1. I’m running out of things to say about Clemson. Which is very bad for me and very good for Dabo Swinney and company. What else can you say about this team? The Tigers went on the road in a spotlight game before a blacked out Louisville crowd and blacked out Louisville themselves. They sacked Lamar Jackson four times and baited him into a pick-six. Making his first road start, Kelly Bryant looked like the game’s true Heisman candidate, throwing for 316 yards with a touchdown and no interception and running for two more. The Tigers ran the ball nearly 50 times for 297 yards and four touchdowns on their way to a 47-21 win.

They may not win every game, but every question has been answered. They’re the defending national champions, and they’re the best team in the country until someone proves otherwise.

2. Texas-USC lived up to the hype. In its own way. It won’t make anyone forget about the 2006 Rose Bowl, but USC’s 27-24 double overtime victory far surpassed expectations for a 17-point spread that most observers felt the Trojans would cover.

I watched the entire thing and I’m still not sure how this was the game it turned out to be considering:

  • Texas played a true freshman quarterback making his first road start. USC played the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
  • Texas’s most indispensable player, left tackle Connor Williams, left the game in the second quarter and didn’t return.
  • Texas committed a ghastly number of mental errors, including 10 penalties (almost all of them unforced errors), caught a punt at its own 2-yard line and turned it over four times, all of them WTF mistakes made by said true freshman quarterback.

A week after running 59 times for 406 yards and six touchdowns against San Jose State, Texas made almost no attempt to run the ball with its backs; Sam Ehlinger threw the ball 40 times, while Chris Warren and Kyle Porter ran it nine. But Texas kept hanging around, and hanging around, and hanging around, largely because USC kept running the ball (37 carries for 71 yards) despite any evidence the Longhorns could contain Sam Darnold’s passing attack (28-of-49 for 397 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions).

The Texas defense stopped Darnold every time except the times it absolutely had to: just before halftime, when USC somehow broke a 7-7 tie with 10 seconds left, and while clinging to a 17-14 lead with 37 seconds left.

Tom Herman had an opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the first overtime with a 2-point conversion but kicked the extra point instead. Ehlinger fumbled in the top of the second, and a 43-yard field goal ended it for the Trojans.

2a. The question I’m asking my team if I’m Tom Herman: Can we play like this every week, or just when we feel like it? Texas is off next Saturday before a Thursday night visit to Iowa State, a game that the Tom Herman Law of Averages says the Longhorns will lose. We’ll see if Texas treats the Cyclones like they’re USC or like they’re Maryland.

2b. The question I’m asking my team if I’m Clay Helton: Who are we really? Are we the team that plays a four quarter game against Western Michigan, the team that pushes Stanford up and down the field, or the team that allows Texas to hang around for 60-minutes plus? Whatever the answer, USC needs to figure it out quickly. The Trojans have nine straight game weeks ahead of them, and two Pac-12 road games in the next 13 days.

3. The Tennessee-Florida game was always going to be about who lost more than who won and, boy, did Tennessee lose. The Vols appeared to be on their way to a blowout loss in The Swamp when Malik Davis streaked 74 yards down the sideline to give Florida an apparent 20-3 lead with 10:45 to play. But Justin Marin raced from five yards behind Davis all the way down the sideline and caught up to Davis, forcing a fumble that kicked through the back of the end zone, turning a touchdown into a touchback. That play ignited the Vols into two straight touchdown drives and, with 3:57 remaining, a golden opportunity to win the game presented itself when Rashaan Gaulden caught a tipped interception at the Florida 40.

The Vols had a 1st-and-goal at the 9 with a minute remaining with a chance to win the game — this is where I should mention two kickers had combined to miss three straight field goals — but three straight incomplete passes forced a game-tying field goal. Jim McElwain appeared to be playing for overtime when he sat on his two timeouts after a 3-yard run took the ball to his own 37 before finally calling one with nine seconds left. Then this happened.

This loss feels like karmic payback for that Georgia Tech comeback, and the Hail Mary to beat Georgia last year, and about a million other Tennessee games in the Butch Jones tenure. The Vols have played 21 one score games in Jones’s four years and counting and won nine of them.

