Note: This is not a thing a team can do routinely, unless that team has Baker Mayfield. Y’all remember how this happened, right, and how we even got here?

    That the long path to Oklahoma getting an undisputed spot in the final four of the 2017 Playoff begins with Mayfield walking on at Texas Tech, not because he didn’t have scholarship offers, but because he wanted to“play somewhere big?” That after a bright start at Tech, a bad relationship with the management there ended up with a transfer to Oklahoma, where his first championship came in ... intramural softball?

    That he appeared in a video for the women’s gymnastics team? And did NOT phone it in, not even a little?

    MAGIC

    That he has Oklahoma in the Playoff with a chance for a national title? And that as good as Mayfield and the Sooners offense have been all by themselves, the part of the team that Gary Patterson praised after losing the Big 12 title game was the defense?

    We don’t think Patterson means you’ll actually have fun! Oklahoma is in as the Big 12 champion with one loss, and it has a former Texas Tech walk-on who gets so competitive, he grabs his junk during blowout games against lowly Kansas and is probably planting an Oklahoma flag in your front yard right now because, to be honest, your yard disrespected Mayfield by not already having an OU flag spiked into it.

    2. Clemson.

    At no point has Clemson looked like the 100 percent most terrifying team in the nation. Generally, they preferred to handle teams with ease on defense and bring along first-year starting QB Kelly Bryant slowly. For a second, consider what that means. Clemson is so deep throughout the defense, and so menacing along the line, that the offense could comfortably do some on-the-job training. The Tigers could do it not only without damaging their chances at an ACC title, but without damaging their chances at a national title.

    That’s a sick level of luxury, but that’s where Clemson is at right now. Their one loss came on the road at Syracuse after Bryant was knocked out with a head injury. The rest has been according to plan, a steady build through the season capping with what this team is capable of as a fully developed whole: 38-3 over a good Miami, featuring a tidy 23-of-29 from an relaxed Bryant.

    Clemson might even be a year ahead of schedule, if everyone’s being really honest. But if this is what ahead of schedule is, then dear reader, the schedule was wrong. They’re here, possibly the deepest squad in the Playoff field. Fear them, or wind up another data point on their growth curve.

    3. Georgia.

    28-7 over Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia got to even things up neatly, nullifying their only loss with a win and doing it the way Georgia’s won most of its games: brutal defense with a relentless work rate, and a run game that would, at one point, break open the entire game.

    Work rate, by the way, is a soccer term for all the running and chasing a player does while not in possession of the ball. It is usually rated in terms of the distance a player travels during a match. In Roquan Smith’s case for Georgia, that felt like somewhere around five miles. Smith was everywhere and missed nothing Auburn threw at him. The defense is best measured in statements like “damn it felt like there were 12 defenders on the field most of the time” and “Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham looked like a man playing in a powerful hailstorm only he could see.”

    As for the resume: Georgia are SEC Champions with one loss, and that’s good enough, but for added spice, look at the swath of destruction they wrought through the bulk of their schedule. The SEC East might be mostly made of only the most expensive trash, but Georgia reminded put up large numbers on its side of the board, and keeping the numbers on the other side very small.

    P.S. Do not imagine the chaos right now if Georgia had not beaten Notre Dame 20-19 back on September 9th. Again: Do not consider, college football, how only one point kept you from complete chaos.

    4. Alabama.

    I don’t want to do this. Believe me. Nothing bores me more than Alabama football, and all the boring things about Alabama football:

    • The unending cycle of defensive dominations, accompanied by just enough offense to get leads;
    • the ridiculous prattling about the Process, which just sounds like Nick Saban working too much and hiring consultants to watch his consultants to watch his consultants;
    • The roster, an endless crew of four- and five-star recruits, many of whom never really see playing time because they get lost in the machine;
    • The fanbase, now so bored with constant winning that they have to invent complaints. (For instance: There are real people who think Jalen Hurts, whose throws are measured out like they cost Alabama real money each, is holding Alabama back. YOU PEOPLE NEED A FOUR-WIN YEAR TO RECALIBRATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS, YOU PAMPERED HOUNDSTOOTH HEELS.)

