New York, a city largely free from the college football pathogen that has afflicted so many of us, does have its designated and loosely designated college football saloons. It’s normal while walking to pass beneath the outdoor flags of Michigan or Georgia or others. What a thought, though, to walk through Hell’s Kitchen one recent day and spot the flag rippling ever so slightly outside: RUTGERS.
It flooded the brain with thoughts of bleakness and desolation, of scattered patrons in various stages of semiconsciousness. What do they serve in there, anyway? Must they attain some special legal waiver for added potency?
My god, how might it look this coming Saturday?
Somehow, the American Northeast is about to become college-football relevant after a dormancy that could have led some to believe much of it had disbanded football operations. On Saturday, the behemoth No. 2 Clemson (9-0) will travel all the way up to Boston College (7-2), which figures to slide upward from its No. 22 spot after its win at Virginia Tech even if Virginia Tech (4-4) has slid to forlorn.
On the Saturday after that, No. 4 Notre Dame (9-0), which will occupy No. 3 by Tuesday, will come to Yankee Stadium, that architectural marvel currently owned by the Boston Red Sox. There, the Irish will find No. 19 Syracuse (7-2), which could be 8-2 if it can remember its purpose against hapless, helpless, hopeless Louisville (2-7), which just allowed 11.6 yards per play to Clemson, the most for a Clemson team since 1903, when people calculated yards-per-play by using ancient pencils.
It’s quite something, what has transpired this fall at Syracuse which, as the Southeast has hogged more and more spotlight, had gone very forgotten in a country full of the forgotten. “Regardless of whatever happens, they’re going to be known as the class that got everything turned around,” the third-year Coach Dino Babers said after two 4-8 seasons and after a 41-24 win at Wake Forest that followed a two-week sweep of North Carolina and North Carolina State.
While seven wins, as Babers said, “guarantees these guys a winning season, not finishing out .500 or dropping below .500 in a bowl game,” one of the two losses might impress most. Remember, on Sept. 29, Syracuse led 23-13 in the fourth quarter at Clemson, and then led 23-20 with 2:50 left, and with a third-string quarterback taking Clemson’s snaps.
When he, Chase Brice, found the budding star Tee Higgins for a 20-yard gain, Clemson went on to sustain its unbeaten status and reiterate its uncommon knack for managing stress. Now Syracuse has just Louisville along the way toward major attention against Notre Dame, and with quarterback Eric Dungey warning reporters of Louisville, “We were in that position before. No one respected us,” a revelation they’re even mastering the cliche of the ages.
As Clemson heads to where they’re sweeping up from the Red Sox parade, its four wins since Syracuse have come by a combined 240-36. Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown called Clemson “probably the best team in America,” which goes to show how the northeast can be isolated as news of Alabama hasn’t reached it yet. “There’s a lot of meat left on our bone,” Brown said, a revelation they’re mastering good, fresh lines.
Boston College rambled through Virginia Tech with 24 second-half points in its 31-21 win, saddled Virginia Tech with a third straight home loss for the first time since 1992, and reminded everyone that whenever some areas brighten, others dim.
It’s arithmetically inescapable.
Gaze away from the Northeast for a moment, and remember: ’Tis the season to grumble about coaches, as opposed to other times of year when people grumble about coaches. Look at all the places preparing for a spell of grumbling, some of it even irrational, for which we’re all grateful. Among places which expect more than they’re getting, they’re about to grumble for a while about the third-year coach at Virginia Tech (4-4), the fifth-year coach at Penn State (6-3), the third-year coach at Miami (Fla.) (5-4), the fourth-year coach at Southern California (5-4), the second-year coach at Texas (6-3) and even the first-year coach at Florida (4-3), which just took a 38-17 home ransacking from a good but previously conference-winless Missouri.
In the case of Texas, it’s important to take note of the happy side, which is that West Virginia’s hopes all continue because Coach Dana Holgorsen shooed all human doubts and went for a winning two-point conversion twice in a row in Austin. On the first, a timeout halted proceedings. On the second, quarterback Will Grier went traveling into the left corner of the end zone for a 42-41 win, one of those impossibly dramatic plays that make November November.
Sometimes, the grumbling starts and stops. Arizona, which looked like the worst team among all the known planets early in the season, has resurrected itself to 5-5 and 4-3 in the Pac-12, with J.J. Taylor rushing 70 times for 404 yards the last two weeks against Oregon and Colorado and first-year Coach Kevin Sumlin saying, “He is a machine.” Sometimes, the grumbling never really comes, and they’re having themselves another season at No. 8 Washington State (8-1), which toughed out a 19-13 win over California in the cold rain of the Palouse. The freshly famed quarterback Gardner Minshew, the Mississippian who played for Northwest Mississippi Community College and East Carolina, said, “It was warm on the field. I feel for the people in the stands.”
Similarly, one can feel for the people in the stands, and the bars, of Rutgers, which has dipped to 1-8 while you weren’t looking much, its win over Texas State still dangling from the front of the season. Yet if the brightest lights of 2018 appear to be Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and the Michigan defense, fully half of those entities are about to head northeast and help relight the place.
While Clemson heads for Boston, Michigan (8-1) and its defense heads for — oh, please, no — Rutgers. Only one defensive unit in the country permits fewer than four yards per play, and Michigan comes in startlingly below even that, at 3.73. That’s not only effective but unkind. “Obviously, defensively, they kicked our butts,” Penn State Coach James Franklin said after a 42-7 loss in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
That occasion featured a game-within-the-game, where one could follow along on the stat sheet, staring now and then at Penn State’s total yardage. By the fourth quarter, it stood at a puny 114, with the score 42-0. By the end, it reached 186 after Penn State’s inappropriate touchdown drive, a statistical disappointment that went to show there ought to be an offshoot category to be subtracted from real totals: Irrelevant Yards Allowed While Leading 42-0.
If you glimpse toward the American Northeast come Saturday, feel free to glimpse Rutgers’ yardage from time to time. Breathe in the hopeless sparseness of it. As of today, Rutgers’ offense stands 127th out of 130 in yards per play. Hey, bartender . . .