As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s important to remember the wisdom your now infamous Uncle T once bestowed upon you.
“I pity the fool that buys a used vacuum or signs their name on an LLC with Connor Stalions.”
Or something like that.
Since 2000, there have been three FBS conference games featuring 11-0 teams. All three have been Ohio State vs. Michigan – The Game in 2006, The Game in 2022 and The Game in 2023.
Every edition of The Game is meaningful to each fanbase. It brings out the toxicity of even the most mild-mannered of fans and puts an enormous amount of pressure on the players and coaches of both sides, with bragging rights for a full 365 days a year on the line. With that disclaimer out of the way, doesn’t it feel like this year’s game has unprecedented stakes attached to it, given how the last month has played out?
Whoever wins will head to the Big Ten Championship Game and likely the College Football Playoff. The loser will not, barring a complete chaos scenario breaking out over the next two weeks. That said, less than a week out, I can’t decide which team has more pressure on them to win Saturday.
Let’s call it a draw.
The Wolverines have got no Jim Harbaugh, no linebackers coach and their pet’s heads are falling off!
Acting head coach Sherrone Moore elected to run the ball 32 straight times to beat Penn State, then saw J.J. McCarthy deliver an underwhelming performance in a one-score game against Maryland that may have swung the other way if not for two safeties and a few terrible mistakes from Taulia Tagovailoa. Not to mention the integrity of the entire program has been questioned by the rest of the country as more evidence of the sign-stealing scandal continues to come into the public spotlight.
Valid or not, the Ann Arbor Astros’ dominance of the Big Ten the past three seasons has been viewed as deeply tainted by some, questionable at best by others and even the staunchest defenders of the scandal admit the team broke a rule of some sort at the very least. Despite all of that, Michigan can give Ohio State one of the biggest middle fingers seen in quite some time by defeating their archrival for the third consecutive season without their head coach on the sidelines and delivering a gut punch that would be felt for ages.
But most importantly for Michigan, this feels like the team’s last dance. The team has 40-plus seniors on its roster, plays a loaded schedule next season, is staring down the barrel of future NCAA punishment pending its investigation and will likely see Harbaugh either bolt for the NFL the first chance he gets or suffer further punishment. If a national championship isn’t coming this year, who knows when the Ann Arbor Astros will get another crack at it?
There has never been more pressure on a head coach with a career record of 56-6 than there is on Ryan Day. Since Day took over in Columbus, he’s throttled every Big Ten opponent thrown his way not named Michigan, made three CFP appearances and nearly defeated eventual national champion Georgia last season.
Alas, when you coach at Ohio State, you’re judged first and foremost on whether you beat Michigan or not. Thems the rules.
And the past two years have been very dark November days for the Buckeye faithful. How much Michigan’s sign-stealing operation played a role in those defeats, especially last season, is open to interpretation. That said, if Day loses to a Harbaugh-less Michigan team for the third straight season, the vitriol will be out of control.
But most importantly for Ohio State, the fans really, really, really want this one. If Day and the Buckeyes find a way to win at the Big House, they’ll be celebrated as conquering heroes in years to come in Buckeyeland as the men who stopped the Ann Arbor Astros’ reign of illegal tyranny on the sport, regardless of how things go in the CFP. If they lose, well, let’s just say the internet won’t be a very fun place.
Considering they’re a national powerhouse, it’s very infrequent that non-Ohio State fans openly root for the Buckeyes. But given the situation, it seems like they’ll have the rooting interest of a good chunk of the nation on Saturday.
Either way, I cannot wait for the Day press conference at around 3:45 p.m. on Saturday.
Ohio State spotlight of the week: Keeping Kyle McCord clean
It’s not re-inventing the wheel to broadly state protecting the quarterback is essential to winning football games.
But going down a bit of a rabbit hole on Sunday, I stumbled across some numbers from Pro Football Focus that are flat-out staggering concerning Kyle McCord. In particular, his numbers while kept clean and his numbers while under pressure.
When he’s kept clean, which is on 75.4% of his dropbacks, McCord is completing 72.7% of his passes, averaging 10.3 yards per attempt, has a 20 to 2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has a PFF offensive grade of 92 (out of 100). That’s very good! (And it's a testament to the improvement of Ohio State’s offensive line that McCord has only been pressured on 24.6% of his dropbacks this season.)
