They say that politics makes strange bedfellows.
The same might be said of college football.
On the last Saturday night before the Midterm Elections, a coalition of Notre Dame coaches, past and present, united to usher in a New Era in the College Football Playoff. (Barring a shocking set of developments, of course. Which can never be ruled out in college football.)
To wit: While Notre Dame was knocking Clemson off the shakiest of No. 4 perches, LSU was delivering a devastating body blow to lurking No. 6 Alabama.
Just like that, the two most perennial powers in CFP history will need miracles to recover. Alabama has been in seven of the eight playoffs. Clemson has been in six.
If variety is the spice of life, Alabama and Clemson are the bane of variety.
Clemson, which claimed Syracuse—seriously—as its best win, didn’t merely lose at Notre Dame. It was stomped 35-14.
Alabama—which has snatched victory from defeat when necessary, most recently at Texas earlier this year—was out-Houdinied 32-31 by LSU, which bodaciously went for two points after the first overtime to pull off its upset.
And who do we have to thank for all of this?
Rookie Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman, who has put the fight back in the Fighting Irish after a wobbly start. . . And former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who welled up with emotion after doing exactly what he left the Golden Dome to do—achieve something remarkable in only his ninth game on the Bayou.
Kelly’s departure from South Bend after last season was a curious move. Coaches don’t leave Notre Dame; they try to get there. But times have changed.
And while Kelly gave himself a raise, he also gave himself a new challenge. There were reasons to believe he would get it done eventually. Now he seems to be way ahead of schedule.
There’s a lot of football to play, but his Tigers are tracking for an SEC championship appearance with Georgia.
Meanwhile, the ascendance of Marcus Freeman might be a more remarkable development in the long run—if it turns out to be a true ascendance. It’s still a premature development because this year’s edition of Clemson might not be the best measuring stick.
That said, the Marcus Freeman who was snarling at the officials on Saturday night gave off a very different vibe from the Marcus Freeman who looked kind of passive when the Irish were being humbled by Marshall and Stanford.
A coaching hire that looked open to debate when ND slipped to 3-3 now looks like a very promising move.
And a season that seemed to be on the brink two weeks ago now has a chance to be very nice debut for Freeman.
Two weeks ago, the Irish were off to play a 6-1 Syracuse that had nearly taken down Clemson. With the Tigers up next, a 3-5 Notre Dame looked very possible. And a trip to USC was still to come.
Now that season-ending trip to USC looks like an opportunity for Notre Dame to state its New Year’s Six case.
All in all, it was a very entertaining and momentous first Saturday night in November. . . . one worthy of turning the clocks back.
@ Meanwhile, in the Big Ten, there will be a lot of clucking about how Ohio State had trouble with historically bad Northwestern in windy, rainy Evanston, escaping 21-7.
There’s certainly some validity in that. Then again, I think style points can be over-rated. Which is why I have always advocated for a playoff based on conference championships, not selection committees.
@ Kudos to Mel Tucker for guiding Michigan State to a gritty, backs-to-the-wall 23-15 victory at Illinois. The Spartans were down eight suspended players after their ugly performance in the tunnel at Michigan.
Between players losing their cool and the $95 million payday he received last season, Tucker had to be feeling plenty of heat. But he was a cool, calm leader. And now Michigan State (4-5), which has Rutgers and Indiana at home before finishing at Penn State, has a path to a bowl bid.
@ Not a great performance by Illinois, which could have opened a formidable two-game lead in the Big Ten West. But the Illini (4-2) still are tracking nicely for the conference championship game. They will need to play better on Saturday, when Purdue (3-3) comes to Champaign. I expect that they will.
With Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin all lurking at 3-3, the West could wind up in a real logjam. If Illinois stumbles, the Big Ten might need two slide rules and an abacus to figure out the tiebreakers.
@ That’s a whole college football column without mentioning the elephants in the room, Georgia and Tennessee. Didn’t think I could do it, did ya?