November is a witch goddess who in her kindness blesses disciples of college football with the glorious, cold, blue autumn afternoons we all remember when we remember the games of November. We only remember the good stuff: the spice and heat of hot wings and icy bourbon on the tongue, the warm metal of the hood caressing our asses where we sit and take it all in. A parking lot barely in sight of the stadium knowing there’s a long, jostling walk ahead joined with the drunk, the crazy and the screaming, traffic-dodging, slow-moving herd. At last inside the cathedral of pain, soothing with bourbon from the smuggled flask, behold: the warriors arrive, pouring out of the home-side tunnel and onto the field. A hundred thousand voices roar so loudly the 200-member marching band loses, and becomes only a brass pulse in the maelstrom or sound, and look! Up in the sky! Roaring warplanes appear from nowhere in attack formation, screaming 50 feet over the stadium so low the hot wash of air blows your hat off your head.
Damn, it’s exciting. A spectacle seen nowhere but in America that puts all other sports related mayhem to shame: the running of the bulls in Spain is a croquet match by comparison; the drunken thugs of Manchester United rioting in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, the citizens of Rome on their feet as gladiators bleed in the dust of the coliseum, chanting “Nunc autem eum occidere“, echoing in eternity.
But then the damned witch of November rides in cackling on the icy wind, smites your players, who fumble, throw interceptions, miss blocks and tackles and suddenly, all that once was glorious and gold transforms into a flaming pile of shit.
The College Football Playoff Committee tries to make sense of chaos, fails
Like Eric Bana as Hector impaled on the sword of Achilles-playing Brad Pitt before the walls of Troy in a so-so 2004 action movie, old warrior Alabama fell to the ascendant LSU last week. The Crimson Tide, which has been a disorganized mess all season but still did pretty good because the players are all NFL prospects, played its worst first half in modern memory, and LSU struck like a bayou alligator dismantling an unsuspecting family of carefree otters. They turned three unforced Alabama turnovers into 17 points and led 33-13 at the half.
Bama’s offense got it together in the second half and made a run, but the defense continued to mostly look over at the sideline tying to decipher the signals from their frantically gesticulating coaches while LSU snapped the ball and Joe Burrow threw another bullet to another wide-open receiver who had made another member of the Alabama secondary, twist, turn, jump, break-dance and fall down. (Note to Bama coaching staff: Defenses do a lot better when they are facing the other team, not you).
Alabama only lost by 5, which looks better than it was. At no time did Alabama even get possession of the ball when they came within one score of taking the lead. The defense couldn’t get a stop when they had to have one, and barely got any at all.
The resultant rankings for the College Football Playoffs produced great consternation – Alabama fell from No. 3 to No. 5, which the haters felt was not punishment enough. One-loss Oregon, which lost to Auburn on a last-second pass in the first game of the year, is sixth. LSU took over the top spot after Ohio State beat Maryland 73-14. Football karma may catch up to the Buckeye because he went for an onside kick and recovered it leading 52-7, which is just a shitty thing to do.
Clemson can stop whining, now that it’s ranked third the week of the great showdown with Wake Forest, which is probably the third or fourth best team in the egregious ACC and a 34-point underdog.
Georgia is ranked No. 4, that lone fluky loss to South Carolina the only gray mark. This has created the situation where Alabama fans have to cheer for Auburn to upset Georgia, because that’ll move Auburn into the top 10. Alabama has played one ranked team – at home – and bled out under the flashing disco lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium. But the reasoning is, if Alabama can beat Auburn at Auburn – which is anything but a foregone conclusion – it’ll be a win over a semi-decent team, which will improve the optics.
Undefeated Minnesota is ranked 8th and Undefeated Baylor is 13th, proving the little guy gets no love in America, where members of the College Football Playoff Committee and ESPN officials familiar with TV ratings know that a final four of LSU, Clemson, Minnesota and Baylor will attract fewer viewers than “The Beverly Hillbillies – the Missing Episodes” on Roku.
Alabama at Mississippi State, Noon, ESPN
Alabama’s a 21.5 favorite going on the road to Starkville, where Bulldogs Head Coach Joe Moore has put together a 12-10 composite record the last two years and is on thinner ice than usual for a Mississippi State coach. Running back Kylin Hill leads the SEC in rushing with a little more than 1,000 yards and 114 yards per game. Anything good on anybody’s offense presents a true and present danger to Alabama’s defense, which has a lot of talented guys running around like a kicked-open anthill. There’s probably a slightly better chance for me to play quarterback for Alabama than Tua Tungavailoa, whose Heisman hopes are pretty much out the window, even though he’s a really good passer, but always gets hurt before big games.
Nick Saban said he suspended a player for this game for not going to class. Nobody knows who it is. Bama fans have called the prayer chain to ask God not to let it be Najee Harris, the personification of the Alabama running game; after him there is no other.
