From Clemson stumbling to Arkansas rolling, Week 4 kicked up the chaos factor


Clemson has two losses. Ohio State has some weird quarterback stuff going on and a guy who threw his gear into the stands and quit during a game. Oklahoma can’t move the football unless it’s playing Western Carolina. Arkansas looks like the ’85 Chicago Bears. People spent the week chattering about Alabama looking vulnerable, even on Saturday as the Tide rolled over Southern Miss.

The College Football Playoff, once destined to expand to 12 teams, now isn’t expanding quite yet, and when it does it might be to eight teams instead. Knute Rockne is no longer the winningest coach in Notre Dame history. Wake Forest, SMU, Wyoming and UTSA are all 4-0 while Florida State has fallen to 0-4.

Just when we thought we knew what this season was going to be, you know, pretty much like all of the other seasons in recent, um, seasons, Week 4 of 2021 jumped up like a crease on a bad artificial-turf field and tripped us up as we were striding toward pay dirt.

“I think that while we were watching the new rules and changes and COVID and everything else, thinking, man, this is just going to help the same four teams who are always good, it’s sort of working out the other way,” observed College Football Hall of Fame member Frank Beamer on Saturday morning from South Carolina’s fabled Horseshoe campus quad, there to support son Shane, the new Gamecocks head coach. That night, the younger Beamer’s upstart team hung tough with favored Kentucky, losing 16-10 to the undefeated Wildcats.

“Sixth-year players because of the COVID rules, coaching turnover, guys transferring around to other schools, all these fans packing all these stadiums for the first time in forever, all so excited and loud,” Frank Beamer continued, “I don’t know if we should be using the word ‘parity’ yet, but I think maybe it’s leveled the playing field. At least for a little bit.”

Frank Beamer, who won 238 games and seven conference titles at once-lowly Virginia Tech, knows what it looks like to see a have-not finally gaining ground on the haves. But at high noon on Saturday, even he couldn’t have foreseen what we all ended up witnessing by the stroke of midnight 12 hours later. Crowds storming fields from Boston College to Raleigh, North Carolina. Jubilant Mustangs trying to plant their flag at midfield in Fort Worth, Texas, physically denied by the angry home team, but plenty thrilled nonetheless.

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SMU attempts to plant a flag at midfield following its victory at rival TCU.

It is as if they could sense our collective nationwide excitement that perhaps the tired old College Football Playoff blockade of teams might finally be showing cracks in its defenses.

Then again, the old war horses might just be handing the college football landscape that cruelest fate of them all. Hope, only to yank it away in December, replacing it with a platter of the same holiday CFP dish we’ve seen reheated too many times before.

Even if that’s how it all shakes out once again, we’ll always have Week 4, when autumn officially began and so many teams that wear autumn colors — be it orange or various shades of crimson — were forced to either cry it out, sweat it out, or both. October is nigh. And if this last weekend of September taught us anything, it’s that we have no idea what the weeks ahead might bring.

Lessons learned in Week 4

The SEC West is totally the Monstars. Show of hands, who saw Arkansas and Ole Miss as teams that were ready to stare down the likes of A&M and Bama in their still-new coaches’ second seasons? Hey, Sam Pittman and Lane Kiffin, put your hands down! The teams at the top — OK, the teams at the top beneath Alabama — in the SEC West might rotate, but there are three or four perpetually ranked. Texas A&M was in the top 10, now Arkansas will be in the top 10, Alabama will still be No. 1, Ole Miss will likely move up even with a weekend off, and LSU (which won the national title like 10 minutes ago) stopped scuffling long enough to push around Mississippi State, the team that shocked the Tigers into that scuffle one year ago.

Big-game hangovers are real. One week after their slugfest with Alabama, the Florida Gators looked punch drunk early against overmatched Tennessee. Auburn, in its struggles with Georgia State, looked very much like a team that had just been emotionally wrung out by a White Out seven days earlier, and even Penn State took a beat to get into gear. Michigan State stumbled around against Nebraska after its road win at Miami. On Friday night, Fresno State celebrated its win over UCLA by having to rally twice to survive 0-4 Bottom 10 member UNLV. Speaking of the Bottom 10 …

Bottom 10 membership is not a permanent prison sentence. If you don’t know already, I am the proud lone pollster of the ESPN.com Bottom 10, and I have been since 2014. That year my first champion was Georgia State. Now the Panthers go to bowl games and scared Auburn to death for 50 minutes on The Plains. Colorado State, which was in the bottom four just two weeks ago, had No. 5 Iowa on the ropes, and Rutgers, a longtime Bottom 10 stalwart, pushed Michigan in the Big House. Wait … I just realized something … they all still lost, didn’t they? But in the Bottom 10 Cinematic Universe we absolutely believe in moral victories. Besides, UTSA won at Memphis, Bowling Green won at Minnesota, and Baylor, which finished in the Bottom 10 just two seasons ago, upset No. 14 Iowa State. The revolution has begun!

Always have a sugar rush to go, especially when you are working a football game that gets off to a 31-7 start … because that same game might end up being a 31-23 four-hour grinder.

