I’m not sure the world is ready to handle too much serious discussion about Duke football, so I’ll make this quick. All I ask is that you look at these rankings. OK, not at the rankings themselves; look a little lower, the “also receiving votes” section. Where the real teams hang. See that team with three votes in the AP poll, and 10 votes in the USA Today poll? Ranked 36th and 34th, respectively? That, my friends, is the pride of Durham, going places where they’re not known or expected or wanted. Or invited.
How can I communicate the strangeness of seeing them on that list? How incredibly weird this feels for Duke football fans? Imagine if Paul Ryan showed up at tonight’s debate wearing a Phish bandanna and a Grateful Dead poncho, and insisted on coming out to the sunshine part from that “Age of Aquarius” song. (I’m not even sure they make Grateful Dead ponchos anymore, and the ESPN research people get mad when you make that kind of request, so you’ll just have to picture it.) That’s how unlikely this feels. Everything is clicking with a backup quarterback named Anthony Boone, and if they beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg this weekend, there’s even a chance they could be ranked for the first time since 1994. At that point, I would start buying canned goods and digging some kind of apocalypse tunnel that would almost certainly collapse on itself within an hour or two.
That’s all I’ll say for now. The last time I talked about Duke football in a sincere way here, they got demolished at Stanford. So this is probably a jinx, but fair warning — if they win, more will be said. And sung, probably. And maybe cried.
The Ranked Matchups
No. 17 Stanford at no. 7 Notre Dame
Game of the week. I totally agree with Bryan Curtis that college football is better when Notre Dame is good enough to hate. It works the same with all the villains — Yankees, Lakers, Cowboys, Penguins. It adds a little buzz to everything. Somehow, I actually grew up rooting for Notre Dame. My stepfather was a big fan, and I followed his allegiances pretty much across the board. David Gordon’s kick is still one of the worst memories of my childhood. But it became a case of rooting for too many hated teams, so I had to drop them. Still, there’s a remnant of nostalgia watching Notre Dame, and the whole college football color spectrum is brighter when the Irish are strong.
And it appears that Brian Kelly has a legitimate team on his hands. On the other hand, you could easily argue that Stanford is the team’s first real challenge of the year. Yes, they beat Michigan and Michigan State, but recent results (Spartans barely beating Indiana??) have taken the shine off those wins in a big way. Meanwhile, Josh Nunes engineered an incredible comeback last week as Stanford shocked Arizona in overtime, and of course they took down USC earlier in the year before a letdown loss to Washington. Aside from the beating they took at the hands of Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense, Stanford’s defense has been great all season, and Irish QB Everett Golson will have to lift his game a notch, especially in the passing-accuracy department. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is the game where Tommy Rees begins to take back the starting job for the stretch run.
Finish this sentence: This is the biggest Notre Dame football game since …
No. 3 South Carolina at no. 9 LSU
Every year, there’s a team I keep getting wrong, and this year that team is South Carolina. After a narrow escape against Vanderbilt in the first game of the season, I automatically assumed this would be another Spurrier-led team who hovered around the top 10 but inevitably lost a stupid game along the way and derailed their SEC chances. But the beatdown of Georgia last week changed my mind; they’re legitimate.
And I know the SEC is a defense-first league, but my God, did you see LSU’s “offense” last weekend? It went beyond pathetic, and it went beyond Florida having a good defense. That was amateur-level stuff from Les Miles. On the other hand, they still might have won if their defense hadn’t been hit by a rash of injuries in the second half, so I’m not ruling them out completely this weekend. Could they pull out some kind of crazy 9-6 win in Baton Rouge? Sure. Is it likely? Not after what Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore showed last weekend. I just can’t see LSU scoring enough. It feels very much like a 20-6 type win for the Gamecocks, even on the road.
