Hi, Clemson. We forgot about you for a while, and then you beat the best football player in the country. Forgive us all. It happens when you have 128 teams to consider overall, at least 20 with a possibility of winning a national title.
It also happens when Clemson, which beat Louisville 42-36 in Death Valley, dares to play a preseason in front of a national audience. Prior to a full-spectrum, three-phase performance against the Cardinals, Clemson spent much of 2016 warming up in public. They won a defensive struggle against Auburn, and had a 30-24 clanker against Troy. The Tigers suffocated Georgia Tech on defense, but seemed tentative on offense. The Deshaun Watson who nearly won a national title by himself at quarterback in 2015? Absent in part.
Against Louisville, Watson committed four turnovers, but threw five TDs, and one of the INTs wasn’t his fault. The defense allowed a whopping total 457 yards and three TDs to Lamar Jackson, but that’s actually pretty good, given the damage he can do. The defensive line battered him, forced turnovers, and actually made him work for first yards. Artavis Scott and Clemson’s special teams worked when everything else wasn’t, which is what good special teams do.
Dabo Swinney is now 10-5 in games against top-10 opponents, and the Tigers got exactly what they needed to defeat a Louisville that will destroy so many other teams before the season is over.
ALSO DABO THINKS YOU’RE GREAT, BOBBY, LIKE A REALLY SOLID DUDE. YOU’RE THE BEST MAN. DO YOU HAVE MY KEYS? COOL, IT’S GOOD, KEYS ARE GOOD, YOU KEEP ‘EM CAUSE I’M WAY TOO DRIVE TO DRUNK OUT OF HERE.
THE BESSSSSSSSST, MAN.
OH MY GOD, WASHINGTON.
The fun running gag for about a decade and a half now has been to suggest that Washington was going to turn around its fortunes. Then, having gotten real excited about all the fun stuff Washington football can be — oooh, their stadium by the water shakes, and not just because of seismic activity — everyone watches as hope and ’90s nostalgia are crushed by the weight of reality and Steve Sarkisian getting the program stuck on seven wins for years at a stretch.
There is no joke any more, unless you find the smoking crater where Stanford was to be funny. If you were a Washington fan, you should find it hilarious. Last year, Christian McCaffrey had 300 all-purpose yards in a 31-14 Stanford win. This year, the entire Stanford offense didn’t have that many yards.
Most of that happened at the point of attack. (Where Stanford usually dominates.) Washington’s D-line abused Stanford’s line. (Where Stanford usually dominates.) The Huskies offensive line erased Stanford’s line for most of the night. (Again: usually Stanford’s thing.) The Cardinal had 29 yards rushing, a total that gets them just out of the tee box on a golf course. (Stanford is not Washington State. Especially this week.)
It’s early, and there is the distinct possibility that Stanford just might not be that good this year. But the Huskies put together as complete an asskicking on a major stage as any team this year, and did so with cruel efficiency.
This is your official notice that Washington is quantifiably good and to update your list of running gags immediately.
You see a team that could’ve lost by fine margins in a 34-31 win over Georgia decided by a last-second Hail Mary.
I see a team with a mobile QB who somehow has not gotten injured despite taking massive hits, a defense that keeps getting timely play despite injuries, and some random dervish/goblin who oversees their games, tips the ball at the proper times, and provides spiritual assistance.
That’s not a very materialist argument. But it’s what we’re left with, since Tennessee keeps flipping scripts on us, first by beating Florida, and now by winning the kind of close games they could not close out in 2015. A team like that is not to be trifled with the deeper you go into the season, because Tennessee is the kind of team who will pull off Hail Marys, earn inordinate fumble luck, and do things like have Alvin Kamara almost fall out of bounds, turn himself into a footstool to stay in bounds, and then sprint up the sideline for a crucial late TD.
Stay away, get a priest, and purchase the spiritual totem of your choice. It might not matter, because a decade of bad luck is all coming full circle. Butch Jones is spending good luck in one year like it’s an unexpected tax refund.
