There was a time, believe it or not, when people watched TV shows one episode at a time, used telephones to call their friends and the college football world was dominated by the Miami Hurricanes. It was called the 1990s. Ask your parents.
In the two decades since, a lot has changed. We binge our TV. Our phones are for watching videos of cats and making snide comments to complete strangers about college kickers. And Miami, well, anyone can have a bad start to a millennium.
But the universe is a closed system, and time, as a wise Texas Longhorns staffer Matthew McConaughey once said, is a flat circle. So here we are, in the year 2020 — arguably the most unusual and surreal year in our lifetimes — and Miami is, once again, a force.
The Canes’ offense, maligned and miserable just 10 months ago, was explosive in an emphatic 47-34 win over Louisville on Saturday, with QB D’Eriq King offering fair warning to the rest of the college football world that, oh yes, Miami is indeed back. Back to intimidating opponents, back to contender status, back to being a genuine, prime-time, can’t-miss attraction.
Oh, sure, we could point out that last year’s Miami team also hung 52 on Louisville, while former QB Jarren Williams threw six touchdowns, then scored just 41 more points the rest of the year. But what fun would that be? This is a redemption story, and Miami is back.
And yes, we’ve heard this story before. Miami was back in 2009 and 2013 and 2017 — essentially every time a reboot of Spider-Man happened — and those all proved to be false alarms. But this time is different, it has to be.
Look at our college football world today. The SEC has yet to play a game. The Big Ten won’t be back for a month. Tuesday night MAC-tion has been replaced by talking to our kids.
What will the College Football Playoff look like in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic? Worry not about the end-of-season hardware. Today, we have the Turnover Chain 4.0, a bedazzled map of Florida serving as background for a glimmering Miami logo. It’s the Heart of the Ocean if it were designed by Pitbull.
Al Blades Jr. picks off Malik Cunningham and delights his teammates by putting on the turnover chain.
How long will we have to wait for an Alabama kicker to miss a critical PAT this year? Who cares. Miami has Jose Borregales booting 57-yard field goals with ease.
Worried that perhaps Rob Gronkowski won’t provide the state of Florida with a truly great tight end this year? Just watch Brevin Jordan go to work at Miami. Though, admittedly, he shows up shirtless at clubs less often than Gronk.
Is the hype real? That’s the wrong question to ask. It doesn’t matter if Miami’s back next week or next month or whenever it runs into the Clemson juggernaut. It matters that Miami is back now, on this Saturday, when we needed it most.
Miami isn’t the hero we wanted. It’s the hero we needed.
The Jurk Store
As good as the defense was, however, the star of the show was new BC QB — and former Notre Dame backup — Phil Jurkovec. The one-time ESPN 300 recruit arrived from Notre Dame this spring and was given a waiver to play immediately by the NCAA. He finished the day 17-of-23 for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
The last time a BC quarterback completed 70% of his throws, had 300 yards through the air and tossed multiple TD passes? That would be Matt Ryan, way back in 2007.
And, if you’re keeping score at home, Jurkovec’s numbers against Duke also eclipsed his former teammate, Notre Dame’s Ian Book, who was 19-of-31 for 263 yards and one TD last week against the Blue Devils.
The Big Ten is back (sort of)
All great stories are trilogies, and so it is that the Big Ten, for the third time this year, released a schedule for its teams on Saturday. As third installments go, it was well ahead of “Godfather III” in terms of rounding out a narrative, but not as much fun as “Return of the Jedi” overall. Should have replaced Rutgers with Ewoks.
But, for the sake of posterity, here’s our inarguable ranking of the league’s schedules this year:
1. The first one with 9 conference games. You can never top the original cast.
2. The third one with 8 conference games. Not perfect, but at least it gave Nebraska something else to complain about.
3. The second one with 10 conference games. Like Season 2 of “Friday Night Lights,” this was just a ploy for ratings with some utterly perplexing plot lines.
No easy weeks in the Sun Belt
Remember last week when we anointed the Sun Belt as America’s conference? Well, heavy is the head that wears the crown … or belt, as the case may be.
