College basketball has March Madness; college football has November Nuttiness. And buddy, is it ever in full effect.
The College Football Playoff and Heisman Trophy races were both thrown into flux on a chaotic first week of the college football campaign’s final full month. Welcome to Four Downs, and welcome to a month of pure college football anarchy.
November Nuttiness, people. Hashtag it. Commit it to memory. Catch it!
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 7, 2015
— Maryland on BTN (@MarylandOnBTN) November 7, 2015
— UMGRIZZLIES (@UMGRIZZLIES) November 8, 2015
— Sun Belt Conference (@SunBelt) November 7, 2015
FIRST DOWN: A Bad Week to Be Undefeated
A Week 10 that opened with Northern Illinois rolling into the Glass Bowl and beating previously undefeated Toledo went fully bananas on Saturday.
Memphis? Beaten at home by Navy.
Michigan State? Victim of some bad officiating, if not the cosmos balancing its karmic register. Bear in mind, Sparty was only undefeated as a result of one of the most bizarre finishes in college football history at Michigan. Conversely, Nebraska was on the wrong end of some wild endings against BYU, Miami and Northwestern.
LSU? Dominated by Alabama, which is now in control of its fate in the SEC West — which means it’s in control of a spot for the College Football Playoff. More on that in a moment.
TCU? Blown out by fellow unbeaten Oklahoma State, which goes from Big 12 afterthought to one of the conference’s two best hopes for the Playoff. The other, Baylor, only escaped the bug that spread among unbeaten teams like a zombie plague because Kansas State’s fourth-quarter rally stalled on a ill-timed trick-play call.
That’s five undefeated teams handed their first losses of the season in the same week, which promises a considerable shake-up to Tuesday’s Playoff ranking. The remaining squads with perfect marks: defending national champion Ohio State and Big Ten counterpart Iowa; aforementioned Oklahoma State and Baylor in the Big 12; Houston, the last one standing among the Group of Five; and No. 1 Clemson.
SECOND DOWN: Clemson Is A Worthy No. 1
Of the above named undefeateds, Ohio State, Houston, Baylor, Iowa and Clemson all survived stiff challenges. Of that group, only Clemson beat a ranked opponent.
Moreover, the Tigers slayed a dragon of sorts. Florida State beat Clemson in each of the teams’ previous three meetings, which served as stepping stones to Seminole ACC championships.
Clemson booking its first ACC Championship Game since 2011 against its most troubling rival is poetic, in a way. The Tigers have become unfairly synonymous with a certain brand of losing, the name of which I won’t mention here for far of Dabo Swinney tracking me down and pie-driving me onto concrete.
A loss at home may have invoked the ugliest of Clemson stereotypes, even if Florida State came in ranked No. 16 and boasting three straight conference tiles. And just two Seminole possessions in, it certainly seemed as though Clemson was headed for heartache.
Kudos to the Clemson defense, as I wrote in my Sports On Earth column. The Tigers played like a top-ranked team faced with a quality opponent Saturday.
THIRD DOWN: Where to Rank Oklahoma State?
Oklahoma State checked in ranked last among undefeated Power Five teams in the initial College Football Playoff poll at No. 14. Given the Cowboys’ schedule was weak through the first half, the committee’s luke-warm reception was to be expected.
However, after picking apart TCU, the Playoff committee is faced with a conundrum.
Oklahoma State boasts a better top win than one-loss Notre Dame, Utah or Stanford, all of which checked in ahead of the Cowboys. An unblemished overall record with the most impressive single victory should presumably be sufficient to leap-frog the three aforementioned teams. The Cowboys will also bypass TCU.
Add the losses of Michigan State, Memphis and LSU, all of which were ranked ahead of Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys have a lot of upward mobility.
But how much? Should Oklahoma State bypass fellow undefeated Iowa, which had one of its best wins — a field goal margin against Pitt — sullied by a blowout vs. Notre Dame?
How about Florida? While Alabama’s home loss to Ole Miss looks doubly bad after Week 10, both because Memphis lost at home to Navy and Ole Miss lost at home to Arkansas, the win over LSU ensures the Crimson Tide stay ahead of the Cowboys. However, Oklahoma State has a strong case to rank ahead of the SEC East champion Gators.
Florida’s marquee win took the same hit as Alabama’s loss, and the Gators’ loss (LSU) loses some of its luster.
Don’t hold your breath. I anticipate Alabama and Florida being two one-loss teams ranked ahead of Oklahoma State, along with Notre Dame. The Cowboys should jump Stanford, however, as well as the Cardinal’s Pac-12 counterpart, Utah.
The most interesting one is Baylor, Oklahoma State’s new rival atop the Big 12. Before this week’s visit to Manhattan, Kansas, Baylor was steamrolling through its competition. However, the Bears have yet to play an opponent the caliber of TCU.
I see Oklahoma State’s ceiling as high as No. 5 in Tuesday’s new rankings, but as low as No. 9. Remaining games against Baylor and Oklahoma ensure the Cowboys will go the Playoff with a perfect record, however.
FOURTH DOWN: Nick Saban Is Mr. November
Alabama seemingly does this every November under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide lose at some point, falling behind in either the SEC or national championship picture.
In 2011, it was the home loss to LSU. The following year, it was another home loss against Texas A&M. Last season, it was the October defeat at Ole Miss.
This year’s edition saw Alabama suffer an early-season loss at home to Ole Miss, which gave the Rebels control of the SEC West heading into November, despite losses to Florida and Memphis.
Alabama could have run the table, but losing the SEC West to a team with two losses like Ole Miss would have greatly complicated the Tide’s Playoff chances.
Well, it’s not so complicated anymore.
Alabama’s formula for inclusion in the College Football Playoff now is about as simple as it gets. Win, and the Tide is in.
Ole Miss lost control of the SEC West on a fourth-and-25 lateral play against Arkansas, followed by a face-mask penalty on an otherwise victory-sealing sack on the Razorbacks’ two-point conversion attempt.
This is how Arkansas crazily converted 4th and 25 in OT. What a lateral! pic.twitter.com/ylALEACWe8
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 8, 2015
If that’s not indicative of Nick Saban possessing some kind of November voodoo, might I also posit that in 2011, his Crimson Tide would not have played for the BCS Championship had Oklahoma State not lost a late November game to perennial Big 12 basement dweller Iowa State.
Ditto 2012, when the Crimson Tide’s late-November bye week game against an FCS opponent coincided with Oregon and Kansas State losing conference games.