Chaos Reigns in Wild Week 11 of College Football
Chaos reigned in college football as five of the Top Ten--including Nos. 2, 3 and 4--all went down, throwing the rankings and the College Football Playoff selection scenarios for a huge loop. Here are some of the big stories from an earthshaking weekend in college football.
Last-Second Anarchy is the Best Anarchy
No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Michigan both looked like they would hold on to their playoff spots, holding leads in their games late into the fourth quarter. But both saw their title hopes take a big hit thanks to last-second field goals by their unranked opponents.
Clemson took an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter. But Pitt got a late interception followed by a 30-yard touchdown drive to pull within two. The Panther defense then held Clemson on downs on the subsequent possession before going 34 yards on six plays in 52 seconds for the game-winning field goal.
Likewise, Michigan trailed much of the game before taking a 13-11 lead on a 51-yard field goal with 9:35 to play (thanks in part to a controversial roughing-the-snapper penalty that kept the Wolverine drive alive). But after trading punts and interceptions on the next four drives, Iowa got the ball with good field position (thanks to an equally controversial facemask penalty on the punt return) and went 21 yards in five plays to set up the game-winner as time expired.
Throwing everything we thought we knew about college football out the window is fun. Doing it with two last-second field goals? Even better.
Washington Has an Uphill Climb
While quarterback Jake Browning's Heisman-caliber statistics were undoubted (34 touchdowns to just three interceptions coming in), the big question mark on No. 4 Washington was, "Well, who have they played?" The Huskies had the third-easiest strength of schedule of any Power 5 team, and it showed as they fell to No. 20 USC, 26-13. Washington was held to a season-low 276 total yards and to just 13 points, after averaging over 48 points per game coming in.
With a weak schedule and an overall down year for the Pac-12, the Huskies already had very little room for error. Even if they can run the table from here out, it is tough to envision them getting a playoff nod ahead of another one loss team (e.g. Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson) with a more impressive schedule on their resume. But after this week, I don't think its safe to predict that anyone (except maybe Alabama) is 100% in or out.
The Big Ten Could Be the Craziest of All
For weeks, analysts have been talking about the possibility that the Big Ten could get two teams into the College Football Playoff. But after yesterday, they're faced with the very real possibility that the best team in the conference--and arguably the second-best team in the nation--might not even make the conference title game.
Ohio State is 9-1, has won seven games by 21+ points and has beaten its last two opponents by a combined score of 124-6. But the Buckeyes don't even control their own destiny in the Big Ten East. With Penn State holding the tiebreaker, the Nittany Lions will be in the conference title game if they can avoid slipping up against 2-8 Rutgers and 3-7 Michigan State.
With Ohio State and Michigan each with one loss, both are still very much in playoff contention. But the playoff selection committee has routinely placed a premium on conference champions, so it would be interesting to hear the discussion in the room as they debate the winner of the Big Game, who didn't technically even win their own division.
Tough Tommy Armstrong is Tough
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong left last week's game at Ohio State in an ambulance. He wasn't cleared to play this week until just a few hours before the No. 19 Cornhuskers kicked off against 7-2 Minnesota. Late in the third quarter quarter, he was knocked out with a sprained ankle. But after being taped up on the sideline, he came back again. Although limping noticeably, he helped lead Nebraska on a 13-play, 91-yard drive for the go-ahead score, a play on which he scored the winning touchdown but then had to be carried off the field with a hamstring injury.
Armstrong won't go down with Tommie Frazier or Eric Crouch as one of Nebraska’s all-time great quarterbacks. But there is no doubt that he is one of the toughest they have had and is the emotional leader of this surprising 8-2 squad. Now if he can just stay healthy enough to continue leading the charge.
The Biggest Upset Comes From the Smallest Schools
The No. 2, 3 and 4 teams all went down to defeat on the same day for the first time since October 19, 1985. But that doesn't even scratch the surface of the level of upset we saw yesterday in Division III. John Carroll upset Mount Union, 31-28, to end Mount Union’s amazing 112-game regular season winning streak and snap the Purple Raiders’ streak of 24 straight Ohio Athletic Conference championships. Don’t feel too bad for Mount Union, however. They are still 222-2 in the regular season going back to 1994 and should receive an at-large bid to the playoffs, where they will be a heavy favorite to win their 12th title in the last 21 seasons. But kudos to John Carroll on just their second conference title since joining the conference in 1989.
With eight Top 25 teams—including half of the Top Ten—going down to defeat this weekend, we are setting up a wild few weeks to finish the college football season.