Here are 10 takeaways from the day that was – and, really, wasn’t – in college football:
1. The slate skies, persistent sleet and high winds that pockmarked a majority of the country on this dreary Saturday set a fitting backdrop for the season’s most sluggish weekend. There ended up being just two top 25 upsets – Wake Forest over No. 19 N.C. State and Kansas State over No. 13 Oklahoma State – making Saturday the season’s most drama-free day of the 2017 season.
The day’s biggest talking point came from some self-induced shenanigans. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, the prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite, made sure the day’s most talked-about play didn’t come on the field. After tossing a 3-yard touchdown that gave Oklahoma a 28-3 lead, Mayfield grabbed his crotch multiple times and appeared to twice mouth a curse word toward the Kansas sideline.
That will be the defining image from a day of pettiness and immaturity. The game began with the Kansas captains refusing to shake hands with Mayfield and the Oklahoma captains at midfield. Mayfield responded by clapping his hands in delight at their protest. Later, Mayfield took a late hit to the head by Kansas sophomore defensive back Hasan Defense.
But all of that will be lost in the viral clip of Mayfield grabbing himself and screaming across the sideline. It put Mayfield in the familiar position of apologizing, and he’s delivering them with a politician’s panache. He also apologized after getting arrested in Arkansas in February. (And he apologized for planting a flag after beating Ohio State, although that’s in a different paradigm than the other two).
Regardless, the apologies and antics are distracting from Mayfield’s play, which has been brilliant (34 touchdowns, five interceptions).
“I am a competitive player, but what I did was unacceptable,” Mayfield said. “I apologize. It’s disrespectful. It’s not the example I want to set. It’s not the legacy I want to leave at OU.”
Regardless, it left the day’s most vivid impression.
2. Mayfield is going to still win the Heisman Trophy, as this has been the flattest race in recent years. Mayfield’s immaturity resonated more with NFL types. Mayfield is a former walk-on who’ll never have the prototype measurables that the NFL covets. But Mayfield, who is listed generously at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, has helped himself more than perhaps any quarterback prospect this season, as his strong arm and competitiveness have helped him overcome his size.
But to use a first-round pick on a quarterback means being the face of a billion-dollar business. And most billionaire owners don’t want the face of their franchise auditioning for a Michael Jackson music video like Mayfield did on Saturday. Here’s one veteran NFL scout’s take on Mayfield’s outburst: “It’s a big deal,” the scout told Yahoo Sports. “He’s dumb for doing it. But no one is going to drop him [in the draft because of it]. But, it’s a pattern of dumb behavior with the arrest. Someone needs to ask him: ‘Who do you want to be, Drew Brees or Johnny Manziel?’ It’s a fine line.”
3. Sticking with off-field tomfoolery as a Saturday theme, a Knoxville rib joint can take a bow for their side dish of stupidity. The Twitter feed for a restaurant called Calhoun’s – the nine locations include Pigeon Forge, Lenoir City and Maryville – retweeted multiple tweets that mentioned Jon Gruden was dining with Peyton Manning at one of the Knoxville locations. They later released a statement on Twitter that somewhat retracted the earlier tweets, which included this gem: “We got excited. We posted something about it. Afterwards, a staff member notified us that they weren’t so sure it was him.” (Perhaps Calhoun’s management should consult Baker Mayfield on accountability and apologies, he seems to have them down a bit better).
For the record, when Yahoo Sports asked a source earlier this week if they were “one billion percent” sure that Gruden wasn’t going to Tennessee, they responded, “What’s higher than a billion? A trillion. I’m a trillion percent sure.” It isn’t happening, folks, spread the word from Maryville to Pigeon Forge.
4. On a day with no games between top 25 teams, the best matchup may have been an individual duel. USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen project to be selected in the top five of the NFL draft if they elect to leave college early. There were plenty of eyeballs on the potential franchise quarterbacks in USC’s 28-23 victory, as a USC official told Yahoo Sports that 20 NFL teams and 30 scouts were on hand at the Coliseum for the game. (CFL fans take note that Saskatchewan was present as well).
