The week of the almost-upset has mercifully ended. In some ways, this is the worst week of all. Your hopes are elevated, you’re primed for some fantastic endings, and then it all crashes on your head like a wet straw roof. We’ve all been there, right? Let’s take a quick tour through the various kinds of non-upsets provided by a fiendish Week 6.
The Wile E. Coyote
Somehow, we had two of these this weekend. They’re not overly common in college football. In fact, you see the Wile E. most often in March Madness. The formula is simple — an underdog gets off to a hot start, establishes a big lead, and then, just like the Coyote when he realizes he’s gone over the ledge and is walking on air, plummets to earth. You can’t fool gravity forever. The ‘dogs know when they’re about to crash, too; they practically turn to the camera and hold up a “help!” sign. After that, things can get pretty ugly, and it was damn near egregious for two teams this weekend. Annoyingly, they were two of my three upset picks.
1. No. 12 Michigan 42, Northwestern 24. Blowout, right? Not really. At halftime, the Wildcats held a 24-14 lead. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson had thrown three picks in the first half, and two were unforgivable. Speaking of that, I’d like to make an all-caps plea to the man they call Shoelace on behalf of Wolverines fans everywhere: HEY, DENARD! STOP THROWING OFF YOUR BACK FOOT. JUST STOP. NOBODY IS THAT GOOD.
Two of his three picks were casual, back-foot bombs that had no chance to be anything but easy pickings for a roving safety. Then halftime came, and coach Brady Hoke presumably beat him senseless with a clipboard for the duration. He came out and played a wonderful second half as Michigan scored 28 unanswered points. Suddenly, a huge home win for the Wildcats turned into a laugher.
2. No. 14 Nebraska 34, Ohio State 27. I still don’t understand how this happened. The Cornhuskers were who we thought they were. (Am I right, Dennis Green?) They’re a team with a poor defense, no passing threat, and a running game that should always fail against anyone with the horses to crowd the box. Ohio State isn’t a great team by any stretch, but it also wasn’t a surprise when the Buckeyes took a 27-6 lead in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was in his usual conservative mode, calling runs straight into the line on 3rd and 1, refusing to take chances, and basically behaving like an outmoded troglodyte who believes the forward pass is a blight on the game.
And then it all changed. Ohio State turned it over twice on the wrong half of the field, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez threw two touchdown passes of 30 yards or more, and Nebraska pulled off the biggest comeback in school history. Frankly, I’m still shocked.
The Unexpected Tease
1. No. 13 Georgia Tech 21, Maryland 16. This was my other upset pick, which I knew was a long shot. And throughout the game, it looked like Tech was in control. Its offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and it was clear that Randy Edsall and the Terrapins had done something right in their preparation, but the talent gap was too much to overcome. Going into the fourth, the Yellow Jackets had a 21-3 lead. Surely they could option the Terrapins to death and hang on to their flawless record. Surely, as fans of the underdog, we could resign ourselves to another loss.
Then Maryland made a stop to start the fourth quarter, and quarterback C.J. Brown needed just a single play to reel off 77 yards and a touchdown. 21-10. Another three-and-out, and Maryland was marching again. This time, Brown did his damage through the air, and Davin Meggett finished it off with a one-yard touchdown run. 21-16.
This was it. Surprise! Hope! All of a sudden, we were believing. Maryland, with its oddball uniforms and persevering defense, had come within range. One more stop and it had a chance at the winning drive. And the stop came! So with 4:11 left, the Terps gathered themselves and prepared to shock the world. Or at least the state of Georgia. Or at least a small enclave of engineer geniuses within the state of Georgia who never really feel like a part of Georgia. One way or another, something was afoot.
But almost as soon as the rumblings began, they petered out. After driving almost to midfield, two straight incompletions by Brown turned it over on downs, and Tech finally ran out the clock.
The Unexpected Tease can be especially aggravating when you consider that just an hour earlier, you’d come to terms with the loss. It was fine. You were going to make a sandwich, call your grandma, maybe fold some clothes. Then, like a cruel ex or the sport of golf, they just had to lure you back in. These are the games where you want to stand up, throw something hard, and scream at the television: “If you’re going to lose, leave me out of it!” Classic tease.
