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The Top Whatever: A good thing happened!
BYU-Coastal, Tom Allen, Bama WRs, MAXIMUM BO NIX, the race to be the worst team of the worst year, and so forth.
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1. BYU-Coastal Carolina, by Spencer
Two undefeated teams from outside the Power 5 played a game on three days’ notice in Conway, South Carolina. The schools set the matchup in just a few hours, following the cancelation of Liberty-Coastal Carolina due to COVID issues with the Flames. They had three days to prepare. That meant telling the BYU equipment truck simply to drive “toward the Carolinas.” The drivers got lucky and made it three hours ahead of schedule on Friday.
Then the teams decided to play their asses off for two hours straight, send out for replacement asses, and play those asses off for the final hour.
It played out like two boxers had agreed to trade only the most cartoonish of haymakers. Coastal opened with an epic nine-minute drive for a touchdown, using an option offense best described as “the thing that got someone to destroy a controller while playing NCAA against you 10 years ago.” BYU responded with a blip-quick, four-play scoring drive. The teams exchanged the ball via punt and fumble, then scored one more time each, in their own distinct ways — Coastal slowly, and BYU in a flash.
Then the goon squad arrived, and the game took off into the transcendent. BYU QB Zach Wilson threw an interception with seven seconds left in the first half. During the return, two Coastal defenders — suddenly realizing Wilson was not a protected QB, but technically a potential tackler — spent several seconds throwing Wilson around like a stunt dummy. A scuffle broke out. Somehow, both teams left the field for halftime without losing anyone to an ejection.
Something in that moment altered things. The second half became a desperate, full-throttle grappling between two teams that barely knew the names on the other guy’s jerseys, much less what damage they were capable of inflicting. BYU’s big offensive line struggled to protect Wilson from Coastal’s undersized-but-blazing defense. Coastal’s offense ran face-first into BYU’s defense over and over and over again, waiting for the Cougars to flinch.
The Chanticleers finally broke BYU in the early fourth quarter with a two-yard touchdown by running back CJ Marable. A guy in the stands shot double middle fingers at the camera. The Coastal defense kept hammering away at BYU, forcing punts until the final drive, when a battered Wilson moved BYU into the red zone.
Then Wilson found Dax Milne a yard shy. But Coastal safety Mateo Sudipo found Milne. Sudipo wrapped Milne up, tossed him to the ground around the two-yard line, and time expired.
Coastal, playing on a field that’d been a watermelon patch 20 years ago, won a game that had no business possessing this kind of gravity. It didn’t even need to be good. The novelty of two overachieving teams barnstorming up a game in 72 hours should have been enough. BYU going across the country to play a rowdy bunch of mullet dudes who hand out well-choreographed wrestling moves in their locker room celebrations? That should have been enough.
It happened out of nowhere, relatively speaking. It will likely lead nowhere too, since neither team is getting behind the velvet rope, thanks to a committee that denies either squad’s existence, much less their accomplishments.
But when the Playoff happens, and we’re all stuck watching something we’ve seen before — Alabama/Clemson IV: This Time, Alabama’s Got a Kicker — remember that the best, most intense, and deeply felt game involved a team named after a crafty, premium-brand rooster and a bunch of tired (but game) guys from a Mormon school, all scratching and clawing out the first epic chapter of a rivalry that might never have another chapter.
And goddamn, in 2020, stumbling into a random heater during a dismal, cold Saturday might be the best surprise we get.
2. Playing for Tom Allen, by Richard
There are lots of ways to over-emphasize a coach’s relationship with his players. Winning certainly helps, but you can’t tell me that it isn’t an absolute blast to be a member of the Indiana football program with Tom Allen as your coach.
[Note: Clicking videos in these newsletters will take you directly to source page. See our website version for embedded videos that work.]
Those players believe in him, and after beating Wisconsin 14-6 with a backup quarterback, you see why. There are schematic, football-y reasons they won this game, but there are also the hokey and homespun Why College Sports Are Good reasons. The Hoosiers have both.
They also have this sign:
via drgarage in Moon Crew Discord
3. Alabama allowing a world-class receiver to be a world-class receiver, by Alex
In most years since Nick Saban got to Tuscaloosa, he’s had a future first-round receiver. Here were their season highs in catches and yardage:
Julio Jones: 71 and 1,133
Amari Cooper: 124 and 1,727
Calvin Ridley: 89 and 1,045
Jerry Jeudy: 77 and 1,315 (in separate years)
Henry Ruggs III: 46 and 746 (in separate years)
And now, DeVonta Smith, with up to four games left: 80 and 1,308.
