Good morning! The following events transpired in Week 8, turning a quietly dreadful slate into a conclusively pivotal one:
- No. 3 Clemson lost at home to no. 5 Florida State
- No. 6 LSU lost on the road to unranked Ole Miss
- No. 7 Texas A&M lost at home to no. 24 Auburn
- No. 8 Louisville lost at home to unranked UCF
- No. 9 UCLA lost on the road to no. 13 Stanford
- No. 11 South Carolina lost on the road to unranked Tennessee
- No. 15 Georgia lost on the road to unranked Vanderbilt
- No. 20 Washington lost on the road to unranked Arizona State
Imagine a massive, invisible hourglass, the base stretching from coast to coast, filled with grains of sand in as many colors as there are stars in the heavens. The hourglass empties completely at the precise rate of one full turn per week. Now imagine that the hourglass is also filled with teeming hordes of bellicose ants, the biting kind, which spend every waking moment building sand castles of unspeakable beauty. Once a week, their world is physically upended, and that’s when things get bitey. That’s college football. We are either the ants or the sand. We haven’t really thought this through. That’s also college football.
We Went There: No. 5 Florida State 51, no. 3 Clemson 14
Point of argument, before we get too far into this thing: Is this still the biggest game in ACC history? Did the lopsided outcome lessen the scope after the fact? Or does the dismemberment pageant Florida State put on in Death Valley get to stand on its own, so spectacular were the proceedings? That’s just something to mull over as we ponder the coming-out party that made a shouting case for inserting an ACC squad into the national title game picture.
That business about Tajh Boyd being overshadowed by an upstart redshirt freshman in the run-up to this game? Boyd might wish he’d stayed overlooked, as Jameis Winston used enemy territory to settle himself into the discussion of the game’s most promising young quarterbacks, alongside the likes of Mariota and Manziel. (“Promising” might not even be the word anymore; not as we near November, not with these three delivering the way they’ve been delivering.) We’ve already discussed Winston’s uncanny poise for a player who’s still very much a kid in the wing-stretching stages of a fledgling football career, but Week 8 was supposed to be different. We were supposed to see Winston have to adjust to a truly hostile road environment for the first time.
The intimidation factor stopped at the bottom row of bleachers. The hollering was there, and plenty of it, but Clemson fumbled the ball away on its first play from scrimmage, and three plays later Winston and Kelvin Benjamin did this:
Winston, like his teammates, worked largely undisturbed by his environs. He affected the atmosphere in the stadium, not the other way around. And it was a rowdy crowd, for quite some time. Winston’s carriage made the raucous audience a nonfactor; his arm strength and receiver chemistry — another display that belied the short time this offense has operated as a unit — shut down the stands themselves. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given what we knew of Jaboo going in, that he was prepared. But watching this Florida State team controlling a game at this level, half a season after losing half its starters, including the quarterback, to the draft or graduation, and seeing it so significantly improved? That rocked us back.
And lest we neglect to spread the love: Winston was but the conductor of one half of a team that played mostly marvelous football, albeit a conductor with 444 passing yards. There was receiver Rashad Greene, in the second quarter, hushing a crowd that would shortly comply. There was the defense, led by Lamarcus Joyner’s turnover-inducing antics, which held one of the country’s most well-regarded offenses to 3.8 yards per play. There was a ground game that lost James Wilder to a concussion and proceeded to record 109 yards without him. There was an incident that bore a tantalizing resemblance to a Fat Guy Touchdown.
So what in tangerine-pawed hell are we to do with Clemson now? This is still a team that could saunter into a BCS game with wins the rest of the way. There are no more Winstons to stare down on the schedule. The Clemson offense carries so much potential that it took us until 41-7 to stop half-believing the Tigers might mount a comeback campaign. But they’ve got to cut down on the frittering. Florida State had a talent edge before it stepped into the stadium, but Clemson added “outgunned” to “outmanned” all on its own.
The Noles were not without mistakes — 12 penalties for 104 lost yards, the one Wee Baby Jameis interception — but what did the Tigers do about those missteps? Stuff like this: When Winston threw that pick, FSU had gone 31 yards in four plays; Clemson answered by going seven yards in five plays, then punting. The Tigers couldn’t capitalize on their self-generated opportunities, either, such as Adam Humphries’s 45-yard return on a 50-yard Cason Beatty punt … which Clemson followed up with a six-yard Roderick McDowell rush, two incomplete Boyd passes, and a third, very neat Boyd pass that was perfectly caught at FSU’s 22 by Ronald Darby, who was wearing garnet and gold.