You'd expect a stark disparity from any signal caller when comparing numbers while in a clean pocket compared to a quarterback under pressure. But oh man, McCord’s under-pressure numbers are, um, bad.
While facing heat, McCord is completing 38% of his passes, averaging a measly 4 yards per attempt, has a two-to-two touchdown-to-interception ratio and has an offensive grade of 28. That’s not great!
Here are Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy’s numbers by comparison, completely ignoring the context of him looking very vulnerable the past two weeks.
Kept clean: Protected 70.8% of the time, 78.5 completion percentage, 10 yards per attempt, 12-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 91.5 offensive grade.
Under pressure: Pressured 29.9% of the time, 57.9 completion percentage, 6-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 73.5 offensive grade.
In short, keep McCord’s jersey clean, and it’s likely Ohio State will snap its two-game losing streak to Michigan.
Jordan Travis suffers serious injury
Of all the games on the national slate I thought I’d be writing about for Monday, Florida State vs. North Alabama had to be toward the bottom of the list. Especially considering FSU won 58-13.
But the Seminoles suffered a potentially season-altering setback after quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending leg injury early in the contest. (Don't click the link if you're squeamish).
It’s a bummer when any college player suffers a gruesome injury, of course, but Travis had been playing well for the undefeated Seminoles, completing 64% of his passes for 2,755 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions and adding seven touchdowns on the ground.
FSU will now rely on backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker to channel his inner Cardale Jones and pick up a pair of much-needed wins because it’s likely a loss to either Florida or Louisville would keep the Seminoles out of the College Football Playoff entirely.
A lot of drama is brewing for college football’s final four-team playoff, and how Rodemaker plays will play a big part in it.
David Braun gets the Northwestern job and has the Wildcats bowling
One of the Big Ten’s open coaching positions has been filled. Though, Northwestern didn’t have to look very far to find its guy.
David Braun was hired by former Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald as the team’s defensive coordinator in January, then was thrown into a pit of vipers when he became the Wildcats’ interim head coach in July following Fitzgerald’s amid NU’s hazing scandal.
Before the season even started, there was a mass exodus of players bolting for other squads (Ohio State linebacker Nigel Glover was one of them!). Considering Northwestern was coming off a one-win season, there wasn’t a lot of talent on the roster to begin with. Factor in that Braun had never been a head coach in his career at any level, and the Wildcats’ season over/under win total was 2.5, and you had the makings of a no-win situation.
Yet, Braun found a way to win enough, anyway, as Northwestern decided to remove the interim tag on Thursday after he successfully led the Wildcats to more wins this season than they had in the past two seasons combined. In Braun’s first game as the permanent head coach, Northwestern became bowl-eligible with a 23-15 win over Purdue.
Will the guy work out long-term? Who knows. But given the circumstances, he sure as hell deserves a shot.
And then there were six
Heading into the final week of the regular season, six out of 133 FBS teams are still undefeated.
Big Ten: Ohio State (11-0), Michigan (11-0)
ACC: Florida State (11-0)
SEC: Georgia (11-0)
Pac-12: Washington (11-0)
Group of Five: Liberty (11-0)
What was fun and what was wacky about Week 12
Week 12 had a lot of things that were fun
Hard not to appreciate Marvin Harrison Jr. turning around to take one last at Ohio Stadium as he left the field for the final time in his Buckeye career.
Considering how vulnerable Washington had looked the last few weeks, you have to give the Huskies massive props for coming out unscathed of a gauntlet that included USC, Utah and Oregon State. They’re an Apple Cup victory away from a potential Pac-12 championship rematch against Oregon.
Michael Penix Jr Rome Odunze 19 yards to end the game on 3rd down pic.twitter.com/apA8wARIbs
— RanDynasty (@ran_dynasty) November 19, 2023
On Sunday, Washington and Washington State announced a five-year continuation of playing The Apple Cup, which frankly is awesome for the sport. Would love to see Oregon and Oregon State do something similar soon.
You didn’t think Iowa was going to get its first points on the board with anything other than a safety, did you?
