1. UCF. Still undefeated, still champs, can still go to Disney any time they want, haters.
Actually, this brings me to a terrifying point about Orlando and UCF: this exactly the city and team someone would have designed as an 8-year-old. UCF’s first shot at designing a mascot? Something an 8-year-old would make.
Their all-aluminum stadium that looks like an Lego Technic set and at one point included such childish oversights as “whoops, we forgot the water fountains?” Also clearly the work of an 8-year-old.
Being undefeated, yet unable to eat at the big kids’ table? Also a very Orlando thing, especially this year, when they could win the rest of their games and still not get any closer to the playoff because of their conference and schedule. But we got straight A’s! Yes, it’s third grade math, though, and Alabama is out here doing differential equations in their sleep.
That is not your fault, UCF. That’s just where you’re at in a very unfair world. Some consolation: no other team is both 20 minutes from Splash Mountain and in a community where you can pay traffic tickets in fruit snacks.
2. Clemson. Remember when Clemson won a close game at Texas A&M earlier this year? It was a 28-26 squeaker, definitive evidence of a lot of things people wanted to assume from one college football game.
For instance, after the Texas A&M game, Clemson’s starter was clearly Kelly Bryant and not upstart Trevor Lawrence, the Tiger secondary had serious issues, and Travis Etienne and the rest of the run game were going to struggle. A&M, meanwhile, was just two points away from joining the elite, and Jimbo Fisher’s $70 million guaranteed salary was already worth it.
It’s November now. Clemson’s run game has razed much of the ACC, averaging 265 yards a game and giving luxurious protection for Lawrence, the starting QB. The defense hasn’t allowed anything close to the yardage A&M earned in College Station that night and has only allowed one team to hit triple digits both rushing and passing in a single game. That was NC State, and Clemson won, 41-7.
Texas A&M just lost to Auburn, a team desperate to fire its coach with a gigantic buyout.
No one is getting anything from Clemson this year, not on the ground, not through the air, and not in turnovers or easy possessions from their offense. They move like a service academy on the ground, defend like an Alabama, and are grooming their next wunderkind QB in practice sessions everyone else calls “live conference games.” The ceiling for this team is theoretical, at an altitude high enough to require powerful telescopes to see.
Oh, and they’re not even close to that ceiling yet.
I dunno. That’s Alabama, the team so unchallenged, other teams are resorting to desperate measures like “flying helmet-first into the apparently adamantine testicles of the immortal quarterback.”
Tua Tagovailoa described the hit by LSU as “right in the goodies,” and he had to come out for a minute. He had a mediocre night, at least on the Tagovailoa curve: 344 yards total offense, two passing TDs, one rushing TD, and his first interception of the season, which still worked out nicely for the Tide.
It is terrifying how far Alabama has come since Nick Saban’s arrival, but especially terrifying when the quarterback position is taken into account. Alabama won a national title with glorified placeholders like Greg McElroy at the helm, then turned to the workmanlike A.J. McCarron to run a standard pro-style offense for another pair of titles.
Someone named Jacob Coker won a national championship? I think that happened, though if anyone says there was anything particularly memorable about Jacob Coker, they are either a.) lying or b.) talking to Jacob Coker.
The final pivot is the really mind-bending one. Alabama switched to what looked a lot like a spread run game, started a quarterback who was nothing like his predecessors in Jalen Hurts, and ran him to another shot at a national title before switching to the next coming of Football Jesus himself in Tagovailoa.
Switching styles of offense is one thing. It’s something teams don’t do much, much less without a head coaching change. But doing that in three or possibly four different variations over the course of a decade, with five or six differently styled players, all without losing momentum?
That’s something that would kill lesser regimes. It’s evidence that Alabama’s talent level is so absurd it can sustain decisions that have destroyed other teams. It’s also evidence that Saban, for all the jokes about how much he hates changing anything, is actually brilliant at managing change.
They’re all so good at it, in fact, that Tua’s worst night of the year ended up bottoming out somewhere around other starting QBs’ best. Play your best game, and you might see eye-to-eye with Alabama’s worst. GOOD LUCK.
4. Utah State. The Aggies are a combination of two things no one wants a piece of: overdue and over.
Utah State is overdue in the sense that injuries and bad luck limited their production in 2015 and 2016. Rollover points aren’t real, but they might be for Utah State, a team on an eight-game win streak in which they’ve averaged over 50 points a game and destroyed everything in their wake.
They’re over in the sense that they are literally over, beating the spread by 13 points a game in 2018.
Most of that is due to the players, but some credit should also go to offensive coordinator David Yost for his aggressive schemes, play calling, and hair.
Mostly his hair, tbh.
5. Michigan. The 127 Hours of teams. Play Michigan, and they’re going to take a limb and immobilize you. Not in a super flashy way, no, but brutally enough to let you know: you live out here now, and you’re not going anywhere.
Ultimately, to get away, your team will have to cut its arm off with a pocket knife. Only Notre Dame brought one this year, but fortunately, Brian Kelly regrows limbs like a starfish.
6. Iowa State. The Cyclones switched to freshman QB Brock Purdy after a loss to TCU on September 29th. Since then, Iowa State has upset Oklahoma State in Stillwater, dealt out one of the most lopsided ass-kickings of the year against West Virginia, and fended off a frenetic Texas Tech for a win.
They also beat Kansas, which was a team effort. We say that to differentiate the team win from Hakeem Butler getting KU’s coach fired with a single play. That was an individual effort, and Butler deserves credit for that.
Is it possible to burn someone so badly it gets their boss fired? The evidence here seems to speak for itself.
No one wants to play Iowa State right now, and no one should, because after years of joking about how playing in Ames is a recipe for disaster — without a lot of real evidence to back that up — that reality has arrived. Don’t go to Ames. There are no funny accidents out there anymore, just dark, sinister farm country, where good teams actually do go to die at the hands of a gifted freshman QB and the Big 12’s best scoring defense.