Those of you who grew up playing Madden or NCAA Football (R.I.P.) are probably familiar with the term “no effing way” game. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a “no effing way” game is traditionally a game in one of the two football video games where you are playing against the computer and it just “decides” that regardless of your skill level or how good your team is that you are not going to win that game. It’s essentially the video game football version of Murphy’s law. Weird stuff starts happening like phantom fumbles, blown calls that don’t get overturned on reviews, a random glitch that allows the computer to return a kick for a touchdown, blocked punts (which never ever ever happen on these games), and linebackers with a catch rating of “skillet hands” making acrobatic interceptions. All of this adds up to you saying: “there’s no effing way I’m going to win this game.”
Saturday we went into full blown “no effing way” week IRL with Virginia Tech losing to a mediocre C-USA team by 14 points, Oregon blowing a lead that felt so secure I turned the game off and went to bed (still upset at myself about that one), 0-3 Purdue lambasting 3-0 Bsoton College and Texas Tech (the same Texas Tech who lost by 20 to Ole Miss) housing an Oklahoma State team who had just annihilated Boise State the previous weekend. Roughly twice a year, the college football gods decide to throw a week at me that makes me question whether or not I know anything about football. Last weekend was the first one of the 2018 season, so just bear in mind as you read through the rest of this column that even I’m not sure if I know what I’m talking about anymore.
Cotton Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Stanford vs. Notre Dame
These two teams will be squaring off this Saturday night in South Bend, where one team will solidify its spot in the playoff picture and another will drop out entirely, for the being at least. Those of you who listen to the “Spread Offense” (forgive the obligatory weekly podcast plug but if you don’t listen for my takes you should listen for my “podmate” Brian Hall’s infinitely superior takes) already know that I have bought permanent residence in Stanford’s corner. That being said, I’m really nervous for them this week. They had a really tough game last week that ended up going into overtime, and honestly they were really lucky to even have that opportunity. They are going on the road again this week against a good team. Plus, Ian Book gave Notre Dame some answers at quarterback last week that made them a significantly scarier opponent. Brian may accuse me of being a turncoat on this week’s pod, but if I were a gambling man (which based on my picks so far this season I shouldn’t be) I’d pick the Irish to win this one.
Orange Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- LSU vs. Alabama
Alabama and Ohio State have applied similar concepts to their playoff resume’s so far this year: torch everybody we play to the point that who we are playing isn’t even relevant anymore. The Crimson Tide get the nod over Ohio State currently because I think last weeks win over Texas A&M trumps anything on the Buckeyes resume currently in light of TCU’s come apart against Texas that also registered on my “no effing way” radar. With Tua running the show, Alabama’s offense is a multi-faceted monster that has people already asking me things like, “Is this the best Alabama offense ever?” While I think it’s a little bit early to crown them, they certainly have the potential to enter that conversation if they can keep this up.
LSU’s two best wins rival anyone else’s two best wins to this point in the season. Auburn and Miami both figure to be top 25 teams at worst and both opened the season in the top 10. Both teams have the same fatal flaw that cost them against LSU: bad offensive lines. I do wonder how LSU will fare against teams with strong line play going forward, specifically Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State. Regardless, it’s safe to say that my preseason thoughts on LSU are already wrong, now LSU is just trying to establish how wrong.
Rose Bowl- Cal vs. Ohio State
Given Stanford’s well-deserved spot in this week’s playoff, the Rose Bowl has to either go to Cal or Colorado, a.k.a. the only other undefeated Pac-12 teams, and Cal’s resume so far is vastly superior to Colorado’s whose best in is a 5-point win over Nebraska that was only made possible by an incredibly dumb unnecessary roughness penalty by a Husker safety that extended the Buffaloes’ game-winning drive. The Golden Bears likely won’t retain this spot for very long, but they have a chance that they belong in the Pac-12 contender conversation this weekend with a #Pac12AfterDark game against Oregon.
