It’s one of those Saturdays where even a quadruple-screen setup isn’t enough to keep track of all of the college football fun. As Mike Golic, Jr. so eloquently put it three weekends ago, CFB is “full-blown illegal black market drugs today.” In one of the most fun overall seasons in recent memory, today’s noon slot provided some top-flight entertainment across the board. Here are some of the highlights from the early games.
On the big TV: Michigan-MSU, the highest-level of play and the highest stakes today. The Top 10 teams seemed pretty evenly matched, but the early turnover margin proved tough on Sparty, with two first quarter interceptions that the Wolverines were able to translate into scores. Michigan’s offensive line was giving McNamara plenty of time in the back to make some big plays. Michigan State received a couple of lucky calls toward the end of the first half — it looked like Michigan strip-sacked Payton Thorne to force a fumble and score, but the ruling was overturned and Michigan settled for driving downfield for a field goal, and Heisman hopeful Kenneth Walker III dropped the ball juuuuust as he crossed the goal line, but they kept the touchdown call.
It seemed like the Wolverines had put it away with a 16-point lead, but a failed fake punt and a pair of two-point conversions from Michigan State later, the momentum had shifted. McCarthy got lucky when his fumble was accidentally kicked out of bounds, and was less lucky on the next drive when a handoff miscommunication gave Sparty the ball back and allowed Walker to run in his — count ‘em — FIFTH touchdown of the day on the ensuing drive. With rain pouring down in East Lansing, MSU cut Michigan’s undefeated run short with a one-handed interception to end the game.
Every expectation for this in-state, in-conference, in-Top 10 rivalry game was met. Michigan looked very prepared on both sides of the ball, but that home field advantage and some very timely turnovers made all the difference in what will surely go down as an instant classic for that State Up North, and yet another nightmare that will keep Jim Harbaugh up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat thinking about that handoff miscommunication in the fourth.
On Laptop #1: The one-time in-the-discussion-for-playoffs Iowa Hawkeyes have been on a downhill run since getting stomped on by Purdue. Iowa fumbled behind their own 10-yard line, somehow held Wisconsin to no score and a turnover on downs, and promptly fumbled again behind their own 5-yard line. The Badgers weren’t passing that one up again. And then — a muffed kickoff return! That Wisconsin recovered! It’s like Iowa wouldn’t even give itself a chance, and this very mediocre Wisconsin team was suddenly showing out.
This was a dominating win for the Badgers, as QB Graham Mertz managed not to turn it over and Wisconsin’s defense stepped it up big time despite several injuries on the Badgers’ side of the ball, including a tight end needing an ambulance to get off the field at one point. By the mid-fourth quarter, though, an Iowa drive downfield was so meaningless that the commentating crew was literally ranking their favorite Halloween candies (Reese’s were at the top, though there was some debate over peanut butter cups vs Reese’s Pieces, as well as about the pronunciation of Reese’s Pieces). Quote of the game: “Anyone who says Sour Patch Kids is a top five candy, delete their number from your phone.”
The game finished 27-7 Wisconsin, as the Big Ten destructs from within so that Ohio State can go to the playoffs yet again.
On Laptop #2: Texas suffered another oh-so-close heartbreaker — this time against Baylor. Oh how I love you, Big 12 football — the conference where the phrase “it ain’t over til it’s over” lives on in vivid truth every weekend. This was a fun one to watch, despite a slightly lower score than we’re used to seeing out of the conference. Baylor relied pretty heavily on their run game today, gaining 202 yards on the ground. Both teams turned the ball over twice throughout the first half.
Texas kicker Cameron Dicker ran a bizarrely timed fake punt on 4th-and-11 in the fourth quarter that was genuinely comical as he barely made it past the line of scrimmage before being brought down. (Two fake punts in one noon slot! They’re spoiling us!) Baylor went up ten points with eight minutes left in the game, but you never count the Texas offense out. They managed a field goal and even a big stop in three downs to get the ball back, but they couldn’t find another touchdown after blowing a double-digit lead (again).
The Longhorns are a first half team, which, in the Big 12, is not the half that you want to excel in. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say they’re very much NOT a second half team. They’ll face another ranked opponent in Iowa State next weekend. The Bears finished with a 31-24 victory today.
On phone screen: Cincinnati at Tulane. It’s ugly, it’s not highly-attended, it’s absolute CFB perfection. The 1-5 Green Wave managed a diverse scoring portfolio in the first half with a safety, a touchdown, and a field goal following a late-second quarter interception, going into the half 14-12 against the first Group of 5 team to ever really make a legitimate playoff campaign. If this was the way Cincinnati was going to go down, it would have been the funniest thing I’d ever seen, but alas, an almost-but-not-quite 3rd-and-19 conversion from Tulane and a big interception in the fourth quarter from Cincinnati helped the Bearcats keep their winning streak alive and finish the game 31-12.
The highlight of the game, unexpectedly, was a 300-lb. freshman offensive lineman recovering what would have been a Tulane fumble and proceeding to gain seven yards before fumbling it himself — it rolled out of bounds and remained Tulane’s ball, and provided us with that special hilarity that only CFB can bring.
Not on a screen because I don’t have ACC Network: I looked at that Miami-Pitt matchup this morning and thought to myself, that’s one I don’t have to watch. The Pitt QB is in Heisman talks, they beat Clemson last weekend, and the U has been getting thrown around by just about every opponent they’ve faced, in or out of conference. So you can imagine my surprise when a mid-second quarter check-in on the score when I saw the Canes up 31-17.
Pickett tied it up for Pitt with about five minutes left in the third, but Miami pulled it out to win, 38-34. I wish I could tell you how it happened but alas, there were way bigger fish to watch fry today.