2016’s hottest club is LETTING YOUR OPPONENT GET A 21-POINT LEAD. It’s got everything: horrified home crowds, the weight of an 11-year losing streak on its back, and blowing through all that to drop 38 points on one of the nation’s best defenses to win.
Tennessee did that against Florida in a watershed victory in the same season in which they struggled with Ohio (Bobcats, not State) and Appalachian State, and with a senior quarterback known more for his academic major — Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering — than his ability to win big games. Joshua Dobbs threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, but the most dangerous lead in football is so obviously a 21-point lead. Look at Ole Miss, which finally listened to this piece of wisdom after blowing two 21-point leads for losses and refused to let Georgia have hope by instead getting out to a solid 31-0 lead.
Back to Tennessee. It should be noted that a 31-point lead still would not have been enough for Florida to beat Tennessee. Also, lineman Derek Barnett cannot be blocked, and single-handedly ruined Florida’s blocking schemes. The Volunteers might be great, and no one wants to ruin Tennessee’s well-earned month of celebration by noting they still play in the SEC East, a snakepit of mediocrity capable of dragging you back into the bucket at any moment. Oh, and that they still have to play Alabama, a team they haven’t beat since 2006.
Then again, that’s only a streak of 10 years. Dobbs isn’t a history major. That’s a huge asset so far for Tennessee.
Tennessee is: A team whose 2016 has been a healthy exercise in disregarding the past. You can’t repeat mistakes if you don’t even remember them, and engineer Dobbs only seems concerned with downfield trajectories at the moment.
Legally, it might not have been possible to show the Badgers’ 30-6 win over Michigan State on any network but the Big Ten Network. I watched this game in bursts, flipping over from several other games, and every time it came on, the spectral vision of Woody Hayes appeared next to me on the couch, muttering about children with long hair and spread offenses, nodding approvingly at the TV.
Both teams are even on the stat sheet, really. The chief difference in a game played between the tackles and with little willingness to flinch on that brutal strategy was this: Wisconsin and Michigan State took turns punching each other in the liver until one of them dropped the ball or threw an interception.
Michigan State — and it feels so, so weird to type this after years of Mark Dantonio’s team being the more cromag team at all times — flinched first. They went to the air, they threw three interceptions, and the rest fell to field position, some futile thrashing by the Michigan State offense. Wisconsin won a classic game of Big Ten Staring Contest. Hayes’ ghost was thrilled and left popcorn all over my couch while mumbling that he was the one who fought Tojo in World War II.
Wisconsin is: The team I would least like to play if given a 30-point cap between both teams to split for the game’s total score.
Ran for 326 yards on Penn State, beat PSU 49-10, and only seemed to be troubled by the psychological trauma of occasionally having to get hit by a giant kicker.
I got hit by a nose tackle that can kick.— Jourdan Lewis (@JourdanJD) September 25, 2016
Michigan is: One of those teams where you can’t figure out how they beat teams so badly, just by looking at the box score. This is bad for everyone else, because it means UM’s a three-phase beast capable of staying in games even when one part misfires.
Oh, and that Colorado team they struggled with for a while last week? Upset Oregon in Eugene, 41-38. Jim Harbaugh’s teams are making other teams good by skin-to-skin contact, and their excellence is literally contagious. (Penn State by 30 next week over Minnesota, easy.)
4. Louisville/Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson only had 479 yards of offense (417 passing, 62 rushing) and seven TDs. I want to make a joke about him slipping, but he’s not, not even against an overmatched Marshall that shouldn’t feel bad because every team that plays Jackson on this Louisville team is an overmatched team.
Louisville is: The team I least want to play in a single-game scenario, because they have the best player in the nation.
Nick Saban honored his alma mater with a 48-0 procedural beating. The Tide did lose running back Damien Harris to injury, and no one should overlook that, or the deep stable of replacement talent behind him.