    Short of being an Auburn fan, I am the last person in the world who wants to watch anything remotely like more Alabama football, especially when the Tide didn’t win their own division, much less their own conference.

    But: The other real option here is Ohio State, a team with two losses, including a 31-point loss to Iowa, and a strength of record that, prior to the championship game, was rated well below Alabama’s. The playoff’s stated goal is putting the four best teams in, not the four best conference champions.

    Alabama had one bad moment on the road against a hated rival. (Injuries contributed, showing that even Alabama can be affected by injury eventually.). Its key component in the out-of-conference schedule was Florida State, a team whose season collapsed when starting QB Deondre Francois was injured by the Alabama defense. The departure of Lane Kiffin was supposed to take something vital out of an Alabama offense; instead, the Crimson Tide are actually up a few tenths of a point per game.

    If it gets too hectic in terms of advanced stats and strength of schedule: Ohio State lost by 31 points to Iowa and coughed up another game before that to Oklahoma. The four best teams should include Alabama, a team that did not lose by 31 points to Iowa.

    Either I’m right, or I get to watch Alabama lose in embarrassing fashion. Either way, we win.


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    The Top Whatever ranks only the teams that really need to be ranked, starting with the unbeatens. If you’re looking for the polls for some reason, those are over here.

    1. Penn State.

    42-13 over Michigan. That score is merciful, but not for lack of trying. James Franklin had the backups running plays at the Michigan 10, with time expiring, when Penn State could have kneeled, because:

    • Penn State suffered its worst loss of 2016 to Michigan, a 49-10 beatdown that might have been motivation for Penn State playing the entire game at high gear.
    • OK, not might, but definitely, since Maria Taylor overheard offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead quoting the 2016 games’s score back at Penn State’s offense before the TD to put the Nittany Lions over the 40-point mark.
    • Because Franklin is a competitor, which is another way of saying he’s as petty as petty can be, from saying Pitt and Akron were basically the same team to nearly getting into a fight with former Georgia (and current Mississippi State) defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in 2011.
    • Because little has changed with either Penn State or Michigan from the start of the season. Michigan is still a solid defense playing without much offensive production to protect it; Penn State is a balanced, dangerous team with two offensive pieces capable of messing up your entire world in one play. Put the two together, assume all things stay constant, and the results are going to be lopsided every time.
    • Because Penn State sacked John O’Korn seven times and forced a fumble. No quarterback in the history of college football has ever won a game while being sacked seven times and fumbling once.
    • This is a stat that is completely true, and don’t bother looking it up, because I certainly didn’t, but it’s at least 95 percent true. (Probably.)

    Penn State is undefeated. The Nittany Lions’ schedule gives them one of the most direct lines to a playoff slot. Their schedule also happens to include a rampaging Ohio State next week and a brutal, stingy Michigan State the next.

    TL;DR: The path to the top is very clear. It goes straight up that cliff covered in rattlesnake nests and broken glass.*

    *Is Franklin going to try and punch a snake? Has he seen Hard Target at least 40 times? Reader, Franklin is the college football coach most likely to punch a snake. If his DVD collection doesn’t include at least one hella scratched copy of the Jean-Claude Van Damme/John Woo classic, I will personally mail Franklin one American dollar for him to punch. George Washington won’t stop staring at him, and direct eye contact is always a challenge.

    2. Alabama.

    Processed “rival” Tennessee 45-7, canned the Vols, and sold them for meat across the fine supermarkets of the Southeast.

    There’s a lot of ways to paint a portrait of horror here. Numbers are one option. Alabama’s offense had 35 first downs, while poor Tennessee only scraped together seven. I could point you to the 604-to-108 in the total yards column, too, or maybe highlight Tennessee going a pitiful one-of-12 on third downs.

    If numbers don’t move the needle, maybe former Vols torching Butch Jones on Twitter will do.

