College football is an escape. This is a spectacular sight, school pride and passion. It’s something that has bonded friends for decades. This is a beautiful chaos that takes over our Saturdays every autumn.
None of this was the same this weekend after the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this week. Three Virginia footballers were killed Sunday night in a fatal mass shooting. The victims, Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chander and D’Shawn Perry, were what mattered this weekend. They were memorialized on Saturday in Charlottesville. Nothing that happened on the pitch seems particularly important, given that three young lives were needlessly taken in gun violence.
However, these student-athletes loved the beautiful game of American football. So, with that in mind, let’s recap this weekend of fieldwork, and let’s not forget the families of those affected by what happened in UV-A.
Winner: USC Trojans
Lincoln Riley took his Oklahoma textbook, staff, and quarterback to Los Angeles this offseason. Turns out he also used Oklahoma’s ability to win in shootouts because the Trojans survived a barn punch in a 48-45 win over UCLA.
Caleb Williams had a Heisman moment under the Hollywood lights. He threw for 470 yards and threw for 3 touchdowns, throwing amazing shots from time to time. He’s great. It can be argued that he is the most important player in college football.
Trojan protection? Not so great. USC was ranked 103rd in the nation in yards allowed per game this week, and UCLA did just about everything they wanted to do offensively. But, as in the case with Williams, the Trojan defense diluted the decisive moments in the form of losses. USC created four of them, including the crucial pick of former five-star recruit Corey Foreman. The Trojans have endured two major failed bids this season (Oregon State and UCLA). The USC defense produced four turnovers in both games.
Can USC continue to win with fireworks that must be defended week after week? Who knows. The history of Oklahoma under Riley portends that this style will eventually lead to the collapse of the Trojans. But Riley also led Oklahoma to a lot of playoff appearances, and that would have been more than enough for the USC loyalists in their first year.
Loser: Tennessee Volunteers
Everything was set up perfectly for Tennessee to qualify for the college football playoffs. The Vols were supposed to beat South Carolina and Vanderbilt, finish 11-1, and then wait for the call. This path seemed to be carved in stone. Not yet. South Carolina had a near-perfect football game on offense and rocked the Vols, 56-31, in Columbia. To add literal insult to injury, Tennessee starts QB Hendon Hooker dropped in the fourth quarter. He could not lean heavily on his leg when he walked to the locker room. He entered the night as a man who could have easily won the first Heisman trophy in Tennessee. These hopes vanish when loss and trauma happen at the same time.
Perhaps we should have foreseen this. Tennessee’s defense is average at best (48th in the nation in yards allowed per game), and its pass defense showed cracks throughout the season. South Carolina, holding the ball for almost 40 minutes, both depleted this squad and exposed it. On a night when Tennessee couldn’t score to keep up, that possession resulted in more defensive errors.
Tennessee is the first team in the top five CFB playoffs to drop 60 points in a regular season game. The wolves were not crooks. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not paying attention. But they missed the opportunity for a generation to slip away.
Winner: South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina has been waiting for this moment ever since head ball coach lost his magic touch. Gamecocks fans have been through a lot since then. He lost seven in a row to archrival Clemson as he watched the Tigers grow into a national dynasty. His other main rival, Georgia, is currently the alpha of college football. The quarterback carousel was a terrible revolving door (there were several promising recruits who crashed to the ground, as well as a part-time Publix food packer and alumnus assistant who thankfully had another year of eligibility).
So, how sweet it was to face another contender – No. 5 in Tennessee – and knock him out of the playoff race by almost doubling him. Gamecocks 63, Volunteers 38. Williams-Brice Stadium hasn’t looked this good in years. And none of them Spencer Rattlerwho became the sixth SEC quarterback to throw for over 435 yards and six touchdowns in a game since 2000. transferred from Oklahoma.
As Shane Beamer & Co., keep developing this, another huge opportunity is waiting for you in a week with a trip to Clemson.
Loser: Tar Heels of North Carolina
There is no player in the North Carolina roster that you would trust more than Josh Downs. He is a star receiver and one of the best players in his position in the country. That’s why North Carolina’s 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech hit Tar Heel fans so hard. The game was literally in the hands of Downs, and he abandoned it. Downs gave up a proposed touchdown with 4:10 left.
This is a brutal loss for North Carolina. This ended any hope the Tar Heels had of reaching the CFB playoffs. This probably also closes the door on Heisman Drake May’s chances.
Clearly, much of the credit goes to the Georgia Institute of Technology (5-6). Brent Key is now 4-3 as interim head coach of the program with a couple of Top 25 wins to his credit. He will get a hard look from the Yellow Vests administration for a permanent job. But given the stakes and how the loss happened, it’s hard not to focus on the Tar Heels. They had everything ahead of them if there was a little chaos in the country. Those hopes ended on Saturday.
Winner: TCU Horned Frogs
Everything seemed to go wrong for TCU in Waco. There was an attempt with an extra point, which knocked down the rack. There was a missed two-point conversion that would have leveled the game. The Horned Frogs were left without their top three skill players (Quentin Johnston, Darius Davis, Kendra Miller) when they tried to come back in the fourth quarter. Even the protector Max Duggan blood streamed down his arm as that potentially decisive two-point conversion hit the ground.
However, the TCU persevered. Again.
This time around, the No. 4 Horned Frogs were victorious 29–28 over the defending champions Big 12. This is TCU’s seventh straight win by 10 points or less, and the eighth win by that margin in the last nine games. The Horned Frogs play in the most balanced Power Five conference ever, and have played nine games in a row since early September. Teams have usually abandoned the game by now. The law of averages almost always demands a reward after so many close victories. But this TCU team has shown that this is far from normal. That’s why the Horned Frogs are a playoff-worthy team.
Loser: UCF Knights
I like a good boxing score. And a few points in boxing bring me joy, like the Navy’s 17-14 victory over the UCF. Why? Here’s the Navy’s final passing line for the afternoon: 0 of 1. Yes, the Navy beat the No. 20 team in the country without completing a pass. It was beauty. Navy held the ball for almost 40 minutes, clipping the tendons of the UCF offense, which depends on his rushing game (3.5 years) and pace.
Losing the knights in this game has serious consequences. UCF is no longer in the driver’s seat to get to the New Year’s Six Bowl. The top G5 team is guaranteed a place in the New Year’s Six, and the Knights have just opened the doors to other American teams in addition to the likes of Coastal Carolina, Troy, South Alabama or even UTSA. The Knights will also no longer hold the AAC Championship. Now it belongs to whoever wins between Tulane and Cincinnati next week.
Tell me about how the day was blown away at Bounce House.
Winner: Iowa Hawkeyes
I’ve said a lot of bad things about Iowa this year. I distinctly remember calling the Hawkeye attack “an abomination” after losing to Ohio State in Week 8. You probably think I’ll apologize after Iowa’s 13-10 win over Minnesota. Well, I don’t. Just because Iowa’s crime went from heinous to downright horrendous doesn’t mean I was wrong.
But what I give in Kirk Ferenc knows what he’s doing.
He may have a blind spot the size of Hawkeye’s staff for his son Brian, who serves as the team’s offensive coordinator, but Iowa manages to overcome a terrible offense every year. With the Gophers defeated, Iowa is now in control of its own destiny in the Big Ten West. Beat Nebraska next week and the Hawkeyes will play…