He added eight catches for 234 yards, plus three touchdowns, in a romp over LSU. Almost all of that was in the first half. Smith would’ve cleared 300 yards without trouble.
As recently as 2017, Bama’s #1 receiver (Ridley) was logging as many snaps in run blocking (366) as he was running routes (363), per Pro Football Focus. Only in the last few years have Bama’s best receivers become receivers across the board, as Saban has given into his demons and allowed the Tide to become an aerial death machine.
Smith is not necessarily better than his predecessors (though he might be) but we’re lucky to watch him be unleashed. And Smith is more efficient with his routes than anybody else: His 4.45 yards per route run are comfortably best in the sport, per PFF.
4. Indiana = Texas A&M, by Jason
Lost to an actual Playoff team? Check.
No truly amazing wins, but lots of solid performances? Check.
One win worth hanging a hat on, though? Check.
Ranked around #10 in most of the computers? Check.
Barely beat a bad team associated with James Franklin? Check.
Super snuggly postgame celebrations? Check (Hoosiers players snuggle Allen, and Miss Queen Reveille snuggles Her elite squad of tactical snugglesmiths).
If #5 A&M gets to be talked about like a Playoff contender, then so should Indiana. Also, Indiana lost to a Playoff team by one touchdown, not four.
Speaking of, let’s do an updated New Year’s Six projection:
Sugar semifinal, #1 Alabama vs. #4 Notre Dame: I think the Irish need to stay within a touchdown of Clemson in order to feel safe about making the CFP, though I’m not sure what “now you have to play Saban, and this time, he loves scoring points” has to do with “safety.” Still, it’s possible the Irish have basically clinched.
Rose semifinal, #2 Clemson vs. #3 Ohio State: How awkward would it be if the Big Ten failed to fiddle with its rules, thus keeping the Buckeyes from officially winning the conference, and then in order to avoid a third Clemson-Notre Dame game, we had to rank a six-win Ohio State (best win: Indiana) over an 11-win Notre Dame (best win: Clemson) or a 10-0 Cincinnati)? Have fun either way, Gary Barta!
Orange, ACC autobid Miami vs. Big Ten/SEC/etc. autobid A&M: Close to being locked in. However, if Notre Dame misses the top four, we’ll see a funny thing: the Irish in their usually designated NY6 game, but filling the opposite spot.
Cotton, Florida vs. USC: When the committee has at-large games to work with, it likes to make one of them a Big Helmet Showdown You Call Your Nostalgic Grandpa About, like 2015’s Buckeyes-Irish Fiesta Bowl. This might be the best they can do on the Big Nostalgic Grandpa front in 2020, unless Oklahoma wins the Big 12.
Fiesta, Cincinnati vs. Iowa State: Normal Fiesta Bowl.
Peach, Georgia vs. bubble team Indiana: Obviously, we’d love it if our Chanticleers could make it instead of a boring and minimally accomplished team such as Georgia, but Coastal would need to rank #12 or better, and beating a BYU the committee had only ranked #13 might not be enough. The Cleers have two more chances to prove themselves, including another game against The Ragin’ Cajuns Who’ve Beaten Potential Big 12 Champ Iowa State.
5. Doinking the refs (on accident), by Richard
Besides hockey linemen, I don’t think there’s ever a game official more in harm’s way than the football umpire. Every single play, these guys can get knocked over by a linebacker, bowled over by a wide receiver on a crossing route or, as Saturday showed us, domed by a short throw over the middle.
This actually happened twice in the early window. Once in Texas-Kansas State, and once in Auburn-Texas A&M.
Head on a swivel next time, fellas.
6. Watching a grown man show other high school football players they are not grown men, by Spencer
Ja’Tavion Sanders is a five-star prospect at defensive end from Denton, Texas. He is currently committed to Texas, and spurned offers including Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, Georgia, and Ohio State. Sanders is a gifted athlete who might make millions of dollars by embarrassing offensive linemen in the NFL.
For the moment, all I have to show is the moment Sanders helped a few fellow high schoolers realize they are not, in fact, elite athletes. That is him playing wide receiver, his secondary position, one he plays for fun because this is high school, and Sanders is much larger, faster, and more coordinated than anyone around him.
