Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (folding chairs sold separately at Tulane):
FIRST QUARTER: NEBRASKA NEEDS A HUG
You’ve really got to hand it to Nebraska (1) for finally figuring out where it stands in the football hierarchy. The Cornhuskers are just a piece of background furniture, part of the scenery, another mediocre program out there trying to scrape its way to bowl eligibility for the first time in four years. They have been a subpar member of the Big Ten, and they’ve finally overcome their own institutional arrogance long enough to acknowledge it.
Athletic director Bill Moos (2) said this to local reporters Saturday, after the conference released its third (and please, Lord, final) 2020 football schedule: “I’ve got a good football team with a great football coach that deserves a break here or there to start getting back on track to being a contender in the Big Ten West.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost (3) said in August, while passive-aggressively ruminating on secession from the league for the season: “We want to play a Big Ten schedule.” Now here is Moos in September, after a bloody but successful fight to have a fall season: Uh, not that Big Ten schedule.
Yep, Nebraska is looking for pity points. The lil’ Cornhuskers need a break. “Deserve” a break, even. They want an easier schedule than they got because they just haven’t been able to compete, and playing Ohio State (4) and Penn State (5) is just not fairrrrrrrr.
Never mind that Ohio State and Penn State were on Nebraska’s original schedule, and the conference simply took one opponent off of each team’s original nine-game league slate to come up with the current plan. The opponent the Huskers lost was Rutgers, which takes away a victory — but if Nebraska thought it was going to get that break it wants (deserves!) after five bellicose weeks that included eight players suing the league, they might be a wee bit delusional in Lincoln.
Commissioner Kevin Warren (6) has heard enough out of Nebraska for this lifetime.
You know who else plays both Ohio State and Penn State this season? And Michigan? And in fact does it every season? Michigan State does. And Indiana. And Maryland. And Rutgers. Nebraska has spent the previous six seasons playing in the easier of the Big Ten’s two divisions, the West, which has won a grand total of zero league championship games since the current alignment started in 2014.
Despite playing in the easier division, Nebraska’s conference record in that time has been 23-29. Poor guys really do need — wait, deserve — a break.
But Moos wasn’t just complaining about playing what might be the two best teams in the Big Ten. He was also complaining about the order of the games. Ohio State is the opener, on the road, and you would not believe the horrors travel apparently presents to Nebraska.
“First time we’re on a charter aircraft, first time we’re in a hotel, first time everybody on the sidelines has masks on, first time with electronic whistles, everything’s going to be new,” Moos said. “I didn’t feel that had to happen.”
First time on a charter aircraft? Incredible difficulty there. But thank god it’s not commercial. The hardship there would be way too much for a Nebraska athlete. (Except all the non-revenue ones who are used to it.)
First time in a hotel? Here is a surprise hurdle. It would seem possible — perhaps even likely — that all the Nebraska players have some familiarity with hotels. If they need help with the key cards, have athletic support staffers hold their hands and show them how they work. The elevators could pose another immense challenge — but, hey, Scott Frost has just over a month to coach his guys up on what all the buttons do.
“I don’t want to come across as the champion complainer,” Moos said, having come across as exactly that, earning a rare Big Ten championship for the Huskers. “I’m going to protect my school and what is fair. … I wasn’t just going to sit around and listen and get kicked around. I’ll never do that. They knew I wasn’t pleased.”
Now you may think that of all years, in all leagues, in the midst of a pandemic and with so many campuses dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, complaining about the difficulty of a football schedule would come across as a smidge tone deaf. But please understand: it is vital that the Big Ten knows that Nebraska Is Not Pleased. When the ninth-best football program in the conference is unhappy, that can weigh on everyone. Endeavor to persevere.
FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF
The Dash’s updated College Football Playoff outlook, if today were Selection Sunday:
Sugar Bowl: Top seed Clemson (7) vs. fourth seed UCF (8).
The Tigers (2-0) have outscored their first two opponents 76-0 in the first half. Those opponents (Wake Forest and The Citadel) are a combined 0-4, so let’s just say there is tougher sledding to come. But this has all the distinguishing characteristics of another dominant Clemson team: the defense is allowing just 3.76 yards per play, second-lowest of any team nationally that has played two games; and the offense has clicked like clockwork when the starters are in the game. (The backups have been another story and will need to show improvement, given some of the week-to-week roster atrophy that we’ve seen across the country.) Next up for Clemson: Virginia, Oct. 3.
The Knights (1-0) burst onto the scene with a season-opening blowout of Georgia Tech, which in turn had raised some eyebrows by upsetting Florida State the week before. Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel has continued UCF’s tradition of Hawaiian excellence at the position, following McKenzie Milton. Gabriel lit up the Yellow Jackets for 417 yards and four touchdown passes, and his one interception came when his arm was hit on the throw. UCF’s 660 yards total offense Saturday are the most by far that any team has recorded against a Power 5 opponent thus far this season. Next for UCF: at East Carolina Saturday.
Rose Bowl: Second seed Notre Dame (9) vs. third seed Miami (10).
The Fighting Irish (2-0) started much faster in game two vs. South Florida than in game one vs. Duke. Notre Dame pounced on the Bulls, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions, and only a missed field goal kept the Irish from scoring on their first seven possessions. In two games Notre Dame has had two different 100-yard rushers: Kyren Williams in the opener and C’Bo Flemister against USF. Meanwhile the Irish defense has only allowed opponents to convert 20 percent of their third downs into first downs. Next for Notre Dame: at Wake Forest Saturday.
The Hurricanes (2-0) have a new offensive dynamism built around transfer quarterback D’Eriq King, a former Houston Cougar, and new coordinator Rhett Lashlee. Some of their touchdowns against Louisville Saturday were comically easy thanks to defensive busts, but Miami is making big plays on offense at a rate not seen in the past couple of sluggish seasons. King has an elite tight end weapon in Brevin Jordan (10 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns this season) and a workhorse running back in Cam’Ron Harris (134 yards rushing in each game thus far). With Notre Dame’s arrival and Miami showing life, the non-Clemson ACC is looking better than it has in years. Next for Miami: Florida State Saturday.
Dropped out: Louisiana, Army.
Also considered: BYU, Louisiana.