The Top Whatever: Sure seemed like it was gonna work, huh?
The Top Whatever ranks only the college football things that must be ranked.
1. Masks, by Spencer
Sometimes explaining the difference between two teams comes down to a single detail.
The Wisconsin Badgers beat the brakes off the Michigan Wolverines by a score of 49-11. The eleven is one detail letting you know things went very wrong. Any time a losing team starts spitting out prime numbers, they have been trounced.
There is another detail, though, that says just as much about why Wisconsin pounded Michigan into dust.
That is Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s mask protocol on Saturday night. Harbaugh has put on his headset first, then attempted to stretch the mask over the mouthpiece of that headset. The internet roundly agreed that Harbaugh’s approach made it look like his mask had a boner, and that putting the headset mic under the mask was incredibly dumb, given how other coaches have managed to communicate through masks. Harbaugh’s team had just 47 yards rushing on the night.
Across the field, Paul Chryst TAPED HIS MASK TO HIS FREAKING FACE.
Chryst’s team took a 28-0 lead and never looked anything but 100% in control. They leveled Michigan to the point where it very well might have erased any doubt about Harbaugh’s future in Ann Arbor, and re-established Wisconsin as a Big Ten contender despite a COVID-hampered schedule. Their coach — who, like Harbaugh, wears glasses, a hat, and a headset — had the plan down so tight that he secured his mask to his face with tape, just like ER doctors.
Just saying: Unless you’re the kind of coach who’ll happily use your face as a fastening surface in the name of victory, you might be the kind of coach who loses one of the biggest losses in Michigan Stadium history.
2. Daydreaming about hiring someone besides Will Muschamp, by Jason
Georgia, you think the Gamecocks are an annoying rival now, well, just wait!
Sure, the universe is angled toward something like South Carolina hiring Freeze (and getting Bobby Petrino the Liberty job), but we can dream of Triple Option South Carolina becoming the SEC’s most obnoxious roadblock.
We can pretend South Carolina will try something this time, after last time hiring the Human Punt Flag and then waiting 4.5 years to see it play out exactly as predicted, which it did. There was no surprise. The only surprise is that it took one year longer than it did at Florida.
This newsletter has made a weekly habit of pointing out Muschamp’s tactical failings, but the lineage goes back far beyond this newsletter. We’ve been posting and saying the exact same things about Muschamp for the bigger part of a decade now (not the better part, but definitely the bigger part), with basically no deviation. It’s like gravity, always quite predictably going down, which is merely parallel to the end zone, not toward it.
Everyone knew one year as Auburn’s defensive coordinator would not transform Muschamp into a great head coach, but South Carolina followed the rails of predestination. One thing led to another, just as it was always supposed to. This is the opposite of what Spencer will write about Harbaugh later in this blog — at Carolina, nobody thought this would work! It just continued anyway!
If we keep letting things flow as they wish without anyone doing anything about it, Muschamp will now do something like spend one year as LSU’s defensive coordinator and then take the Auburn job, signing a contract with a $400 million buyout. Muschamp doesn’t stop getting SEC head coaching jobs that he can flip for golden parachutes until someone decides to simply not give him one.
Will that be you? Will you be the one to not hire him to be your SEC head coach?
3. Running it up, by Alex
Sportsmanship has its place, but that place is not pandemic college football. You do not risk exposure to a deadly virus so you can leave points on the field, regardless of whether some weenies feel bad.
So let us praise Cincinnati, which led by 32 with eight minutes left against ECU and ended up running a direct snap fake punt, which allowed a senior celebrating Senior Night to pick up a first down. That this move apparently enraged ECU coach Mike Houston only makes it cooler. Cincy has opponents to destroy and style points to score as it prepares to argue for long-shot Playoff inclusion. Scoring is fun, and this is not the year to sacrifice fun. (The only sadness here is that Luke Fickell apologized afterward, presumably when the feds got to him.)
Let us also praise Iowa. The Hawkeyes led Minnesota 35-0 with 19 seconds left. P.J. Fleck called a timeout with Minnesota deep in Iowa territory, trying to figure out Iowa’s defense and avoid a shutout. Kirk Ferentz retaliated by calling three timeouts in a row before the Gophers could snap, extending the game several minutes in November Minneapolis weather. It doesn’t even matter that Minnesota eventually scored. Ferentz “figured we'd take [pig trophy] Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here,” he explained afterward.
If ECU or Minnesota is mad about what happened to them, my suggestion is to cry about it.
4. Lane Kiffin, by Richard
For three and a half quarters, this was the game of the week, a barnburner the Rebels won 59-42. The Gamecock offense actually came to play. Ole Miss, as is their custom, could not stop a nosebleed.
