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

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

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

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

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

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

     ESPN

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

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

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

    3. This play.

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

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

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

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

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

    This is all to say two things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    TEAMS I AM NOT RANKING BECAUSE THAT WOULD INSTANTLY CAUSE THEM TO LOSE A GAME NEXT WEEK

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

    TEAMS I AM NOT RANKING BECAUSE THEY PLAYED (AND WON) AGAINST KANSAS

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

    TEAMS THAT ARE PROBABLY THE BEST ONE-LOSS TEAMS BUT WERE ON A BYE AND STILL WONDERING WHAT THE HELL THEY DID AGAINST OHIO STATE ON THAT LAST PLAY

    • Penn State.


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

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

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

    2. Qaadir Sheppard, Ole Miss.

    One:

    Two:

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

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

    FEAR THE BURROWBACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    LIFE FINDS A WAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    HLAFTIME FOR THE TOP WHATEVER.

    Okay, we cnotinue.

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

    COUNT IT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Learn to identify one in the wild

    Q: Is that a strength coach?

    A:

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

    1. no neck
    2. beard
    3. on sideline manhandling and yelling at people bigger than he is without fear
    4. shaved head
    5. HEADBUTTING PEOPLE WITH HELMETS WHILE HE HIMSELF IS NEITHER A PLAYER NOR SOMEONE WITH A HELMET
    6. seems like he lifts weights a lot
    7. works for the football team? <—— kind of an assumption here, and not at all proven!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What you do need to know is the following:

    • Kentucky, the No. 12 team in the country before this game, was a seven-point underdog going in
    • Kentucky had just three points going into the fourth quarter
    • Kentucky scored the winning TD on an untimed down after a sketchy pass interference call
    • Kentucky absolutely stole this entire game despite looking like hot garbage for at least 50 minutes out of 60
    • STEALING GAMES IS LEGAL, DO IT WHENEVER POSSIBLE, THERE ARE NO FOOTBALL COPS, NO ONE IS WATCHING, AND NO ONE WILL STOP YOU IF YOU DO IT
    • Mark Stoops then had to crowdsurf to Sheck Wes and break the ceiling of Mizzou’s visitors locker room

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

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

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

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

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

    TL;DR: We’re doomed.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    3. Alabama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mostly his hair, tbh.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    3. Jeremy Pruitt’s Coaches’ Show Face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Quinnen. Williams.

    QUINNEN. WILLIAMS.

    QURNNIN. WURRLGMasdlkadsjf;asd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Flawless beard game, sir.