Ohio State is easily the “first team out” of the playoffs this week, but ultimately the nods had to go to Alabama and Notre Dame whose “best wins” grade out better than Ohio State’s now with the aforementioned TCU hiccup. The Buckeyes have done everything right so far in the young season and Dwayne Haskins has added a similar element to Ohio State’s passing game that Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray have added to their respective teams. The Buckeyes get a real test this weekend though against Penn State in a game that seems likely to decide the Big Ten East.
Sugar Bowl- Kentucky vs. Oklahoma
I tried really, really hard to get a Duke vs. Kentucky New Year’s Six matchup, but alas it wasn’t to be this week. Hopefully, these teams can continue their surprising starts and make this a reality though. Kentucky opened the year with a less-than-inspiring win over Central Michigan, but since then they snapped a 31-year losing streak to Florida, pounded Murray State (I know it’s Murray State but at least they did what they should have done) and then drumming a good Mississippi State team in a torrential downpour. As someone who still believes that Mississippi State will end up in the top three in a strong SEC West division, I think this will end up being a really good win for Kentucky and shows that they are not the SEC East doormat any longer. Congrats on your new title Tennessee you wear it well!
Oklahoma was cruising right along until last weekend when Army rolled into town and just did Army things like running the ball 78 times for 339 yards and three touchdowns. If last weekend proved anything, it’s that last year’s Achilles heel, the defense, is still somewhat of a weak point, although they do seem improved from a year ago. The Sooners still look like a playoff caliber team, but after last weekend the blueprint for beating this team has become a lot clearer. It turns out it is what we thought it would be all along: keep the ball out of Kyler Murray’s hands.
Fiesta Bowl- Duke vs. Penn State
Duke kept it rolling last week with a win against in-state “rival” North Carolina Central. The Blue Devils find themselves in the top 25 with a 4-0 start that includes wins over Army, Baylor and Northwestern. That’s not exactly a murderer’s row, but the composite of those three wins is better than plenty of teams can boast to this point in the season. Duke gets another chance at a decent win this weekend with Virginia Tech coming to town, unfortunately the quality of that win took a big hit last weekend with the Hokies’ aforementioned loss to Old Dominion.
Penn State kicked off the year with a scare against Big Ten giant slayer Appalachian State, but since then the Nittany Lions have cruised to wins over Pitt, Kent State and Illinois. Or have they? Looking at the final scores of these three games, it looks like Penn State has smoked all three of them and eventually they did, but both Pitt and Illinois were still in the game well into the second half and in Illinois’s case actually had a lead in the second half before Penn State ripped off a 35-point 4th quarter to cover the spread and make the game look ugly. If you are going to be a “one quarter team” then the fourth isn’t the worst quarter to choose to be good in, but this weekend isn’t the weekend for the Nittany Lions to screw around for a half before getting things going.
Peach Bowl- Clemson vs. UCF
The Trevor Lawrence era is officially underway in Clemson after he seized the reins from returning starter Kelly Bryant last week against Georgia Tech. The offense ran more smoothly and was more dynamic under Lawrence’s leadership last weekend, and might be the change Clemson needs to elevate themselves back near the top of the title contender fray. They may need that offensive spark this weekend too with a Syracuse offense, that has been the best in the conference so far this season, coming to town. Also, you might remember that Syracuse handed Clemson their lone regular season loss in the Carrier Dome a year ago.
UCF’s offense just kept clicking last Friday night as the Knights extended their winning streak to 16 with a win over Florida Atlantic. McKenzie Milton and co. have picked right up where they left off last season and if it weren’t for yet another hurricane they’d be sitting at 4-0, and hopefully start getting mentioned in some playoff conversations. As it stands, UCF has an opportunity to pick up that important “Power Five win” this weekend with the Pitt Panthers coming to town, but I’m sure all the #h8rs out there will be quick to point out that Pitt isn’t a particularly good Power Five team. They aren’t wrong, but these are the same people praising Ohio State for playing “11 Power Five games” despite those games including Oregon State, Rutgers and Illinois….double standard much? Anyway, it doesn’t seem like UCF is going to get into the playoff conversation again this year despite their best efforts, but they could become the first team in the playoff era to claim back-to-back Group of Five New Year’s Six bids and that’s at least something of an accomplishment.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Ben Ludeman/fi360 News