That is him catching a ball one-handed. Most people, when they say this, mean “used one hand to guide the ball to their body.” This is Sanders palming a pass like Stone Cold Steve Austin catching a beer. His other hand is free to hold a phone. Am I suggesting Sanders could be the first man to catch a touchdown while texting? No. I am straight up saying he will, with no hedging.
This is an athlete good enough to send you “lol” while catching a touchdown pass over your head, and this won’t even be the position he plays in college.
7. MAXIMUM BO NIX, by Spencer
Auburn QB Nix scored a touchdown against Texas A&M. He really shouldn’t have. Nix ran himself into trouble, ended up with at least two Aggie defenders on his back, and yet somehow spun both off, reversed field, and ran into the endzone for the score.
I don’t know if Nix plays quarterback, exactly. He misses open receivers, and hits pass-catchers otherwise covered by multiple men. Nix makes terrible decisions and good ones. When either will happen is anyone’s guess.
Nix at quarterback is enough to drive an Auburn fan into a solid three months of binge drinking. For the uninterested neutral watching Auburn play, he is a delight, a phenomenon deserving of study. I hope he never changes or improves. I hope every play continues to be one quarterback teetering between disaster and paradise, sometimes within a single play, sometimes for an entire game.
Related: I watched that whole game. I can tell you every wrinkle of Nix’s wild TD run in the first half. I cannot tell you about how A&M beat Auburn. The Aggies might be the least memorable very good team in recent history, a team so vaguely excellent that “They have a really good offensive line” is the spiciest thing anyone can say.
8. Louisiana’s intentional safety, by Alex
The intentional safety is not uncommon. Several teams do it every year as a means to kill clock with a late lead and avoid a 2015 MSU-Michigan disaster.
Sometimes, it’s exactly the right call. Dave Wannstedt called one to finish off Pitt’s 13-9 upset of #2 West Virginia in 2007, and Wannstedt later told me Pitt had practiced the play all year, waiting for the perfect time to deploy it. Typically, that is when there isn’t enough time left for the other team to mount a drive.
You have never seen an intentional safety like the one Cajuns coach Billy Napier dialed up at Appalachian State on Friday, though: leading by five, on his own 35, with two minutes left. You may watch video here, or just take this representative screenshot:
Rather than go for a fourth-and-2 that would’ve iced the game – and rather than just punt and make App drive a long way to win – Napier decided to give the ‘Neers two points and the ball. It began backfiring right away, when App, suddenly down by just a field goal, returned the ensuing kick to midfield. (This was just 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage on the intentional safety, so Napier took all this risk for 20 yards.)
The ‘Neers wound up with a 30-yard chip shot to tie, and only a bout of #CollegeKickers saved Napier from abject humiliation.
Napier gave this explanation, via ESPN college football reporter and friend of our program Harry Lyles Jr.:
We had had issues not only snapping the ball, but the punts weren't great. With the returner they do have, we're looking at about the same field position. If you go back, and let's just say we net 35 yards on the punt, then where do they get the ball? About the 40-yard line, 45-yard line, right? So we took the safety, and then we kicked the ball off and we burned more time, and they got the ball at about the same place.
The Cajuns indeed had snapping problems on punts. But again, Billy, think about what you’re doing. You’re lowering the other team’s offensive requirement from a TD to a field goal (a difference of 30ish yards), and you’re sacrificing a fine chance to end the game with a first down. Napier also didn’t mention a third option: lining up for an offensive play and pooch punting! Or using his remaining timeout to try to hard-count App into a game-ending offside! No, he just went right to “giving the other team two extremely valuable points and the ball, as well as probable strong field position.”
Did Napier regret his near-destruction?
"I think the risk-reward was one that we made the right decision."
The next day, Napier announced he’d stay at Louisiana for the foreseeable future, rather than take another job, because he ̶d̶i̶d̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶g̶e̶t̶ ̶f̶i̶r̶e̶d̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶r̶e̶e̶ ̶y̶e̶a̶r̶s̶ ̶a̶t̶ ̶S̶o̶u̶t̶h̶ ̶C̶a̶r̶o̶l̶i̶n̶a̶ is committed to the culture in Lafayette.
9. The one good thing Liberty University has ever done, by Jason
We got BYU-Coastal because Liberty decided to just sit there and watch.
