When the latest inexplicable autumn passes, the people who try to explain these college football things might hatch a few plausible explanations. None will suffice for what happened Saturday in Iowa City.
Years will pass, and people will review the college football because it beats reviewing the family gossip, yet no one will explain successfully how Ohio State took its second 31-point loss in the last 11 months, how it got thrown so emphatically to the edge of the ledge of the College Football Playoff, how the Big Ten became an entity of excessive parity. No one will explain how No. 6 Ohio State went to Iowa and lost 55-24.
Were it 17-14, perhaps.
Fifty-five to 24? No.
It is not understandable to the human mind.
J.T. Barrett arrived in Iowa City with eight games of 25 touchdown passes and one interception, then threw quadruple that latter number at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa brought its No. 104-ranked offense, which just got through losing 17-10 in overtime to Northwestern and squeaking past Minnesota 17-10, and splurged for . . . 55 . . . against . . . Ohio . . . State.
Everyone understood Ohio State wasn’t quite Nebraska 1995 or Miami (Fla.) 2001 or even Ohio State 2014, but no one understood Ohio State was 24 against Iowa’s 55, that Ohio State might go outgained 295-30 from the late second quarter to the middle of the fourth.
“But the big thing is our guys really believed in themselves all week long,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters.
Nope, that won’t explain it. Guys believe in themselves all over the place.
“I hear what’s going on from upstairs,” Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer told reporters, “and they were baiting him (on the interceptions). They were playing between two receivers. That’s their coverage and we just didn’t play very well.”
Nope, that won’t explain it. Barrett is a sage veteran widely believed to have played 10 seasons in Columbus.
And: Ohio State’s coach is Urban Meyer.
People might explain, somehow, how the Big Ten triumvirate of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan reached early November with two losses each. They might explain how, in a sport that turns on tiny moments, Penn State went from 7-0 and No. 2, to 7-2 and second-tier, based on fourth-quarter fates at Ohio State (39-38) and now at Michigan State (27-24). People might explain how this might become the first playoff in the four-year-old concept in which multiple Power Five conferences wind up excluded, maybe even three of them if Alabama, Georgia and Notre Dame all wind up with invitations.
The very idea that Notre Dame (8-1) at Miami (8-0), next Saturday, is an all-top-10 game with searing playoff implications?
That’s weird and weirdly ’80s retro, but there’s an explanation in there somewhere.
The lunacy that the last time those two played such a huge November game, “Blame It On The Rain” by Milli Vanilli was the No. 1 song in a land of questionable taste?
You can construct a case for why this is happening, starring Mark Richt, the second-year Miami coach, starring an impressive 28-10 win over Virginia Tech, and starring Brian Kelly, the regenerated Notre Dame coach.
Similarly, some people will be able to explain largely how Rutgers stands 3-3 in the Big Ten, even if that does call into question every fact about the known universe, and probably even several strands of science. Some people might explain how Army (7-2!) beat Air Force 21-0 while completing zero passes in zero attempts for zero yards, surely in violation of 21st-century zoning ordinances. Some people will explain how Florida, once that harbor of dazzling football, has become so unwatchable, and how the nadir is this four-game losing streak with its 45-16 loss to Missouri and its unforeseen dismissal of Jim McElwain, such that it probably should shut down football operations temporarily, out of kindness to its public.
That thing about Oklahoma and Oklahoma State combining for 1,446 total yards, playing a 62-52 game that, rather than “football,” might be closer to “ping-pong, with occasional tackling?” It’s the 21st century, mate. That thing about Baylor (0-8, 0-5 in the Big 12 entering the game) playing Kansas (1-7, 0-5), and one of them (Baylor) actually winning by 38-9, suggesting the other knows a level of woe almost inconceivable? It’s almost inconceivable, but not quite. Khalil Tate, the Arizona marvel and Heisman Trophy contender, leading his squad back from 28-6 against Southern California, on the floor of the Los Angeles Coliseum, to a 35-35 tie, before USC won 49-35?
That’s the Pacific-12, man.
Nutty November has just begun, and we’re down to nine Power Five teams with fewer than two losses, and we’ll have no more than eight after TCU plays at Oklahoma. The nine: Georgia, Alabama, Miami, Wisconsin, Clemson, Oklahoma, TCU, Notre Dame and Washington. That last one was presumed banished from the playoff not on the “eye test,” but the eyesore test, for a 13-7 loss to Arizona State on Oct. 14. That thing was so bleak that it seemed people might even bring up, again, Washington’s nonconference schedule. The College Football Playoff selection committee might have brought it up while deliberating before Washington’s No. 12 ranking, highest in the Pac-12.
By the way, Washington’s nonconference schedule was a hindrance.
Still, with Ohio State mostly cleared, and Penn State mostly cleared, Washington, a playoff participant last season, is most certainly back in. It clearly got so mad at Oregon for 12 straight losses (2004-15) that it just finished beating Oregon 108-24 across two seasons, when you compute in the 38-3 of Saturday. If Miami, impressive in beating Virginia Tech, can dole No. 3 Notre Dame a second loss, Washington might be even more back in.
Then again, we could end up arguing such matters as a two-loss Notre Dame vs. a one-loss Washington, but if Washington loses Friday at Stanford, which just lost at Washington State, then Washington is back out, and way out.
Then, somebody else with two losses might get back in. Clearly, December might bring the kookiest playoff selection week yet, and it might be best to remember the words of Matt Coghlin. He’s the Michigan State kicker who made a 34-yard field goal on the last play to beat Penn State. He then called to mind another nutty November — Michigan State’s 17-14 upset at Ohio State in 2015 — when he ran merrily away from his rowdy teammates until, unlike his predecessor, Michael Geiger, Coghlin dived on his belly and skidded across a wet field, the game finally complete after seven hours and one nutty weather delay.
“I wasn’t really thinking about the celebration,” Coghlin told reporters in East Lansing, Mich. “Kind of running away, because I didn’t want to get trampled. Just dove on the ground. I don’t know why.”
Often, we don’t know why, and sometimes, as after Iowa City, we’ll never know why.
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