November is to football as March is to basketball. With conference championship chases in full bloom, and the College Football Playoff landscape beginning to take shape, games this time of year resemble the Madness of the hardwood come spring.
Consider the Novembers of the 2010s:
Down 24-0 in the second quarter, Cam Newton wills Auburn to “The Camback.” The Tigers’ 28-27 win in the Iron Bowl elevated them to the SEC Championship Game, and then the BCS Championship.
Lee Corso kicked off a wall-to-wall absurd day of action, unofficially known as Fuck It Saturday, when he dropped an F-bomb during his College Gameday headgear pick.
Robert Griffin III took the same attitude into Baylor’s 45-38 upset of Oklahoma, tallying 479 yards passing and four touchdowns to solidify his Heisman Trophy candidacy. The weekend kicked off in Big 12 Country with Iowa State stunning Oklahoma State in Ames on Friday, ostensibly denying the Cowboys a shot at the BCS Championship. That opportunity instead went to Alabama, which lost at LSU in November that year in a game that provided the precursor for anti-SEC sentiment.
Alabama backdoored its way into another BCS Championship opportunity the next season, losing to Texas A&M in the game that made Johnny Manziel a college football legend.
#FunFact: Both of Alabama’s 2011 and 2012 November losses this decade came on Saturdays when I was in Tucson for University of Arizona Homecoming.
Despite John Q. Football running circles around the Crimson Tide, Stanford’s defensive game plan for Oregon, and Baylor’s offensive bludgeoning of Kansas State, provided the necessary mayhem to open the door for Nick Saban to claim his third national championship at Alabama.
Kick. Freakin’. Six.
For as fondly (and rightly so) as this play is remembered, it sometimes obscures Auburn’s equally ridiculous, heart-stopping win over Georgia earlier that same November.
Melvin Gordon and Samaje Perine set FBS single-game rushing records in consecutive weeks.
November provided plenty of chaos in the second season of the College Football Playoff, with Oregon beating Stanford by two points on The Farm; the Big 12 eliminating Playoff contenders in round-robin defeats of Oklahoma State over TCU and Oklahoma over Baylor; and Stanford exacting some measure of revenge for its Playoff ouster by beating Notre Dame in the final seconds, denying the Fighting Irish a bid.
Harbaugh Mania hit its first icy patch on a cold November night against Iowa last season. The Hawkeyes’ 14-13 upset of the Wolverines kept them out of the College Football Playoff picture; five nights later, Houston introduced America — and Lamar Jackson — to a young man named Ed Oliver.
November 2017 has plenty of madness in store for us, and the month’s first weekend is perfectly designed to provide exactly that.
Last Week: 4-2, 3-3 ATS
Overall: 39-26, 38-24 (note: FCS games previewed early in the season had no lines)
SATURDAY’S SIX-PACK: Stone Ruination 2.0
Double IPAs are not up everyone’s alley. However, this hoppy Stone-produced DIPA feels perfect for the dipping temperatures; it’s aptly named for a college football weekend sure to ruin some College Football Playoff contenders’ aspirations; and, with the end of Daylight Savings Time Sunday morning and an extra hour of sleep, the higher ABV is less of an issue. Cheers!
No. 7 PENN STATE at No. 24 MICHIGAN STATE
Kickoff: Noon ET/9 a.m. PT
Line: Penn State -9.5
Penn State finishes off a critical, three-game stretch with an intriguing road tilt. The Nittany Lions looked impressive against both Michigan and Ohio State despite the 1-1 record, and Saquon Barkley likely ran away with the Heisman Trophy all of one play into last week’s Ohio State contest. Nevertheless, Ohio State picking up the head-to-head greatly complicates Penn State’s path to the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff.
A loss at Michigan State would effectively eliminate Penn State from the conversation.
That back-against-the-wall feeling, plus the added edge from losing a heartbreaker, could either boost Penn State or negatively impact the Lions. James Franklin certainly brings the more talented team into East Lansing, but Mark Dantonio has made a career out of his teams overachieving in big moments such as this. With Sparty allowing just 2.83 yards per carry, sledding could be tough for Barkley.
