Forde-Yard Dash: The Cringe-Worthy Mess That Will Be Penn State Michigan

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (“Body Bag SZN” T-shirts sold separately at UMass, where an 0–3 season is heading to an 0–4 conclusion this week): 

MORE DASH: Playoff Cases | Caution vs. Chicken | Scaled-Down Rivalry Week

FOURTH QUARTER: BRING ON THE HUMILIATION BOWL IN ANN ARBOR

Ladies and gentlemen, that cage match you’ve all been waiting for is finally here: Penn State vs. Michigan (31) is Saturday. That’s 0–5 Penn State against a Michigan team that had to scrap and wheeze its way past Rutgers to reach 2–3 Saturday night.

Loser leaves town. Winner should, too.

After all those years of listening to fans of the two programs mock the annual lightweight Big Ten East matchup of Maryland vs. Rutgers, guess what? That game is guaranteed to feature two teams with a better combined winning percentage than the Nittany Lions and Wolverines currently own, even if the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights lose every remaining game between now and Dec. 12.

penn-state-michigan-franklin-harbaugh

Yes, it has come to this. The Michigan–Penn State game, matching the winningest (Wolverines) and ninth-winningest (Nittany Lions) programs of all-time, is the lowest of the Big Ten low in 2020.

Penn State had never started a season 0–5 before. Michigan was within a missed Rutgers field goal in the second overtime of starting 1–4 for the first time since 1967. It’s bad.

When the Wolverines temporarily took the lead at the 13:38 mark of the fourth quarter against Rutgers, it marked the first time they had led in a game since the final gun of the season opener. That’s a span of 227 minutes and 22 seconds of game time—and four full weeks on the calendar—without leading. Which is astounding.

And yet: Penn State is winless, and winless is worse. The Nittany Lions have started games in full surrender cobra mode, trailing at halftime by 10, 15, 21, 21 and 17 points. They have been beaten down by intermission, raising legitimate questions about preparedness and answer-the-bell intensity.

There are 15 games scheduled to kick off at noon Saturday. The two large and loyal fan bases will be cringe-watching, hoping it doesn’t get any worse. A lot of other fans will be on schadenfreude watch detail, ready to shovel some more dirt on the loser.

ACTUAL GOOD GAMES OF THE NON-RIVALRY KIND

Notre Dame at North Carolina (32). Friday, 3:30 p.m. If the Fighting Irish had maintained independence this season, the Tar Heels and Miami would be on a Dec. 12 collision course to play for a berth alongside Clemson in the ACC championship game. Instead, this game is more a spoiler opportunity for North Carolina, which probably doesn’t have the defense to pull off the upset. But the Fighting Irish do have some significant injuries to their elite offensive line: starting center Jarrett Patterson is done for the year after a broken foot, and standout guard Tommy Kraemer will miss this game at least after an emergency appendectomy. Dash pick: Notre Dame 38, North Carolina 31.

Colorado at USC (33). Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Series record here: Trojans 14, Buffaloes 0. Both teams are undefeated and both quarterbacks have been revelations, albeit of a different kind: Colorado’s Sam Noyer went from playing safety last season to starting and performing productively; USC’s celebrated Kedon Slovis has been inconsistent enough to spur speculation that the elbow he injured in the bowl game last year is still bothering him. (Slovis has denied it, saying that he simply has some mechanical slippage to clean up.) Dash pick: USC 30, Colorado 20.

Iowa State at Texas (34). Friday, noon. If the Cyclones win, they clinch at least a share of an elusive Big 12 title and a spot in the league championship game. Iowa State hasn’t won a league title of any kind since 1912, in the Missouri Valley Conference. If the Longhorns win, it would create a four-team tie at the top in the loss column. The ‘Clones are coming off a 45–0 domination of Kansas State and will make the ‘Horns stop star running back Breece Hall. Texas is a two-point favorite. Dash pick: Iowa State 27, Texas 24.

San Jose State at Boise State (35). Saturday, 4 p.m. Remember that USC-Colorado series record? It’s the same here: Boise 14, San Jose 0. Just two of the games have even been decided by single digits. But the Spartans (4–0) have displayed a new level of toughness and defensive acumen, holding opponents to just 15.3 points per game. The Broncos, meanwhile, have produced five non-offensive touchdowns in five games. Special teams figures to be a week-long emphasis for San Jose coach Brent Brennan. Dash pick: Boise State 28, San Jose State 21.

Kent State at Buffalo (36). Saturday, noon. Undefeated MACtion! The eternally downtrodden Golden Flashes are one of the breakthrough teams of the season, standing 3–0 for the first time since 1958. The Bulls are 3–0 for the second time in three years. These are the two best running teams in the MAC to date, but Buffalo also leads the league in scoring defense and fewest yards allowed per play. Dash pick: Buffalo 42, Kent State 31.

STAT OF THE WEEK

While Michigan and Penn State have become experts at falling behind and staying behind, Tulsa (37) has perfected the arduous art of falling behind and coming back. The team with the best record in the state of Oklahoma (5–1) has become the most dramatic team in college football. After losing a lead in the opener to Oklahoma State, Tulsa is outscoring its opponents 58–17 in the fourth quarter.

Against UCF, the Golden Hurricane trailed 16–0 in the first quarter and 23–5 in the second. Then it outscored the Knights 29–8 over the final 32 minutes to score a major upset on the road.

Against East Carolina, the Hurricane trailed by 14 in the first quarter, 10 in the second and by three until scoring the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left. (With the help of a blown call on a fumble.)

Against SMU, Tulsa trailed 24–7 later in the third quarter before rallying to win 28–24.

And last Friday against Tulane, Tulsa pulled its greatest escape yet. Down 14–0 with less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Hurricane rallied to tie on a Hail Mary pass by third-string quarterback Davis Brin on the final play of regulation. Tulsa won in overtime on a 96-yard interception return by linebacker Zaven Collins, who is having an All-American season (four interceptions, two touchdowns, a team-high 48 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, one forced fumble).

After three straight losing seasons put his job in jeopardy, Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery has turned everything around—while probably taking years off his life.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Matt Cambell (38), Iowa State. The Cyclones had never been 6–1 in league play before, in any league, but they got there by demolishing Kansas State 45–0. Campbell is now five games above .500 in Big 12 play, which at Iowa State is historically semi-miraculous. There is a good reason why Campbell is rising on the wish lists of Michigan fans.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Ryan Day (39), Ohio State. His team beat a then-Top 10 opponent and remains undefeated, but Day did what he could to give Indiana a late-game chance. Up a touchdown with 4 1/2 minutes left and facing a fourth-and-1 at the Hoosiers’ 6-yard line, Day blew off the chip-shot field goal for a two-score lead and went for it. That didn’t work, giving Indiana a possession for the tie. The Hoosiers went nowhere with it, but every single previous Ohio State coach kicks the field goal there. Including all the ones who have won national championships.

POINT AFTER

When hungry and thirsty in Huntington, W.Va., The Dash recommends a stop at the Huntington Ale House. Order the chopped steak and a Devil Anse IPA (40) from Greenbrier Valley Brewing Co., named for Devil Anse Hatfield, leader of one half of the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud that simmered along the nearby Kentucky–West Virginia border. Just remember, there’s no feuding with beers in hand. Check it out and thank The Dash later.

MORE DASH: Playoff Cases | Caution vs. Chicken | Scaled-Down Rivalry Week