Alabama is: The other team I’d least like to play in any situation, because every time it appears they are slipping, they destroy the rest of their schedule and win a national title. This year’s narrative that is false until proven otherwise: “They can’t run anymore, and will struggle with a young QB!” Sure. Suuuuuuuuure.
Lapped Texas State multiple times in a 64-3 recovery workout. Their third-string QB, D’Eriq King, caught a TD, threw a TD, and returned a kickoff for a TD. Tom Herman wants him to go back to being a full-time quarterback the minute Greg Ward Jr. is done.
And you’re sure Herman is leaving, aren’t you? You know Houston has money, and is in Houston, where you’ll never have to leave the area code for talent? And that they might get in the Big 12, where everyone is scared witless of the idea?
Houston is: The team I least want to face on multiple weeks of rest and prep, because Herman doesn’t sleep and is in that pre-burnout phase of life, diagramming plays on the back of his eyelids.
Humiliated Georgia Tech, 26-7, in the game that could get Paul Johnson fired. That is high praise for Clemson’s defense, which didn’t limit the triple option so much as “stopped it seconds after the snap, and then threw it into traffic on the Connector.” The score isn’t indicative of how breezy this was, or how Deshaun Watson seems to be falling into something like a rhythm again with a 300-yard performance and two TDs.
Clemson is: The team I’d like to watch play Louisville, because I’d get to watch Watson and Jackson trade highlight-reel material for four quarters. Hey, look at that, they play this coming weekend. Who loves you? College football loves you.
8. Texas A&M
Defeated Arkansas for the fifth straight time, 45-24. This game was close until it wasn’t, a thing that happens when A&M’s superior speed applies game-breaking pressure.
The Aggie defensive line denied Arkansas — the gloriously fat beef children of Arkansas — in the red zone and helped the Razorbacks leave points off the board all over the place. Wide receiver Josh Reynolds cracked a crippling touchdown off the Razorbacks secondary in a fourth-quarter burst, and A&M’s skill players drew so much attention that left the field open for Trevor Knight to run. He had 157 yards on 10 rushes for two scores, and yes, he is still in the league.
All you need to know is that Arkansas put together a 19-play, 10-minute drive that got to the 1-yard line and failed to score. That’s the new thing for A&M. They can still sprint away from you laughing, but now they muscle you out of position first.
Texas A&M is: The team I’d least like to play if I’m Alabama. Has Knight played Alabama before? Someone please look this up for me. I’m curious, yet busy at the moment.
Beat UCLA on a last-minute TD by a score of 22-13. Never laugh at David Shaw punting. Shaw will punt from his opponent’s 24-yard line. He will punt in an empty parking lot at 3 a.m.
Shaw beholds beautiful newborns and has to restrain the urge to punt them, not because he is cruel, but because that is what Shaw does to the things he loves: punts them, then lets his defense cradle them until his offense can deliver them to safety.
So when Shaw — proud manager of an offensive line that plays mere inches off the ground —opted to punt on fourth-and-1 from the UCLA 39 with 4:40 left and trailing 13-9, you might have groaned. But Shaw is so conservative and so patient, it comes 180 degrees all the way around to a kind of insanity you have to respect. You sort of knew this was going to end with Shaw in a pair of sensible khakis talking about how great the other team was, looking at an undefeated record.
I mean the part about the line playing mere inches off the ground, by the way. Stanford’s strength coach emphasizes flexibility to an extent no other program does, which is why all their former players talk about foam-rolling and stretching while watching TV.
Stanford goalline formation is a sext from a very large man pic.twitter.com/dgMjcpMhzZ— Lunchbox (@alexgould17) October 4, 2015
Stanford is: The team I’d least like to play if the national title were decided by endurance bear crawling and selling stocks at the last second.
Mostly because of the hell-for-leather bravado displayed in refusing to settle for a field goal to go to overtime against USC. Instead, the Utes did everything you hope a team does when it plays without a shred of fear for how silly they might look, i.e., you winging plays down the field in Madden with reckless abandon.