Last week’s Sun Belt darling, Louisiana, looked like it had a New Orleans-style hangover for its game against Georgia State, falling behind 14-0 and 21-7 before mounting a late comeback. Still, the Ragin’ Cajuns needed overtime to beat Georgia State 34-31 — a narrow escape that could keep them in the top 25 for one more week.
After trailing Georgia State by 14 points in the third quarter, Louisiana rallies to force overtime where Elijah Mitchell scores a rushing touchdown to seal the 34-31 victory.
The conference’s defending champs weren’t so fortunate. Appalachian State struggled badly trying to run the ball against Marshall and failed to score two touchdowns in a game for the first time since 2017 against Georgia.
With Arkansas State postponing its game due to a COVID-19 outbreak, we can officially put the Sun Belt’s playoff hopes on hold for at least one week. But hey, still plenty of good seats on the Troy bandwagon.
Who’s atop the Group of … Three?
With App State’s loss, one of the top contenders for what we presume will still be a New Year’s Six bid can be crossed off. So, who is left as the best team in the three non-Power 5 leagues still playing?
UCF certainly checks all the boxes. Dillon Gabriel threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Georgia Tech — the Knights’ fifth win over a Power 5 school since 2017. We can taste the claimed national title champagne already.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati — the highest ranked team outside the Power 5 — made its season debut and walloped Austin Peay, with head coach Luke Fickell even suggesting afterward that his team really hadn’t needed spring practice. The Bearcats were ready to go.
Then there is the team that knocked off App State. Marshall has played twice and looked incredibly impressive both times. Brenden Knox went for 138 yards and a TD in the win over the Mountaineers. Meanwhile, Marshall’s defense has allowed just seven points this season.
For now, we’ll give the edge to the Herd, if only because we love this guy.
With 30 seconds left in the football game, all this Marshall fan can do is dance to celebrate the Thundering Herd’s win.
Overreaction of the week
The Big Ten is coming back. The Pac-12 looks to be close on its heels. We may get something approaching a complete football season after all. That’s good news.
But, let’s also take a quick step back from applauding the outcome thus far.
Yes, games have been played. And no, we haven’t been told anyone has caught the virus due to on-field, in-game contact. Is that success? Perhaps.
But even with an already abridged schedule in Week 3, five different games were postponed or canceled, including the Houston-Baylor matchup that was just scheduled a week earlier due to two other cancelations. Memphis went ahead and canceled a second straight game, nixing next Saturday’s matchup with UTSA. Several other games were impacted as key players missed action due to COVID-19 protocols.
In fact, through three weeks, of the 62 FBS teams with a game scheduled to have been played already, 28 have already had a game impacted by the virus. That’s 45 percent.
So yeah, it’s great the Big Ten is on its way back, but with some stringent testing requirements and little wiggle room built into the schedule, it’s not exactly a success story just yet.
Underreaction of the week
Texas State gave SMU a game in its opener. It took UTSA into overtime, losing in the most painful of fashions (college kicker problems). But Jake Spavital finally picked up a ‘W’ on Saturday in impressive fashion, thumping ULM 38-17 as QB Tyler Vitt threw for two scores and ran for a third. After missing Week 1 due to COVID-19, Vitt has 602 passing yards and seven TDs in the last two weeks. Is Texas State any good? That might be a bit of an overstatement, but the Armadillos — err, the Bobcats! — aren’t going to be an easy out for teams in 2020.
Best bets and bad beats
Navy’s comeback from down 24-0 against Tulane was preordained. The Midshipmen are simply cover machines following a loss, according to ESPN Stats and Information. In their last six games after a loss, Navy is 6-0 against the spread, including a 5-1 mark straight up.
Boston College was a 6-point underdog most of the week against Duke, and let’s just say the team took note. After the Eagles scorched Duke 26-6, BC’s official Twitter account offered a reminder of just how wrong the handicappers in Las Vegas were about them.
