No. 4 Clemson (8-0) doesn’t have Bye, but does have Wofford (5-2), which seems a non-threat unless it can hit enough three-point shots. No. 6 Florida (7-1) and No. 8 Georgia (6-1) don’t have Bye, but they will gather yet again in Jacksonville to express their traditional vein of mutual adoration. And then way at the other end of Interstate 10, No. 7 Oregon (7-1) will turn up against Southern California (5-3) in Los Angeles, where the 110 Freeway also will boast Colorado at — wait, what’s this? — Chip Kelly’s budding UCLA (3-5), of which he said Saturday, “The best thing I can say is the baby Bruins are growing up.”
When Bye reaches Norman, Okla., it will find a Norman which just became the third major college town in three October Saturdays to incur a mind-boggling loss not even curable by beer. In Athens, Ga., they saw South Carolina, a 21.5-point underdog, win at Georgia in an outcome that could dredge a frown even from Uga X. In the great Madison, they watched as their team ventured to 30.5-point underdog Illinois and lost inexplicably. Then in Norman, they just finished seeing their team go up the flat roads to 23.5-point underdog Kansas State, that erstwhile tiptop contender which has continued proudly playing football even while the nation has stopped noticing.
Then the scoreboard stood curiously at 23-24, from an Oklahoma view.
Then it went to 23-34, then 23-41, then 23-48.
Then it wound up 41-48, and Oklahoma wound up in dire need of help trying for its fourth College Football Playoff berth in six years, then quarterback Jalen Hurts wound up saying, “Climbing this mountain is not easy, it’s treacherous.”
(But we and the oddsmakers didn’t know how treacherous!)
Georgia had outgained South Carolina 468-297, Wisconsin had outgained Illinois 420-315 and Oklahoma had outgained Kansas State 497-426, yet the trio had gone 0-3 against 75.5 points of under-doggedness, proving again that very young people play this sport. Then again, Kansas State’s 213 rushing yards and 213 passing yards did suggest a certain balance.
In a sport long comfortable with imbalance, there’s an exhilarated side to these things, so Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson met reporters and said: “Sorry if I held you guys up, but I don’t know if it has really fully hit me yet, to be honest. I’ve just been at a loss for words. I was sitting at my locker kind of just thinking about what we just did and how we did it. It’s a special moment for me in my life, but I know for Kansas State and the history it’ll go down as a game people will remember forever.”
Reminder: The imbalance does have value, and occasionally come those days of value.
When Bye again reaches Austin, it will find great energy, great tacos, bad traffic and a big pocket of hide-saving bustle at the football offices. Texas’s 37-27 loss at TCU didn’t matter much nationally, but it did shout that Texas (5-3) hasn’t reached the levels foreseen when Tom Herman took it over three years ago, and maybe even that it thought too much of itself when it beat Georgia last Sugar Bowl.
As Mac Engel charted the territory in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
: “Tom, you can lose to LSU [as Texas did on Sept. 7]. Many Texas coaches before you perfected losing to Oklahoma [as Texas did on Oct. 12], so everyone in the state and all burnt-orange-wearing folks are numb to that particular outcome. You were hired to at least be superior to the purple ‘cockroach’ in Fort Worth.”
That use of “cockroach” always does suggest some storied history.
Bye will say hello to Tuscaloosa, where the hospitality should be effusive and Bye ought to get feted in some Bye parade (which would occur silently, of course). That’s because Bye will assist with the continued healing of star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whose ankle, Coach Nick Saban updated on Saturday night, is improving on fancy machinery.
Alabama did fine — the 48-7 kind of fine — with Arkansas in town and Mac Jones at quarterback. Professor Saban said: “This was a game that, you know, if we’d taken any rat poison” — by that he means the horrifying praise which can dent effort — “we wouldn’t have been focused on this game at all, based on everybody else in the community and the media and the fans and the questions I get asked on the radio show. You know, ‘Nick at Noon,’ I get asked about the next game, and we had this game.”
Those are those customary Friday luncheons, four per autumn, to which fans can buy tickets, and one does get a picture of Nick at noon with tea and crumpets.
One did get a picture without any niceties whenever one tuned into then-No. 9 Auburn at LSU, where LSU prepared for its slugfest with Alabama by hosting a . . . slugfest. One could get a bruise just watching. “Aw, man,” said linebacker Jacob Phillips to reporters. “It’s Auburn. This is a heavyweight, an SEC West team coming into our house. We locked the gates and we didn’t let ’em out until it was done.”
Now they open the gates to Bye after a Saturday on which the gates opened for others around the land, especially the Pacific-12. The Pac-12, which has placed a team in only two of the first five College Football Playoffs, got help when Oklahoma stepped aside in its mass of turnovers and Notre Dame (5-2) stepped aside because Michigan (6-2) awakened from its long, elite slumber and shoved Notre Dame aside, 45-14.
Suddenly, the Pac-12 has Oregon (7-1) at No. 7 and Utah (7-1) at No. 9, with Oregon about to play at Southern California and Utah about to play at Washington (5-3). This all matters as much as it matters because of one of those dramatic hinge moments that turn up many a year, when Oregon trailed Washington State 35-34 with one minute to play before an Autzen Stadium crowd, a somber handful of bleary East Coast TV viewers, and others.
Well, Mykael Wright wove on a fabulous 36-yard kickoff return to the Oregon 39-yard line. Quarterback Justin Herbert, darling of NFL draft intellectuals, threw six yards to the left to CJ Verdell. He threw seven to the left sideline to tight end Spencer Webb. He threw 15 to the deeper left to Juwan Johnson. He threw short left to Johnson as he came down the line of scrimmage from outside, and Johnson took that nifty screen for 24. Freshman Camden Lewis, who came all the way from Charlotte and looks too young for such pressures in his bio photo, kicked a 26-yard field goal at the horn.
After that escape, Oregon might wish it could play Bye.