The performances fit with the theme of the season for both, as Rosen performed better individually and Darnold had more modest statistics but led his team to victory. Rosen finished 32-of-52 for 421 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Darnold was 17-of-28 for 264 yards and no touchdowns. Rosen looked like the more polished prospect, with deft touch on deep balls and better presence and feel in the pocket. The difference was so glaring that ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit said it’s “not even close” between them as NFL prospects. He encouraged Darnold, a redshirt sophomore, to return to school. “Josh Rosen is more of a finished product in college,” Herbstreit said. He added: “If [Darnold] were smart he’d come back and play more football.”
Darnold has USC (10-2, 8-1) in the Pac-12 title game, as the Trojans will play the winner of next week’s Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State. Rosen needs a victory over California next week to secure a bowl bid for UCLA (5-6, 3-5) and perhaps help coach Jim Mora keep his job. But for now, Rosen has the individual edge.
5. With so little intriguing to look back on, perhaps it’s best to look ahead. The most intriguing point spread to peek at Sunday morning will be how much Ohio State is favored at Michigan. The early guess here is that it will be double-digits, an ominous sign for a Michigan program with an anemic offense, no buzz and signs of regression in Jim Harbaugh’s third season.
Ohio State has won five consecutive games against Michigan and are undefeated during Urban Meyer’s tenure against the Wolverines. Harbaugh hasn’t beaten Ohio State in his first two attempts, with his own poor sideline coaching – poor pass call from the goal line and unforgivable sideline behavior penalty – leading directly to the loss in Columbus last season.
Michigan’s offense entered its game with Wisconsin Saturday ranked No. 94 nationally and finished with 234 yards, more than 100 less than their season average. They averaged 1.6 yards per rush and will likely be starting back-up John O’Korn at quarterback after starting quarterback Brandon Peters suffered a head injury against the Badgers.
Michigan (8-3, 5-3) will look to avoid a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten, which would be the lowest in Harbaugh’s tenure. Michigan is in danger of dropping to 1-5 in games against their rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Other than being a double-digit home underdog, perhaps the most notable thing about this edition of Ohio State vs. Michigan is how little buzz it projects. Ohio State has already clinched the division. Michigan is playing for pride.
6. It’s worth taking the time to tip our caps to the biggest dumpster fires in college football. Illinois is on a nine-game losing streak after falling 52-14 to Ohio State, and the Illini (2-9, 0-8) are the Big Ten’s only winless team in league play. Lovie Smith appears part overmatched and part disinterested so far during his disastrous collegiate foray. But a closer look at his contract shows that he doesn’t look as overmatched as Illinois administrators. To fire Smith after this season would cost Illinois $16 million, an amount that may even make Charlie Weis blush. Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman, who made the hire, backloaded Smith’s deal to take advantage of money owed to him by Tampa Bay early on in the deal. That may have seemed wise at the time, but it may end up costing Illinois big whenever the inevitable expensive departure becomes a reality. The back-loaded deal means big guaranteed payouts, which will make this firing particularly painful if Illinois decides Smith isn’t right for the job. He’s 5-18 through two seasons so far, or the same number of wins the Illini had in 2015 — the season before he took over.
7. The only Power Five team in worse shape than Illinois appears to be Kansas. The Jayhawks are the only major conference team other than Illinois that’s winless in conference play that hasn’t fired their coach. (Tennessee and Oregon State, both winless in league play, have already parted ways with their coaches). Adding self-induced insult to ineptitude, Kansas captains pulled the low-rent move of not shaking hands with Oklahoma before the game.
