Whenever a weekend lacks high-profile matchups, it makes up for it in memeability. For the second week in a row, the biggest story is the Texas Longhorn’s not being able to contain a small animal. This week’s recap is especially jam-packed, so let’s not waste any time and jump right in to the categories.
Game of the Week: The game that was the most fun to watch that week. Importance could be a factor, but it isn’t necessary to qualify.
Most Important Game of the Week: The game that had the biggest impact on the playoff race or the college football landscape as a whole.
Drunkest Game of the Week: The game that scrambled your brain just watching. A drunk game is full of chaos, but not the good kind. As the name implies, it’s a game where it wouldn’t be a shock to find out everyone involved chugged a fifth of Admiral Nelson’s beforehand.
Head-Scratcher of the Week: The result that makes less and less sense the more you look at it. This is a celebration of the random, outlier games that we look back on later in the year in awe.
Saddest Game of the Week: The game that just made you feel sad watching. Usually a blowout, either of a team that came in full of hope or one that has already been dead for a while.
Hype Killer of the Week: The game where one bandwagon comes to a screeching halt. The game where a team that looked like a future college football darling crashed back down to Earth.
Seat-Warmer of the Week: The game that pushed a coach’s job security into the danger zone because coach search season never ends. It’s usually about the coach of the losing team, but that’s not always the case.
Seat-Cooler of the Week: The opposite of the seat-warmer, this is the game that will let the winning coach sleep a little more soundly at night. At least for now.
Your Future Coach: A new category where I look at a game involving an up-and-coming G5 coach that probably won’t be sticking around very long. If your team is ever in the Seat Warmer section, this one is for you.
Dealer’s Choice of the Week: The game that I just feel like talking about. It could be because it was especially fun, or stupid, or just because I want to make fun of a team I don’t like. It’s more of a catch-all category than anything.
All caught up? Good, let’s go.
Game of the Week: Texas vs. Kansas
I cannot believe it happened again. When the Jayhawks beat Texas for the first time since before World War II back in 2016, I think it’s safe to say that everyone assumed it would never happen again. At the very least, it would take until sometime after World War III. But on Saturday night, the Jayhawks pulled off the impossible, beating the Texas Longhorns in Austin in a 57-56 overtime shootout. The game was as exciting as the score implies, with Texas rallying to tie it up with just 22 seconds left. The best part of the night, however, was how the game ended. After scoring in overtime, Kansas lined up for a two-point conversion. If they get it, they win. If they don’t, they lose. Jalon Daniels rolled out and threw a dart to Jared Casey, a walk-on fullback who had not played a single snap of offense before that night, who made the grab, cementing himself as a Jayhawk legend. It was the kind of moment that makes college football special.
Now that we’ve spent an appropriate amount of time praising Kansas, let’s point and laugh at Texas. I wrote last week that the Longhorns’ loss to Iowa State was a grim reminder of how far they’d fallen, but hoo boy was I wrong. I am a believer in patience, especially when it comes to college football coaches. It takes time to establish your own culture and bring in the kind of recruits that fit your system. But this is the kind of loss that trumps all of that. Steve Sarkisian has lit the fire under his seat after just 7 games and has a hell of a lot of work to do. There is a non-zero chance that Texas finishes dead last in the Big 12, something they haven’t done since they were in the old Southwest Conference in 1956. Sark has dug himself into a chasm, and I’m not sure liking the choo-choo train song will be enough to pull him out.
Most Important Game of the Week: Oklahoma vs. Baylor
We’re finally free. Free from the shackles of having to act like Oklahoma is a legitimate playoff contender, and not one that’s stolen win after win against abysmal teams. Their best win this year was a 6-point nail-biter over Kansas State, who’s a perfectly average team. Caleb Williams was clearly not the answer to all of the Sooners’ problems and was also just benefitting from a weak schedule. The best defense he played before today was Texas, who just gave up 57 points to Kansas. Oklahoma is in a weird spot nationally. They have an exciting offense and play in a lot of high-profile games, so you’d think most neutral fans would root for them, right? Well, thanks to nearly two decades of falling flat on their face in the postseason, most people are just sick of them. Lincoln Riley gave this un-likability a nice boost after the game, whining to ESPN about Baylor “breaking the code of sportsmanship” by kicking a last second field goal even though they were winning. Never mind the fact that Bears coach Dave Aranda pointed out that the Big 12 uses point differential as a tiebreaker, so every point counts. Hey, at least we don’t have to worry about listening to Riley anymore.
Drunkest Game of the Week: LSU vs. Arkansas
Most drunk games involve wacky plays and a whole lot of points. But this year, the Battle for the Golden Boot was an entirely different kind of drunk.