Heisman Five

1. Alabama QB Bryce Young. The latest in a line of Crimson daggers rarely missed against Southern Miss, authoring a stat line of 20-22, 312 yards and five TDs. But his next opponent isn’t merely a good team, it’s a team that’s led by the guy who might very well be his closest Heisman rival. His name is …

2. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral: Dude picked a great week to have a bye, going home to California and kicking back with family to watch preseason Heisman darlings C.J. Stroud (injured), D.J. Uiagalelei (111 yards passing in a loss to NC State), JT Daniels (played only one quarter vs. Vandy) and Sam Howell (loss to Georgia Tech) continue to fade into the background or out of the picture entirely. Let’s hope he got some rest and good home cooking, because as he and Ole Miss prepare to visit Tuscaloosa, the hype machine will be turned up full blast for the next seven days.

3. Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder: Like Corral, he was fortunate enough to be watching TV during this wacko week, resting up the right arm that has thrown seven TD passes and the feet that have rushed for another two scores before visiting Notre Dame, arguably the biggest regular-season game in Bearcats football history.

4. Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler: It felt like the perfect time for Spencer to rattle some massive Big 12 stats against West Virginia. Instead, he was just OK (26-36, 256 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT), though masterful on the final game-winning FG drive, after listening to post-INT chants from the Norman home crowd that he be benched. Might that night open the door for some Heisman underdogs? Like maybe this guy …

5. SMU QB Tanner Mordecai: Each week in this space, we’ll try to feature one player from outside the big teams who deserves a little Heisman love, even if he’s not likely to get any votes. This week, it’s Mordecai, who led SMU to an emotional win in the 100th edition of the Iron Skillet Game. Mordecai didn’t post his usual video-game numbers, going 17-of-28 for 245 yards and three INTs. But his two TD passes brought his season total up to 20, which leads the nation.

Under-the-radar play of the week

Against New Mexico State, Hawaii’s Calvin Turner Jr. backpedaled all the way to Maui … and still turned the corner!

Under-the-radar play of the week, part deux

Jaylon Guilbeau is a senior DB at Memorial High School in Port Arthur, Texas. He doesn’t play college football. Yet. One look at his list of Twitter followers tells you that he likely will one year from now. Or perhaps he’ll just go straight to WWE.

Under-the-radar game of the week

ETSU 55, Samford 48 (OT). Remember Randy Sanders, the former Tennessee offensive coordinator who was (unfairly) made a Big Orange scapegoat a decade and a half ago? Well, he’s now 4-0 at the still-newly resurrected East Tennessee State program, thanks to the Bucs’ Week 1 stunner over Vanderbilt and this week’s overtime thriller at Samford. The game had four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone and went into bonus time after ETSU drove 56 yards on 18 plays to kick a time-expiring game-tying field goal, icing the win with an OT TD.

Under-the-radar stat of the week

Michigan is 4-0 and hasn’t trailed in any game. The last time the Wolverines did that was 1973.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to … Nicholls State. While we were all focused on the Hurricane Ida-caused challenges for LSU and Tulane, what the Colonels have endured this season has been straight out of the Book of Job. They stayed on the road for nearly three weeks, holed up in a Memphis Holiday Inn Express after their Week 1 game against the Tigers because their hometown of Thibodeaux, Louisiana, was flooded and still isn’t expected to have electricity in most parts of town until at least the end of next week. More than 130 student-athletes and athletic department employees were displaced from one apartment complex alone, going home to live with family or gathered in local shelters. Even with power still out in most of the town and having been denied a full practice schedule, the Colonels impossibly hosted a home game on Saturday, defeating North Alabama 31-14. “I don’t think many people outside of Thibodeaux understand how bad this has been,” athletic director Jonathan “JT” Terrell explained last week. He and his family rode out the storm to help his stranded athletes, literally standing against the door of their house for hours to keep Ida from blowing it open. “Those who do, we can’t thank them enough. Those who might hear about this and want to help now, please do. We have to play football. We have to give this community something to look forward to.”

Jeers to … Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who to his credit has always been and will always be bluntly honest, but perhaps should have checked up on his comments earlier in the week about traveling to Boston College. “If I had my pick of it, I would love to play a regional matchup that was maybe more of a rivalry game. That would be maybe a little bit more exciting for recruits to watch from a TV perspective or, you know, maybe we’re playing in front of your family. I don’t know the last time Missouri signed a kid from the great state of Massachusetts. It’s been a while.” After the Tigers fell to the Eagles in overtime, the BC social media team had more fun than Doug Flutie in a Doug Flutie Museum.

Cheers to … whoever at Vanderbilt did this

Jeers to … North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren, who declared after the Clemson win, “The curse is broken, NC State fans.” As a kid who grew up in Raleigh wearing red and white, I like Doeren, but dude, do you know your Wolfpack sports history? The curse is never broken!

Cheers to … USC QB Jaxson Dart, who is now this Star Wars junkie’s favorite football player. I wonder if he knows that USC’s legendary film school, right next door to the Hall of Champions, has an entire building named for George Lucas?





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