Perhaps you tuned in to Pitt-Miami on Black Friday hoping to see a program regain some of its shine from its glory days, to see a big moment for a program that used to be college football’s dominant team, but had suffered decades of relative irrelevance, having been passed over by in-state rivals and mocked for barely filling half of a more popular NFL team’s stadium in its home city. Perhaps you were disappointed when the no. 2–ranked Hurricanes fell, blowing their perfect year and hampering their national championship hopes in the last game of the regular season. But if that’s why you were watching, you still saw all that stuff happen — just for the Pitt Panthers, who won 24–14.
Despite trouncing ranked Virginia Tech and Notre Dame teams, the Hurricanes struggled all season against middle-to-lower-tier ACC squads. They needed a last-second touchdown to beat Florida State, which had started 2–5; eked out a one-point win over Georgia Tech, which is now 5–6; were up just a point with three minutes to go against Syracuse (now 4–8); beat UNC (now 3–9) by five; and trailed Virginia (now 6–6) by two scores before a second-half rally. Nobody should have been surprised to see the then-4–7 Panthers play even with Miami, but they did one better and won comfortably. Pitt outgained the Canes by 113 yards and led 24–7 with less than a minute to go. Miami had played with fire for an entire season, and Pitt finally scorched them.
For a forgettable program, Pitt has a knack for creating memorable results. Ten years ago, the Panthers were also 4–7 and also took down the no. 2 team in the nation, West Virginia. (Please, bring back the Backyard Brawl.) Last year, Pitt beat the eventual national champion, Clemson, and delivered a win over Penn State that helped keep the Nittany Lions out of the College Football Playoff. Depending on what happens next with Miami, the Panthers will have once again notched a win over a playoff team or will have killed a team’s national championship hopes.
Once upon a time, Pitt was great. It was literally coached by Pop Warner in the 1910s, won several national titles in the 1930s, and was near dynastic in the 1970s and early 1980s, with Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino and Mark May suiting up for the team. The Panthers have the fourth-most Pro Football Hall of Fame members and 10th-most College Football HoF members, which is kind of stunning. Those days of glory, of course, are gone: Pitt has had just one 10-win season since the 1980s, and has as many losing years this decade as winning seasons. The best bowl game the Panthers have played in the past decade was either the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl or 2008 Sun Bowl, which was the worst game ever played. The school hasn’t finished in the top 10 of the AP poll in my lifetime.
But I’d like to salute Pitt for doing what it does: producing oddly excellent NFL players — Larry Fitzgerald, Darrelle Revis, LeSean McCoy, and Aaron Donald are all recent first-team All-Pros from Pitt — and ruining seasons. There are programs we perceive as more prominent that have spawned fewer superstars and dashed fewer dreams. Hail to Pitt, college football’s unloved, beautiful spoilers.
Moment of the Week
Kevin Sumlin is out at Texas A&M, in what turned out to be one of the more normal pieces of coaching news last week. He made it out of the stadium after the Aggies’ 45–21 loss to LSU, unlike fellow SEC West coach Bret Bielema. There was no righteous revolt about his potential successor, unlike at Tennessee. I’m bringing it up here because the final moments of Sumlin’s A&M tenure are the story of “Neck.” You know about “Neck,” right?
“Neck” is the marching band adaptation of the 1984 song “Talkin’ Out the Side of Your Neck,” by Cameo. Shortly after the release of the song, HBCU bands began playing “Neck,” and they haven’t stopped, with virtually every HBCU band playing a rendition of the song. And why the hell not? I’m not sure there’s ever been a better song for 150 brass instruments to blow as loudly as possible. It seems every school has their own arrangement, and each one knocks. The beat and video for the Dem Franchize Boyz version of “Talkin Out Da Side of Ya Neck” are both inspired by the marching band renditions.