Kiffin again called a great game on offense, but what made the headlines was Kiffin calling another wide-open touchdown before the ball was even thrown. And when I say wide open, I mean WIDE. ASS. OPEN.
The broadcast noted Kiffin in his patented arms-raised pre-celebration, but they didn’t notice the other people on the field who were also assured this was going to be a TD (red arrows) to Elijah Moore (blue arrow).
Kiffin was so hyped that he chucked his playsheet to the heavens in ecstasy.
He did that again, following a fourth down touchdown later in the game on fourth and 11. The SEC Network (a fine network imo) crew missed the second toss, but they did catch the graduate assistant that Ole Miss sent into the stands to fetch said playsheet.
5. Rolling Allstate Lady, by Spencer
Anyone watching a football game in 2020 has seen the ad titled “Roll up.”
It plays at least every other commercial break and features “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers, a song so smooth and reassuring in its beauty that you might not have noticed that the ad shows a woman literally rolling out of bed and piling up blankets and clothing around her, like a gigantic Katamari ball sowing chaos in the streets of Los Angeles.
She flops down her front steps. She flies past a neighbor working on a car, who says hello like this is normal, because in this universe it is. In the world of the Rolling Lady, this lunatic woman does this most mornings, at least. The Rolling Lady flies through yards, snatches up strangers’ laundry and waiters’ tablecloths as she barrels down the street, becoming a larger danger with each new scrap of cloth she absorbs.
And how does she feel while all of this is happening? How does this menace to society look as she’s committing her apparently frequent and numerous crimes of public disorder?
She’s GASSED, y’all. Look at that smile. Rolling Lady is thrilled because she bought enough insurance that she doesn’t have to stand up any more, pay attention to others, or even obey basic laws. She’s gonna kill someone while living, laughing, and loving. She’s gonna be thinking about grilling some broccoli rabe for dinner while smashing into an elderly pedestrian undoubtedly waiting at the bottom of that long hill.
I admire her so much for all of the following reasons:
Being a transparent allegory for how money in America can buy you out of all your societal obligations.
Summing up the 2020 Penn State football season because, like the Rolling Lady, Penn State has gone straight downhill for a while without hitting someone.
Being the model of how I want to live all the time, everywhere and in every way.
6. Stanford’s tree fans, by Richard
I am sure Stanford cares about such things, so I will note for the record: Stanford had 400 trees in the stands Saturday. I’m sure they will find some fancy stat to explain how they offset a carbon footprint or something.
7. Shoving your QB into the end zone by design, by Spencer
QB: Okay sneak on three
TE: I’m in motion, right
QB: Yeah you come across to my left
TE: What if I just come in motion and then, like, run WHAM right into your ass
QB: I don’t think that’s a good idea
TE: Just use you like a battering ram. BOOM!
QB: I really don’t th-
TE: Like a human shield, man. I’ll just throw you, through
QB: I think I’ll just normal QB sneak-sneak it, yanno?
TE: It’s gonna be like Satan’s conga line, man. It’ll be so awesome
QB: I don’t think it’ll be awesome
TE: For me. It’ll be awesome for me, and anyone watching
ALL FIVE MEMBERS OF THE STARTING OFFENSIVE LINE, NODDING AND SPEAKING IN UNISON: Agree, totally sounds awesome here
QB: I am telling you not to do this. Sneak on three
TE, coming in motion to shove the quarterback into the end zone with all 250 pounds of his person while giggling: SEND IIIIIIIIIIIIIIT
8. The extreme sameness of every Virginia Tech game and every Miami game, by Alex
The vast majority of Miami’s non-Clemson games have gone the same way:
The Canes are the more talented team.
They make a lot of mistakes – coverage busts, penalties, you name it.
Oh, so many penalties. (Miami entered the weekend averaging 75 penalty yards per game, one of the worst figures in the country.)
But eventually Miami’s talent shows through, and despite myriad errors, D’Eriq King and their defense are enough.
Virginia Tech’s games are also all more or less the same:
The Hokies run the hell out of the ball.
They don’t play much defense.
Hendon Hooker alternates between brilliant and infuriating.
Justin Fuente makes an iffy game management decision in the closing minutes.
They win half the time, but every game feels like the game the week before.
All of this sameness converged in a 25-24 Miami win. Tech led for most of the game and ran the ball intently, if not all that prolifically (41 carries for 160 yards and three scores) while getting a few nice plays from Hooker. King made some huge plays to put Miami in front by a point in the fourth quarter. Fuente called for a dubious punt with two minutes and change left, and Tech didn’t get much of a chance to come back after that, with their last drive petering out well before they could get into field goal range.
Neither of these teams is good. Or bad! They just exist.
