Cleaning Up the Mess is here to make sense of what just happened at your weekend-long television party. Who put Goldfish in the blender? And why is the thermostat on 42?
This week: The furniture is on the roof, a screaming motorcycle crashed through the front door, someone played “Nessun Dorma” while the television was on mute and there may or may not have been a conversation about Tim Tebow. Yes, it’s 2014, and someone talked about Tim Tebow playing in the NFL. This all might seem strange and without regard for order, but it couldn’t be any weirder than Mississippi State earning the designation as the best team in the country.
Surrealism defies logical explanation and justification. Why is that clock melting? How did that apple get there? Why is Louis C.K’s neighbor throwing a water jug out of the window? There is no explanation needed for these events because there is not meant to be one. You can try to explain Mississippi State’s 2014 season using empirical and anecdotal evidence of player development as well as recruitment evaluation. It doesn’t in any way make up for the fact that you feel like you’re in a college football fever dream punctuated by a septuagenarian ringing a cowbell and speaking in tongues.
The Bulldogs have looked like one of the most dominant teams in the country, with a defense that is nastier than the drool that emits from the big ugly’s jaw. As the rain started to fall in Starkville, the MSU offense started to look as sloppy as Scott Field. Four turnovers were committed by the Bulldogs, with the defense holding the potent Auburn rushing attack to three field goals on each interception. Yet, the State defense was able to force four Tiger turnovers which included a game ending interception of Auburn QB Nick Marshall.
Before Saturday, the Tigers were averaging 5 touchdowns per game. In Starkville, Auburn was held to just two in their 38-23 loss. All roads to the SEC West title and a shot at the College Football Playoff go through the Junction. Those roads are all currently blocked by a defensive corps that is anchored by Benardrick McKinney who has been forcing immense pressure on some of the SEC’s most prolific offenses. They have some lighter fare in the form of Kentucky, Vanderbilt and an FCS team on the schedule but lurking beyond that is Arkansas, Alabama and a powder blue and red Dodge Challenger in the form of Ole Miss. There is no easy day in the west, but Dan Mullen’s team is currently making the grueling challenge look as easy as a CPA doing his own taxes.
Also jumping up in the rankings is the Baylor Bears, who were on the edge of being outgunned by TCU’s newfound nuclear armament.
It looked inconceivable in the fourth quarter that the home team would end the game without a big, glaring purple blemish on their record as Marcus Mallet intercepted Bryce Petty for a 49-yard touchdown. The score was 58-37 and all of the potential of entering the other worldly stratosphere of the Top Four seemed to be all but out of reach. With eleven minutes left in the game, it looked like the doomsday clock was about to hit zero on Oregon’s Texas spirit animal.
The Bears would change the narrative in five minutes when they rattled off three touchdowns and 228 yards of offense. Petty looked unstoppable, as he hit Antwan Goodley and Corey Goodman for two receptions over twenty yards that accounted for the three scores which tied the game at 58-58. TCU was given the ball with 4:42 left to play. A stop by the Baylor defense and a crucial pass interference penalty called on the Horned Frogs would set up the final drive by the Bears. A field goal would put them in a position to win and remain the class of the Big 12.
Before Saturday, Bears kicker Chris Callahan had only hit one of his six field goal attempts. Against TCU, he was 3/3. The play wound down to four seconds of play with Baylor on the TCU 11 yard line. The result could have been either an extra few minutes with Gary Patterson’s defense or an outright win. The sideline seemed to suggest that a missed attempt would end everything that had been building at the small school in Waco up to that moment.
In a matter of four seconds, the place would be perfect, the kick would be spot on and the metallic gold of the helmets would sparkle a little brighter. Now, the Bears are the fourth best team in the country and find themselves in a position to wreck shop among the more established names within the Big 12. It would be easy if all teams were once coached by Charlie Weis, but they still have West Virginia, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State left before they can even think about having a shot at the most coveted champagne shooter in America.
“Champagne,” pipes in Ole Miss from Kyle Field. “Sure.”