This game was an affront to the very concept of offense. LSU had a marginally better night, but it was just lipstick on a pig. They had a success rate (what percentage of their plays ended up being a net positive) of 38%, and only gained 41% of their available yards. Those are baseball numbers. The matchup went three sheets to the wind at the end of the game when we saw one of the most confusing clock situations ever. LSU got a false start penalty, which included a ten-second runoff. On the next play, LSU punted, and then the refs got together for their own little huddle. The clock operator forgot to take off those ten seconds, so they had to go back and redo the punt. As they lined up for another try, out of nowhere comes the ref again, this time announcing that the previous play was under review. For what, you might ask? No idea. He just announced it and moved on. After the review, the refs pulled the ol’ switcharoo and said that the first punt actually did count, and they would just take off ten seconds from the end of that play. Fittingly, Arkansas just took a knee to send the game to overtime, so absolutely none of those clock shenanigans mattered. It was a genuinely putrid game to watch, but it at least led to one of the best tweets of the night.
Head-Scratcher of the Week: Texas Tech vs. Iowa State
This is the end of the Big 12 talk for the week, I promise. These two teams came into the year on very different trajectories. Matt Wells was entering a make-or-break season with Texas Tech, which broke when he got canned in October. Meanwhile, The Cyclones started ranked #7 and were considered dark horse national title contenders. But here we are after week 11, and both teams are 6-4. Despite their identical records, everyone knows that ISU is a better football team. They were the better team on Saturday too, but Texas Tech had one better player: Jonathan Garibay. This legend hit a 62-yard bomb to win the game as time expired, and it might be the greatest college field goal of all time. Everything about this game really doesn’t matter, so just watch and enjoy.
Saddest Game of the Week: Duke vs. Virginia Tech
The worst thing a sports team can be is irrelevant. It never feels good when beating a team immediately puts their coach on the hot seat. Believe me, I know. But what’s even worse is when beating you means nothing. Virginia Tech dominated Duke but still fired Justin Fuente just three days later. It was direct evidence that a win against Duke is meaningless; that they don’t matter. David Cutcliffe took Duke to heights it had never seen. But 2013 was a long time ago. Cut built a career off of leading great offenses, usually powered by a Manning. This year, the Blue Devils’ offense is ranked 97th, and the defense is somehow worse. Cutcliffe is a legend and will never be forced out of Duke. And that’s what makes this situation so sad. There is no real hope unless he retires on his own. As they say on the excellent Split Zone Duo podcast, “Cut, it’s time”.
Hype Killer of the Week: Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M
Hype comes in two forms. There’s national hype, where ESPN and the other tastemakers talk about how good you are, and then there’s local hype, where a fanbase is excited for how good they are despite not getting much national attention. Texas A&M mainly built up the latter. Other than “they beat Alabama”, not many people were talking about A&M being a serious contender. But boy, Aggie fans sure thought they were. It didn’t hurt that their schedule after that was softer than Charmin. Missouri and South Carolina are both a hot mess, and Auburn has proven to be a paper tiger (get it). In a way, I’m relieved this happened. Zach Calzada was an amazing story, but not the future star he was propped up to be. Now we can all admit that the Bama game was an aberration, and the string of mediocre performances after is the average. He totally blacked out in the biggest game of his career, and that’s totally fine. Most QBs would kill to have a game that good against Alabama. Moments like that are what make college football special; when guys who’ll end up working a day job like the rest of us get a chance to be a hero. Let’s appreciate Calzada and that game for what it was, but we shouldn’t act like it’ll be the norm.
Seat-Warmer of the Week: Florida State vs. Miami
This was a strong contender for the drunkest game of the week spot, but the seat-warmer is a better fit. Florida State took three plays to score from the 1-yard line and take the lead, before we got one of the most bizarre endings ever.
Somehow the ref just calling the game then and there was both anticlimactic and thrilling. Manny Diaz has been on the hot seat all year but had seemed to work his way off it. The Canes were on a three-game winning streak, including big upsets over NC State and Pitt. A trip to Charlotte for the ACC championship was still on the table. Losing to your biggest rival, who is at their lowest point in nearly half a century, is a surefire way to undo all of that. At the very least, it was his nail in the coffin among a fanbase that was already looking for a reason to chase him out of town. Any goodwill he’d built is long gone. Murmurs of a move only grew on Monday when Miami fired athletic director Blake James, the guy who hired Diaz. In a weird way, though, this might save his job for another year. Letting an interim AD hire a coach almost never ends well, so Manny might get a lame duck year before getting canned early on in 2022 a la Clay Helton.
Seat-Cooler of the Week: ECU vs. Memphis
For the first time in seven years, ECU is going bowling. Mike Houston had an incredible career at the FCS level, winning six conference championships and famously being the one to break through North Dakota State’s reign of terror to win the natty in 2016. But those results hadn’t translated to ECU in his first two seasons, and after starting this year 0-2, many started to wonder if they ever would. Houston was reaching what I call the “What are we doing here?” point, which is when a team has been stagnant under a new coach and shows no signs of improving. If you want a good example, just look at Georgia Tech right now. Taking the Pirates back to a bowl game is a big deal. To understand why, let’s have a little storytime.
