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Week 5 College Football Awards: Clemson Is Alabama Now

Plus: Troy breaks through and Austin Peay stays hot

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Oh, crap, Clemson’s Bama now.

That isn’t to say that we’ve been freed from Alabama. The Tide is still rolling, beating Vanderbilt 59–0 last week and Ole Miss 66–3 this week. Nick Saban probably views that field goal the team allowed against Ole Miss as a team-wide failure, but I’d say Bama’s battle station remains fully operational.

But now Clemson, too, is Alabama. Every game they play is relevant, so every matchup between Clemson and a ranked opponent becomes an event. Two weeks ago, it was Clemson at Louisville, then ranked 14th in the nation. Saturday night it was Clemson at Virginia Tech, ranked 12th. The matchups brought two episodes of College GameDay, two nationally televised night games on ABC, two day-long buildups to the game of the week, two hyped home crowds raucously rooting on their teams against the defending national champions.

And two games that weren’t particularly competitive. Two weeks ago the Tigers gave Lamar Jackson more trouble than usual and beat Louisville 47–21 — and it was that close only because Louisville scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns. And on Saturday the Tigers took a 24–3 lead before winning 31–17 — again, the score looking much tighter than the game felt because Virginia Tech scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Clemson’s defense is ferocious, led by a line that makes it virtually impossible for opposing offenses to operate from the snap. The Tigers offense isn’t necessarily spectacular, but doesn’t need to be to win games comfortably when the opponent is flipping a coin that says “turnover” on one side and “three-and-out” on the other. Their defense feels like offense; their offense can coast.

Sound familiar? Yep. It’s the Bama Constrictor.

Amazingly, Clemson’s hardest work for the regular season is done. The Tigers beat three top-15 teams in September, becoming the first team ever to do so, and now have a schedule almost devoid of ranked opponents. (North Carolina State is now ranked after Saturday’s win over Syracuse, and Florida State has a month and a half to climb back into the rankings after its 0–2 start.)

Alabama nudged past Clemson in the 2015 season’s title game, and Clemson won at the last second in 2016’s championship. College football’s unpredictability is its selling point, but I’d be into a rubber match. It’s a Golden State–Cleveland scenario; two teams so far ahead of the competition that we’d be fine sacrificing a competitive run-up if it means the championship’s going to be as spectacular as we’d hope.

Greatest Victory

It’s one thing for LSU to lose to Troy, the Tigers’ first nonconference home loss since 2000. It’s another thing for that loss to have cost a million dollars, the largest payout any loser has paid to a winner this season. It’s another for Troy to viciously roast LSU afterward:

It’s rude to take someone’s money and then make fun of them, but Troy deserves this. In Troy, some random kid told Achilles that if he were in Achilles’s shoes, he wouldn’t fight the biggest guy anybody’s ever seen. Achilles tells the random kid that his reluctance to fight is why nobody will remember his name. And he’s right. I don’t know who that little kid is, and Achilles has a body part named after him. (Achilles wasn’t from Troy — he was one of the people trying to kill people from Troy — but look, just roll with this metaphor here.)

Troy has learned that you can’t get people to remember your name without beating the big guys. The Trojans could win five straight Sun Belt championships, and you probably wouldn’t notice. If you think that’s just a hypothetical, you’re proving my point: Troy won or split the Sun Belt title from 2006 to 2010 and still remained one of the most anonymous programs in football.

The Trojans had tried to slay the Tigers before, almost pulling off upsets at LSU in 2004 and 2008. (The 2008 one, in which the Tigers rallied back from a 28-point deficit with a 30-point fourth quarter, was especially heartbreaking.) But those near-wins didn’t buy Troy immortality. I hope Troy goes on to win the Sun Belt — after a 10–3 season last year and a 4–1 start this year, the Trojans are a conference title contender — but Saturday is why we’ll remember their name.

At least one set of Trojans won this weekend.

Weekly National Champion

Austin Peay was piss-poor the last few seasons. The Governors went 0–12 in 2013, 1–11 in 2014, 0–11 in 2015, and 0–11 in 2016. That’s a 1–45 record across four seasons. I wrote about the Govs two weeks ago when they broke their 29-game losing streak, and claimed I wouldn’t write about them again unless they lost every game until the 2020 season.