Michigan State’s coming off its own heartbreaking loss to Northwestern, which got a stunning performance out of quarterback Clayton Thorson to compensate for the Wildcats’ inability to run on the Spartans. Thorson completed 34-of-50 pass attempts with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Trace McSorley needs a similar outing. Look for Barkley to make his impact as a pass-catcher rather than ball-carrier Saturday against Sparty.
Michigan State’s well-coached and should keep it close, but the Spartans lack the offensive punch necessary to capitalize on any opportunities the defense might present.
PREDICTION: PENN STATE 28, MICHIGAN STATE 17
No. 4 CLEMSON at No. 20 NC STATE
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
Line: Clemson -8.5
NC State was almost assuredly eliminated from Playoff contention with a loss last week at Notre Dame, but the Wolfpack remain pace-setters in the uber-deep ACC Atlantic. They’re undefeated in conference play, with Clemson one game back after its Friday The 13th upset loss at Syracuse.
NC State had the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers on the ropes last October in Death Valley, but a missed field-goal attempt with zeroes on the clock in regulation brought overtime and a Clemson win. Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com wrote an excellent examination of Kyle Bambard’s bounce-back from that day.
Notre Dame stated its Playoff case emphatically against the Pack a weekend ago, and Dave Doeren’s bunch is now up against a program that has been to the final four twice. Playing at home with first place in the Atlantic at stake, here’s the moment for NC State to take that all-important next step. The Pack’s talented defense has the manpower necessary to do just that.
Since putting up 31 points in a surprisingly lopsided win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 30, Clemson has yet to reach 30 points. The Tigers faced good defenses in Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, and Kelly Bryant was injured early at Syracuse, but none of the three have as much defensive talent up front as NC State. Playing off the energy of the home crowd, expect State to emulate the aggressive blitzing game plan Syracuse employed in order to get Bradley Chubb loose.
After last week’s flat performance, Ryan Finley and Wolfpack have a prime opportunity for redemption.
PREDICTION: NC STATE 27, CLEMSON 21
No. 21 STANFORD at No. 25 WASHINGTON STATE
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
Line: Washington State -1
Mike Leach made an unusual decision last week at Arizona, replacing senior quarterback Luke Falk in the second quarter and letting Tyler Hilinski run the show in the Cougars’ Playoff-eliminating loss to the Fightin’ Khalil Tates. On Tuesday, Leach was emphatic Falk is starting in another key Pac-12 showdown, this time against Stanford.
Falk’s been excellent against the Cardinal the past two seasons, last year throwing four touchdown passes in a Cougars win, and two touchdowns in the Halloween night classic of 2015. Still, I’m often leery of a team’s forecast once a quarterback has been benched for performance.
Despite a bad case of offensive anemia with Bryce Love on the shelf last week at Oregon State, the Stanford defense has started to play…well, like a Stanford defense. Harrison Phillips is having a monster season for the Cardinal. With a veteran Washington State offensive line having some struggles this season, Phillips and Co. should be able to generate some pressure to force turnovers — and turnovers have been an albatross for the Cougars of late.
Key for Stanford is Love’s return. Head coach David Shaw said he wasn’t practicing as of Tuesday, but remained a game-time decision. If he’s back in the lineup, the run-stopping woes that vexed Washington State at Arizona a week ago will return
PREDICTION: STANFORD 28, WASHINGTON STATE 24
No. 5 OKLAHOMA at No. 11 OKLAHOMA STATE
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT
Line: Oklahoma State -1.5
Forget Madness: November is Bedlam!
It’s a crime that the Big 12 initiated a completely pointless (and what could prove to be detrimental) conference championship game, as Bedlam deserves proper placement during Rivalry Week. With the very real risk of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State playing on back-to-back weeks, Bedlam had to be moved. I guess the prospect of a needless rematch five weeks later is more appealing. Whatever.
Compounding the sheer idiocy, video-pivoting Fox Sports is airing Bedlam on FS1 instead of the national network. Why does it feel as though there’s a concerted effort to sabotage the Big 12’s Playoff prospects?
