Week 1: Texas 50, #10 Notre Dame 47 (2OT)
Everyone loves a shootout, and the Longhorns and Irish provided it in spades. D’onta Foreman ran for 131 yards to begin his 2,028 yard campaign, and quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes delivered highlight after highlight. Notre Dame rattled off 17 straight third quarter points to kill off a Longhorn lead, returned a PAT for two points, and DeShone Kizer threw for five touchdowns.
Unfortunately, despite this game’s status as an instant classic, neither of these teams went on to do much with their respective seasons. Charlie Strong got fired and Brian Kelly is apparently trying to flee to the NFL.
Honorable mention: Houston followed up its Peach Bowl win with a 33-23 victory over Oklahoma; Florida State overcame a 28-6 gap to beat Ole Miss 45-34.
Most Important: Not many paid much attention at the time, but P.J. Fleck and Western Michigan rowed the boat into Evanston and upset Northwestern 22-21, the first win in the Broncos’ perfect regular season.
Week 2: Arkansas 41, #15 TCU 38 (2OT)
#SeptemBERT was almost canceled as the Hogs built a 20-7 lead and seemingly had TCU’s offense locked down. . . but promptly blew it in the fourth quarter. The Horned Frogs stormed back to retake the lead, only to blow it themselves. (ESPN’s Win Probability graph gave Arkansas a 97.8% chance to win at the 12:20 mark in the fourth quarter. It gave TCU a 99.9% chance at the 2:05 mark.)
Honorable Mentions: The Kalen Ballage touchdowns would not stop as Arizona State beat Texas Tech 68-55.
Most Important: Didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time (after all, James Franklin was on the hot seat back in September), but Pitt’s 42-39 upset of Penn State wound up keeping the Nittany Lions out of the Playoff.
Week 3: #1 Alabama 48, #19 Ole Miss 43
No one dared dream Hugh Freeze and the Rebels might do it again, but two minutes away from halftime Ole Miss led Alabama 24-3. Then the Tide surged . . . or at least the defense and special teams did, accounting for 27 of Alabama’s 48 points while the offense lolled about. Little did we know at the time that this would be the Tide’s blueprint for the rest of the season.
Honorable Mentions: North Dakota State extended its FBS winning streak, topping #13 Iowa 23-21; Mike Riley exorcised some demons as Nebraska beat Oregon 35-32.
Most Important: Probably Ole Miss and Bama, but #10 Louisville’s 63-20 shellacking of #2 Florida State basically sealed the Heisman for Lamar Jackson in week three.
Week 4: Colorado 41, Oregon 38
Sure, it wound up not meaning much in the grand scheme as Oregon had its worst season in years, but what a stepping stone for Colorado as the Buffaloes ascended from the Pac-12 basement to conference runner-up. Colorado built up a 33-17 lead and Bryce Bobo grabbed a ridiculous one-handed catch to seal the win.
Honorable Mentions: Utah drove the length of the field to beat USC 31-27; Joshua Dobbs scored five second half touchdowns as Tennessee closed a 21-0 deficit to beat Florida 38-28; David Shaw had ice in his veins, punting with four minutes to play while trailing UCLA by four, but it didn’t matter as Stanford got the ball back and added a back-door scoop-and-score to win 22-13.
Most Important: #11 Wisconsin’s 30-8 smothering of #8 Michigan State proved that the mantle of non-Ohio State/Michigan B1G blueblood had passed from Sparty to Bucky.
Week 5: (TIE) #11 Tennessee 34, #25 Georgia 31 -AND- #5 Clemson 42, #3 Louisville 36
Lame to do both? Nah. Dobbs and Jacob Eason exchanged Hail Mary touchdowns in the final ten seconds, and Deshaun Watson threw four picks but outdueled Jackson in a result that ultimately kept the Cardinals out of Playoff discussion down the stretch.
Honorable Mentions: Michigan beat Wisconsin 14-7 in a manball orgy; North Carolina outlasted Florida State 37-35; BYU and Toledo combined for 108 points in regulation in a Friday night thriller.
Most Important: Washington hammered Stanford 44-6, establishing the Huskies as the new power in the Pac-12.
Week 6: #8 Texas A&M 45, #9 Tennessee 38 (2OT)
The Vols and Aggies combined for 1,276 yards of total offense . . . and ten turnovers. The Vols (again) closed out a second-half deficit but fell short this time.
Honorable Mention: Navy crushed #6 Houston’s dreams 46-40; Oklahoma outlasted Texas in the Red River Shootout 45-40.
Most Important: Florida State righted the ship against Miami 20-19. The Seminoles would finish on a 7-1 streak.
Week 7: #2 Ohio State 30, #8 Wisconsin 23 (OT)
J.T. Barrett dragged an anemic Buckeye offense to victory in Camp Randall, preserving Ohio State’s playoff hopes. Co-credit the Ohio State defense, which let Corey Clement run for 164 yards, but forced three Wisconsin drives to end in field goals.
Honorable Mention: Arkansas and Ole Miss traded blows to the tune of a 34-30 Arkansas victory.
Most Important: Alabama deftly handled upset alert against Tennessee, blasting the Vols 49-10.