No. 11 Florida at Missouri, Noon, CBS
The Gators have a slim chance of elbowing their way into the SEC Championship Game if Auburn and Texas A&M beat Georgia the next two weeks. It could happen – but don’t put any money on it. Florida’s a 7-point favorite over Mizzou, which has put together an ugly 5-4 record studded with things like a loss to Wyoming, a 7-point loss to Vandy and a 29-point loss to Kentucky, a convincing 34-14 win over South Carolina, the team that beat Georgia, but a convincing 27-0 loss to Georgia its ownself. At one point in the season I might have thought Florida was flaky enough to lose to Missouri, but I don’t feel that way now. The Gators should win – but should and will are two different things with these guys. Call it a landmine game.
No. 4 Georgia at No. 12 Auburn, 3:30 p.m. CBS
Georgia’s incentive to beat Auburn is clear – best shot at getting in the playoffs with two losses if LSU beats them in the Championship Game. Auburn’s incentive to beat Georgia is more ephemeral – you beat your second-biggest rival raising the hopes of your greatest rival, whom you can then beat at home and crush their souls, fuck up their recruiting and rightfully declare yourself the slayer of the Nick Saban Dynasty. At least until next year.
Georgia’s a three-point favorite, which I guess means somebody thinks Georgia kicker Rodriguez will have a good day. His toe was a killing machine last year, right up to the SEC Championship Game, when he missed a 30-yard field goal that would have given the Dawgs a 17-point lead over Bama, but he shanked it, and the Tide came rolling back to win. He missed an OT field goal against South Carolina, the game Georgia lost this year. He’s not like Alabama’s kickers. He’s not bad. He’s good but sometimes has bad days. He better hope today’s not one of them, because putting up any kind of points against Auburn will be crucial. Auburn’s got a very good defense, and is built to take down an offense like UGA’s.
Georgia’s got a better defense, I beg your pardon. They have not allowed a rushing TD this year. They’ve shut out three teams this year. Georgia is the last team on earth playing God’s football – let the defense beat on the other team’s offense, control the ball on offense, run the clock. The only drawback is that Georgia’s run game has not blossomed the way I thought it would this season. It’s good, but it’s not dominating. D’Andre Swift has great numbers – 921 yards going into today’s game, 6.3 yards per carry, 7 TDs, 15 catches for 170 yards and one TD. He’s the kind of guy, though, who could bust loose late in the season and become America’s hero. So, we’ll see.
No. 2 Ohio State at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Here’s another godawful Big Ten game that will end badly for Rutgers, a hopeless amalgamation of sorrow and futility in shoulderpads and cleats. Rutgers is a 34-point dog, but anything less than 60 should count as a loss for tOSU.
But the Buckeyes’ lazy days are over after this. They close out the season against Penn State and Michigan, both of which suck, but are good in the context of the Big Ten.
Indiana is playing Penn State this week – the Hoosiers are ranked 24th, which is different from the way things usually are. No. 15 Michigan plays Michigan State and should kill them and make barbecue out of them, but don’t bet on it. Michigan is half-assed.
Wake Forest at No. 3 Clemson, 3:30 p.m., FOX
Wake Forest is one of the better teams in the ACC, but they’re still pretty awful. Clemson, at last back in the CFP Top 4 and whine-free, is a 5 touchdown favorite, which sounds about right. The Tigers seem to playing their best ball of the year, and peaking at the right time is something Dabo Swinney teams do real well. But it’s hard to tell, because it seems like a lot of these ACC schools have football because people need something to do until basketball season starts.
No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa, 4 p.m., FOX
Minnesota spent a lot of emotional energy taking out Penn State last week. They lit up the Nittany Lions offense in ways somebody not familiar with Big Ten defenses would have thought impossible. The Golden Gophers do pitch the ball around and roll up and down the field. But now they have to go play a pretty decent Iowa team, who has only lost to Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, all closely. So they’re almost as good as those guys, and Minnesota, well, they eked out wins over San Diego State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern to start the year. How good are those GGs? This one will be another indication of their playoff worthiness.
No. 1 LSU at Ole Miss, 7 p.m., ESPN
Well, here’s the thing about Ole Miss. They lose a lot, but have been losing by fewer points than they did earlier in the season. They lost by 11 to Missouri, 7 to Texas A&M and 6 to Auburn. Auburn played LSU close. I guess I’m trying to build up some enthusiasm for this turd, but the fact is, LSU is probably going to stomp them flatter than a runned-over nutria rat on Pontchartrain Drive in Eden Isle.
No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor, 7:30 p.m., ABC
Can Oklahoma save the world from an undefeated Baylor waltzing into a semifinal demolition at the hands of Ohio State or LSU? It’s not that done a deal, because the Bears, unlike anybody else in the Big 12, sort of play defense a little bit. That could be enough to be the difference. But win or lose, these two teams could meet again in a few weeks for the Big 12 Championship Game because they have this wonky deal where the top two teams just play each other and the winner gets a trophy.