4. You don’t want any part of Oklahoma State. Mike Gundy and his Mullets haven’t played an impressive schedule, but they have played their schedule impressively. A 59-24 blowout of Tulsa and a 44-7 suffocation of South Alabama led to Saturday’s visit to Pittsburgh, where the Pokes led 21-0 after one and 49-7 at halftime en route to a 59-21 laugher. Oklahoma State scored touchdowns on every one of its non end-of-half possessions in the first half, and Mason Rudolph was 20-of-28 for 423 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Cowboys have won the first quarter by a combined score of 59-0 through a quarter of the season. That’s eight touchdowns and one field goal to zip.

5. You don’t want any part of Mississippi State, either. Dan Mullen is always dangerous with an experienced quarterback, but I have to admit I didn’t see Todd Grantham’s bunch having its way with Matt Canada. The Bulldogs smacked LSU around 37-7 in Starkville, Mississippi State’s largest margin of victory in 111 all-time meetings.

Moreover, Mississippi State ran the ball 48 times for 285 yards and two touchdowns (Nick Fitzgerald also hit 15-of-23 passes for 180 yards and two scores) while limiting the Tigers to 133 yards on the ground and 137 through the air.

When’s the last time you saw anyone — Alabama included — push LSU around to the point where LSU doesn’t force a punt in between the 2:32 mark of the first quarter and the 8:28 mark of the fourth quarter?

6. The nicest fans in college football aren’t feeling very nice right now. Nebraska lost last week at Oregon, but the Huskers could still take something positive out of shutting out Oregon for the entire second half and fighting their way back in the game they trailed by 28 at halftime.

There’s nothing positive to take from losing to Northern Illinois at home.

The Huskers don’t have any answers at quarterback right now. Tanner Lee tossed four interceptions in the Oregon loss, and threw three more on Saturday. The first two were returned for touchdowns, plunging Nebraska into a 14-0 hole that turned the entire game off kilter. Big Red actually fought back to take a 17-14 lead, but NIU put together a 75-yard drive to retake the lead at 21-17 with 8:52 remaining, and Lee ended Nebraska’s last two possessions with an incomplete passed and — you guess it — an interception.

At 1-2 for the third time in the last 56 years but the second time in the last three, it’ll be interesting to see where the blame turns: toward head coach Mike Riley, or the guy who took three steps outside the box to hire him in AD Shawn Eichorst.

Let’s turn to the twin voices of Husker Nation: College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Tommie Frazier, and Larry the Cable Guy.

Take it away, gentlemen!

7. If you’ll indulge me please, I need to go on a rant here. It feels like I say this every year, but I repeat myself because I have to: ADs and conference commissioners need to rein in officials when it comes to excessive celebration penalties.

Chances are that for every person who watches a college football game each Saturday, the emotion inherent to the game ranks somewhere in the top three reasons why they tune in. It’s what separates the college game from the NFL, where everyone from the owners to the players to the media treats each week like, well, like it’s work.

With that in mind, watch this play and ask yourself if there’s anyone who saw this play and thought to themselves, “Yes, it’s good for college football the official threw flagged this. He was really getting out of control there.”

Sure, no one wants players getting in their opponents’ faces, but Iowa running back Akrum Wadley wasn’t anywhere close to that. It wasn’t within three miles of that. Fans — read: customers — buy tickets and flip on their televisions to watch college football because it’s fun and because they like to watch the players have fun. They don’t watch to see them lectured for their behavior by middle aged men in costumes.

It’s time for the people in power here — commissioners, ADs, Congress, the cast of the The Fast and the Furious movies — to remind the officials why people watch college football.

8. The Super 16. The Nuggets is once again honored to vote in this year’s edition of the FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here’s this week’s ballot.

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Oklahoma State
  5. Penn State
  6. Washington
  7. Mississippi State
  8. USC
  9. TCU
  10. Wisconsin
  11. Michigan
  12. Georgia
  13. Virginia Tech
  14. Ohio State
  15. Florida State
  16. Louisville

9. Odds and Ends

a. It was almost too perfect that Houston’s first game in Houston after Hurricane Harvey came against Rice, and Rice’s first game in Houston since the storm came against Houston. After what had to feel like a lifetime on the road, the city came together simply to be together.