Week 8: #16 Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59
Two of the nation’s most prolific quarterbacks, Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, led their offenses to combine for 1,708 total yards. Astonishingly, these teams did combine for four punts, the last of which came at the 14:08 mark in the third quarter. From there, a glut of offense: ten consecutive touchdowns. Mayfield the eventual Heisman finalist was 27-for-36 passing for 545 yards, seven touchdowns, and zero interceptions. His teammate Dede Westbrook, also a Heisman finalist, caught nine of those passes for 202 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, Mahomes personally accounted for 819 yards on 💯 touches: no fewer than 88 passing attempts and twelve rushes, for seven total touchdowns.
Honorable Mention: Utah running back Joe Williams un-retired from football to run for 332 yards and lead the Utes to a 52-45 victory over UCLA.
Most Important: Tempting to talk here about how Penn State rode two massive special teams plays to upset Ohio State 24-21 . . . but it wound up not mattering much.
Week 9: #3 Clemson 37, #12 Florida State 34
In a result that would help seal Clemson’s Playoff fate, Watson led the Tigers to a 17-point fourth quarter to beat the Seminoles. His effort was enough to usurp the heroics of Dalvin Cook, who recorded 169 yards and four touchdowns on just 19 carries.
Honorable Mentions: Nebraska’s fourth quarter rally fell short against Wisconsin and the Huskers suffered their first loss, 23-17; Washington doused a hot Utah team 31-24.
Most Important: Washington’s win over Utah.
Week 10: #12 Penn State 41, Iowa 14
Seems a bit different than most of the games I’ve chosen, but there were really no truly great games this week, and this was the result that made us all really start to pay attention to Penn State. Trace McSorley threw for 13 yards per attempt and Saquon Barkley toted 20 times for 169 yards. Beating Ohio State was tremendous, but a bit fluky. This was just a great win over an improving Hawkeyes team.
Honorable Mentions: Not gonna even pretend to care about Alabama/LSU.
Most Important: this wasn’t the greatest week, fam.
Week 11: Pitt 43, #2 Clemson 42
In a barnburner, Watson threw for an ACC record 580 yards, but Pitt stymied the Tigers rushing attack again and again, and picked off Watson three times. And when the spotlight shone the brightest, Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt didn’t . . . well, you know how the joke goes. #PutPittIn
Honorable Mentions: USC’s defense turned in a dominating performance to beat Washington 26-13; Wake Forest jumped out to a 12-0 halftime lead before getting blown out by Louisville, and rumors swirled that Louisville knew some of Wake Forest’s plays. Hmm.
Most Important: Iowa put a permanent dent in Michigan’s Playoff hopes with a 14-13 upset.
Week 12: #10 Colorado 38, #22 Washington State 24
All eyes were on Boulder as the Buffaloes needed a win to continue their Cinderella season. The Buffs rode quarterback/fullback Sefo Liufau to three rushing touchdowns and the defense locked down one of the nation’s most explosive offenses in the fourth quarter to complete the win.
Honorable Mention: Florida survived its hurricane-postponed grudge match with LSU on a goal-line stand.
Most Important: Clemson and Washington, the previous week’s casualties, won comfortably to ensure their losses would not matter.
Week 13: #2 Ohio State 30, #3 Michigan 27 (OT)
Obviously it’s this one. Michigan held the lead through most of the game but a punch-drunk defense couldn’t contain Barrett in the fourth quarter as the Buckeyes fought back to tie. We had ill-advised fake punts and horrible special teams gaffes, but ultimately, the most Zapruder’d play of the season gave Ohio State new life and Curtis Samuel finished the fight.
Honorable Mentions: Georgia couldn’t put away Tech as the Yellow Jackets ran off fourteen fourth quarter points to win 28-27; Pitt and Syracuse batted to a basketball-esque 76-61.
Most Important: Probably The Game, as Ohio State’s win just about guaranteed Penn State’s later Playoff exclusion.
Championship Week: #7 Penn State 38, #6 Wisconsin 31
Just before halftime the Nittany Lions looked hopeless, trailing 28-7 with zero answers on either side of the ball . . . then ran off 31 points in the next 31 minutes while allowing just three. McSorley threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns, and in a reversal of the 2015 Big Ten title game, stuffed Wisconsin on a fourth-and-short to claim their first outright conference title since 1994.
Honorable Mention: Clemson beat Virginia Tech to claim the ACC crown but the Hokes wouldn’t go away quietly, punching with the Tigers for 58 minutes.
Most Important: Washington’s 41-10 rout of Colorado ensured the Playoff would have only a little controversy.
Bowl Games: #2 Clemson 35, #1 Alabama 31
Even with a fourth-quarter lead, the ever-steady Crimson Tide appeared to crack in the face of a suffocating Clemson defense which held Jalen Hurts to just 4.2 yards per passing attempt (including his 68-yard touchdown to O.J. Howard). Alabama was held without its signature non-offensive touchdown thanks to Hunter Renfrow’s tackle after Wayne Gallman’s fumble, and the Tide couldn’t close out the game thanks to Watson’s near-perfect game. More or less shut down as a rusher, Watson leaned on his arm, completing one seven yarder after another en route to a 420-yard evening. He threw three touchdowns, none of which we’ll remember during the offseason more than his two-yard toss to Renfrow with one second left on the clock to topple the Tide and bring a trophy back to Clemson.
Honorable Mention: Penn State and USC dueled to an all-time great Rose Bowl. McSorley and Sam Darnold combined to throw 82 passes for nine touchdowns . . . but it was McSorley also threw three interceptions, the third of which put USC in range of a game-winning field goal.