Big Ten Blues: The Weekend in College Football
Ohio State and Penn State just put their conference's playoff chances on life support. Can Wisconsin save them?
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome back to The Weekend in College Football, VICE Sports' new column. Each week, we'll take you through everything you missed on Saturday (or God, forbid, Friday night), the things worth learning, and look ahead to what happens next. Enjoy.
1st and 10
And just like that, the Big Ten's playoff hopes are on life support. One week after they put on arguably the most exciting game of the season, Ohio State and Penn State undid all of that good will by submarining theirs and, by extension, quite possibly the Big Ten's chances at a national title.
Ohio State's defeat at Iowa was unquestionably more demoralizing, a 55-24 defeat that's best described as a complete ass-kicking. Iowa, a team that only mustered 27 total points in their last two games against Northwestern and Minnesota, crossed that threshold by halftime against the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes never trailed, outgained Ohio State on the ground and through the air, and forced J.T. Barrett into a career-high four interceptions one week after the best game of his career.
The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, lost a far more competitive game to Michigan State that was disappointing in its own way. The Spartans looked the part of a scrappy, perfectly fine Big 10 team, 4-1 in conference going into Saturday with all five games being decided by one possession. They hardly looked the part of a squad that could hang with Penn State, which prior to last week appeared to be the most complete team in the country. But in a game marred by a multi-hour weather delay, the Spartans mostly bottled up Saquon Barkley (96 total yards from scrimmage) and, like Barrett one week earlier, unmasked the Penn State secondary as a liability.
The upshot? The two most talented teams in the conference, who just one week ago were vying for a possible spot in the College Football Playoff poll, are now both eliminated from contention.
2nd and 8
The good news is that there's still hope in the form of Wisconsin. The undefeated Badgers cruised to a 45-17 win at Indiana in a microcosm of their season to date—comfortably handling mediocre competition. Wisconsin has yet to play a ranked team all season and there's no real chance of that happening prior to the Big Ten championship game. There are growing, albeit imperfect, parallels to the 2015 Iowa team that began the year 12-0 before falling in the conference game and then the Rose Bowl.
Those parallels go away if Wisconsin continues to handle its business, But Ohio State, still its most likely foe in the conference title game, has a dramatically more talented roster. Making matters worse, that talent is in all the wrong places: Ohio State's defensive line is the best in the country. It's a really bad matchup for a Wisconsin team that is extreeeemely Wisconsin, all defense and running game, with a quarterback who has yet to prove he can dependably carry the offense.
Perhaps Alex Hornibrook, the Badgers' young signal caller, comes through in the Big Ten title game. But until proven otherwise, the safe money is the conference's last great playoff hope getting upended by a team that would only have itself to blame for being out of the hunt.
Clip Of The Week
Bronze: Like everyone else, I am a sucker for Miami's turnover chain, the best new gimmick in college football this season. Also like everyone else, I am a sucker for one-handed interceptions. So this Jaquan Johnson pick was a lock for top-three honors
Silver: *Takes Deep Breath, Presses Play*
UCLA was a disaster on Friday night, getting humiliated by Utah 48-17. Don't blame Theo Howard for that, though. Bonus fun fact: His father produced one of the seminal albums of athlete rap music in history by Macho Man Randy Savage.
Gold: No one ever said this had to be an actual play, so here's NC State's pass rushing dynamo Bradley Chubb snatching Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant's towel not once, but twice in the same game.
Why? As best I can gather, there's no reason aside from, "Screw him, that's why."
3 rd and 1
There is something to be said for, and appreciated, about a game that delivers exactly as advertised. So thank you Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for treating Bedlam like a diss track aimed at defense. Take your pick of bonkers numbers:
- Mason Rudolph put up an eye-popping 448 yards passing – or, 150 fewer than Baker Mayfield's school-record 598.
- OSU's Justice Hill ripped off 228 yards rushing. Almost as impressive as Oklahoma's Marquise Brown exploding for 265 yards receiving.
- 1,446 cumulative yards of offense.
- 114 total points
It's not for everyone, in the same way that this year's World Series wasn't for those averse to home runs. But offensive exhibitions don't get more entertaining than this.
…Returns. They are great and nobody has taken more to the house in NCAA history than Dante Pettis, who recorded his record-setting ninth career punt return touchdown in Washington's rout of Oregon.
In 2017, the timing has been just as impressive as the volume: Three of Pettis's four return touchdowns have given the Huskies a lead, while a third came in a one-score game. His work in the passing game is just as essential. He's recorded a team-leading 49 catches, 571 passing yards and seven receiving touchdowns. The receiving yards are more than the Huskies' second- and third-leading receivers combined; the receptions and touchdowns are more than second, third, and fourth put together. After John Ross left early for the NFL, the question was whether anyone on the Huskies' roster could replace his big-play ability. Next year, the same will be asked about Pettis.
Player Who Deserves to Be Paid This Week
Josh Jackson, not the basketball player, not the Dawson's Creek actor, but the Iowa defensive back, came into Saturday's game against Ohio State leading the country in pass breakups, garnering midseason All America buzz and possibly early draft consideration, too. Prettay, prettay good.
Then the Hawkeyes curb stomped the Buckeyes and things got even better. Jackson was one of the biggest reasons why, picking off Barrett three times in the rout. This is what the third one looked like:
Coach Who Does Not
Once upon a time, #Novembert referred to the time of year when nobody messed with Bret Bielema's Arkansas Razorbacks. In 2017, it means Arkansas squeaked by 1-8 Coastal Carolina and bragged about it on Twitter.
You may not be surprised to learn that the Razorback faithful were hardly thrilled with that sequence of events, nor should they be: Arkansas trailed the worst team in the Sun Belt 38-25 in the fourth quarter and needed a touchdown with under two minutes remaining to win 39-38.
Three of Arkansas' four wins are against Coastal Carolina, Florida A&M, and now the Chanticleers. The lone SEC victory, over similarly downtrodden Ole Miss, was another one-pointer. Don't expect Bielema back in Fayetteville next year.
Obscure College Football Team of Note
I bet you, dear reader, had no idea that a quarterback could be called for targeting. Don't worry, I didn't either. Turns out he totally can be, and we have Northern Arizona signal caller Case Cookus for our collective enlightenment.
"We call that a good block where we are from..."
Sadly, Cookus paid for that teachable moment by getting ejected. His apparent recourse was to taunt the entire opposing stadium on the way out, which I refuse to be upset about. It's a total power move and lest we forget Cookus's sacrifice, knowledge is power.
Something To Look Forward To
Undefeated Miami hosting one-loss Notre Dame. This would be appointment viewing even without the schools' storied rivalry, the low-key racist nickname for said rivalry and the subsequent ESPN documentary of and concerning the said low-key racist nickname (Catholics vs. Convicts) for said rivalry.
But for the first time in a long time, the history and narrative have the stakes to match. A win puts Notre Dame on the doorstep of the playoff; a loss and they're eliminated. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, wouldn't be eliminated with a loss—winning out and knocking off Clemson in the ACC title game ought to do the trick—but a victory almost certainly cements them as a top-four team, and puts the onus on someone else to take their spot.