When Skip Holtz skipped town (I’m on fire today) in 2010 after winning back-to-back conference championships, the Pirates turned to wildly successful Texas Tech defensive coordinator and ECU alumni Ruffin McNeill to take charge. After two bumpy transitional seasons, McNeill got things rolling. A lot of this success was due to their offense unexpectedly becoming one of the most explosive in the sport. Ruffin brought a position coach with him from Lubbock to run his offense by the name of Lincoln Riley. Yup, the same Lincoln Riley that’s won four straight Big 12 titles, made two College Football Playoff appearances, and coached two Heisman winning QBs at Oklahoma. ECU was thriving, even making a successful jump to the American Athletic Conference, a huge step up in the quality of competition. Before the 2015 season, Riley left for Oklahoma. To make matters worse, their starting QB tore his ACL, and WR Justin Hardy, who at the time was the NCAA’s all-time leader in receptions, left for the NFL. Understandably, the team took a step back, finishing 5-7. A losing record never looks good, but in this case it’s pretty deceptive. Every team they lost to ended up making a bowl game. They only lost by 7 on the road against a Florida team that won the SEC East. Same for their road loss to BYU. Navy ended up having its best season since the ‘50s. Temple and USF were hitting their strides under Matt Rhule and Willie Taggart, respectively. Long story short, they played well against a brutal schedule. But on December 4th, 2015, ECU fired Ruffin McNeill.
Saying this was out of the blue is like the Black Knight just had a flesh wound. The experts were equally as confused, putting out headlines such as “What the hell are you thinking, Pirates?”, “Ruffin McNeill’s firing at ECU a head-scratcher”, and my personal favorite “ECU fires Ruffin McNeill, for some reason”. It was so sketchy that the NAACP even got involved. Sources claimed that athletic director Jeff Compher’s reasoning behind the move was that he saw the school as a top-3 AAC job, and Ruffin wasn’t living up to that. It’s important to note that Compher didn’t hire Ruffin, and you should never underestimate the role that pride and ego play in college sports. Even on its face, this logic is asinine. Houston and SMU have Texas money. Memphis, Cincinnati, and UCF have all made massive financial investments in football. Not to mention the fact that all five of these teams sit in vastly more talent rich areas than Eastern North Carolina. I think as fans we forget that real life isn’t the old NCAA video games. Coaches don’t jump ship just because they get offered a promotion. Compher reportedly reached out to Lincoln Riley wanting him to come back as the head coach. It made a ton of sense and seemed like a win for both sides. But Riley turned it down. To paraphrase the reason he allegedly gave Compher, “Not after that shit you pulled with Ruffin.” Coaches value loyalty above all else. ECU suddenly went from a top-tier G5 job to nothing but toxic. Compher ended up hiring Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, who went 3-9 every season before getting fired in 2018. Compher got his pink slip earlier that year, one that was a long time coming.
Finally, it looks like ECU can put all of that behind them. The new administration has done their best to make amends, inducting Ruffin into the ECU Athletics Hall of Fame a few weeks ago. Firing Ruffin McNeill is arguably the worst decision in the history of college football. But thanks to Mike Houston, it’s one that no longer haunts them.
Your Future Coach: Utah State vs. San Jose State
It’s an odd phenomenon, that when an up-and-coming G5 coach moves to a different G5 job, everyone forgets about them. It doesn’t happen often, but that was the case with Blake Anderson. He brought some much-needed stability to an Arkansas State program that had become famous for being a revolving door. I’m not even kidding, before Anderson took over the Redwolves had their head coach bail for a better job three years in a row. Not only did he stop the coaching hemorrhage, he kept the winning going, claiming two conference championships in his first three years. So the big question is, if he was so good, why make a lateral move to Utah State? For once, it had nothing to do with football. In August of 2019, Anderson’s wife Wendy tragically passed away from breast cancer. Less than a year later, his father passed away from emphysema. Like many who suffer trauma and loss, Anderson couldn’t move on while everything around him reminded him of Wendy. He needed a change of scenery in order to grow as a person, not a football coach. So he went to Utah State and hasn’t looked back. The Aggies are 8-2, with those two losses coming to Boise State and BYU, two teams with massive talent advantages. According to the 247 talent composite, they’re the 9th most talented team in the Mountain West, but currently on track to win their division. The Aggie offense, Anderson’s specialty, has jumped from 125th all the way to 33rd. He’s had success all over the country. I don’t know why his name isn’t brought up more for big jobs, but that might change soon. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is 61, and if the Utes decide they aren’t married to a defense-first mentality, the drive down to Salt Lake City isn’t very long.
Dealer’s Choice: Wake Forest vs. NC State
ESPN buried this game, and I have no idea why. It was one of only four ranked matchups, but for some reason ended up on the ACC Network. It was sneaky important in the ACC title race, with Wake now only needing one win to book their ticket to Charlotte. But most importantly, this game was incredibly fun. Wake continued to put up stupid numbers on offense, there was scoring throughout, it was close at the end. It had everything you want in a football game. So if you were able to watch it, it was a great time.
Header photo courtesy of @jasondickaf