The Coogs won the game, 38-3.

b. A week after getting blown out by Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech went on the road and beat defending Conference USA champion Western Kentucky, 23-22. The Bulldogs trailed 22-13 midway through the fourth quarter, but rallied with a 91-yard touchdown drive and a game-winning field goal with two seconds remaining.

c. After one quarter in Greenville, Virginia Tech trailed East Carolina, 17-7. Final score: Virginia Tech 64, East Carolina 17.

d. Not quite as dramatic, but TCU trailed SMU 19-7 halfway through the second quarter and had the lead by halftime. The Frogs won, 59-39.

e. Mike Norvell earned his first massive win at Memphis, beating UCLA, 48-45. But it wasn’t without drama. In a game where nobody stopped anybody, Norvell opted to keep his quarterback Riley Ferguson (23-of-38 for 398 yards with six touchdowns and one interception) on the sideline and go for a crucial 4th-and-5 by having his holder toss the ball behind his head to his kicker, who would then throw the ball downfield. It didn’t work, but Tigers’ defense forced a turnover on downs to seal it.

f. Vanderbilt is 3-0 and a winner in five of its last six after stuffing No. 18 Kansas State, 14-7. The Commodores have allowed 13 points all season and produced stops in 34 of 36 drives. Next up: Alabama comes to town as the program hosts its first CBS Game of the Week ever.

g. Not sure how many wins we should’ve expected out of UAB this season, but the Blazers are 2-1 after beating Coastal Carolina, 30-23.

h. It was Morgan State, but Rutgers won a game 65-0.

i. Purdue won its first non-conference road game over a Power 5 opponent since 2005, and did so emphatically: Boilers 35, Missouri 3. Purdue out-passed Mizzou 272-133 and out-rushed them 205-70. Michigan comes to town in a nationally televised twilight game. Considering the way the Wolverines have struggled to finish drives, that one could be interesting.

j. Texas Tech beat Arizona State, 52-45. The quarterbacks went a combined 64-of-91 (70.3 percent) for 896 yards (9.55 per attempt) with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

k. Kentucky has now beaten South Carolina four years in a row after going to Columbia and winning, 23-13.

l. FCS over FBS: Idaho State 30, Nevada 28.

m. Toledo won a barnburner over Tulsa, 54-51 on a field goal at the buzzer. The teams combined for 1,227 yards of total offense and 58 first downs.

n. FCS over FBS: North Carolina A&T 35, Charlotte 31.

o. Cal is 3-0 after beating Ole Miss, 27-16. Can’t say I saw that one coming.

p. Stanford is 0-2 in Pac-12 play… and San Diego State is 2-0. Fresh off beating Arizona State at Arizona State, the Aztecs came from behind to beat the Cardinal, 20-17. Both sides had to wait out a fourth quarter delay to fix the Qualcomm Stadium lights, but San Diego State emerged from the break stronger, notching an 8-yard touchdown pass with 54 seconds left to move one step closer to the Pac-12 championship game.

10. And finally…. Austin radio personality Sean Adams died suddenly of an apparent heart attack on Thursday, just hours before he was to leave for Los Angeles to cover the Texas-USC game.  He was 46 and in good health.

I didn’t know Sean well, but I did know him well enough to know how much he loved his two children. I can remember as a student at Texas, killing time with the rest of the media until post-practice interviews were to begin, when a colleague asked Sean about his move from afternoon drive to mid-days — something most in the radio industry would view as a demotion. “Man, I get to see my kids again,” he said.

Whether you knew Sean or not, you can honor his memory by telling your own kids and your own loved ones how much you love them as often as you can. Because none of us know exactly how long we’ll get that chance.

 

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National columnist - Zach joined the staff in 2012...and has been attempting to improve Doug and Scott's writing ability ever since (to little avail). Outside of football season, you can find him watching the San Antonio Spurs reading Game of Thrones fan theories.