In 2006, LSU’s band started to play “Neck.” (I learned that from this message board thread — come for the information from LSU band members, stay for a few alarmingly racist posts!) Soon, LSU students began to put their own spin on “Neck”: Instead of, “Ayyyyy-ooohhhhhhh, talkin out the side of your neck!,” they began to yell, “Ayyyyy-ooohhhhhhhh, SUCK THAT TIGER DICK, BITCH.” Not particularly clever, but it caught on. (Side note: I really appreciate traditional media outlets struggling to describe why “Neck” was problematic: “Fans replaced the original lyric … with a sexually demeaning command.”) It was so popular that the chants began to be easily audible on television. In 2010, “Neck” was banned. In 2013, the school allowed the band to begin playing the song again, but attempted to curtail the fan chants with a campaign entitled “Tradition Matters.” Part of the campaign? A video of then-LSU junior Odell Beckham Jr. telling fans that the songs could come back only if “you, the students, keep it classy and clean” and “remember to be respectful to our opponents.”
It did not work. When LSU played “Neck” after beating Arkansas in 2013, the fans did not exactly comply. The song went away, and on the rare occasions when the band did play “Neck,” its director had to clarify it was a special event.
On Saturday, LSU was beating the hell out of A&M (the Tigers would win 45–21), and fans decided they should end their year on the most raucous note possible. You could hear fans chanting “WE WANT ‘NECK’” during the game. And in the crowd? Beckham, the New York Giants star visiting his old school while out with a season-ending injury:
Odell Beckham is in the student section and I’m 90% certain he’s telling the band director to play Neck. No joke.— Matt Houston (@MattCHouston) November 26, 2017
OBJ just climbed in the stands and led the LSU student section in a “We want Neck!” chant.— Thomas Zak (@thomaszak4) November 26, 2017
Life has peaked. We can go no higher.
Beckham was rumored on Twitter to have offered to pay the fine the band would incur for playing the song.
The best part is WHY they played it pic.twitter.com/D0vIcFrDPU— Caleb McBride (@C_McBreezy) November 26, 2017
And sure enough, the band obliged:
What a turn of events: Four years ago, LSU asked Beckham to downplay “Neck.” Sunday, he endorsed it wholeheartedly:
Beckham has achieved all the wealth and fame he could’ve asked for in the NFL. But on Saturday, he remembered the time when he was told a song was so popular that fans couldn’t sing it anymore, and all he wanted with his wealth and fame was to live that moment he likely never got to experience while playing for LSU. It’s funny: If the administration had never tried to ban “Neck,” it might have faded like so many other dumb things that 19-year-olds decide are cool. But the heart wants what it cannot have, and at LSU, the heart wants to demand feline fellatio.
Weekly Heisman Winner
The Game turned into a backup battle. Michigan lost quarterback Wilton Speight in September, and never really recovered. Last week, the Wolverines lost third-stringer-turned-starter Brandon Peters to a concussion. Against Ohio State, Michigan started John O’Korn, who began the year as the team’s second-stringer and started several games earlier in the season before being benched for Peters.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, had J.T. Barrett, the fourth-year starter looking for his fourth win against Michigan. But with Ohio State trailing 20–14, Barrett exited the game with a leg injury. (The injury was triggered by a run-in with a cameraman before the game, and Urban Meyer is actively looking for that cameraman. Personally, I would not like to be hunted by Urban Meyer.) In came Dwayne Haskins, a freshman.
Haskins went 6-for-7 for 94 yards while adding 24 yards on three rushes, actually outplaying Barrett, who had just 30 yards on eight passes. O’Korn, meanwhile, threw this pass:
Michigan QB John O'Korn throws an interception on a throw to.... nobody. pic.twitter.com/x7JbHYRWsv— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) November 25, 2017
Ohio State scored the last 17 points of the game with Haskins under center to win 31–20. O’Korn broke down at the podium while accepting responsibility for the loss.
There’s a difference between Haskins and O’Korn. Haskins was a four-star recruit considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the country; O’Korn threw eight interceptions and six touchdowns as a sophomore at Houston before being benched and transferring. It’s true that OSU-Michigan was decided by each team’s second option at QB; it’s also true that Ohio State recruited multiple good quarterbacks while Michigan had only one, and that’s what won the Buckeyes their biggest game of the year. Dwayne Haskins is our Weekly Heisman.