So for the moment, we’re riding clinging to the roof with the Noles in the ACC driver’s seat, until they give us reason not to. The bar is set high following the release of the first set of BCS rankings; FSU debuted at no. 2, ahead of the likes of Oregon, Ohio State, and Baylor. The highlights of Florida State’s remaining schedule are a date with what we believe to be a vastly overrated Miami team in Tallahassee on November 2, and a meeting in Gainesville on November 30 with a Florida team that shows no inklings of developing a discernible offensive identity before the final game of the regular season.
These past couple of weeks have provided particularly potent reminders that it’s never too late to get ahead of oneself in a regular season that only contains 12 games. And we’ve seen teams like the lurking North Carolina State bring Florida State low before. And Winston, despite his humanoid appearance, is bound to have a really, really bad day at some point. But these Seminoles are so gallingly talented that it’s going to take an effort we’re not sure they can manage to screw up badly enough to lose between now and December.
Elsewhere in Footballvania
• Ole Miss 27, no. 6 LSU 24. Y’all remember Feed Moncrief? Is it time to get Donte Moncrief his own hand gesture? Can that hand gesture be the cashing-out hands, held close to his mouth? Just thinking out loud over here, after Moncrief’s second 100-plus-yard receiving performance of the season. But entirely apart from the tastefully spiced mincemeat Moncrief and Bo Wallace and Jaylen Walton made of LSU’s baby rhino defenses, the Rebels’ upset bid was propelled by Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s three interceptions and three sacks.
• No. 24 Auburn 45, no. 7 Texas A&M 41. So it turns out that when he’s down two working limbs, and one of those limbs is his throwing arm, Johnny Manziel is pretty containable. Already with his left knee braced following last week’s injury scare at Ole Miss, JFF hurt his shoulder on a scramble, was briefly removed from action, and was laid low twice by Auburn defenders during the final minute and change of the game while attempting a go-ahead touchdown drive. Two thoughts: (a) sympathies to all columnists with whiplash this morning from trying to reconcile Manziel’s prayer-leading, gutting-out efforts of the past couple of weeks with their dunderheaded impressions of JFF as All That Is Wrong With College Athletics, and (b) how much more interesting has the Iron Bowl gotten in the space of this month?
• Central Florida 38, no. 8 Louisville 35. It was a big night for two guys once destined to spend their careers as Miami Hurricanes: Teddy Bridgewater completed 29 of 38 pass attempts for 341 yards and two scores for the Cardinals, while Storm Johnson rushed 18 times for 109 yards and a touchdown for the Knights. Another shuffling payoff: The receiver catching the game-winning touchdown from Blake Bortles was none other than former Knights starting QB Jeff Godfrey. The Knights trailed 28-7 halfway through the third quarter, then proceeded to outscore the Cardinals 31-7 the rest of the way. It’s a stomach-icing plummet for a team that at the season’s outset was traveling a wide, well-lit path to an undefeated year and automatic BCS bid and is now trying not to think about the ways in which it could end up in the Belk Bowl. Fresno State and NIU are well aware of the bolstering this does for their BCS-busting aspirations, and if we may, here’s a helpful thank-you suggestion: Festoon a tasteful fruit basket with pepperoncini and tiny tubs of garlic butter, and see that it’s delivered to Louisville’s athletic department by Houston Nutt, who is definitely not trying to sneak into your football building and take over the program from the inside.
• No. 13 Stanford 24, no. 9 UCLA 10. How much of this outcome can we credit to Stanford’s defense, and how much to Brett Hundley still developing as a quarterback? On offense for the Cardinal, designated That Guy Tyler Gaffney turned in a 36-carry, 171-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance. Kevin Hogan only threw one touchdown pass, but Kodi Whitfield made it a memorable one:
Every team in the Pac-12 South now carries at least one conference loss, with Arizona State and UCLA atop the standings at 3-1 and 2-1, respectively. Both teams have one more ranked Pac-12 hurdle before playing each other: UCLA is at Oregon next week, while ASU gets Oregon State at home on November 16.
• Tennessee 23, no. 11 South Carolina 21. Three things: First, the last time the suddenly-less-flagrantly snakebit Tennessee football program beat a ranked opponent, any ranked opponent? Halloween night, 2009, versus South Carolina. So the next time the HBC does a little sniping at a first-year Vols head coach, don’t get too riled up: That and weird-ass losses are just his way of showing a little Appalachian hospitality.