SAFETY ALERT 2-0 Iowa as it should be pic.twitter.com/rpDXahEPIC
— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) November 18, 2023
Mississippi State interim coach Greg Knox brought a four-wheeler into the locker room pregame to fire the boys up before taking the field against Southern Miss.
GREG KNOX ON A FOUR WHEELER PREGAME pic.twitter.com/siTeHs3wDF
— Robbie Faulk (@robbiefaulk247) November 19, 2023
Half of the SEC opting to play cupcakes the week before their regular season finale is always somewhat eye-roll-inducing, but it does lead to cool moments occasionally. For example, late in the fourth quarter in a game against Abilene Christian, Texas A&M used a kickoff team completely comprised of walk-ons. They responded by forcing a fumble and recovering it. You know those guys are going to be telling that story for the rest of their lives.
A better example of a cool moment when an SEC team plays a cupcake: When the perceived cupcake actually wins. New Mexico State was paid a cool $1.8 million to play Auburn on Saturday and was a 25-point underdog, then went into Jordan-Hare Stadium and completely dismantled the Tigers, winning by 21 points, 31-10. By the way, the last time a 21-plus point underdog actually won by 21 points in an FBS football game was in 2022 when Jerry Kill’s New Mexico State Aggies dismantled Hugh Freeze’s Liberty 49-14. Kill took Freeze to the woodshed for the second year in a row.
Not only did Auburn get its ass kicked, but New Mexico State was throwing players around WWE style.
BY GOD! DIEGO PAVIA JUST SUPLEXED AN AUBURN PLAYER
— Sickos Committee (@SickosCommittee) November 18, 2023
UNLV runs a fake punt, Air Force snuffed it out from a mile away, but the Runnin’ Rebels converted anyway.
Week 12 had a lot of whacky things, too
We have to lead with the Florida vs. Missouri ending. The Tigers had just captivated their fans with a wild, go-ahead drive finalized by a “Thicc kicker” field goal in the game's final seconds, but still needed to stop the Gators from converting on a desperation play deep in their own territory. Florida probably wanted to run with the ole’ hook and ladder, but we’ll never know since the receiver dropped the pass, and the clock hit zero. Missouri’s players ran onto the field to celebrate the win, with ESPN’s sideline reporter starting a postgame interview with head coach Eliah Drinkwitz. Only, an official interrupted the broadcast and declared each time had to go back to its sidelines for one final play as it was determined there was one second remaining on the game clock after all. The camera immediately panned to the coaches’ box, where coordinators from both teams were already long gone and on their way back to the locker room. Fortunately, that was the extent of the controversy, as the game ended for real after a pass went for a modest game but not nearly far enough to pull off a stunner. Just a very strange ending to a contest.
Ohio State had seven players called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because they had the AUDACITY to have fun after securing an interception. On the bright side, the delivery of the penalty announcement is hilarious.
UnSpOrTsMaNLiKe CoNdUcT. PoSiNg. pic.twitter.com/jnZbgchBu3
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 18, 2023
In case you wondered how Colorado’s game against Washington State went on Friday, its third-string quarterback pulled off the rare feat of catching his own pass, then in turn throwing an interception. The coach Prime storyline was definitely fun for a few weeks, but Colorado is likely headed to a 1-8 finish after a 3-0 start.
If you ever need to explain to somebody what textbook targeting is, show them this clip.
There is no place for this in football
— CFBTalkDaily (@CFBTalkDaily) November 17, 2023
This is how you hurt someone
Learn to tackle pic.twitter.com/eErzSuVS31
I present to you two turnovers on the same play.
What is happening??? pic.twitter.com/VHvryhassb
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 19, 2023
Two turnovers on the same play, Big Ten edition!
HOOSIERS GET THE INT BUT THEN FUMBLE IT RIGHT BACK TO SPARTY!! pic.twitter.com/ivJoB2TbSx
— Sickos Committee (@SickosCommittee) November 18, 2023
For all my degenerates out there and depending on what point spread you closed at, you might have gotten a horrific beat or a cathartic victory in the final seconds of Florida State vs. North Alabama.
See, Ohio State fans? It can always be worse on special teams.
TROUBLE WITH THE SNAP! WASHINGTON GETS A SAFETY! pic.twitter.com/vFYsfItLeX
— Mr Matthew CFB (@MrMatthew_CFB) November 19, 2023
I almost thought this guy clocked the ref for a second.
