A year ago, after Ohio State’s another dominant win over Michigan, a 56:27 shellacking that felt almost routine, there were obvious questions about what “The Game” even meant. The Buckeyes had won 15 of the last 16, the only exception being a lost year with an interim coach. Was Michigan even able to make it interesting?
In August, when the Big Ten announced they were closing their season, The Game seemed set for a hiatus, or perhaps a hiatus, for the Wolverines. You could say Michigan wouldn’t lose to the state of Ohio in 2020.
Then – what luck! – The Big Ten returned. Ohio State was a playoff contender again, and Michigan – oh, the less said the better. But hey, a rivalry game is the week you throw away the records, which Michigan would have loved to do this weekend. In a year of total chaos, we would still have the game.
And then it started all over again with the Wolverines, the latest program from COVID-19, with reportedly nearly four dozen players excluded from the virus and contact tracing.
Now, on the penultimate Saturday of a season that never really felt real, we are deprived of one of the hallmarks of autumn.
The roller coaster ride for The Game reflects so much of what this college football season has to offer – glimmers of hope, mountains of frustration, and, in the end, an empty feeling – a loss that occurs even for Michigan fans, a path that no defeat on the field would mean.
In place of Michigan-Ohio state, we have Ohio state against “the rule,” with the Big Ten debating the legitimacy of an arbitrary metric they invented just months ago when the pandemic was just trying to disrupt the football season. and the idea that a team could not play six games seemed pessimistic. Now the Buckeyes are in the Big Ten title game as the league looks for the best way to get them to the playoffs.
Perhaps the most annoying part of all of this is that it actually isn’t that annoying after all.
Yes, we lost the game. But we’ve also lost so many other rivalries – BYU and Utah, Clemson and South Carolina, Florida and Florida State. As one-sided as they all may have been in 2020, they are still part of the structure of each season, and now 2020 will be the year that the rivalry is gone.
In August, the overarching thought was simple: all football is good. We’ll take what we can get.
Now here we are and it feels pretty thin. We had our moments – Lane Kiffin marginalized Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame dueled on Double OT, Coastal Carolina’s thriller versus BYU.
But somehow it’s still hard not to miss those falling rights like The Game, as one-sided as Ohio State-Michigan could have been. It’s a bit of a holiday fruit cake. You didn’t have to enjoy it. It was comforting to know it was there.
Check in with the other competitors of the GFP …
While the state of Ohio is setting its playoff path in the Big Ten, the ACC rolled out the red carpet for Notre Dame and Clemson, ignoring the proposed Saturday makeup dates, and gave both teams a week of vacation to themselves prepare for a conference championship game and rematch one of the best competitions of the year. One team is an eye-catcher for the playoffs, and the other could join. But nobody has to play Saturday to achieve that.
Texas A&M could probably use a little bit of resume help trying to jump into the top 4, but the Aggies won’t be taking over the field this week either. Jimbo Fisher lamented the fact that A&M couldn’t work a deal for the state of Ohio, but it’s not that two teams can only schedule a game on short notice. That would never work, right, Coastal Carolina?
Cincinnati hoped it could crack the Power 5’s stranglehold in the playoffs, but the Bearcats had to cancel their game with Tulsa. On the positive side, the committee had no intention of inviting Cincinnati to the playoffs anyway.
They won’t make the playoffs, but they deserve a watch
The most exciting matchup of the ACC
We’re talking North Carolina versus Miami, of course. The Hurricanes’ only loss of the season came to Clemson, and the tar heels could be their next best challenge yet. The defense of the canes in 12th place (per SP +) faces a UNC offensive, which is fourth in SP +. Catch it at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC / ESPN app.
A top 25 SEC matchup between Georgia and … Missouri? (Midday ET on SEC Network / ESPN App)
Missouri has been one of college football’s surprises this season – it’s 5-3 and ranks 25th in the country. Georgia has been desperate to play since the December 5th game against Vanderbilt was postponed due to COVID-19 issues on the Vandy football program. It made soon-to-be former AD Greg McGarity frustrated, but the Bulldogs will be back on the field this weekend with their new and improved offensive from JT Daniels.
The SEC Now crew believe the confidence and dynamism of Missouri’s offenses will pose a threat to Georgia if they take a break.
