The people who talk and howl and slobber about college football — there are so many of us — are about to stop talking about some subjects we’re always talking about. We will stop talking about Notre Dame, which has lost twice, gotten ransacked at home and exited the playoff picture just three Saturdays into the annual fracas. We will stop talking about Oklahoma, which has lost twice, gotten ransacked at home and exited the playoff picture just three Saturdays into the annual fracas.
We might have to stop talking about Florida State, because while it’s okay to lose once in September, as have the last two national champions, it’s probably not okay to lose in a fashion where a fan might wind up saying, Thank goodness that field goal hit the upright; otherwise the other guys would have had 66 instead of 63.
Can a team that not only loses but gets transformed into microscopic yard mulch still reach the playoffs?
Maybe that’s a discussion for December.
Instead, in a sport where people have talked about a lot of the same things for the last 100 years, we’re about to spend a lot of time talking about a subject that bobs up only occasionally: Louisville. If you must know — and you must — Louisville plays next at Marshall on Saturday, then at Clemson the following Saturday.
Then it has a week off.
You know the year has gone upturned when we’re mentioning Louisville’s week off.
We need to talk about Louisville, just as we should talk also about Fargo.
The 63-20 thing Louisville put upon Florida State Saturday midday became not only the score of the year, but one of the scores of many a year. It took a proud national contender ranked No. 2 and treated it in a manner to which it is thoroughly unaccustomed. It took Florida State — Florida State! — and had people wisecracking about invoking a mercy rule. It took the whole, busy national conversation and reshaped it.
When Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino began his remarks with, “That was a good team win,” so deadpan was it that he should have been on a stage in a nightclub with a microphone and people scattered around at smoky tables with bad cocktails.
Further, the game has Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson floating down Fifth Avenue toward the interminable Heisman ceremony. He’s officially gigantic, with his 18 touchdowns (10 rushing, eight passing) in three games and his assessment from Michael Vick that Jackson is already “five times better” than Vick at Virginia Tech. Vick could have pegged it at “four times better,” but he said five.
Jackson gave the offensive line “an A-plus,” the receivers “an A-plus,” but: “But me? D. Has to be a D. I threw an interception at the goal line. I think it was seven incomplete passes I did, bad balls.” He said that after the interception, “I told my team I owed them four touchdowns,” a preposterous vow made plausible in a staggering game.
You lose 63-20, and you’d think you lost the turnover stat decisively.
Florida State lost it by one, 2-1, so dominant was Louisville at the blocking and the tackling.
Now the only problem is that Louisville needs to stop floating pretty soon and reacquaint itself with the earth. “Yeah, certainly,” Petrino said. “First of all, we’ve got to do a good job of taking care of our bodies, so we need to keep our minds and our bodies clean tonight.”
Did the fans in their fun, rowdy town known for its non-teetotaling horse race keep their minds and bodies clean through the Louisville evening?
Sometimes, it’s okay to guess at an answer.
If we’re going to talk Louisville, we should hash out a few things beyond the 10 Final Fours and three national titles of men’s basketball, and the two recent national title games of women’s basketball, and the recent football success such as the Sugar Bowl-winning season of 2012 under Charlie Strong. As of 1984, Louisville was a football program you’d have to call moribund, with a 2-9 record and a per-game average of 24,100 fans. In came Howard Schnellenberger, having guided Miami (Fla.) to an unlikely national title in 1983.
Schnellenberger tried to convince everybody who would listen as well as some who wouldn’t that football could work at Louisville. In 1985, as he was getting going, he had a freshman quarterback named Jay Gruden, who played there for four years until he went on to some other life and was never heard from again. By 1988, Schnellenberger had an 8-3 record but no bowl bid, back when there were so few bowls that they could snub people they didn’t fancy as revenue-rousers.
By 1990, Louisville went 10-1-1, blasted Alabama by 34-7 in the Fiesta Bowl and led by 25-0 after one quarter. One day the next fall in his office, Schnellenberger said he looked across the field just then and briefly felt sorry for Alabama.
But just briefly.
Top-ranked Alabama, of course, long since remedied itself, and on Saturday remedied a 24-3 deficit at No. 19 Ole Miss with a blazing display of offense, defense and special teams, churning to a 48-30 lead before a 48-43 win. Ominous signs came from Norman, Okla., where No. 3 Ohio State went in and pulverized the locals in a way to which they aren’t accustomed. Fourth-ranked Michigan actually trailed Colorado 14-0 on Saturday, itself an upset, before finishing up when a sublime football player named Jabrill Peppers closed it with a punt-return touchdown in a 45-28 win.
For the playoff today, go ahead and choose those three teams and Louisville. Apologize briefly to teams such as No. 5 Clemson, No. 7 Stanford (which showed clear superiority over Southern California) and even No. 12 Michigan State, which went to Notre Dame, trailed by 7-0 and soon led by 36-7 in a 36-28 win.
When considering all the meanings of the usual overwhelming Saturday, though, think of Fargo as well as Louisville. North Dakota State became only the fourth Football Championship Subdivision team — that’s basically the third tier of a sport full of garish terminology — to defeat a nationally ranked, top-tier team.
In its 23-21 upset at No. 13 Iowa, the Bison scored with 3:41 left, then missed a two-point conversion, trailed 21-20 and looked possibly doomed. Then they got a 29-yard run from the marvelously named Easton Stick to set up a 37-yard field goal at 0:00 from Cam Pederson, a dramatic thing that looked headed just right but sneaked beautifully left to be true. “I kind of blacked out a little bit there” afterward, Pederson said in Eric Peterson’s story in the Fargo newspaper, the Forum.
“It’s pretty cool,” linebacker MJ Stumpf said in that same story.
Of course, those who talk and howl and slobber about college football should know that North Dakota State has won five straight FCS titles in a world where it’s hard to win five straight anythings. It opened this year with overtime wins over two top-10 FCS teams. Its coach, Chris Klieman, spoke the truth for North Dakota State, and echoed the fresh truth of Louisville, in one fine, succinct comment.
“We belonged,” he said.