For example, Utah:
- passed deep out of their own end zone, hoping to draw a flag;
- got said flag;
- converted two fourth-and-1 situations by running the ball, because they could have passed, but Utah hates you and wants you to feel bad about how you couldn’t defend a single yard on the ground, USC;
- Threw to the end zone despite being in field goal range and down 27-24, because the Utes know that even a wounded USC needs to be put out of its misery decisively. QB Troy Williams hit WR Tim Patrick for the winning score, and that’s how you convince USC it’s not USC anymore. It also wins you the game! Football is about multi-tasking.
They’re your charming, scrap-metal fighting robot of a Utah team. It hurts to play them, they hit stuff real hard, and they look sort of mediocre until the fourth quarter, when they get super mean.
Utah is: The team most likely to be pointed at by people who don’t like recruiting rankings, because “stars don’t matter when you’re a great team, blah blah blah.” Patrick, a two-star, caught that winning score over five-star Adoree Jackson. Every now and then, those guys are right. (Usually when talking about Utah.)
Could be higher after a 35-28 OT win over Arizona on the road.
It’s finally time to watch a Chris Petersen offense that can score consistently in tight situations again. Last year this would have been Arizona driving the ball all over the place and Washington responding with defense, but the Huskies of 2016 outgained Arizona, 512-475, and looked productive all night. They’re good, which is a fun thing to be able to say about Washington after years of false hope.
Note: Does Arizona have a wildly entertaining quarterback? Of course they do. Brandon Dawkins had over 300 yards of offense by himself, shrugged off a 300-pound defensive tackle on a late scramble, and nearly got Arizona past Washington. This is all anyone asks of you, Arizona. Run a Rich Rodriguez offense, keep us up until 2 a.m., and have a quarterback capable of dodging traffic on a busy freeway.
Washington is: The team with the most to prove over the next month in games East Coast sportswriters probably won’t watch enough of.
12. Ohio State
Wisely decided not to play football. Don’t get mad; they are still one of the two rosters in this country capable of being described as disgustingly talented.
The other is Alabama. This is probably our national title game, and probably was before the season ever started. Chill, do some deep stretches, and obliterate Rutgers this week to keep your fearsome national profile obvious, Buckeyes.
Ohio State is: The team I least want to play across a 10-game series of games that does not exist.
13. Arizona State
4-0 after they survived America’s most fearsome late night drunkards, Cal, in a 51-41 raiding of the liquor cabinet. I don’t know how good Arizona State is, but they’re good at playing teams with no defense and playing much better than they were supposed to in a rebuilding year.
Yes, listing them here is an excuse to share this clip.
[video] RB Kalen Ballage (Arizona State) saute par dessus un défenseur !https://t.co/juuqcWOw6d— The Blue Pennant (@thebluepennant) September 25, 2016
This space will be reserved for Kalen Ballage clips only from this point forward. Reminder: this ranking is made up.
- Nebraska? 4-0 and I still have no idea how good they are, so you’re right, angry Nebraska fan, it’s a travesty they didn’t make this ranking I just made up.
- Baylor? A win over Oklahoma State might not mean much this year, but you’re also 4-0 and still capable of scoring a zillion points. Still waiting for the Jim Grobe era to set in, though, and for you to start winning games by scores like 15-11.
- Navy’s undefeated! I mention this out of patriotism and respect for those who can still run the triple option UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE, GEORGIA TECH.
- Wake Forest is also undefeated. I don’t have the psychological reserves to consider what this means. We punt. We’re just punting on evaluating a 4-0 Wake Forest.
- West Virginia is 3-0. Please don’t tell anyone. They’ll notice it and ruin everything.
- So is Maryland. You didn’t see this, either. I’m gonna stop listing teams that will surely lose games before too long, because hope is the real enemy and despair a friend. YES, MY TEAM LOST THIS WEEK TO A HATED RIVAL. JOIN ME IN THIS DIVING BELL CALLED SORROW.