Despite the all-around mockery that is a Nov. 4 Bedlam, this has the makings of a classic. Oklahoma sits just outside of the Magic Number Four after the first College Football Playoff rankings. Oklahoma State lacks that one, sexy win necessary to really get into the conversation, but the Pokes are set up nicely in November with a date against Iowa State looming. First, Roadhouse Mike Gundy’s ‘Boys must handle Oklahoma before any Playoff conversation can start.
Oklahoma State got pulled into a rock fight in its win over Texas, but recovered nicely in a thoroughly dominant performance at West Virginia. Justice Hill ripping off more than 7 yards per carry and scoring touchdowns in Morgantown provided a potent combo punch to complement Mason Rudolph. Hill sustained an injury, but should be in action for Bedlam.
With Mike Stoops’ defense struggling for Oklahoma — the Sooners gave up 38 and 35 to Iowa State and Kansas State last month — the Sooners could be riping for the picking.
Baker Mayfield can and will keep Oklahoma in it until the end, but Oklahoma State’s weapons should overwhelm the Oklahoma defense.
PREDICTION: OKLAHOMA STATE 42, OKLAHOMA 38
No. 13 VIRGINIA TECH at No. 10 MIAMI
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT
Line: Virginia Tech -1
Miami needed two dramatic finishes and held on in back-to-back nail-biters to preserve a perfect start to the season. Those wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina were over teams with 20 combined losses. There’s a reason The U isn’t more prominently factored into the Playoff discussion.
Were Miami to build a Playoff case by season’s end, it would certainly be credible. The Hurricanes have a date with Notre Dame still to come, but not before welcoming one-loss Virginia Tech to town. The Hokies loom with the possibility to make a surprise Playoff push, so long as they win out. Since losing to Clemson on Sept. 30, Virginia Tech has been absolutely dominant — the exact opposite of Miami — holding its last three opponents to 20 points combined.
That blending of Bud Foster’s always stellar defense with the breakout star play of quarterback Josh Jackson has Virginia Tech angling for a repeat ACC Coastal title. A win Saturday over The U wouldn’t guarantee the Hokies a return to the ACC Championship Game — but it’s awfully close.
PREDICTION: VIRGINIA TECH 31, MIAMI 21
No. 22 ARIZONA at No. 17 USC
Kickoff: 10:45 p.m. ET/7:45 p.m. PT
Line: USC -7
Few, if any developments of this college football season have been quite as remarkable as the play of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate. Third in the nation in rushing after just four games, Tate’s ignited the Arizona offense to a degree never reached in Rich Rodriguez’s tenure. As a result the Wildcats are ranked in the Top 25, bowl eligible and playing for a Pac-12 championship. Remarkable after UA finished last season a dismal 3-9.
Despite the winning streak, Arizona’s playing with house money. This is a young team both on offense and defense. Tate’s a sophomore, as is running back J.J. Taylor. Freshmen Kylan Wilborn and Tony Fields have been catalysts for a tremendous turnaround in defensive production. Anything more Arizona achieves in this final stretch of the season is really gravy, with the outlook for 2018 being incredibly bright.
USC returns home after two road games, one awful and one excellent, playing with as much pressure as any team in college football. While the Playoff dream has likely slipped away, the Trojans can salvage the high expectations laid in front of them with a Pac-12 title. It would be the program’s first in nine years.
Concerning for USC, which is unbeaten at the Coliseum under head coach Clay Helton, is that Arizona’s offensive matchup is quite similar to that of Notre Dame. The Wildcats’ ability to run both with the quarterback and a stable of running backs presents challenges to a defense that was gashed by Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams just two weeks ago — and that was with Midseason AP All-American Christian Rector in the lineup. He’s out on Saturday.
Still, the Sam Darnold of 2016 showed up in a first-place showdown with Arizona State last weekend. The emergence of Tyler Vaughns to complement Deontay Burnett gives the Trojans two game-changing play-makers at wide receiver, while both Steven Mitchell and Michael Pittman Jr. have shown flashes in recent weeks. Ronald Jones II is coming off a 200-plus-yard game, as well.
Arizona and USC were picked to finish one and two in the Pac-12 basketball race; seems fitting to get a jump-start on that rivalry now that we’re in November. Expect a high-scoring chase with the team holding final possession scoring the win.
PREDICTION: USC 42, Arizona 38