    If that still doesn’t work? Anecdotes might help, like the sad tale of Tennessee almost scoring a touchdown on offense. The Vols got all the way down to the Alabama 1-yard line. They then false started, stalled the drive, and extended Tennessee’s 12-quarter offensive TD drought.

    Tennessee did score on an interception return ...

    ... only to have DB Rashaan Gaulden flip double birds at the Alabama crowd and get tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. This was actually the best-executed thing Tennessee did all game, because if you’re going to commit to one, you might as well hand out a double serving while you’re at it.

    The real Alabama death machine watcher, though, knows the ultimate sign of an Alabama blowout. The game got so out of hand that Ronnie Clark, the sixth-string running back, got to carry the ball twice. Clark was a four-star tight end recruit who could start almost anywhere else in college football. His appearance lets an opponent know that what is still a game for you just became a scrimmage for them.

    At Alabama, he’s the vultureback. If you see him, you’ll know that only your bones are left.

    3. Goldy the Gopher.

    Not Minnesota, but Goldy.

    4. TCU.

    43-0 over Kansas. If a team has to play Kansas, and has no other choice because it’s a conference game, then the most a team can do is beat Kansas so badly it sets a new record for beatings, even the beatings involving Kansas.

    TCU held Kansas to a Big 12 record of 21 yards, handing the Jayhawks their 44th straight loss on the road. I’m going to stop talking about Kansas because sadness is contagious.

    5. Miami.

    A 27-19 game of keep-away with Syracuse, which rudely ran more plays than Miami, but also politely turned the ball over four times. Miami played its third close, single-score conference game in a row and won. Teams can do this when they keep the turnover margin tidy, and when the quarterback can throw 43 times without anything too terrible happening.

    Malik Rosier is 6-0 as a starter this season. He has worked a lot like the rest of the team: efficiently and sometimes explosively dismantling opponents, not making a lot of mistakes, and thriving in close games. He’s not been great at any one thing, but that’s this team, really. They do a lot of things well; more importantly, they don’t do anything too badly.

    Miami does have two weaknesses someone might exploit, if they can.

    One: Since the loss of Mark Walton, the rushing attack has suffered a bit, and someone who can really defend the run could turn Miami into a one-sided attack. See: Notre Dame, coming to Miami on Nov. 11, or Virginia Tech, whose numbers are even better, coming to Miami on Nov. 4.

    Two: They have definitely not shown the ability to knee-kick a defender in the facemask.

    TONY JAAAAAAA

    Eric Dungey and Syracuse didn’t win on Saturday. They did, however, highlight this facemask-kicking weakness.

    6. Wisconsin.

    38-13 over Maryland. The Badgers stumbled out of the gate on offense, throwing a pick and fumbling before getting right with a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive.

    From that point, Wisconsin was its usual self: stingy against the run, patient with its own rushing attack, and good enough through the air for a significant cushion.

    It’s pleasing that every Saturday, Wisconsin keeps being the team most like its mascot. They move through a game like they have short, powerful legs, steadily digging away. The Badgers do sometimes come out of their den slowly, but when they do, they defend their territory savagely.

    They are more explosive than one might think. QB Alex Hornibrook averages almost 10 yards per attempt, just like badgers, who despite being short-legged, can run at up to 19 miles per hour in short bursts. Try and sleep tonight, knowing that a razor-mouthed heavyweight turbo-weasel that can outrun you is lurking in the Wisconsin woods. Might be talking about the animal. Might be talking about the football team. Either or both, really.

    7. Houston Water Bottle Guy.

    Houston, 4-3 after this week’s loss to Memphis; Houston Water Bottle Guy, undefeated.

    8. UCF.

    Got Navy’d, which explains why the rampaging UCF offense only scored 31 points. (“Only.”) Playing triple-option teams is wrestling in molasses for everyone. It is especially frustrating for teams as explosive as UCF, who have to hold serve on offense, get the ball back a few extra times on defense, and then crank through first downs until a haymaker or two hits home.

    It also helps when the triple-option team’s quarterback makes a very unfortunate read or two.