One of our nation’s finest traditions: screencapping the fleeting instant Alabama trails in a game against lesser competition.
Playing Kentucky is a value-free proposition; either you blow them out for little value, struggle pointlessly for a while before winning 34-6, or worst of all, lose someone to injury in a meaningless cross-divisional game. Fortunately, Alabama knows this already and made this a productive scrimmage by getting an efficient game out of Jalen Hurts at QB and holding Kentucky to a meager 161 yards.
Alabama continues to score a ton of points off defense and special teams, which is a good thing, even if it makes you nervous about the offense. (Which, yeah, Alabama fans are nervous about the offense, because they have to invent something to be worried about.)
Bama’s doing some light jogging, coming off a deload week, and just trying to stay flexible before a heavy lifting day against Arkansas. (Literally the heaviest lifting day.)
Probably says a lot about where the team is that the phrase “satisfying 42-14 revenge win over UConn” is an actual storyline. It’s not inaccurate — the Cougars did take their only loss in 2015 from UConn, a team that exists not to succeed, but ruin other people’s success — but it’s not yanno, beating Lamar Jackson (something they still get a chance to do, btw, on Nov. 17).
6. Ohio State
Rutgers coach Chris Ash is a former staffer of Urban Meyer’s, and I’m certain that after getting up 30-0 at halftime, the Buckeyes would downshift and run out the clock to save their old friend some —
— OK, OK, Urban’s still the mean dad who won’t let you win things, and that’s why you lost 58-0, Rutgers. The fun part is watching the Buckeyes casually peel off 400 yards of rushing.
Ohio State has to play Indiana this week, which is a voyage into madness for all concerned, but mostly for the few remaining Indiana fans capable of faking sanity. Will this be a 42-40 game won by Ohio State on a walkoff safety? Probably.
The first one-loss team listed in the 2016 Top Whatever because a.) losing on the road by six to a good team should not toss you from any rankings in the first week of October, and b.) they still have Jackson.
Lamar. Lamar can’t do it all by himself, y’all. I’m being Leon for you, Lamar, since you would never say this.
Won the kind of 14-7 defense-first game against Wisconsin that no one outside of said game needs to rewatch or talk about ever again. Mind you, everyone plays that kind of game against Wisconsin, so winning it counts for a lot.
Losing your starting left tackle for the season, however, is a nasty price to pay for that, particularly when the Michigan offense has been somewhere just above average overall. For instance: Michigan stands 69th in passing offense right now, and Nice is the capital of the French department of Alpes-Maritimes on the southern coast of that august nation.
9. Texas A&M
A 24-13 victory over the Gamecocks is fine, because every game involving South Carolina is designed to come down to a score like 24-13. South Carolina’s always the 13 here, btw.
Creeping into the Top Whatever with another casual victory, this time a 35-21 win over Georgia Tech. Miami’s schedule will strengthen somewhat after a visit from Florida State this week, though it should be pointed out that a win over Florida State is different than a win over Georgia Tech. Tech actually has an ACC victory.
We’re past Oct. 1, and Florida State is 0-2 in the ACC. Did I just list Miami to remind everyone of this? Yes. Florida State could soon be 0-3 in the ACC.
- Baylor. I dunno. Honestly no one knows what to do with Baylor for a lot of reasons, but narrowly beating Iowa State 45-42 doesn’t prove much.
- West Virginia. Technically undefeated, but it’s not been pretty or compelling, and a narrow victory over a middling K-State doesn’t excite anyone. (Especially after Stanford’s disastrous weekend downgraded KSU.)
- Nebraska. A 31-16 win over Illinois means a lot less when you’re reminded that Illinois was leading going into the fourth quarter.
- Wisconsin. A one-loss team worthy of consideration that I will sideline for this week, solely for being so, so brutal to watch.
- North Carolina. Held out because they lost to a not-real-good Georgia, and also because beating Florida State might not have much intrinsic value.
- Western Michigan. On its way to becoming the Kings of Directional Michigan after a rivalry win over Central Michigan. Also on its way to a coaching search in 2017 when P.J. Fleck is hired away.