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Friday-Night Yikes: Clemson and Washington State Lose in Embarrassing Upsets

The two top-10 teams aren’t necessarily out of the playoff race, but it’s not a good look

Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Week 7 features no matchups between ranked teams. Friday night featured two games, both of which had three-score point spreads. So, of course, both games ended with upsets of top-10 teams, with Syracuse taking down defending national champions Clemson 27-24 and Cal walloping Washington State 37-3.

Syracuse coach Dino Babers sustains himself on two things: run-pass options and motivational speeches. Clemson couldn’t stop the first, and that led to the latter. (That speech is great on its own, although I recommend watching the prequel to truly understand the story lines.)

Babers’s offense is spectacular, and Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey had a great night. Also, sometimes the defending national champions forgot to guard Syracuse players.

I’d attribute Clemson’s loss to an injury suffered by quarterback Kelly Bryant just before halftime, but the offense didn’t look particularly great with Bryant or with his backup, freshman Zerrick Cooper. The Tigers had three touchdowns: a 37-yard run by Tavien Feaster, a 52-yard run by Travis Etienne, and a 63-yard fumble recovery. That’s from a team with at least one passing touchdown in 34 consecutive games before a Week 2 matchup with Auburn, including every game in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Friday night was the third time in six games the Tigers failed to have a passing touchdown. Life without Deshaun Watson is hard.

Clemson isn't doomed. It already rattled off three wins against top-15 teams, and it is possible to win a national championship after losing a game. In fact, Clemson did it last year! But, man, Syracuse. The Orange lost to Middle Tennessee earlier this year. Middle Tennessee lost to Florida Atlantic. That’s right: We’re headed for a Lane Kiffin transitive-property national championship.

At least that game was close. Wazzu scored only one touchdown if we count the touchdown of turnovers they managed: five interceptions and two fumbles.

Wazzu QB Luke Falk came into the night with just two interceptions on the 262 passing attempts he had thrown this season. Friday night, he threw five on 43 passes. Some were awful throws, some bounced off teammates, one came on a shovel pass with too much mustard:

For shame—Wazzu coach Mike Leach famously spent a press conference demonstrating the proper shovel pass technique.

Cal lost by 21 to Oregon two weeks ago and by 31 to Washington last week. Washington State and Cal both have reputations as high-powered offenses with no defensive capabilities whatsoever. Wazzu’s national ranking had been built on the prospect that they’d figured out how to defend. They couldn’t score, and Cal flipped into the end zone for touchdowns:

The Golden Bears hadn’t beaten a top-10 team since 2003—they were 1-52-1 against top-10 teams since 1978. And Washington State hadn’t been a top-10 team since 2003. One score and seven turnovers later, it seems it might be another 14 years before the Cougars are ranked this high again.

College football upsets happen when you least expect them. Even on days of the week that aren’t supposed to have college football.