    UCF is not a novelty. Putting them in the Top Whatever is not cute or throwing charity the way of an AAC team. The Knights are a delight because they clearly enjoy not just beating teams, but destroying them with flair, something rarely seen since ... well, since Oregon’s Chip Kelly teams, the ones UCF head coach Scott Frost worked on as an assistant. Speculate about where he might end up all you like, but enjoy this team now, for what it is in 2017: a genuine, polished monster.

    P.S. The game between USF and UCF on Nov. 24 might have real, national-type implications for the playoff. JUST AS EVERYONE PREDICTED.*

    *Note: No one predicted this.

    9. USF.

    34-28 over Tulane. This is a compliment: USF QB Quinton Flowers is second in our nation to Baker Mayfield in making complete horseshit plays, i.e., unscripted, improvised plays that make defensive coordinators mutter “horseshit” under their breath.

    For example, this is from a horseshit play:

    IT’S FUN TO THINK YOU HAVE AN ANGLE SOMETIMES

    See, the funny part is that this was supposed to go left, and Flowers has already turned right. There, he finds two defenders waiting for him, both leaning right, but with reasonable pursuit angles.

    This is the scene about three nanoseconds after the previous photo.

    SEE THAT’S THE WHOLE DEFENSE BEHIND HIM, WHICH THEY’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE AT ALL

    A blip later, there’s nothing in front of him but the end zone. This is the kind of greatness that happens when a quarterback can make horseshit plays.

    Flowers is one of the best kind of college quarterbacks. He runs brilliantly, often off-script. His passing might be erratic, but if he only completes 10 passes, it’s a lock that two will be for touchdowns. (This is what happened against Tulane: 10-of-24 through the air, for two TDs, one INT, and 127 yards.)

    There will be long periods where he does nothing or scrambles himself into backfield trouble. Then, after a lull, Flowers will slip a tackle and ruin a pursuit angle, and all hell will break loose. You know: the kind of completely joyous horseshit quarterback play that — if Flowers heartbreaking backstory didn’t do it already— endears a player to a fan base for life.

    Again: USF plays UCF on Nov. 24, and it’s going to be better appointment viewing than the “War on I-4” has any right to be.

    UNDEFEATED AND WISELY AVOIDED PLAYING FOOTBALL THIS WEEK

    Georgia. The Bulldogs spent the bye week preparing for Florida, or studying film of a chicken trying to take flight. Remember: The Top Whatever only ranks teams based on what they did this week versus their overall record. Georgia spent the week watching Florida game tape, and watching farce/comedy doesn’t qualify as work.

    The Bulldogs still control everything in front of them thanks to a clean record and that one-point win over Notre Dame in South Bend. Georgia could owe the entire season to Rodrigo Blankenship, a former walk-on kicker in Rec Specs who occasionally does interviews still wearing his helmet, for his late field goal against Notre Dame. Georgia was saved by a nerd, and famously nerd-hating Dawg fans will have to live with that.

    TEAMS WITH ONE LOSS WE MUST BEGIN CONSIDERING FOR THINGS

    Notre Dame. Flattened a disjointed USC, 49-14. It’s not shocking that Notre Dame is good. It is shocking how they’re doing it. On paper, Notre Dame looks like a service academy and runs with Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams like they’re pushing a single wing all the way to the state championship in high school.

    Go look it up: Notre Dame’s peers in the top 10 for total rushing yardage include all three service academies, former Navy coach Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech squad, and Alabama. 2017’s hottest club is MOSTLY GIVING UP ON THE FORWARD PASS.

    Oklahoma. Won a barn-burner on the road versus Kansas State, 42-35. Probably sitting on the outside of any Playoff bubble, but controls a substantial chunk of its fate by a.) having TCU and Oklahoma State coming on the schedule and b.) Baker Mayfield doing things to keep OU in games, like picking up 15 yards on fourth-and-4 out of absolutely nothing.

    First-rate horseshit college football quarterback greatness.

    Oklahoma State. A 13-10 winner in OT against Texas. Maybe the most surprising score of the week, because a Texas-OSU overtime should be 56-55, but it’s a win. Gundy don’t care.