What else is worth seeing:
Army-Navy (Noon ET on CBS)
In a normal year, Army-Navy has this weekend all to itself, but don’t let the crowded schedule stop you from seeing one of the few bits of real tradition that the 2020 season offers. The Army has one more shot at the Commander’s Cup, with a game against the Air Force scheduled for next weekend. But this also offers the Navy the opportunity to add a little silver lining to an otherwise lost season.
Disappointment games for BYU and Coastal Carolina?
The Cougars and Chanticleers wouldn’t be the first to leave Myrtle Beach with a hangover, and after last week’s epic ending with Coastal Carolina holding BYU back at the 1-yard line in the final game of the game, one might wonder what’s left in the tank for the two newcomers from outside Power 5. Neither team will get away easily either, as Coastal takes a road trip to Troy, where the annoying Trojans will try to end Cinderella’s season while BYU’s strong defense in San hosted Diego State. Both teams stay in the mix for a New Year’s six shot if they can win.
Showdown on the west coast
This is the first time USC and UCLA have competed against each other as both have set winning records since 2015. The Trojans remain undefeated despite some miracle comebacks as Chip Kelly’s Bruins finally seem to find their move. A win for UCLA would be half of the games last year. Catch it at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
Under-the-Radar Game of the Week
Lyles: Rutgers v Maryland (Noon ET)
Look, I’m not necessarily going to sit here and tell you to watch this soccer game. I care about you reader. However, adding another week of cancellations and postponements can create time for two teams that have improved this season (not that the bar has been set high). I am ready and willing to keep this game open in another window to see which of these teams is better.
Hale: Nevada, San Jose State (10 p.m. ET on CBSSN)
The Bergwests haven’t gotten much love this season thanks to the late starts – both by and large (the league started in late October) and on game day (with many kick-off times at 10pm ET). But the wolf pack and the Spartans have extraordinary seasons, with San Jose state among the few undefeated. Coach Brent Brennan did a great job filming a Spartan program that hasn’t had a successful season since 2012 and former Arkansas QB Nick Starkel looked strong on the offensive (66% completes, 11 TDs, 3 INTs). Nevada will not be an easy win, however. The wolf pack’s only defeat came in Hawaii just at 3, and QB Carson Strong was strong with 21 TD passes that season. It’s another late kick, but it should be worth staying awake.
Player to see
Lyles: Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson
Patterson is the player none of us are supposed to have invested in – but now we always want to know what he’s doing next. On November 17 against Bowling Green, he rushed for 301 yards and four touchdowns. On November 28, he stepped into the national limelight with 409 yards and eight touchdowns against Kent State. This week Buffalo is playing Akron (2:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN), one of the worst teams in the FBS. Can Patterson Set More Records?
Jaret Patterson rushes for 8 touchdowns and 409 yards in Buffalo’s 70-41 win over Kent State.
Hale: Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher
Imagine this scenario: the Big Ten change their rules, allow the state of Ohio to play a conference title, and then the Buckeyes lay an egg against Northwestern. OK, it’s not particularly likely, but Northwestern’s defense is rightly good, and that starts with Fisher in the middle. Saturday’s game against Illinois (noon ET on ESPN2) should be little more than an improvement for the Wildcats, but it’s also a good opportunity to take a look at Fisher (58 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 QBH) and the throwing the rest of the talented D before trying to slow Justin Fields. These include linebacker Blake Gallagher, who leads the team with 8.5 tackles from loss, and corner kick Greg Newsome, who has defended nine passes in just six games.
Annoyed about the week
Lyles: Baylor via Oklahoma State (7 p.m. ET on ESPNU / ESPN app)
I didn’t love what I saw from Oklahoma State this season – the Cowboys lost 2-3 after four straight wins to open the season. Baylor is only 2-6 a year, but with a limited pool of potential disturbance, I’m going to toss this one in the air and hope the bears learn how to play soccer this week.
Hale: Memphis via Houston (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU / ESPN app)
The tigers have been a mystery this season. After a strong 5-2 start, the offense is gone. Brady White & Co. fought for a 10-7 win against Navy two weeks ago and fought last Saturday with a 35-21 loss against Tulane. White stepped into the season as one of the most famous QBs outside of the Power 5, but his recent work has been far from impressive as he only completed 54% of his throws with 4 TD and 3 INT. It’s all out of character for a QB and a criminal used to being far more explosive, and maybe Houston’s Defense (97th place nationally in the Explosives Allowed Rate) is the answer. Memphis are at home 25-2 for the last four seasons, so Saturday’s underdog status could be exactly the spark the team needs to end their offensive funk.