Second, speaking of hauntings: Whatever malevolent, unseen entity is chasing down SEC playmakers is still at large. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw left the field in Knoxville late in the game with a knee sprain. We don’t have anything cute to say about this. The conference-wide run of injuries this year is as deep as it is deeply upsetting.
Finally, meet Marquez North:
• Vanderbilt 31, no. 15 Georgia 27. Down just about every recognizable offensive player with whom they began the season, and losing two more starters in Nashville (safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and stellar receiving threat Chris Conley), the Dawgs still could’ve made it out of this one without sustaining a second consecutive SEC East loss but for a couple of key special teams blips at precisely inopportune moments. The Commodores emerged with a victory, but not unscathed: Starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who lost his grandfather this week, was knocked out of the game with a left-leg injury.
• Arizona State 53, no. 20 Washington 24. The further down we go, the drearier the injuries get: Right up there on the list of quarterbacks we never thought we’d see knocked out of a game, right there with Manziel, was Washington’s Keith Price, who appeared inhumanly durable after back-to-back bruisings from Stanford and Oregon and most of a third punishing outing versus the Sun Devils, but who was finally disabled with a thumb injury. Meanwhile, Bishop Sankey, who came in averaging 149.8 yards per game, was held to 22.
• No. 14 Missouri 36, no. 22 Florida 17. We interrupt this unbroken run of injury news and upset games to celebrate Missouri’s two-game lead, both in conference wins and overall record, atop the SEC East, just like all the best-respected conspiracy theorists predicted.
Thing Baylor Did This Week
Clearly looking ahead to Kansas in Week 9, the Bears needed a last-minute, 97-yard kickoff-return touchdown from Corey Coleman to clear 70 points.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 20, 2013
Thing Bama Did This Week
Profiles in Profiteroles
• No. 23 Northern Illinois 38, Central Michigan 17. Jordan Lynch broke the FBS record for quarterback rushing yards with a 316-yard performance in Mount Pleasant, which is the sort of thing one does with 316-yard rushing performances. The record was previously held by Huskie predecessor Stacey Robinson.
• No. 17 Fresno State 38, UNLV 14. Derek Carr’s 412-yard passing performance is only his fourth-most productive aerial game this season. More crucially, imagine the damage he and Lynch could do in a chicken fight.
This week’s Grape Job! sticker is awarded with cloying condescension to Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti for this nauseating and unbecoming display of #feelingsball following the no. 2 Ducks’ 62-38 win over Washington State. The Cougars kept starting quarterback Connor Halliday in late, and over the course of the waning minutes of the game he happened to break Drew Brees’s single-game passing attempts record, something that did not sit super well with a top assistant coach of the team that still won by 24 points:
“That’s total (B.S.) that he threw the ball at the end of the game like he did,” Aliotti said. “And you can print that and you can send it to him, and he can comment, too. I think it’s low class and it’s (B.S.) to throw the ball when the game is completely over against our kids that are basically our scout team.”
As a reporter started asking another question, Aliotti added more.
“Make sure he knows that,” Aliotti said. “Because I don’t really care.”
Just to keep Aliotti happy, we did, in fact, contact Washington State’s athletic department on Sunday to make sure Mike Leach knew what bad guys the Cougars were for hanging extra touchdowns late on an undefeated Oregon squad that has outscored its previous opponents this season by a combined margin of 341-83. Leach’s statement on the matter is as follows: “I never criticize the other team. I focus all of my time and attention on coaching our team.” There you go.
Sunday night, Aliotti issued this dramatic apology, a fitting counterpart for his tetchy Saturday tirade. And if you’ve done us the courtesy of reading this far, let us take this moment to point out what’s actually wrong with all of this. No, you will not find a critique of Oregon’s scoring habits.
What Oregon does on offense is perfectly fine and usually massively entertaining. Whenever Oregon’s coaches choose to downshift Mariota & Co. during a game, however close they are to 70 points when they do that, that’s Oregon’s business and is between the Ducks’ coaches, players, and duck-billed god. Nobody who isn’t wearing an opponent’s jersey or sweat-wicking coaching polo gets to try to stop the Ducks from scoring however many points they damn well please. But that’s exactly where Aliotti has returned the argument. Not only did he display an unseemly lack of self-awareness regarding his own team’s scoreboard abuse habits, he has re-elevated the platform for pearl-clutching feelingsball espousers everywhere and reopened the exasperatingly existent running-up-the-score “ethics” argument, all while — again — being a coach at Oregon. It’s not that these second-half fireworks are inappropriate; it’s that the guy in charge of the guys who have to stop Mariota every day in practice should know better than anyone: You want the scoring to stop, you stop it your damn self.