David Beaty is 3-32 in three years in Lawrence, which makes his contract extension and significant raise after last season look like a suspect decision. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger has hired both Weis and Beaty in Lawrence, which are shaping up to be the worst back-to-back football hires of this generation. Weis went 6-22 in his Kansas tenure from 2012 to 2014, which lasted just four games into his third season. That’s 9-54 for Zenger’s two hires at a program that won the Orange Bowl a decade ago. (He paid $5.4 million for Weis to go away).
Kansas chancellor Doug Girod gave both Beaty and Zenger a vote of confidence during the week. Beaty would be owed $3 million if fired and Zenger $1.4 million.
8. In honor of colleague Pat Forde’s trademark HLA – Horrible Loss Alert – we bring you the dreariest moment of a dismal weekend. For a team that fancies itself as an honorary member of the Power Five in college football, BYU is having a brutal season. The Cougars (3-9) lost to UMass (4-7) on Saturday, 16-10, the low moment in what’s been a slog of a second year under Kalani Sitake. (BYU has a game at Hawaii to finish the season).
Now, we’ll give UMass some props for winning four of their past five games and playing tough at Mississippi State and Tennessee. But the home loss for BYU is one that portends change. And that may mean firing Ty Detmer as offensive coordinator, which would be a tricky political move as he’s a former Heisman Trophy winner and arguably the school’s most famous athletic graduate. But with BYU at No. 120 in the national offensive rankings and BYU drifting off to national irrelevancy, it’s difficult to imagine even a graduate as revered as Detmer surviving. Good luck spinning that one, BYU.
9. If someone had suggested Missouri’s Barry Odom for the SEC Coach of the Year in mid-October they’d have been laughed out of the room. At that point, Missouri was 1-5, lacked a win over an FBS team and had already fired its defensive coordinator. But the Tigers are on the perhaps the season’s most improbable five game win streak, as their 45-17 victory over Vanderbilt marked their third consecutive lopsided SEC win. (They also blew out Florida and Tennessee, which most seasons would be cause for significant celebration. Not this one, however).
Missouri plays Arkansas next week, a team that’s a smoldering wreck and could well have an interim coach. (Or a coach in his final game there). A victory over the hapless Hogs in Fayetteville would secure a 7-5 record for the Tigers. Drew Lock has emerged as the SEC’s most productive quarterback, as he leads the SEC in passing yards and has thrown for 38 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.
After Missouri got blown out by Auburn on Sept. 23, Odom’s postgame speech went viral: “I want to get one thing real straight, I’m going to win here, that’s going to happen. We will win. This is a turnaround.” No one could have seen things turning this quickly.
10. The Toledo coach Jason Candle has a Black Friday gameplan for football fans. “Go to Best Buy at 3 a.m., get a TV and turn it on and have it ready to go for 11:30 a.m.” The Rockets (9-2, 6-1) host Western Michigan (4-3, 6-5) at an odd time – 11:30 a.m. ET on Friday – with high stakes. A Toledo victory gives the Rockets a chance to play for their first MAC title since 2004. (They’ll play either Akron or Ohio). “It’s elimination season,” Candle said. “Our guys have bought in and approached it the right way. There’s been a drought for so many years for teams to make it to Detroit (for the MAC title game). For the community and city it’s a huge deal.”
This season has been an interesting ride for the Rockets, whose season has been defined by overcoming loss. The NFL drafted star tailback Kareem Hunt (third round) and tight end Michael Roberts (fourth round) in the spring. The Rockets also lost the MAC’s best receiver, Cody Thompson, to a broken leg. He’s one of 14 Rockets who endured season-ending injuries, including seven starters. (The Rockets have lost three guards to season ending injuries).
That’s made the senior year of star quarterback Logan Woodside so remarkable, as he’s had as efficient a year as any quarterback in college football, with 22 touchdowns, two interceptions and completing 65-percent of his passes. Toledo is averaging 7.0 yards per play for a second-straight year, and Woodside has emerged as an intriguing NFL prospect. “The scouts love the same things I love,” Candle said. “His competitive nature, accuracy and decision making.”