Just three weeks ago, I sang the praises of the Week of No Ranked Matchups, a seemingly dull weekend that gave us some of the silliest results of the year. Saturday gave us the opposite premise—14 of the top 25 teams in college football were squared off against fellow ranked teams.
It turns out that this also results in good football. Here are some things that happened between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET on Saturday:
—Fifth-ranked Oklahoma beat 11th-ranked Oklahoma State in a bedlam-filled Bedlam featuring 114 points, 15 touchdowns, a million Gus Johnson–produced howls, and all these open receivers.
—Ohio State, the sixth-ranked team in college football, got absolutely stomped by Iowa, falling 55-24 in perhaps the worst loss of Urban Meyer’s entire coaching career.
—Twenty-fifth-ranked Washington State scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to beat 21st-ranked Stanford, and as always happens with Mike Leach–led teams, the defense sealed the win with an interception.
—Michigan State knocked the Big Ten’s second-best team out of playoff contention, handing seventh-ranked Penn State its second loss of the season on a last-second field goal. This game started at noon, but had a four-hour rain delay that pushed its ending into the late afternoon, just to make it more crowded.
—Defending national champion Clemson beat 20th-ranked NC State 38-31 in a close, exciting game that I actually wasn’t able to see live because there were too many other close games happening.
Usually I watch games on a TV, a laptop screen, and when things get really crazy, I bring up a third game on my phone. On Saturday, this wasn’t enough. I genuinely can’t remember ever seeing such a packed window of games—and there were three other ranked-on-ranked games that happened after these games ended! The best place to watch a college football game is at a college football stadium, but any place with a variety of screens is also good.
Game of the Week
The more I think about Iowa’s win over Ohio State, the more I am in love with it.
Ohio State hadn’t given up 50 points in a game since 1994. The Hawkeyes hadn’t put up 50 in a Big Ten game since 2008. Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett hadn’t thrown an interception since Week 2, making me wax poetic about his perfection in the clutch and his Heisman hopes. All those things collided in one game, in which Iowa ran away with a 55-24 win and ended any debate about whether the Buckeyes deserved playoff consideration.
As I wrote after Iowa barely missed out on a huge upset win over Penn State, Kinnick Stadium is a friendly facade on the meanest place in college football. Don’t trust these nice Iowans. Their quaint water tower and heartwarming tradition of compassion for sick children are just there to lull you into a false sense of security and destroy your season.
Play of the Week
Look, I just need to talk about Iowa. Look at this:
The Hawkeyes lined up in a field goal formation, and then shifted around until their entire offensive line was on the left side of the formation with just a long snapper and three receivers on the right side. When the ball was snapped, everybody forgot about the long snapper, because of course they forgot about the long snapper. Why would you guard the player who just hiked the ball?
But there’s no rule saying the player who snaps the ball can’t receive a pass. Generally, the center is ineligible, because he’s in the center of the formation, and of the seven players required to be on the line of scrimmage on every snap, only the two closest to the sideline can be eligible. But look at this formation: Every receiver to the snapper’s right is behind the line of scrimmage. Richard Johnson of SB Nation wrote about the history of this play.
Congrats to the snapper, Tyler Kluver, on his first and perhaps only career reception, and congrats to Iowa for this ridiculous win.
Sideline Award of the Week
We praised Miami’s Turnover Chain in Week 1. Back then, this was a cute sidenote, but as the Hurricanes have stormed out to a 9-0 start—including their most convincing win of the year Saturday over Virginia Tech—the Chain has become one of the most recognizable images of the 2017 season, while turnover prizes like the Tennessee Trash Can have been forgotten. (Although honestly, the trash can does symbolize Tennessee’s season nicely.) The U has spent the past decade and a half trying to be back. Miami thought it could accomplish that with a guy named Golden wearing a necktie, but the U was as much about swag as it was about football. They needed a golden necklace.
You know it's been a good night in Miami when the turnover chain makes an appearance. pic.twitter.com/zZPxuaIPHV— ESPN (@espn) November 5, 2017
I’ve seen people get mad about the Turnover Chain, as if the entire 150-year history of college football hasn’t revolved around teams celebrating victories with random items. (Here, from October, a bunch of football players really excited about holding a statue of a pig.)
But folks, I regret to inform you that the Turnover Chain has jumped the shark. I decided that after seeing this tweet from Darren Rovell:
JLo with a big endorsement for the Turnover Chain. They sell this mini version for $100. pic.twitter.com/I9A6KUGzu4— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) November 5, 2017
The Chain itself is still cool, and of course, J.Lo’s mere acknowledgement of the chain makes it infinitely cooler. But man, they’re selling them for $100 now? I’m out until a cut on the profit on Turnover Chain sales goes to the players who made the Turnover Chain a thing by recording so many damn turnovers.