If you managed to snag Clemson at -50.5, you were certainly feeling pretty good as the Tigers took a 49-0 lead into halftime. It was the most Clemson had scored in the first half in the Dabo Swinney era. So, what happened in the second half? Goose egg. Clemson needed just a field goal to cover, but with the starters on the sideline, the Tigers’ backups managed absolutely nothing and likely had bettors wondering why Trevor Lawrence couldn’t have gotten just a few more snaps in before calling it a day.
Under-the-radar play of the week
Hugh Freeze had his guys rolling in Liberty’s season opener, including new starting QB and former Auburn transfer Malik Willis, who racked up 168 yards on the ground and ran for three touchdowns. But if you’re looking for a real highlight from the game, it came through the air as CJ Yarbrough made an absolutely unbelievably one-handed catch on a back-shoulder throw to the sideline, tapping down a toe for a 21-yard gain.
Liberty WR CJ Yarbrough leaps high and catches the ball with one hand while just getting a foot down in bounds.
Under-the-radar game of the week
Clemson’s easy 49-0 win over The Citadel lacked any drama, so you’re forgiven if you didn’t tune in. Still, you missed Trevor Lawrence doing some really good Trevor Lawrence things. If anyone ever asks why he’s going to be the first pick in the 2021 NFL draft, just show them this throw.
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence lobs a 44-yard pass into the end zone and WR Amari Rodgers secures the touchdown while falling to the ground.
Better late than never
The first six quarters of the season were not great for Navy. Actually, it’s the worst the Navy has looked since Tom Arnold starred in the remake of “McHale’s Navy.” After a woeful 55-3 loss to BYU two weeks ago that coach Ken Niumatalolo blamed on a lack of contact in fall camp, the Midshipmen mustered just three first downs in the first half Saturday and trailed Tulane 24-0.
Turns out, this was perfect strategy.
The second half was all Middies, and one week after Tulane erased a 24-6 halftime deficit, the Green Wave watched their 24-point lead dry up, with Bijan Nichols drilled a 33-yard field goal to win it as time expired.
So, to clarify Navy’s novel strategy: No practicing properly is bad, and practicing properly is good.
Navy was down 24-0 at halftime, they then scored 27 unanswered points to take home the wild win over Tulane.
We’ll wait until he plays a game before we add Justin Fields back into our Heisman watch list. For now, we’ll only include players with action under their belts.
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Remember when Lawrence was less than dynamic in his first few games last year and everyone wondered what went wrong? No need to worry this year. His stats through two games: 30-of-37 for 519 yards and seven total TDs.
2. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
An open date for Oklahoma, but Rattler probably threw 12 touchdowns against some random kid from Muskogee in a game of Madden.
3. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Texas was also off Saturday, which means that next week, we can officially say, Texas is back, baby!
4. Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame
Williams only got 10 carries in a blowout of USF, but he still managed 62 yards to go with 205 scrimmage yards in Week 2.
5. D’Eriq King, QB, Miami
He made plays with his legs in Miami’s opener. In Game No. 2, King showed off his arm, throwing for 325 yards and three touchdowns in a huge win for the Canes.
Get to know your running backs
SMU’s offense was on fire Saturday, putting up 710 yards and hanging 65 points in a win against North Texas. Shane Buechele was exceptional, throwing four touchdowns, but he was not the star, because the Mustangs have a running back with arguably the best name in college football, and he was absolutely electric. Ulysses Bentley IV had 19 carries against the Mean Green and took three of them to the house, racking up 227 yards in the process. It should be easy enough to remember the name, but odds are, we’ll be hearing it plenty this season.
Meanwhile in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wake Forest found a star in sophomore Kenneth Walker III. Truth is, Walker was pretty darned good last year in a limited role, too, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on first down, evading 20 tackles on just 98 carries and finishing behind only Travis Etienne in yards after contact per carry among ACC ‘backs. But he really arrived Saturday, as he ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Deacons erase 14-point deficits twice before ultimately falling 45-42.
And anyone who thought Cam’Ron Harris‘ performance against UAB was a fluke should take note that the Miami tailback went over 100 yards for the second straight game, racking up 134 yards on just nine carries, including a 75-yard touchdown scamper. Harris is the first Miami back to post 100 rush yards and a touchdown in back-to-back games since Mark Walton in 2017.