Watch out for the ref pic.twitter.com/1IUntkdL3n
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 18, 2023
College kickers, man.
This section has admittedly lost some zest after Brian Ferentz was officially designated for termination.
But those fools may need to rethink that decision after the Iowa Hawkeyes found a way to win a delicious 15-13 game with two offensive touchdowns, a missed PAT and a safety en route to clinching a Big Ten West championship. On behalf of all fans of the nepotism tracker, we at 11W salute the true catalyst of Iowa’s championship season, Brian Ferentz. Better sleep with one eye open, Ohio State/Ann Arbor Astros. Our pal Brian has got something cooking for ya on Dec. 2.
The goal: 325 points across 13 games, for an average of 25 points per game so an already-fired Brian Ferentz can keep working for his dad. Wait, hang on. Now Iowa is going to play in 14 games this season. Aw, hell no. Now Brian needs to hit 350 points to keep his job. Why do I still include this section again?
Last game: Iowa 15, Illinois 13.
Points tallied this season: Good news, we’re in the 200’s baby! Not a soul can take that away from us.
If the season ended today: Bad news, Iowa would average 18.5 points per game, with only nine of 133 FBS teams faring worse in scoring offense. We’re gonna need 147 points across three games (an average of 49 points per contest) to salvage the season.
Up next: Iowa faces Nebraska, which allowed 24 points to Wisconsin in a 24-17 overtime defeat.
Game of the Week
No. 15 Oregon State at No. 6 Oregon, 8:30 p.m. Friday on FOX
Season record: 5-7-1
My pick: Oregon -14
Breakdown: Honestly, as much as I love rivalry week, anything that isn’t The Game is pretty much a snoozer on paper as far as big stakes are concerned. Friday’s Civil War matchup is probably the closest thing we’ll get to that, with Oregon still fighting for a CFP spot and Oregon State wanting to deliver a big screw you to its in-state rival before they each go their own separate ways. The Ducks have been on fire (unlike my picks the last few weeks in this column), so we’re riding with the hot hand.
Hodgepodge team classifiers heading into the season’s final week
If they win out, they’re going to the CFP: Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State, Georgia, Washington
Good chance to get in the CFP if they win out: Alabama, Texas, Oregon
Alive for the CFP if they win out but they’re down on the pecking order and will need plenty of help: Louisville
New Year’s Six Bowl contenders: Penn State, Ole Miss, Liberty, Tulane, Missouri, Oklahoma
Awesome in-state MAC teams: Toledo, Miami (OH), Ohio
They’re bowl eligible, so that’s something: Oregon State, Oklahoma State, Utah, Boston College, Rutgers, Tennessee, North Carolina, Miami, Kansas State, Kansas, UCLA, SMU, Memphis, Fresno State, UNLV, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Troy, Duke, Arizona, Air Force, North Carolina, LSU, Notre Dame, Wyoming, Kentucky, UTSA, Coastal Carolina, Texas State, West Virginia, North Carolina State, Bowling Green, Maryland, Iowa State, South Alabama, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Auburn, San Jose State, Georgia Tech
Underwhelming B1G West champions: Iowa
Would be the most underwhelming 8-4 team of all time: Clemson
Well, 7-5 sure wasn’t what you were expecting, was it?: USC
Good for you, Jerry Kill: New Mexico State
Fired coaches club: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Syracuse, Michigan State, Boise State
Retired coaches club: San Diego State
Our beloved G5 heroes that will only go bowling if there aren’t enough six-win teams since the NCAA will not make an exception to the two-year transition rule: James Madison, Jacksonville State
Keeping their coach, and I’m not really sure why: Arkansas
Could see the coaching getting another year or getting the boot: Florida
If the coach is still there after Dec. 1, I’ll be surprised: Indiana
Shoulder shrug, you all have one chance to become bowl eligible: BYU, Minnesota, Nebraska, UCF, Illinois, Washington State, South Carolina, Cal, Virginia Tech, TCU
Interim coach label has been removed, team has vastly overachieved: Northwestern
Not great, Bob: Virginia, Baylor, Purdue, Arizona State, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, Houston
What a collapse: Colorado