Notre Dame (8-0) will hold down No. 3.
Then the 13-member committee of five athletic directors, five former head coaches, one university president, one former football star (Ronnie Lott) and one university professor (Paola Boivin) who used to be a sports columnist (and thereby knows the most about football) will choose a No. 4 team from among a big batch of one-loss sorts that include that curious bunch from Washington State (7-1), which just followed a bouncy win over Oregon with an impressive 41-38 win at Stanford.
LSU and its gaudy set of wins would seem the likely No. 4, just as that eternally unbeaten squad from UCF (7-0) would seem unlikely, hindered both by its second-tier presence in a snooty sport and its dreary nonconference schedule. As usual, the rankings will manage the hard trick of being meaningless while stoking a measure of complaint, as if they give a bored, rich nation something to do.
From there, the sport will head for a chockablock first Saturday of November, including Alabama at LSU, Penn State at Michigan and Georgia at that fresh, sprightly contender, Kentucky (7-1). West Virginia’s visit to Texas (6-2) lost some oomph late Saturday when Texas went to Oklahoma State and lost 38-35, proving again that very young people play this game. From Baton Rouge to Ann Arbor to Lexington — Lexington! — the games will help determine playoff positioning and wreak chatter. The danger in the chatter, of course, is that it will deluge the rest of college football, which brims with surprises that come even on a ho-hum Saturday like the one just gone by. So before the playoff comes swooping in, let’s look beneath.
There’s an eternal appeal in teams that don’t fare well in a season yet don’t quit on that season, and on Saturday in Boulder, Colo., an Oregon State team sitting at 1-6 with a road losing streak of a forlorn 22 games trailed Colorado 31-3 in the third quarter. Colorado fans began filing out because, for one thing, there’s so much to consume in the awesome Boulder. Meanwhile, the visiting Beavers managed a 17-play, 75-yard drive, on which they converted two fourth downs, including Jake Luton’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Hodges.
It looked like window-dressing.
Oregon State won 41-34 in overtime.
Watching its players and its smallish cluster of fans exult, you might have felt a tear form, especially if you are a sap. “Oh, it’s huge,” Jonathan Smith, the first-year Beavers coach who quarterbacked Oregon State through a heyday 17 years ago, told the Pac-12 Network. The Buffaloes thought they might have coasted, proving again that very young people play this game.
All around the country, the obscured achievements that make the unforgettable life experiences of college days took place on a Saturday when so many top-25 teams lost (10) that the AP might consider paring it to 20 just to have enough teams to fill it.
So before we get to the big stuff, let’s think for a moment about that perennial frowner from Kansas, which had slipped from its early-season binge but reached 3-5 with its 27-26 win over TCU (3-5), which led Ohio State 21-13 in the third quarter in mid-September when everything was different. Let’s note Cal (5-3), its 37-7 clunker against UCLA two weeks ago, and its rumbling 36-yard interception return from its Spokane-hailing linebacker, Evan Weaver, in its 12-10 upset of No. 15 Washington, after which Weaver told Fox Sports, “Our culture really showed today.”
Nobody ever said Berkeley lacked for culture.
Let’s not forget Northwestern (5-3) which, with its 31-17 win over No. 20 Wisconsin, became 5-1 in the Big Ten and the front-runner for the conference title game, a matter unforeseen during the loss to Akron. “I think we’re growing up,” the excellent Coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters. Let’s make a nod toward Matt Colburn, the Wake Forest running back who rushed for 243 yards against Louisville, whose coach, Bobby Petrino, once dropped Colburn’s scholarship right before Signing Day, but let’s also note that Colburn has mastered a bit of life by saying, “After my freshman year, I just wanted to get rid of the whole revenge narrative because if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be at Wake.”
And let’s extol Kentucky (7-1), a place which has seen enough football doom through the years that its fans grew adept at forecasting further impending dooms. In a sequence that defied its former self, Kentucky trailed Missouri 14-3 with 5:30 remaining and won, 15-14.
It got a 57-yard punt return from Lynn Bowden, of whom quarterback Terry Wilson said, “That dude, he’s a cat.” It got Wilson’s smashing, 81-yard winning drive, in which the Wildcats overcame two sacks, and during which Wilson completed 6 of 6 passes for 87 yards. It scored on the last play of the game, a two-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Conrad, and its coach, Mark Stoops, went leaping into the team in the locker room for a crowd-surf.
Said Wilson to reporters, “It was a great feeling. We were playing football.”
So while making sure to look around football and all its delirious contours, let’s mention that Alabama should be No. 1 but Clemson also might, with its slight edge in caliber of victims thus far and the staggering show it conducted on Saturday in Tallahassee. Coming off a big win over North Carolina State, the Tigers (8-0) figured to be perhaps somewhat taken with themselves at reeling Florida State, where a close game could bud.
Clemson led 59-3 on the way to 59-10, and its seniors became the first ones in the ACC to go 4-0 against the one-time Godzilla of the lot. A shirtless Florida State fan read a paperback in the stands and gained fame, and Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney called it an “unbelievable day.” He said, “It’s my 16th game versus the ’Noles,” and, “one of the greatest programs in college football history,” and, “I’ve been in a lot of really, really sad locker rooms coming down here,” and, “an awesome accomplishment.”
Consider that in 2013, when the Florida State-Clemson game at Clemson figured to be a donnybrook but wasn’t, Jameis Winston’s Seminoles won 51-14 and Clemson was seen as distinctly suboptimal. Consider that the whole thing has gone upturned. It’s not only a striking reflection of what Swinney’s Clemson has created, but it’s also just about inconceivable, similar to so many delights the playoff often occludes even when it shouldn’t.
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