I struggled to find a place to start the Rundown this week since there wasn’t anything that interesting that happened this past weekend. Oh yeah..except one of the most insane finishes we’ll see in our lifetime. That Michigan State/Michigan finish is an all-timer and had everything you’d look for in an all-time type of finish: rivalry game, uniqueness, improbability, and context. If the game would have ended on a punt return touchdown or even a blocked punt it wouldn’t have been that crazy. We’ve seen those plays before. But a botched snap on the last play of the game? And the way the Spartans were able to take it to the house? As I watched the punter drop the snap I thought, “Well this is a disaster, but at least he can fall on it and Michigan State will still have to try a 50+ yard field goal or hail mary for the win.” Nope, the ball inexplicably floated sideways perfectly into the hands of a Spartans player with no Wolverine in sight. Then throw in the fact that both teams were ranked Top 10 with only one real challenge the rest of the season after Saturday. In 50 years when we’re watching TV in like 5D and kids are asking their parents (grandparents?) how we ever watched television like this, they’ll be showing replays of this finish.
The Michigan State-Michigan game overshadowed a dominant performance from Iowa in which they went into Evanston and beat Northwestern 40-10. On any other Saturday that win may have really put the Hawkeyes on the map, but they’ll still be flying under the radar more than normal. I think that’s fine, since I’m still not convinced they are that good and it’s hard to take any Big 10 West team seriously until we see what they do against Michigan State, Michigan, or Ohio State. And we won’t find that out anytime soon because Iowa avoided all three on the regular season schedule. So that matchup would happen in the Big 10 championship game, one that would have 2014 Ohio State-Wisconsin written all over it.
One team we don’t have to wonder if it’s any good is Stanford. That opening week loss to Northwestern seems like forever ago as the Cardinal have been a completely different team in the last month. Stanford housed UCLA 56-35 in a game that was never in doubt. They’ve scored at least 40 points in their last four games, which seems almost as improbable as the finish we saw in Ann Arbor. That should continue though with the emergence of do-it-all back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey torched the Bruins to the tune of 243 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to go alone with 122 kick return yards on just two opportunities. Oh, and this happened. The easy comparison for Stanford is last year’s Ohio State, who unexpectedly lost an early-season game only to roll the rest of the way undefeated. Stanford certainly isn’t as talented as that Buckeyes team (or this year’s for that matter) but the schedule sets them up for a similar run. At 5-1, the Cardinal only have to go on the road for two games the rest of the season, and those two contests are against Washington State and Colorado. In a Pac-12 that isn’t nearly as good as its pre-season projections, they should coast into the Pac-12 title game at no worse than 10-2.
Though the Cardinal may have a conference championship game spot locked up at that point, they’ll have to remain focused if they want to remain in the playoff hunt since they have a fascinating non-conference game the last week of the regular season against Notre Dame. The Irish could still be in the playoff hunt themselves and it may be the only game left the Irish have to impress the committee. The Irish play consecutive ranked opponents the next two weeks, but I don’t think they’ll be soaring into anyone’s Top 4 with wins over Temple and Pitt. And what would’ve been a marquee win over USC before the year started now is just another W. The Irish saved their best for last, outscoring the Trojans 17-0 in the fourth quarter to take a 41-31 victory.
A team that didn’t save their best for last, or their best for the beginning, or even bring it on the bus was the Boise State Broncos. The Broncos committed seven turnovers, in the first half. How does that even happen? I’m not sure teams even get seven possessions in a normal half. Boise State’s 1st half drives ended like this: Field Goal, Punt, Fumble, Fumble, INT, INT, Touchdown, Fumble, Fumble, AND A 90 YARD PICK SIX ON THE LAST PLAY OF THE HALF. That’s how you give up 45 first half points to Utah State. The Broncos weren’t done though. After receiving the second half kickoff, they fumbled the ball away on their second play from scrimmage. Incredible.
Boise State was the favorite to earn the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six bowl spot, a spot that is going to require a lot of luck to fall into now. That’s because there are multiple other candidates who are in prime position to make a run. Houston has been rolling this year behind dual-threat QB Greg Ward Jr. Their success, along with Memphis and Temple’s, has three teams from the American Conference in the Top 25. That should give the eventual conference champ enough of a strength of schedule to waltz into a New Year’s Six bowl game. It’s hard not to make Memphis the favorite out of those teams after the Tigers handily defeated Ole Miss on Saturday. After going down 14-0 early, Memphis outscored the Rebels 37-10 the rest of the way. It would take a miracle for Memphis to find their way to the playoff, but they would have a great chance of beating whatever Power 5 team they played in a possible bowl game behind the arm of future NFL-er Paxton Lynch, who is completing over 70% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and just one interception.
The last few weeks make it harder and harder to believe that that Ole Miss team who just lost to Memphis was able to go into Tuscaloosa and defeat the Crimson Tide. The Tide have looked dominant ever since, going into Athens and routing a Top 10 Georgia team and going on the road this past Saturday and beating a ranked Aggie team in a game where the outcome was never really in doubt. Looks like reports of Alabama’s demise were greatly exaggerated. We’re full steam ahead towards another Top 10 showdown between the Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers on November 7th in a game where the winner will be heavily favored to make the playoff. The Tigers did their part as well on Saturday, fighting off a previously undefeated Gators squad who played extremely well considering the shocking news about Will Grier in the week leading up to the game. And this is your weekly reminder that Leonard Fournette is not, in fact, from this planet. Fournette has 1202 yards on just 150 carries (8.0 ypc) and 14 touchdowns in just six games. The cancellation of LSU’s opening week game may be the only thing keeping Fournette from breaking records this year.
Overshadowed by the LSU man-child, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is having nearly as good of a season. The dynamic Seminoles back has been carrying the FSU team while Everett Golson becomes more comfortable in the offense each week. Cook has been the reason the Seminoles have won in half their games and if his hamstring holds up, he should have a spot as a Heisman finalist.
Baylor is a team who has multiple players who could find their way to New York for the Heisman ceremony. WR Corey Coleman has already broken the school’s single-season record for touchdown catches with 16. In six games. Coleman is averaging 21 yards per catch on 41 catches. I would say that TD/catch ratio is unsustainable but with Baylor, you never know. But it’s unlikely Coleman could pass his QB as the team’s leading Heisman candidate. Through six games, Seth Russell has 27 touchdowns and 5 INTs. If that isn’t enough he also has over 300 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground on over 8 yards per carry. The Bears haven’t played much in the way of quality competition thus far, but they’ll have their chances in the last month of the season to make statements.
Finally, the defending champs made a statement of their own on Saturday. Ohio State put together their best game of the season, dominating Penn State on their way to a 38-10 win. The Buckeyes are slowly rounding into form, and they have three more weeks to sharpen their game before finishing the year with Michigan State and Michigan.