No. 15 Texas at no. 13 Oklahoma
Strange, interesting game. Both teams looked vulnerable as hell in their lone losses (to West Virginia and Kansas State, respectively), but it feels like both are still capable of sneaky Big 12 championship runs. My first question for this game is, how good is Oklahoma’s defense? Coach Bob Stoops and the Sooners will put up points — more than the 19 they managed against Kansas State, you’d have to think — and if their defense can make a few stops, it will be enough to secure a win. My second question is, how good is Landry Jones? He comes with a fair amount of hype, but his numbers are mediocre. Is it just that his first name is Landry? Speaking of which, have I ever told you how much I hated the Landry character in Friday Night Lights? In 30 years, we’ll look back on the scenes with his band as some of the most awkward television moments of our youth.
No. 22 Texas A&M vs. no. 23 Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La.
This game was originally slated for the opening weekend of the season, but was postponed by Hurricane Isaac. The hurricane itself actually phoned up and was like, “Game off, dudes.” Anyway, Louisiana Tech has the nation’s third-best scoring offense, and they’ve won two high-scoring games on the road against Houston and Virginia. I would say that a win here makes them a likely candidate to go undefeated, but they play in the WAC and have a couple West Coast trips ahead. Watch out for receiver Quinton Patton in this one — he’s got five touchdowns and 532 yards in five games. Obviously, La. Tech is the sentimental favorite here, and considering the Aggies’ ongoing choke habit, I like their chances. At times like these, I wish they offered bets like, “Texas A&M will blow a 20-point second-half lead.”
Your Perfect Saturday
We assume, as ever, that you are dexterous with a remote and able with a computer. All times are Eastern.
Noon — No. 6 Kansas State at Iowa State — FX
Kleinapple Express! Only one more week until he visits West Virginia to undergo the greatest challenge of his young life.
Noon — No. 15 Texas at no. 13 Oklahoma — ABC
Whoa, they actually put a ranked game in the noon time slot? Incredible. I believe it’s the first time all season that’s happened.
3:30 p.m. — No. 17 Stanford at no. 7 Notre Dame — NBC
3:30 p.m. — No. 10 Oregon State at BYU — ABC/ESPN3
Huge, huge challenge for the undefeated Beavers after losing starting quarterback Sean Mannion in the most unfortunate injury of the season so far.
7 p.m. — No. 11 USC at Washington — Fox
Yet another wild Pac-12 matchup where your gut tells you just to ignore everything and pick the home team.
8 p.m. — No. 3 South Carolina at no. 9 LSU — ESPN
9 p.m. — No. 22 Texas A&M at no. 23 Louisiana Tech — ESPNU
10:30 p.m. — California at Washington State — Pac-12 Network
If only to close out your day with a high-flying Pac-12 game featuring Mike Leach and the Zombie Corpses.
This Day in Duke Football History
This feature is dangerously close to being retired, considering the program’s resurgence, but just to avoid a jinx, we’ll keep it going at least one more week.
On October 11, 1892, Duke football legend Fenton “Sleepy” Monaghan, a chronic narcoleptic, fell asleep with the ball in his hands late in the fourth quarter and was carried into the opposite end zone by apologetic N.C. State players for a safety. The Blue Devils lost the game, 10-9.
Unorthodox Heisman Watch
5. Will Hagerup, Punter, Michigan
Leads the nation with 49.2 yards per punt. If you’re a punter and you lead in average, do you think it’s annoying when your coach calls you out for a coffin corner from the 40-yard-line? You’re killing my average, coach!
4. Nick Florence, Quarterback, Baylor
Leads in a weird but interesting category called “total yards per play” at 9.39. By my calculations, Robert Griffin III’s number from 2011 was 8.52 per play.
3. Travis Long, Linebacker, Washington State
The sack king!
2. Geno Smith, Quarterback, West Virginia
The best at everything.
1. The Kleinapple Express, Quarterback, Kansas State
And yet I’m sticking to my guns! I know my position isn’t very tenable, but imagine if they said that at the Alamo. Just imagine. I bet “Davey Crockett” would be a synonym for “complete coward.” And Collin Klein would be our national hero, which is what’s happening anyway, so it’s kind of like he’s rewriting history. But in favor of the Mexicans, weirdly. That’s the mystery and beauty of the Kleinapple Express. Enjoy the games.