    Montana Tech. The Orediggers sit at 6-1 in the NAIA’s Frontier conference, and are owners of the weekend’s most gigantic box score in a 93-19 ... win? There really aren’t words for scoring 93 on someone, even the clearly outmanned Montana State-Northern Lights, so just call it this: Montana Tech scored so many points that all the scores won’t fit in the scoring summary table.

    NC State. The mystery of IS NC STATE ACTUALLY GREAT AT FOOTBALL THINGS? will thankfully clarify itself when NC State plays Clemson and Notre Dame.

    Until then, this is me at all times when discussing NC State.

    RESIDENTS OF RALEIGH REPORT STRANGE SIGHTINGS OF A GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM

    Michigan State. Scraped by Indiana, 17-9. The bad news, for any other team, would be failing to get 300 yards of offense and grinding out wins in the hardest possible fashion. The good news for Michigan State: This sounds like how Mark Dantonio does things anyway. In the next three weeks, the Spartans play Ohio State and Penn State, and oh man, could they mess up a lot of things for a lot of people in that timespan.

    Washington State. Recovered by beating Colorado, 28-0, in a cold, driving rain in Pullman. Luke Falk still doesn’t look right, but Wazzu is still in the co-driver’s seat in the Pac-12 North and only has one loss. Technically alive for things beyond the Pac-12, is what we’re saying, but barely.

    ONE-LOSS TEAMS THAT WISELY AVOIDED PLAYING FOOTBALL THIS WEEK BUT STILL MERIT MENTION

    Clemson. Still insanely talented and probably still capable of figuring out the quarterback spot after the injury to starter Kelly Bryant against Syracuse. In barely related news: WOO BOY DABO BOUGHT HISSELF A TUDOR-THEMED CHAIN HOTEL-LOOKIN’ MANSION.

    Virginia Tech. Humiliated UNC 59-7, but UNC helped generously with that. Still carrying a nasty loss to Clemson on the resume, but also still in charge of its own fate in the ACC.

    Washington. Still playing for big, important things, and also still ashamed owners of the season’s most baffling loss, at Arizona State last week. Like their rivals across the state in Pullman: Technically alive for larger things.

    ONE-LOSS TEAM IN MEMPHIS WE LIKE MENTIONING BECAUSE THEY ARE VERY FUN AND ALSO MEMPHIS

    Memphis. The Memphis Tigers beat Houston 42-38 in this week’s most off-the-rails game, scoring all of their points in a blazing second-half comeback. Memphis realistically has no chance at the Playoff. I don’t care because the Tigers are very fun and tend to play their games like making the rent depends on it.

    Also: Riley Ferguson is having a better year than Sam Darnold and would be just as happy to steal a signing bonus from the Jets. OOOOH, HE’S 6’4, NFL SCOUTS. YOU GAVE BROCK OSWEILER MILLIONS AND CURRENTLY PAY BRIAN HOYER MONEY. GIVE RILEY FERGUSON AT LEAST ONE HUGE SIGNING BONUS. THE UNIVERSE OWES HIM AT LEAST THAT MUCH.


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    Ranking only the college football teams that absolutely must be ranked at this time.

    AS ALWAYS, WE BEGIN WITH UNDEFEATED TEAMS THAT ACTUALLY PLAYED FOOTBALL THIS WEEKEND.

    1. Georgia.

    The best way to show the size of the giant ass-kicking pile the Georgia Bulldogs amassed in a 42-7 win over Florida: start with one small point. Jake Fromm, Georgia’s freshman quarterback, threw seven passes, not in one quarter, not in a half, but for the entire length of one regulation football game against a conference opponent and hated rival.

    Unless you are Navy or another triple-option team, let me tell you what throwing seven times in a 42-7 win means. It means one team beat the other team’s ass so badly, they didn’t even have to get up off the couch to do it. It means Georgia saw Florida getting Georgia’s last beer out of the fridge, and without really waking up, winged the remote control all the way across the house and into Florida’s temple. The remote control came flying back like the hammer of Thor, of course.