9. Washington’s punt from Hell, by Alex
I’m supposed to have something creative to say about this, so that you, the reader, will take added value from this newsletter and not feel like I just aggregated it.
But I don’t have anything to add, other than to point out that Oregon State’s punt returner wound up blocking the punt. How could that be? See for yourself.
10. Making history, by Jason
The following teams have boasted preseason top-10 rankings and then started 0-4:
1954 Illinois, #6
1976 Arizona State, #3
1984 Pitt, #3
2020 Penn State, #7
Fun facts: Pitt’s lofty ranking actually vaulted BYU toward a national title, and Ohio State’s ‘54 title run included a win over Illinois. Yes, I’m trying to say Indiana is going to win the 2020 national championship.
Penn State is now a home underdog against Iowa, meaning a great chance to become the first top-10 team to go 0-5. Fortunately, Penn State’s following opponent is Michigan.
11. Lmao Army, by Richard
I have seen the ol’ “kick return throwback” play many a time, but I cannot say i’ve ever seen it get intercepted. That’s what happened when Army tried to run it against Tulane.
Jaetavian Toles deserves so much credit here. It starts with him hustling to beat the the protection unit and make the “right place, right time” play. Perhaps it is The Troops who should have respected him.
12. Ranking the quality of Indiana’s four wins, by Jason
13. Wait, here’s more Jim Harbaugh, by Spencer
It’s not that Michigan is crippled by changing demography. It’s not that they don’t get enough money from the Big Ten. It’s definitely not that they lack commitment institutionally. There is no curse keeping Michigan from beating Ohio State, unless Harbaugh has pissed off a local shaman or alienated an important witch in the fertile recruiting ground of South Florida.
Actually, he might have. Or he could, if he gets another few years, something that really might not happen after years of everyone assuming this — the Harbaugh hire, its brief spring of optimism, and the crushing disappointment following the program plateauing around third place before imploding in 2020 — would work.
I did, you did, and almost everyone on the planet did. Harbaugh had done his job everywhere he’d been. He made Stanford great. He got the 49ers to a Super Bowl with a first-year starter at QB before he and San Francisco’s owners bickered into a separation. Harbaugh came to Michigan as nothing less than a guaranteed savior.
Then ... none of the good things happened. Michigan failed to appear in the Big Ten Championship, let alone the Playoff. They pulled good-to-great recruiting classes, but failed to capitalize. Michigan is 3-3 against Michigan State in Harbaugh’s tenure. They are 10-14 against ranked teams. Worst of all, they are 0-5 against Ohio State, and barring a miracle, will hit 0-6 with a thunderous noise of wailing and breaking glass.
It is this bad: Losing to Indiana isn’t even the worst thing that has happened to Michigan this season, and they’re not even playing a full season.
It’s always tempting to do a post-mortem, point to the exact spot in the fuselage where the metal failed under stress, and say “yes, this here, this is where the 737 lost structural integrity, causing all the bad things.” That suggests the comfort of a single answer, one thing that, if fixed, unlocks the potential of never having to go through this again.
It is never one thing. It might be Harbaugh’s personal style alienating those around him, including his own assistants who have complained about redoing the way the program does pretty much everything. It might be Harbaugh’s baffling inability in five years to bring just one definite starting quarterback after doing outstanding work with Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck. It might be all those things people say about Michigan being a never-great program in the 21st century: The state’s shifting population, the university placing either too much weight or not enough on athletics, or the nebulous demands of being exactly the right kind of Michigan Man to satisfy the needs of the boosters, the management, and the high school coaches.
It’s probably all of those things to some degree, but it never feels like it had to be, does it? This was supposed to work. Harbaugh grew up in Ann Arbor, sitting in Bo Schembechler’s chair, and putting his feet on Bo’s desk. (Schembechler chased him out of the office when he found him doing this.) Harbaugh was a ball boy first, then a beloved quarterback for the Wolverines. He had success working his way up the coaching ladder, then got the job he was made for.
The biggest surprise of all was that THAT job, the job he was made for, turned out to be: head coach of Stanford. The Michigan thing was a mistake, and like most huge mistakes, it never seemed like it would be until it was too late to fix.
14. Michigan saving America by hiring Tommy Tuberville away from the Senate so they can teach him basic World War II facts and he can return the favor with boring 8-5 football, by Jason
We’re gonna record a podcast episode about our pretty good book, The Sinful Seven: Sci-fi Western Legends of the NCAA (back on sale at pay-whatever-you-want pricing for the holidays). If you’ve read it and have any questions you might like the five of us to discuss, drop ‘em in here!
Also, we have fun on gamedays and all other days in our Discord, where we chat about sports, video games, food, and whatever. It’s way better than Twitter.