The Top Whatever: Flew too close to the Sun Belt

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1. The Sun Belt Conference, by Jason

About two dozen conferences have administered top-level college football, depending on how you define “top-level.” There is a case that the Sun Belt entered 2020 as the least impressive of them all.

Among multi-year majors, the 20-year-old SBC ranks ahead of only the long-gone Big West in all-time average SRS rating. Only one team in conference history, 2019 Appalachian State, has ever finished in an AP top 25. A Sun Belt recruiting class that ranks in the 80s is a pretty big deal. The Sun Belt plays on Wednesday nights and in Montgomery, Alabama because those are the only ways to get on ESPN.

Here only to provide scheduling fodder, according to all the traditional metrics.

Yet look at 2020. What is the worth of tradition, let alone metrics?

No FBS conference is more experienced at dealing with vanishing resources, on-the-fly scheduling, and minimal fan attendance. The longtime runt of FBS doing anything at all has always been an act of doing more with less, so what happens when everyone has less?

Amid this season’s opening round of schedule adjustments, the Big 12 chose to cancel all but one weekend of non-conference games. Most Big 12 teams thus chose to cancel two potential losses and hang on to their single likeliest home wins. So the Big 12 paid a few chumps to head west, accept a beating, and leave.

Orderly, typical, and the way college football works. Year after year, sunrise, sunset. But we’re way past order.

  • Iowa State debuted at #23, then lost at home by 17 to the Ragin’ Cajuns, who are now ranked for the first time since World War II.

  • Kansas State, 8-5 in 2019, fell to #2 on the list of schools that appear when you CTRL+F “kansas state,” losing to Arkansas State at home.

  • Coastal Carolina football, which did not exist until 2003, now has a winning streak over Kansas, which has somewhat recently beaten Texas.

The Big 12, the feudal lord over the middle of the map, is 0-3 against the Sun Belt. And that’s without having to face Appalachian State! STARE AT IT.

You think this empty stadium is your ally? You merely adopted the empty stadium. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn't see Big Nude Saturday until I was already a man. By then it was nothing to me but blinding!

And yes, Houston Baptist nearly beating Texas Tech is Spiritually Sun Belt. Houston Baptist plays in a CVS’ backyard, after all.

2. ACC Notre Dame, by Richard

Notre Dame winning the ACC is the thing I most want in this very weird season, for the pure hilarity of the one-year newcomer winning it before other noted stalwarts (read: Miami). We deserve this comedy, though it might take some magic.

Well, what if I told you this ended up as a touchdown? 

I regret to inform you that Notre Dame might just have something here. Indeed, they took a little while to get started against Duke, but sawed-off Irish RB Kyren Williams got things going with this absurd body control to wind into the end zone (side note: FULLBACK ALERT). 

Lest you think he’s all ballerina tactics, remember he can still stick his face into it, whether he has the ball or not. Watch #23 again here:

The normal caveats apply to this ND team. The Irish undoubtedly need that run game to take some heat off of Ian Book, who still suffers from mild cases of Ian Book decision-making. That might come back to bite them later on (read: vs. Clemson).

2020 owes us a laugh about ACC champ Notre Dame … which means it absolutely will not happen. 

3. UTSA-Texas State, by Spencer

Don’t merely respect the team that finishes the race despite the brakes going out on the first lap. No, save your deepest appreciation for the team that never put brakes on the car at all. 

Texas State controlled the entire second half of their game against UTSA. Control can mean a lot of things. It can mean spotting UTSA — playing in the swankiest roadrunner helmets imaginable, a classic matched only by UAB’s dragon lids seen earlier this week — a 24-7 lead before ripping back to make it 34-28 with seven minutes left. 

TXST then continued to control the game by throwing a pick six to UTSA to make it 41-28. Then scored in a minute and a half to make it 41-35. Then returned the subsequent UTSA punt to make it 41-41. Then courteously missed the extra point to extend the game into overtime, where (after some exchanges of trick plays and circus catches) they then missed a field goal to give UTSA a victory. 

UTSA had so little to do with this. They just kept playing sedate, competent football while Texas State rolled, screamed, pitched a fit, missed kicks, and generally made a mess. That’s a kind of game control too, the kind where the opponent, when the smoke finally clears, looks at you and asks: Did you have to do all that? Really? 

TL;DR: Best game of the day. Texas State is your friend who always has to make drama at the Waffle House. 

4. Spencer Rattler, by Richard

This is the “I don’t care even if this was routes on air this is still impressive” section of the program.

Somehow Lincoln Riley got Kyler Murray’s arm onto a taller body. They call the new version Spencer Rattler, but I won’t be fooled. Kyler is in there. Look … 

… at … 

… this … 

… shit. We stan Missouri State for covering a 49-point spread in the most miraculous fashion (tackling OU at the 2-yard line as time expired), but Saturday night was the Rattler show. Opponent be damned, he was so fun.  

5. Florida’s exploding stadium, by Spencer

Before Florida confirmed that the fire at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday morning came from a maintenance tractor, reports varied on what exactly started the blaze. One said it came from a golf cart. Another said it was a dumpster fire. 

The golf cart rumor undoubtedly ended up on the Facebook pages of Villages residents claiming Antifa did it because they hate the immense power golf carts give senior citizens, and also because terrible gas mileage is too American for liberals. The dumpster fire rumor is frankly beneath me in terms of difficulty. Leave the paint-by-numbers jokes for Georgia fans because otherwise they’d be clueless, the poor things. 

What everyone needs to realize is that the last time Florida won a national title, 2008, was also a cursed year when the economy melted down, an election was happening, and it felt like the world was ending. Your bad omen? It’s my four-leaf clover, baby. The stadium on fire is good.

Losing to Georgia Tech at home, on the other hand, is bad. 

6. Georgia Tech’s kicker, by Jason

NCAA record book

Very few kickers have ever had to keep flailing despite having three footballs crammed back into their faces. Now imagine following that by lining up for the decisive field goal. In your first game as a true freshman.

Georgia Tech’s Jude Kelley saw two of his field goals and an extra point swatted out of the sky by Florida State, which seemed to be mystical retribution for the last meeting between the two teams, when the 2015 Jackets beat the Noles on a walk-off block.

And then Kelley stepped up with eight minutes remaining in a (very weirdly crowded) Tallahassee, and he made it four straight years of The Bad Times for FSU football.

7. FSU’s annual meme, by Alex 

A football program’s historic success correlates neatly with its production of devastating crowd shots. Florida State is a case in point.

Games running from Jimbo Fisher’s final years through the brief Willie Taggart era produced a bushel of iconic shots: 

But if you were worried Mike Norvell’s FSU might quickly improve at football, and thus decline as a meme producer, those fears are now at rest. In the closing minutes of that 16-13 home loss to Georgia Tech, numerous Noles distinguished themselves from the bleachers. 

Maybe you like this guy the most: 

Or this guy: 

Or this guy

You can choose your own fighter. What’s not up for debate is that Florida State has emerged as a top-two producer of this kind of sad imagery. The Noles’ fanbase lacks the long track record of Tennessee’s, but has made up for it in a hurry. One day, they’ll stage a rematch of the 1998 BCS, but it will happen on the front page of Reddit. 

Last: Whoever decided Eastern Kentucky needed to play football this year, by Alex

In the summer, EKU’s COVID-19 safety measures were bad enough that a player quit out of concern for his safety.

The Colonels nonetheless moved ahead with the season, and thank heavens they did. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to make weekly trips to West Virginia to lose by a combined score of 115-10 to Marshall and WVU on national TV. Could you imagine denying their student-athletes that kind of fulfillment? 

And remember: