I’ve long believed that what separated college football from all other sports was the sheer insanity that can arise, week-to-week.
Two weeks ago, it was floated – and believed by many – that Alabama’s monopoly over the sport had run its course; that Nick Saban’s drive was gone; that Lane Kiffin’s poisonous personality had ripped apart the program; that, above all, the Tide’s dynasty was over.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to college football, where nothing is ever as clear as it seems.
‘Bama strolled into Athens, Ga., and promptly shred all of its incorrect labels, beating Georgia, and their forever-a-bridesmaid coach, 38-10.
It wasn’t that close…just like ‘Bama’s predicted demise.
It was a wild day across the nation: Florida is back. The Big Ten's best team may reside in the state of Michigan…but not the one you're thinking of. TCU-Baylor will be the showdown of the year in the Big 12, but is anyone capable of giving them a challenge beforehand?
The Pac-12 has a familiar villain (welcome back, Stanford) and a familiar failure (hey, there, UCLA…). And don’t get me started on the SEC, where it appears as many as four teams (Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU) could win the national championship, and no one would blink an eye.
Then there’s Clemson, who for years carried the burden of a team that couldn’t win the big one, holding off a hard-charging Notre Dame team, and firmly entrenching themselves as playoff contenders.
But for all of the chaos and fun yesterday was, an ugly truth revealed itself, as well.
As much as he deserves to stick around, there’s no way Charlie Strong survives this season as the Texas Longhorns head coach. With a new AD on the way, and an embarrassing, program-crushing loss to TCU, in which the 50-7 score was a gift from Gary Patterson (it was 30-0 very early, with little sweat broken), the writing is on the wall.
You think Oregon fans are restless after a 3-2 start? Let me introduce you to Longhorn fan: deep pockets, deep passion, zero patience.
I’ll never be able to fully encapsulate the day that was. It was shape-shifting, with certain programs raising the bar (California!) and some left to answer serious questions (what happened, Tennessee?).
Despite all of the movement, there were only a handful of top-25 matchups. Here we go.
(12) Clemson 24 (6) Notre Dame 22
Nation, Deshaun Watson.
Deshaun Watson, Nation.
OK, now that intros are done, let’s talk about the most underrated player in the country. Don’t look at his stats (11-22, 97 yards, 2 TD)…that’s not the point. Watson, a true sophomore who missed much of last season with a knee injury, is the catalyst behind college footballs most dangerous playoff-crasher.
"This is what it's all about," head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. "It ain't always perfect. I told them, `Listen, we give you scholarships, we give you stipends and meals, we give you nice uniforms and a place to live. I can't give you guts. I can't give you heart.' ... Tonight it was BYOG, bring your own guts. They brought some guts and some heart and they never quit until the last play."
Watson added 93 yards rushing, including a 38-yards touchdown run, as Clemson – who faces one ranked team the rest of the season – sent a shockwave across the country, knocking an injury-depleted Fighting Irish squad back to reality, 24-22.
Notre Dame, who trailed 21-3 early in the fourth quarter, made a furious rally, but came up a two-point conversion short of a statement win – one that both teams were searching for.
(25) Florida 38 (3) Ole Miss 10
Well, that didn’t last long. No, I’m not talking about Mississippi’s seat at the big-boy table (although it was short).
I’m talking about Florida’s place in the second-tier, where it catnapped for Will Muschamp’s tenure. With one win, the Gators proved they are absolutely back, destroying the Rebels 38-10, just two weeks after Ole Miss shook-up – at the time – the SEC.
But just like that, Florida is atop the SEC East, a throne they sat upon for so long under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. Unlike those tenures, which were defined by Fun-‘n-Gun and Tim Tebow, new head coach Jim McElwain is utilizing a nasty, swarming defense as the calling card.
It’s working, as they held Ole Miss to just 328 yards of offense. Will Grier, the Gators freshman quarterback, was shockingly efficient, finishing 24-29 for 279 yards and four touchdowns.
"You don't downplay it," McElwain said. "That was a good football team we beat. That was really a good football team, and our guys took it to them."
And, just like that, announced their return to the top of the sport. Just where they belong.
(13) Alabama 38 (8) Georgia 10
No, I didn’t copy-and-paste scores from above – the same beatdown that took place at The Swamp happened between The Hedges in Georgia.
In monsoon-like conditions, Georgia – still seeking a win that will give coach Mark Richt the credit he deserves – seemingly had the table set for them.
A raucous crowd; a vulnerable Alabama squad; an efficient quarterback, and all-American running back.
Then, it was all washed away, figuratively and literally. It was a game that said more about Alabama, and the machine their program is, than Georgia -- who is building themselves as a Tide clone, but still not close in execution.
Derrick Henry rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown, and the Tide scored touchdowns in every way imaginable – including a blocked punt score, and a pick-six – on their way to a win that should send shivers across the conference: punched in the face, Alabama now looks more determined than ever to prove supremacy still runs through Tuscaloosa.
Arizona State 38 (7) UCLA 23
OK, ASU wasn’t ranked, not after two early season losses. But the Sun Devils, a trendy preseason pick to shake up the Pac-12, showed up when it mattered most, when their season was at a tipping point, seemingly ready to crash to the desert ground.
Backs against the wall, they proved those early projections may have been more accurate than we thought.
"We're used to this situation, unfortunately," said quarterback Mike Bercovici. "We've had some big losses, but what we do is we rebound."
A week after winning big in Arizona, UCLA looked lifeless for most of the game, falling behind big in the third quarter, before a late rally made the score more respectable – but just as pointless. It was another deflating loss for a program that carries as much talent as anyone, but year-after-year seems to falter just shy of its ultimate goal.
After this one, the Pac-12 South runs through Salt Lake City. Just like we all predicted, right?
Next week – just to show you how wild this season has been so far – Gameday will be at Utah-Cal.
Let that one sink in.
Just another reason you can never be sure in this sport.