Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where Ole Miss is keeping it very much on-brand with the Turnover Money Bag:
FOURTH QUARTER: OCTOBER FORECAST
Now that we have navigated a surreal September of games and non-games, and conference seasons called off and brought back, it’s time to look ahead. Here are the five things you need to know about the month of October:
Oct. 10: The Remnants of Red River (31) could all but eliminate the Big 12 from playoff contention—or breathe new life into it. The annual Oklahoma-Texas game hemorrhaged luster over the weekend, with the Sooners collapsing against Kansas State and the Longhorns needing a furious rally just to get Texas Tech into overtime before winning. (This is also bad news for FOX, which has the game as one of its college football centerpieces.) If Oklahoma wins, the Big 12’s playoff hopes are further imperiled—Oklahoma State, Baylor or bust? If Texas wins impressively, that might solidify the Longhorns as the team with the best path to playoff contention. But overall conference strength has taken a major hit, as noted in the Dash First Quarter.
Oct. 10: Miami-Clemson (32) might be the most interesting ACC game since Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson dueled in 2016. This time around the QB matchup is Trevor Lawrence vs. D’Eriq King—also outstanding. The Tigers just haven’t had much legitimate conference competition since that classic against Louisville four years ago. Yeah, they’ve lost a couple of games, but they were both of the flukish variety and did not signal a legitimate challenge to their hegemony. Miami still has some long-haul proving to do, but there is a lot to like about what the Hurricanes have done thus far. If they can’t give Clemson a battle, the job might fall to Notre Dame in early November.
Oct. 17: Georgia-Alabama (33) could be the Game of the Year in the SEC. But only if the Bulldogs live up to their end of the bargain. USC transfer quarterback JT Daniels has been cleared to play this week against Auburn, but there is no telling yet whether he’s game-ready or when he will be. Whether it’s Daniels, Stetson Bennett IV or D’Wan Mathis, Georgia will need better quarterbacking to accompany a standout defense if it wants to extend its three-year SEC East title streak. The October schedule is a doozy: Auburn, Tennessee, at Alabama and at Kentucky. Then November begins with the Cocktail Party game against Florida.
Oct. 23–24: The Big Ten returneth (34). Dissident partners Ohio State and Nebraska play each other on the league’s opening weekend, to the dismay of Cornhuskers athletic director Bill Moos. The league’s sexiest matchups begin the following week (see below), but the opportunities to start playing catch-up in the resume-building race start immediately. (The Mountain West also gets going on Oct. 24, but hasn’t yet announced its schedule.)
Oct. 31: Halloween (35) may not be much fun this year for the neighborhood kids, but it will rock on TV for college football fans. Among the matchups: Ohio State–Penn State; Mississippi State–Alabama; Texas–Oklahoma State; Memphis-Cincinnati; Michigan State–Michigan; LSU-Auburn. If you’re looking for the proverbial Separation Saturday in the march toward the playoff, this might be the first one of them. Come November, the Pac-12 and Mid-American Conferences dive in.
IN PRAISE OF THE BEST FINISH OF THE SEASON
The Georgia Southern–Louisiana (36) game produced three epic scoring plays in the final minute, further enhancing the entertainment value of the Sun Belt and further extending the Ragin’ Cajuns’ spectacular start to the season.
The final sequence started when Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts threw into the end zone for receiver Khaleb Hood, who ran a streak route out of the slot. The ball looked like it might be overthrown, but the 5' 10" Hood extended his right hand to pull it in, then absorbed a hit and held on for the touchdown with 54 seconds left. It was Hood’s first college touchdown catch.
That cut No. 19 Louisiana’s lead to a point, 17–16, and the Eagles opted to go for the win right then. Werts dropped back to pass, found his first option covered, then found a Louisiana lineman lunging at his legs. Werts pirouetted away, put a hand down to keep from falling, rose up, scrambled right and fired a dart on the run to Darion Anderson for an 18–17 lead.
It looked like that might be enough for a major upset. Louisiana mounted a last-gasp drive that made it to the Georgia Southern 36-yard line, and at that point you wouldn’t have blamed Billy Napier if he opted for a Hail Mary throw into the end zone instead of a field goal. Kicker Nate Snyder, a graduate transfer from Indiana who had mostly handled kickoffs with the Hoosiers, had made just two of six field goals on the season—and that included a miss from 34 yards earlier in the game.
But Napier gave Snyder the chance, and he blasted the kick through from 53 yards out with room to spare on the final play. “The second I hit it, I knew it was good,” Snyder told the Lafayette Advertiser. “I think I was halfway to the sideline before the ball was even to the end zone.” And Louisiana was all the way to 3–0 for the first time since 1998.
TAILGATING WITHOUT A STADIUM ATTACHED
What do you do when your fall Saturdays are built around an elaborate tailgate setup—and then your favorite school says there will be no tailgating in 2020? If you’re Kentucky fans Brad Spalding and Joey Froedge, you take your tailgate to a lakeside cabin in a forest near Boston, Ky. (37) This is a place made for social distancing, given its distance from just about anywhere.
The Louisville residents, who for six years have co-owned a trailer with satellite capability, two TVs and two beer taps, took their rig to a friend’s cabin and set up shop over the weekend. As long as the satellite could get reception (it did), they were in business. Spalding and Froedge set up two tents, broke out the food, hooked up the beer taps and had a crew of about 10 in attendance.
Their Wildcats lost to Auburn, but the party went without a hitch. They might be there every week the rest of the fall, as college football fans around the country alter their tailgating plans for the pandemic circumstances.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Justin Fuente (38), Virginia Tech. The Hokies had a hard time getting their season off the ground due to COVID-19 issues, and even the delayed opener Saturday against North Carolina State wasn’t a sure thing until later last week. Tech was able to play, but had to do so without 23 players and several staffers, including defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton. Then Tech went out and mauled the Wolfpack, scoring on its first three possessions and rolling to a 45–24 triumph. “I’m just real proud of our group,” Fuente said. “To say that we’ve been through a lot before we played our first game would be an understatement.”
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Ed Orgeron (39), LSU. The coach of the 2019 national champs found that starting over without Joe Burrow, Joe Brady, Dave Aranda and so many other championship pieces isn’t easy. Orgeron, whose forte has been defense, saw that unit shredded by K.J. Costello to record effect—a staggering 623 passing yards. New defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s return to Baton Rouge was a complete debacle, starting when All-America cornerback Derek Stingley was declared out before the game and continuing when Pelini and Orgeron came up with no adjustments to slow the Mississippi State passing onslaught. “It’s my job to fix it,” Orgeron said Monday. Nobody disagrees.
When thirsty in Cincinnati, The Dash recommends grabbing some product from Taft’s Brewing Company (40). Specifically, a Gavel Banger American IPA. The brewing company is named for Cincinnati native William Howard Taft, president of the United States from 1908–12. With a flourish of wry humor, the company’s logo is a silhouette of Taft in a bath tub—a reference to the tale about the obese Taft getting stuck in a White House tub during his presidency. That story is believed to be apocryphal, but the quality of the beer is legit. Try some and thank The Dash later.