Rivalry of the Week
This past week, of course, was Hate Week, and everybody wants to believe their rivalry is the fiercest and truest in the country.
But I ask you: Did any players on your team wield a trash can as a weapon against any of your opponents? Did any of your opponents wield a trash can against any of your players? No? Well then you’re not on the level of Louisville vs. Kentucky:
We mainly play up the basketball rivalry between these two schools, but this is the second time in three years there’s been a football fight. Most of the discussion of this year’s skirmish focused around reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson’s involvement in it, but that wasn’t much — he shoved somebody, and then got tackled, and then just did stuff a person getting tackled is supposed to do to survive.
Believe it or not, the all-time series between these two teams is tied at 15 wins apiece, thanks to Kentucky being better at football in the 1920s. The Cardinals have won six of the past seven, including Saturday’s 44–17 snoozer, but as long as this rivalry is brawling with a side of football, I’m all in on the Governor’s Cup.
(Of course, the actual rivalry of the week was the Iron Bowl, but we’ve already written about that.)
Play of the Week
It’s easy to see when things went wrong for Western Kentucky punter Jake Collins, but I’d like to focus on what happened after the fake punt went bad. This play was the result of a series of magnificent decisions, each one making life worse for Collins and his Hilltoppers.
This was a play on which Collins had the option to punt or, if the entire defense stopped paying attention to him, run 12 yards for the first down. As it so happened, almost the entire defense stopped paying attention to him: Only one FIU player, linebacker Jordan Guest, was still rushing the punt, and he was all the way on the right side of WKU’s formation. If Collins wanted the first down, he just had to run.
So, he started running. That was his last good decision. Then he noticed Guest out of the corner of his eye. Next, Collins:
— Stopped running. I think Collins would have gotten the first down, but even if he didn’t, he would have been best off trying to win a footrace with Guest to the first-down marker. From this position, he couldn’t punt or get a first down. He was doomed, but if he stopped there, he would’ve been fine.
— Changed direction, cutting across the field. Collins is now betting that his chances of running around a defender for 12 yards against a now-alert punt-block team are better than his original chances of beating that same defender by running straight for the first-down marker with a significant head start. That is a bad bet.
— Tripped and fell. I suppose this isn’t so much a decision of Collins’s so much as a sign that he isn’t good at running. Alas.
— Tried to break his fall with his hands, one of which was currently carrying a football. They say the ground can’t cause a fumble, which isn’t 100 percent true. If you slam your own hand into the ground while holding a football without your knee touching the ground, guess what, the ground just caused a fumble. Collins would have been much better off just going down with the ball and ending the play.
— Slapped the ball forward instead of trying to fall on it and recover the fumble. The final, and perhaps worst decision. With no teammates and a horde of opponents in the area, Collins should have been trying to end the play at all costs. Instead, the Panthers got an escort to the end zone.
Let this be a lesson about cutting your losses. There aren’t that many stories of heroes who saved the day with their 14th bold decision after the first 13 all ended with rakes slamming them in the crotch.
Worst Decision, Besides All of Those Decisions
The one made by this Illinois player, who decided to return a penalty flag to an official; specifically to his face:
It was Travis Kelce, light.
Yes, I’m just putting this in here so I can talk about Northwestern capping a 9–3 season with a 42–7 win to seize a rivalry trophy that’s actually just a supersized Monopoly piece.
Weekly National Champion
UCF-USF was the game of the year. But don’t listen to me. Listen to this college football analyst:
With a spot in the AAC championship game on the line and 69 points already on the scoreboard, the Bulls and Knights traded three touchdowns in 53 seconds. UCF won 49–42, completing an undefeated regular season just two years after completing a winless season with a loss to the same opponent. Let’s compare crowds:
1/2: USF @ 0-11 USF, Thanksgiving 2015— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) November 25, 2017
3/4: USF @ 10-0 UCF, Black Friday, 2017 pic.twitter.com/Xf2T6X1QUk
(There’s a typo in that tweet, and I’ll fight you if you point it out, OK?)
The Knights were my Weekly National Champions last week, and they’re my Weekly National Champions again. Deal with it.