The Jacory Harris Cliché Killer
Cliché: “The team that has the ball last is going to win this game!”
Jacory Harris: “Thou speakest too soon, gridiron raconteur! Now I shall dance!”
Oh, Jacory. Sometimes I think Miami fans are ungrateful when they bash you, and then you do something so incredible, so ridiculous, and so unthinkable that I’m forced to simply tip my cap and burn all the clothes in my closet with even a hint of green or orange.
To be totally fair to Jacory, he had a pretty solid game. He went 13-of-21 for 267 yards, and had three touchdowns with no interceptions. He was able to “lead” his team to three fourth-quarter touchdowns (lead in quotes, because Mike James and Lamar Miller, both backs, did the heavy lifting), and those scores gave Miami a 35-31 lead with just three minutes left. The old cliché felt true; the team with the ball last would win the game. So it was worrisome, but not fatal, when the Hokies re-took the lead with a touchdown. Miami still had 47 seconds and three timeouts to travel the 40 or so yards necessary to set up a game-tying field goal.
Then Hurricane Jacory hit. In two downs, he managed to burn almost 20 seconds. The reason? He sat back in the pocket, holding the ball, holding the ball, holding the ball, before finally making a decision and throwing (incomplete, seven yards, respectively). How a senior with loads of experience can be that unaware in a time-sensitive situation is beyond me, but Jacory managed. When Miami ran a draw for a first down, there were just 25 seconds remaining. Three more incompletions followed, and he took his time on every one. Now there were just five seconds on the clock, and no chance to set up a quick pass for a field goal. The final play was busted up, and Miami’s upset bid was over. Jacory killed the cliché.
The (Nearly) Naked Emperor
If we’ve learned one thing from this college football season, it’s that when Texas A&M has a big second-half lead, it’s time to grab a bag of popcorn and settle in. Things are about to get car-crashy.
In a lot of ways, the Emperor’s New Clothes game is the opposite of the Wile E. Coyote. In this case, the underdog finds some momentum, starts storming, and the favorite behaves like the emperor who just realized his fancy new clothes don’t actually exist. Except in this case, the emperor turns out to be wearing a pair of old underwear that preserves just a shred of his dignity. You with me?
So, the no. 24 Texas A&M Aggies were leading Texas Tech 31-20 at the half. With four minutes left in the third, the Aggies were up 38-23. Early in the fourth, they led 45-30. They looked great, man. Just terrific. Almost as great as they looked when they took a 17-point lead on Oklahoma State, or an 18-point lead on Arkansas a week later.
I don’t know about you, but I grabbed my popcorn. I grabbed the hell out of it. I grabbed it so hard that I almost forgot it was metaphorical popcorn. I watched Texas Tech kick a field goal to make it 45-33. On the next drive, I expected the comeback to continue. That crazy emperor, doesn’t he know he’s naked? This was going to be A&M in full collapse mode. Just like those other games, the offense couldn’t score. The defense was as shaky as it had been all year. Tech finally pulled to within five, 45-40, on a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Seth Doege to Alex Torres. Sure, there was less than a minute left, but that didn’t matter.
Except this week, it did. A&M avoided a third straight collapse, just barely, when it recovered the onside kick. The emperor, thanking God for his underwear, went scurrying home as the disappointed masses dispersed.
And those were the near upsets. Moving on
Hey, an Actual Upset!
Give a round of applause to Wake Forest, the only team to cash in its upset bid with a 35-30 win over no. 23 Florida State. The Demon Deacons’ profile in the recent Jim Grobe years has been consistent — effective, sometimes explosive offense, and weak defense. Saturday was no exception, as they conceded 425 yards to the Seminoles. But the difference was turnovers; Clint Trickett threw two interceptions, and EJ Manuel threw two more in his first game back from injury. Wake kept a clean sheet, had the better part of possession, and moved to 3-0 in the ACC.
