Four Downs: Most Extreme College Football Playoff Elimination Challenge

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Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, the early 2000s, Americanized version of Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle, ended each episode with a team of competitors cheering in unison:

Don’t. Get. Eliminated!

Heady advice when applied to pursuit of the College Football Playoff, but for all but four of 130 teams, a giant foam boulder inevitably knocks you into the water below. On the final Saturday of October, a new crop of College Football Playoff hopefuls joined the growing list of the eliminated.

For more, let’s go to The Open Man Elimination Correspondent, Guy LeDouche.

  • Arizona won its fourth straight since Khalil Tate took over as quarterback, routing Washington State, 58-37.
  • Notre Dame took a fellow College Football Playoff hopeful to the woodshed for a second straight week, solidifying its own Playoff case while almost assuredly eliminating NC State from contention.
  • Michigan State — which had only lost previously to Notre Dame, another notch in the Irish’s impressive Playoff resume — lost in an overtime heartbreaker to Northwestern.
  • USF fell from the ranks of the unbeaten in a 28-24 loss to Houston. That leaves the Bulls’ War of I-4 rival UCF as the only remaining Group of Five contender for a College Football Playoff berth.
  • While not necessarily eliminated, Penn State falling to Ohio State in an instant classic (more on that to come) complicates the Nittany Lions’ path dramatically.
  • Iowa State’s sudden surge continues, as Matt Campbell’s Cyclones bested TCU in a defensive clinic. The Horned Frogs aren’t eliminated at this juncture, but they embark on the most arduous part of their schedule without a safety net.

On the topic of elimination, the College Football Playoff has effectively eliminated my own skepticism that the tournament would damage the significance and drama of the sport’s regular season. On the contrary, weekends such as this exhibit how the College Football Playoff has made autumn Saturdays akin to basketball’s NCAA Tournament.

The madness moves into November. Of the remaining hopefuls, Notre Dame and Miami face; Bedlam takes on new meaning in the Big 12, and should Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State, it must contend with TCU; undefeated Wisconsin has a clear path to Indianapolis where a one-loss Ohio State or Penn State awaits; and Alabama and Georgia are on a collision course for Atlanta.

Championship football has arrived. To those with College Football Playoff aspirations still standing, my advice to you?

Don’t. Get. Eliminated!

Now, onto the sometimes imitated but never duplicated Four Downs.

FIRST DOWN: Ohio State-Penn State, A Game for the Ages

College football provides jaw-dropping finishes on a weekly basis, but late-game excitement can sometimes be the cologne for some putrid play. Ohio State’s comeback win over Penn State was a truly excellent game.

Star players made crucial plays in critical moments, from the first score…

…to the last.

Penn State’s been plenty impressive through its slate to this juncture, won the Big Ten a season ago with largely the same roster, and had the Rose Bowl in its grasp before a fourth quarter similar to Saturday’s. Despite all that, I had my reservations about the Nittany Lions’ national championship bonafides coming into Ohio State.

I came away more impressed with Penn State in defeat than through any of the Nittany Lions’ preceding victories. They put up points on an outstanding defense and controlled a loaded offense for the better part of three quarters in a hostile environment.

Arguably, no team has played a better 45 minutes than Penn State did on Saturday. In the same vein, one could contend no squad has put together a more impressive 15 minutes than Ohio State in that fourth quarter.

J.T. Barrett’s performance in the fourth quarter was the stuff of college football legend; a veteran quarterback dismissed earlier in his career, delivering his best performance of his career with his back against the wall.

95 yards rushing, 328 passing, almost as many touchdowns (4) as incompletions (6), and I can only assume with a perfect 13-of-13 line in the fourth quarter, Barrett read my Friday the 13th themed Saturday Six-Pack preview for Ohio State-Penn State.

J.T. Barrett may not be Jason Voorhees, but he may well have snatched both first place in the Big Ten East from Penn State, as well as the Heisman from Saquon Barkley.

SECOND DOWN: Kindred Spirits Wisconsin and Miami

Wisconsin and Miami are College Football Playoff contenders by virtue of their unbeaten records. Should one or both navigate November unscathed and win their respective conference championship games, there’s no doubt they’re bound for the College Football Playoff.

Outside of their locker rooms, though, does anyone envision Miami winning the ACC or Wisconsin claiming the Big Ten?

Jonathan Taylor has been nothing short of stellar in his debut season for the Badgers, though with only 73 yards against Illinois Saturday, Wisconsin’s shortcomings in the passing game were magnified.

Miami continued its trend of winning single-score decisions, 4-for-4 in October after Saturday’s 24-19 defeat of a dreadful North Carolina bunch. Beating Georgia Tech on the last play? Understandable. Going to the wire with Florida State? Well…not so good in retrospect. But the Heels?

Unlike Wisconsin, which will likely go the entire regular season without facing a Top 25 opponent, The U ‘s College Football Playoff worthiness will be tested in November — right out of the gate, in fact, with one-loss Virginia Tech looming next week in Miami.

THIRD DOWN: A Big Day for Big Men

If you dig linemen making plays with the ball, this Saturday was your Christmas just a few days before Halloween.

What program more apropos to kickoff a celebration of linemen than Wisconsin?

Utah isn’t a bad candidate, though.

Bucknell, which makes its second highlight-reel play for Four Downs in as many weeks, gets bonus points for showing the gracefulness with which a lineman can make a play on the ball. Abdullah Anderson looks like a wide receiver on this play for the Bison.

But without question, the most impressive lineman performance on the ball in a weekend loaded with such plays came courtesy of Saint Francis’ Louie Gartner. That’s a defensive lineman taking an interception the length of the field for a touchdown.

FOURTH DOWN: Disprove the Doubters

Iowa State’s ascension to the Top 25 last week after an impressive win at Texas Tech had a quaint feeling to it, for lack of a better term. Huh, Iowa State. That’s nice. A one-week stopover before one of the usual suspects or another one-and-doner took over that spot.

However, the Cyclones’ 14-7 win over No. 4 TCU proved beyond all doubt that Matt Campbell has built a winner in Ames. Iowa State can score, as its upset of Oklahoma demonstrated. The Cyclones can defend, which Saturday’s victory over TCU exhibited.

The first Top 25 of November, and the initial College Football Playoff rankings, will feature Iowa State prominently. And the Cyclones are likely to have unexpected company.

Arizona’s 21-point rout of Washington State marked an 83-point turnaround against the Cougars compared to a season. Eighty-three points. Washington State smashed Arizona, 69-7, the low point of a brutal 2016 campaign.

Coming off their last-placed finish in the Pac-12 South a season ago, the Wildcats was slotted to finish there again before 2017. They’ll head into November likely ranked in the Top 25.

Like Arizona, South Carolina moved to 6-2 Saturday with its win over Vanderbilt — not an impressive victory on its own, but the Gamecocks’ Week 1 defeat of NC State was the precursor to Notre Dame knocking the Wolfpack out of Playoff contention Saturday.

Teams overachieving, defying expectations to stun College Football Playoff hopefuls or contend for conference championships makes this sport so much fun. College football is three months of unpredictably, ever year.

Where else can a former walk-on bounced from a program for another player and later deemed a traitor become a Heisman Trophy front-runner?