10. The battle for last place in 2020, by Jason
We’ve never seen anything quite like this. I say all this not really to mock these teams, because all of this has to suck for them, but to marvel at the hideous mess we’ve made of a college football season. Current ranking of winless teams, from worst to least-worst:
Bowling Green, 0-5: Lost to Akron, 2019’s worst team and one of 2020’s very worst, by 28 points. Lowest-ranked team in about a half-dozen reputable computer ratings. Will easily clinch a College Football Layoff bid with a loss of any sort to Miami (Ohio), but a complacently competitive performance could cost the Falcons the #1 seed, because this field is deep, with a likewise incredible #2 and #3.
ULM, 0-10: Only one final score all year within two touchdowns. This field is so loaded, a team that has not led for a single second through 600 minutes might not be the worst team. Lowest-ranked team in Massey Composite ratings, however. Any sort of loss to Troy will clinch a top-four spot, but a shutout loss would be valuable. They have none on the year, whereas #3 UMass scored zero points three times in four games. ULM has been helpless, but has always participated in its games, unlike UMass.
UMass, 0-4: Country’s worst scoring margin against FBS opponents since at least 2003. Lowest-ranked team in SP+, FPI, and TeamRankings ratings. In the clubhouse with a Layoff bid locked up. Or might (yet again) decide they’re actually not done.
FIU, 0-5: Winless despite arguably FBS’ least-difficult schedule. 2020’s only FCS loss by an FBS team. Done for the year and will have to hope they’ve done enough.
UNLV, 0-5: Spotless record, but critics note it came against a pretty difficult schedule. Got to rack up Ls against most of the MWC’s upper half. Lowest-ranked team in one or two computers, at least. If the Rebels can pull off a big road loss against a 3-4 Hawaii, will that be enough?
Kansas, 0-9: Indeed horrendous, but would likely have a win or two against a schedule more like ULM’s. Had to face a middle-heavy Big 12 and the terrifying Beach Chickens of Greater Myrtle Beach Get Crunk University. To make the final four, KU needs a massive loss to Texas, a team it has unfortunately defeated in recent years.
NIU, 0-5: Résumé hindered by near-wins against 4-1 WMU and 4-1 Ball State. The committee suspects NIU is secretly only bad, not horrible. Might be favored by multiple TDs in a game against true contenders such as Bowling Green. Remaining game is against 1-4 EMU, a chance for a real statement loss.
Vanderbilt: Might’ve been a missed field goal and red zone INT away from beating an allegedly Playoff-worthy A&M, meaning Vandy does not belong in the Layoff. Vandy belongs in the Playoff. (Lowest-ranked team in the Colley Matrix though, meaning Vandy has earned the respect of both the Colley and the Collie.)
Arizona, 0-4: The Layoff is not for teams that nearly beat USC.
Arizona State, 0-2: Again, the Layoff is not for teams that nearly beat USC. However, the loser of the Territorial Cup between these two Layoff wannabes will merit consideration.
11. Nearly last: Everything that happened to Arkansas after this moment, by Jason
12. Last: Scheduling games more than a month in advance, by Alex
Administrators have long claimed utility in scheduling games many years before their scheduled dates. It’s not unheard of for schools to start filling out schedules a literal two decades ahead of time, and seven years isn’t uncommon at all. Athletic directors argue preparation is important, and that it’s worth sacrificing flexibility to lock in enough games to guarantee you’ll meet certain revenue targets. Admins then use these ironclad schedules to justify why they won’t schedule a rival.
Let’s be clear: That is stupid as shit. It has always been stupid as shit.
2020 has demonstrated that it’s not actually hard to schedule a game on less than a week’s notice. And do you know what’s happened? Everything’s been fine. It turns out large organizations can change plans quickly, and even that football coaches (who will tell you they sometimes spend a whole year getting ready for a particular opponent) make enough money to change plans on a dime. Everyone else does it all the time.
This season had already provided ample proof of the un-necessity of scheduling games so far ahead of time. But BYU-Coastal was the ultimate example. Each team had a cogent offensive plan and executed well enough, though BYU would’ve done better if their trickiest play didn’t end in a drop deep downfield.
Conference schedules can still be set at the start of the season, but it should be illegal to schedule a non-conference game more than a month out. Let’s just do a lightning round every few weeks.