Quick Thoughts on the Top 25 Games
I’d like to say I called this one, but the truth is that we all knew it was coming. So-so teams that avoid tough competition early in the season tend to be gifted rankings they don’t deserve, and Texas was one of this year’s main beneficiaries. There are many more losses in the Longhorns’ future, and I have a feeling in a few weeks they’ll suffer from the Florida State “can you believe” syndrome. As in: “Can you believe they were ranked 11th at one point?”
This answers the question, “Which SEC West team, besides Alabama, has the best shot at knocking off LSU?” By the time the Razorbacks and the Tigers play, on the last day of the regular season, Arkansas could easily be 10-1.
Nothing to see here, except that (a) poor Florida should have just rested its best players the last two weeks, and (b) Jordan Jefferson just infringed on Tim Tebow’s copyright:
Whoa, That Team’s Undefeated?
It’s that time of year, when the first BCS standings are about to be released and there’s a couple upwardly mobile teams hanging around with perfect records. This week’s pleasant surprise is
No. 20 Kansas State, which moved to 5-0 by “upsetting” Missouri at home. When you’re a ranked team playing at home against an unranked 2-2 team, and the oddsmakers still think you’re going to lose, you’ve just hit the perfect trifecta of illegitimacy. Nobody believes in you, Wildcats. Shine on.
A Ride on the Gambling Emotional Roller Coaster
UNC 14, Louisville 7
The Tar Heels were favored by 13, and their defense hadn’t conceded a point all game. Then, in typical Carolina fashion, the Tar Heels decided to defend the lead with a prevent defense. This ensured that Louisville (which, you’ll remember from the first sentence of this paragraph, couldn’t do anything on offense) could march 61 yards for a touchdown in under two minutes, nearly recover the onside kick, and put a hurting on Carolina wallets. And by wallets, I mean stained tobacco pouches filled with buffalo nickels.
Most Misunderstood Gatorade Bath
This one goes to Georgia coach Mark Richt, who got showered by his players after a 20-12 win over Tennessee. I didn’t watch much of this game, so when I saw him get doused, I assumed Georgia football was in such tough shape that its players were forced to do Gatorade baths after any SEC win. It seemed sad, and a bit strange, but not entirely unbelievable. And I probably would have continued thinking that if I’d just flipped the channel a minute earlier, before the announcers explained that it was his 100th victory at Georgia. You win this round, Dawgs.
The Heisman Watch
Only a few cosmetic changes here.
Crazy Dark Horse Candidate: Case Keenum, QB, Houston. Most passing yards in the country, along with 14 touchdowns and just two picks. (Houston, at 6-0, has great potential to be next week’s “Whoa, That Team’s Undefeated?” selection.)
Trendy Defensive Hopeful Who Will Never Win: Oh, this is LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu all the way. With another pick against Florida, his résumé is even more impressive: two picks, four forced fumbles (two returned for touchdowns), shutdown cornerback, dangerous punt returner. Let the fake buzz drone on!
5. Robert Woods, USC. Woods remains the token receiver pick. After a bye week for USC, his stats still look the best across the board. A.J. Jenkins is putting up some good numbers for Illinois, especially a crazy-high 17.7 yards per catch, but his 46 receptions can’t match Woods’ 55.
4. LaMichael James, Oregon. Let’s hope his injury against Cal isn’t too serious.
3. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh. He rushed for 165 yards in a loss against Rutgers, but what’s really incredible about Graham is that Pitt’s passing offense provides him no cover. The team racked up four picks in Piscataway, and broadcast a clear signal to all future opponents: eight in the box if you want to beat us.
2. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. He gets demoted one spot for having a bye week. And it’s all because of
1. Robert Griffin III, Baylor. With another spectacular game, this time against Iowa State, Griffin’s stock continues to rise. He threw for 212 yards and one TD, and ran for 107 yards and another. He leads the country in touchdown passes, averages more than 300 yards passing per game, and has a QB rating you can only compare to Wilson. Last — but maybe most impressive — is that his completion percentage is actually over 80. Without him, Baylor wouldn’t be anywhere near the Top 25.
Next week, Griffin plays on the road at A&M. That’s just one of a few great matchups in Week 7. See you Thursday for the preview.
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