The Rebels were faced with the daunting task of recovering from the meteoric hangover that only comes after beating Alabama for the first time in ten years. Ole Miss proved it belonged among the elite with a shutdown defense and an unmistakably efficient Dr. Bo Wallace, who had 178 passing yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. The numbers pale in comparison to former Heisman front runner Kenny Hill who had 401 yards and two touchdowns on the day. The difference was two interceptions – a number that would have been under the assumed ownership of Wallace before his performance in the Alabama game.
Ole Miss is now 6-0 for the first time since 1962, a bit of trivia that is linked in time to Frank Vaught’s national championship team from that year. It has taken a lifetime for the Rebels to reach this point, and their most monumental challenge seems to be in the rear view trying to avoid a loss to Bret Bielema. The defense is shutting down anything that offensive coordinators are willing to throw at it and will gladly allow you points should they only come in enough time to not pose a legitimate threat.
As the third best team in the country, the biggest date on their schedule is setting up for a mammoth Egg Bowl match against Mississippi State. That’s only if they manage to escape Death Valley and a home game against Auburn, a feat that doesn’t seem too impossible given that both teams look rather anemic at this point in time.
East of Mississippi, the most complete team in the other division of the SEC looks to be Georgia.
Todd Gurley’s crazy, vindictive-fueled suspension left a huge void in the Bulldogs’ running game against Missouri. The challenge seemed huge given that Maty Mauk was the leader of an offense that was the closest thing to Baylor given how the rest of the division looks. A shootout in Columbia seemed imminent and Georgia did not seem to have the experienced firepower to keep up given Hutson Mason’s somewhat shaky record. The result was a 34-0 shut out that put UGA’s running back depth on display.
Freshman Nick Chubb added 138 yards and a touchdown to his stat sheet with an average of 3.8 yards per carry on the day. Mason also rattled off an impressive 22 of 28 pass attempts for 156 yards and zero turnovers. Mizzou’s response was nothing but a whimper against a Georgia defense that looked markedly improved. The East is now ramping up to be a footrace between Georgia and, yes, Kentucky. The division standings look like a Salvador Dali painting.
OTHER LEFTOVER PARTY FAVORS
- Oregon rides into the Los Angeles sun set blaring “Outta Love Again” by Van Halen. Why? Do they need a reason after hanging 42 points on a staunch UCLA defense? They don’t want to hear how good Caribou is; they just want to enjoy David Lee Roth in earnest.
- Stanford pummeled Washington State 34-17. The more impressive feat is that the Cougars only ran the ball twice (!) all game.
- Alabama squeaked out of Arkansas with one point to end the game at 14-13. The Crimson Tide’s lack of offense can only be explained by these two roommates arguing about why one didn’t tell the other about taking the last Pop Tart.
- Michigan earned their first Big Ten win against Penn State in the Big House. This is the only bright spot for a planet that is watching its sun slowly die out from experimentation by a mad colossus that has no idea how suns work.
- Arizona lost 28-26 at home to USC which means the Pac 12 South is now an open, goalless field of rowdy youths kicking around a soccer ball until someone calls time.
- Oklahoma won the Red River Shootout against Texas 31-26. The silver lining is that no one can say that Texas isn’t aggressive.
- Michigan State still manages to win against Purdue while only playing 45 minutes of football.
- Notre Dame survives against North Carolina in a 50-43 game which only seems like a sentence reserved for basketball columns.
- Florida State falls to number two because they won 38-20 which is a result of having to play teams like Syracuse.
- Oklahoma State stays alive against Kansas by seven points in a 28-27 win in Lawrence. Big 12 offense!
- East Carolina headed to Tampa and beat South Florida 28-17. It’s not really South Florida you have to worry about. It’s a party bus that wants to take you into Tampa for no charge.
- Dabo Swinney gives a post-game interview after Clemson’s home win against Louisville and a kid with braces just derails it all.
- LSU handed Florida their second loss of the season. Yet, more embarrassing than a loss is flopping as if you were a member of the Miami Heat.