    Note: This is the only superpower I can see any Georgia fan really wanting that doesn’t involve golf.

    This meant that without even looking at the rest of the box score or watching the game, the Bulldogs probably ran the ball at will. (They did, for 292 yards and four TDs.)

    It meant that at no point did the Georgia defense allow the Gators’ offense to change the pace. (They did not. Florida’s putrid offense flailed so badly that it might have contributed significantly to firing Florida’s head coach.)

    I don’t think it’s just because they play in the burnt-out shell of what used to be the SEC East and are the last unvandalized mansion on the block. Georgia is 8-0 because it’s ridiculously disciplined, well-coached, and unlike a thousand other teams in the country, builds around its ingredients.

    The Bulldogs have two outstanding running backs and a young QB. Guess what they do? They run the ball with those two backs, block well, and don’t ask Fromm to do too much yet. The Georgia defense? Y’all, just watch how they read and react, and see what simple, systematic teaching can do to free up defenders to make plays without getting too deep in their own heads.

    They’re smart. That’s a word the entire state of Georgia has a problematic relationship with, but the truth is that this isn’t UGA’s full potential. This is an intelligent, managed team playing clean, brutal football.

    P.S. I don’t even think this team is much more talented than a lot of the teams they face yet. The bulk of what Georgia could be is still in the mail, growing in the weight room in the form of incoming recruiting classes and underclassmen. Doubt this, and ask yourself why Florida tossed Jim McElwain on the curb, free to a good home, and why Tennessee is going to rehome Butch Jones any day now. This is good, but there is much more coming, and everyone in the SEC East knows it.

    2. Iowa State Wario.

    Iowa State has two losses, so by the standards of the Top Whatever, they can’t make the undefeated rankings. But you know who can? IOWA STATE WARIO.

    TCU v Iowa StatePhoto by David Purdy/Getty Images
    THEY’RE A-GONNA WIN

    So much came together here:

    • the extremely smart hiring of Matt Campbell from Toledo
    • an historic upset of TCU in Ames, the second time an undefeated team has tussled with the Clones and come away bloodied
    • the decision made by this fan to not only dress up as the finest Nintendo character ever for Halloween,
    • but the EXCELLENT decision to wear that costume to the game and then onto the field in celebration
    • and the photographer, David Purdy, realizing the greatness of this moment.

    3. Miami.

    Tighter win than expected in a 24-19 victory over UNC, but remember: Miami is the kind of team where every game sort of comes out to 24-19, no matter the opponent.

    The things to be concerned about remain the things to feel good about. The Hurricanes can’t run the ball, so they have to rely on QB Malik Rosier for production. Rosier put up 350 yards and three TDs in a win, so it continues to be a strength.

    The Miami defense gave up 27 first downs to North Carolina, continuing a streak of allowing opposing offenses to move the chains on the Canes. On the other hand, the Miami defense forced four turnovers and is riding a serious streak of turnover luck, soooo ...

    Here we are, pointing out that Miami seems to be 2017’s Lucky But Also Good Team, and that’s fine. Miami’s 7-0 and winning where it counts: on the scoreboard and in the standings. The Canes are not just good enough to make opposing coaches mad, but make them mad at the otherwise completely inoffensive Mark Richt.

    P.S. I hope Richt told Larry Fedora to “stay blessed.” That would be 10 times more infuriating than any profanity he could have thrown back at him.

    4. Wisconsin.

    24-10 over poor, poor Illinois. Warning: The footage below may be too erotic for some readers.

    You: Wisconsin’s schedule is weak, and they’re not overly impressive

    Me: 8-0, and an offensive lineman reminded the world what real joy is. Also, no one has to worry about justifying a thing with Wisconsin. They win in the Big Ten Championship Game and they’re in; they lose, and they’re out, via some pretty comfortable justifications regarding that strength of schedule.

    Also, why are you bringing up stuff they can’t control, and not appreciating the fine, fat-dude thuggery of this team’s excellence? All Wisconsin wants to do is drop that ass on other teams’ heads for four hours. Let them revel in their plodding greatness before tangling them up with the Ohio States of the world.