My new favorite sideline award is Kennesaw State’s Turnover Plank:
The Plank—a stunning replica of the inanimate character from Ed, Edd n Eddy—is a return to the simpler days of the turnover prize, all the way back in September. The college athletic industrial complex will never capitalize on the Plank. The Plank is pure. I love you, Plank.
Coaching Decision of the Week
Michigan State has two wins over top 10 opponents this year. In Week 6, the Spartans beat then-seventh-ranked Michigan 14-10 to take the Paul Bunyan Trophy, and on Saturday they beat seventh-ranked Penn State to win this trophy case your dad tried to build during his woodworking phase. (Remember what I was saying about all college football being about celebrating victories with random items? Check out MSU right now.)
The similarity between those two wins: The heavens opening up and battering Michigan with football-averse weather. The Michigan game in Ann Arbor was played in a monsoon; the Penn State game in East Lansing featured a 3-hour, 23-minute lightning delay. Penn State reportedly ate their postgame pizza, plus 120 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, plus $500 worth of energy bars during the break. Penn State tweeted a video of Heisman favorite Saquon Barkley catching grapes in his mouth; that video has since been deleted. On a weird schedule, a soaked field, and perhaps overstuffed bellies, the Nittany Lions lost 27-24 on a last-second field goal.
I can come to only one conclusion: Mark Dantonio controls the rain. I don’t know how he does it—maybe he communes with various weather gods; maybe he consults the Farmer’s Almanac and asks the Big Ten to schedule his team’s big games on rainy days; maybe he creates high-pressure atmospheric systems in other parts of the country by sending blitzes, forcing the rain out of its pocket and over the sites of MSU games.
Weekly National Champion
Army played Air Force on Saturday, so, wisely, the Black Knights completely abandoned the pass. You wouldn’t sail the ball against Navy, so why would you put the ball in the air against Air Force? Army attempted zero passes, becoming the first team to go an entire game without attempting a pass in decades. This used to happen back before people thought passing was a good idea, but it doesn’t anymore, even at option schools like the military academies—it was the first game featuring a team with zero passing attempts in the Sports-Reference database, which goes back to the year 2000.
The Black Knights shut out the Falcons 21-0, ending Air Force’s 306-game scoring streak, the fifth-longest in FBS history. Senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 265 yards, the most of any player in college football on Saturday. This was the third game that Army has won this year without completing a pass, but normally they at least try one to keep defenses honest.
Head coach Jeff Monken—who you may remember from another win with zero passing completions—has really turned Army around. The Black Knights are 7-2, and will win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy if they beat Navy in December. It’s nice that Monken has made Army routinely competitive, but of course, the first 11 games of the season don’t matter at West Point.
Weekly Heisman Winner
It’s Baker Mayfield. Sorry, that’s not fun. It’s obvious, though, because of the game he had against Oklahoma State—598 yards and five touchdowns in a meaningful matchup against his school’s biggest rival.
But here’s a choice that’s fun: It’s this Wazzu fan:
I love this guy’s composure under pressure. Normally streakers appear to be overcome with emotion. But he couldn’t have been calmer, even after his Coogs scored a pivotal touchdown. He hopped the fence as if he’d done it a billion times, positioned himself near the referee, and dropped his pants, remaining completely briefed the entire time so as not to expose a national television audience to anything truly unsavory.
The event was a little bit less pleasant from field level:
What a performance. There is no Heisman for fans, but if they ever make one, the trophy should depict this guy mid-trouser-drop.
Best Team That I Root For
Northwestern beat Nebraska 31-24 in overtime Saturday, and in doing so became the first FBS team ever to win three straight games in overtime. A real record! Not just something inconsequential that only I could possibly care about! The streak includes Iowa, which beat Ohio State on Saturday, and Michigan State, which beat Penn State on the same day.
Here’s the beauty of fandom: I know full well that Northwestern’s back-to-back-to-back overtime wins tell a story of luck as much as skill. I know how this works: In 2013, I watched perhaps the most talented Northwestern team I’ve ever seen lose five close games in six weeks—two in overtime, a third on a Hail Mary, a fourth against Ohio State in which Northwestern definitely got that first down. That team didn’t suck; this team isn’t the greatest of all time. Yes, they’ve been good (or bad) enough to get to OT, but if you put the Wildcats in 100 straight overtime games, they’d win somewhere between 40 and 60. That they’ve won three in a row now is a story of small sample sizes among overtime sessions that themselves are small sample sizes.
However: Nothing you say will prevent me from hailing Northwestern’s status as OVERTIME GODS. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is a late-game coaching mastermind, and the players who went to my college are simply better conditioned, more determined, and, most importantly, more clutch than the players from everybody else’s colleges. We are the greatest team in the history of overtime. You’d better win in regulation, because once the clock hits zeroes, it’s Wildcat Time.