College Football

Clinical Alabama Buck the Trend in a Week of Near-Upsets

Crimson Tide

In a week of College Football that will be remembered for producing consequential upsets and a raft of unconvincing wins, the Alabama Crimson Tide emerged unscathed, demonstrating that their spot at No.1 is both deserved and indisputable.   

Who’s Next, Now?

In the aftermath of Clemson’s destruction of Louisville last week, I noted that the Tigers had to be considered the best team in the country, at least until Alabama proved otherwise. In typical Nick Saban fashion, the Tide did just that, improving to 4-0 following a mammoth win on the road. Vanderbilt, the Tide’s Week Four opponent, had been widely expected to provide a quintessentially Southeastern test for an Alabama team coming off back-to-back cupcake games. The (3-0) Commodores went into the game with SEC’s top defense, and the +18.5 line suggested that Vanderbilt had the ability to keep it relatively tight. Indeed, by Saturday morning it was apparent that one of the day’s “sharp” picks was Vanderbilt plus the points — Alabama, it was thought, could be walking into a carefully-laid trap in Nashville.

It didn’t take long, however, for Alabama to extinguish any scepticism. The Tide put up 21 points in the first quarter before amassing a 59-0 lead on their SEC East opponents who were reduced to just 38 yards passing, and another 40 from the rush. Whether or not Vanderbilt’s pre-game trash talking lit a fire under Alabama, Saban’s offense was determined to put on a clinic from the outset. The run-heavy unit punted just twice in the first half — matching the number of first downs achieved by Vanderbilt in the same period. By the close of the fourth quarter, Alabama had logged close to 500 rushing yards, humiliating the Commodores and justifying a well-earned No.1 ranking in the strongest possible terms.  

All About the Fourth Quarter

Elsewhere in the FBS, Alabama’s principal rivals all exhibited weaknesses. Clemson, USC, and Michigan all needed big fourth quarter displays to get past mid-tier opponents. The Clemson Tigers, who last week were many observers’ pick for the No.1 spot, were neutralized by Boston College through three quarters of football, as QB, Kelly Bryant, threw a pair of picks before being bailed out by the rushing attack. However, while Clemson’s performance was certainly shaky, Dabo Swinney’s club has earned the benefit of the doubt. After a statement performance against Louisville last week, a reduction in intensity was perhaps to be expected. The Tigers will face a genuine test next week when they visit Virginia Tech — expect Clemson to put on the type of offensive display we saw in Week Three.

But while Clemson’s Week Four travails can be explained away, the same cannot be said of Michigan. Not since their opener against Florida have the Wolverines looked close to formidable. Before their visit to Purdue, Michigan’s offense had struggled to get anything going in the Red Zone, and it took an unplanned changed at Quarterback for the Wolverines’ passing attack to find its groove. There’s still time for Jim Harbaugh to work on the offense before marquee games against Penn State and Ohio State, but Michigan have so far looked far too dependent on the defense to realize pre-season expectations. That said, a quarterback battle could be emerging in Ann Arbor, so watch this space.

Speaking of the BIG10, Penn State appeared to be on the ropes throughout much of their tip to Iowa City. The #4 Nittany Lions were forced to endure a fourth quarter flurry from Iowa before leaving Kinnick Stadium with the W. With just 1:42 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, it looked like Penn State was about to have its playoff hopes dashed — that was until QB, Trace McSorley and RB, Saquon Barkley (211 yards rushing) marched the offense up the field for a walk-off touchdown that silenced the home crowd. If you like hard-hitting defence and smash mouth football, this was the game of the week. Although it was a potential wobble for the Nittany Lions, this won’t have hurt their playoff stock. In fact, Penn State still look like the team to beat in the BIG10.

Chaos in the Big 12

The most consequential game of the weekend was TCU’s trip to Stillwater to face the highly-rated Oklahoma State Cowboys. Going into the game, TCU was ranked No.16, and the 11.5 point spread reflected what was considered to be a sizeable gulf between the two offenses. Through three weeks, Oklahoma State had lived up to its billing as an offensive juggernaut, leaving TCU largely overlooked in a Big 12 title-race that was expected to be a clash between the two Oklahoma-based teams. The Horned Frogs, however, had other ideas, and were able to stymie the Cowboys rushing attack while putting on a balanced offensive display of their own: QB, Kenny Hill, went 22-33 for 228 yards passing, and was helped by a rushing a attack that put on 10 yards more. Despite a late surge from Oklahoma State, TCU had done enough in the second and third quarters to land the biggest upset of the week. Now 4-0, the Horned Frogs will provide company for Oklahoma at the top of the Big 12. As for the Cowboys, their hopes of making the final four may have just evaporated.

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