    5. UCF.

    Beat FCS Austin Peay, 73-33. It’s a cupcake game, but thankfully someone still believes in testing to see whether all the numbers work on the scoreboard. UCF is now the only undefeated non-power team after USF lost to Houston. If the Knights win out, they’ll be that team looking to blindside someone in a New Year’s Day bowl.

    DID NOT PLAY THIS WEEK BUT IS PROBABLY THE REAL NO. 1. PLEASE REMEMBER THAT I DO NOT RANK TEAMS THAT DID NOT PLAY, ALABAMA FANS WHO WILL EMAIL ANYWAY

    Alabama. Probably the best team in the nation, but also definitely on a bye. Nick Saban definitely spent it horsewhipping his staff into watching 70 hours of footage of LSU’s jet sweeps.

    ONE-LOSS TEAMS TO CONSIDER FOR PLAYOFF-TYPE THINGS

    Notre Dame. Disassembled NC State, 35-14.

    This is a safe space. Admit how fun it is to watch Notre Dame lean on teams until they collapse. Talk about how satisfying it can be to watch Josh Adams run the ball. OK, don’t talk about that one too much, because Irish fans will flood your mentions about how you’re not respecting Adams enough, even though you’re talking about how good he is? (I don’t know, the Yankees are out of baseball’s postseason, and Duke basketball has started yet, and they’re bored or something.)

    It’s not aerial circus pretty. But beauty takes a lot of forms, reader, and it’s important to appreciate them all.

    That’s mean and admirable, but the real story is the Irish defense. They held NC State to a piddling 50 yards on the ground and harassed talented Wolfpack QB Ryan Finley into irrelevance for much of the game.

    For those just remembering that they are Notre Dame fans: Talk about the underrated defense, and hold off on buying that Warriors jersey for a few weeks, and you’ll continue to pass as a Real Human Sports Fan for a bit longer.

    Oklahoma. Beat Texas Tech, 49-27. Hopes Iowa State beats everyone for the rest of the regular season, frankly, and doesn’t care who knows it.

    Ohio State. Handed Penn State its first loss in a 39-38 thriller. J.T. Barrett went 13 for 13 in the fourth quarter for 170 yards and three TDs and was evidently the best passer in the history of college football for a while. I can’t say for sure that Barrett in that game wasn’t the greatest quarterback to ever play football, and neither can you.

    Clemson. 24-10 over Georgia Tech. Hey, QB Kelly Bryant seems to be moving just fine, and that’s nothing but good news for the Tigers’ prospects as they get back into the ACC and Playoff race.

    Oklahoma State. Winners, 50-39, over West Virginia, and with Bedlam coming up this week, have a lot in their control re: further ambitions.

    Washington. Ran the ball a whopping 58 times against UCLA in a 44-23 win because ... because they could? Yes, because they could. See all comments about Georgia above for what that means about a team in a non-triple option context.

    Virginia Tech. If they want to startle some people after a workmanlike, 24-3 win over Duke, beating an undefeated Miami and taking control of the ACC Coastal this coming week would be the way to do that.

    TEAMS THAT LOST THEIR FIRST GAME THIS WEEK. PUT IT ON THE TRAILER, TAKE IT TO THE GARAGE, AND COME BACK NEXT WEEK

    TCU. A 14-7 loss to Iowa State in Ames is a way more respectable way to fall off the wagon than it used to be, TCU. Take some consolation in that, and the rest of your schedule, which should keep you in contention for all kinds of things.

    USF. Don’t watch how USF lost this game, 28-24, to Houston. Just know that the Bulls gave up a fourth-and-24 pass for a first down on the final drive, then watched Houston QB D’Eriq King run 20 yards untouched for the winning TD. BAD. IT WAS VERY BAD FOR EVERYONE BUT HOUSTON TO WATCH. LIKE A CAR CRASH YOU SAW COMING BUT COULD NOT SCREAM TO WARN ANYONE ABOUT.

    Penn State. Not their fault they lost 39-38; played best college football quarterback ever of the week.