But I should have known better. If there’s one thing I know about Peay, it’s that once you break the seal, it’s hard to stop. The Govs have now won three straight games after failing to win for almost three seasons. This is the team’s first three-game win streak since 1986. Saturday’s 7–0 win was against a ranked team, no. 21 Tennessee-Martin. The Govs are 3–0 in games against fellow FCS opponents, with their only losses against Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio).

This is the work of 32-year-old head coach Will Healy, now in his second year. Tennessee, just hire this guy. I don’t know anything about him, but three wins in three games after one win in four years makes this guy the best coach in college football.

Weekly Heisman Winner

Remember that guy who stood behind Christian McCaffrey and yelled “HEISMAN!!!” while the Stanford running back tried to give an interview? Well, I hope that guy isn’t busy, because he might be needed at some point this season to creep out McCaffrey’s successor, Bryce Love:

Love had a Stanford record 301 rushing yards Saturday against Arizona State, including that 61-yard touchdown, a 43-yard touchdown, and this 59-yard touchdown:

Arizona State can thank the length of the field for preventing Love from gaining 15,000 yards rushing. As is, Love has had at least 160 yards in every game this year, and is averaging 11.1 yards per carry. Stanford’s line opens up big holes, and Love loves to speed through them. The power of Love is truly unstoppable.

Best Points Scored by Tennessee

Gonna have to skip this section this week.

Upset of the Week

Nobody gave 0–2 Florida State a chance on the road against 4–0 Wake Forest. But the scrappy underdogs from Tallahassee played their little hearts out and knocked off the mighty Demon Deacons on this touchdown with under a minute remaining:

A hater would say that barely beating Wake Forest was actually as troubling as the team’s two previous losses, to Alabama, which is Alabama, and NC State, which is good this year. Don’t let them undersell this magnificent underdog story.

Mascot of the Week

I am both impressed and disturbed:

Most of us aren’t even blessed with the amount of chest hair to make shaved numbers legible. Until a Seattle fan shaves a 12 into his chest, this image overrides all the legal agreements between the Aggies and Seahawks on the matter of 12th Man trademarking. It’s A&M’s now.

College Football Oscar

All the ACC’s a stage, and North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb is one of the conference’s best players:

He got pushed a bit by Syracuse’s Airon Servais, and Chubb wanted to make absolutely sure that officials saw it. I think the flag probably would have been thrown for the initial push anyway, but why not add four or five clearly unrelated rolls on the ground?

Chubb claimed he was stretching. Then again, he also claimed his hocked loogie on Florida State’s midfield logo was unintentional. He might not always be truthful about his intentions. But one thing we know for sure is that Chubb is spectacular: He’s had two sacks in each of the last two games, and is considered a first-round NFL draft prospect.

Best Place

Woodstock had Jimi Hendrix. Woodstock, Except Everybody’s Got Their Clothes On was headlined by Mike Leach:

You had to have known that Washington State was going to beat fifth-ranked USC. I know, I know, the Cougars had beaten the Trojans only nine times in almost 100 years of games going into Friday. But this was a matchup was made for an upset: The game was on a Friday night, in Pullman, with three starting Trojan offensive linemen missing? That shouldn’t even count as an upset. That’s just destiny.

The Cougars are undefeated and seem pretty legitimate. Senior quarterback Luke Falk is playing absurdly well — he’s thrown 16 touchdowns and two interceptions with a 74.5 percent completion rating — but that’s just a thing that happens at Wazzu. What’s impressive is the team’s defense, bolstered by aptly named lineman Hercules Mata’afa. He feasted against a wounded offensive line, and expected future no. 1 NFL draft pick Sam Darnold went just 15-for-29 with an interception and a fumble.

Pullman looked fun Friday night — but Pullman might be fun on a lot of nights this year.

Valiant Effort of the Week

Last year Rutgers lost 58–0 to Ohio State. That type of loss really stings. Although if enormous blowout shutout losses sting, Rutgers basically swam through a school of jellyfish last year, losing 78–0 to Michigan, 49–0 to Michigan State, and 39–0 to Penn State. (I guess that explains their scarlet coloring.)

Anyway, Rutgers had a chance for revenge against the Buckeyes on Saturday, hosting the team that hosed them last year. (Well, a team that hosed them last year.) And they battled hard to produce a better effort than last year, losing 56–0. It looked like things could be worse this year after a 35–0 halftime score, but the Scarlet Knights fought for 60 minutes and cut last year’s whupping by two points. Watch out, Michigan: You’re next.