Even as November turns into December, and with college football's regular season winding down, I'll shout this from the rooftops: the College Football Playoff chatter takes up too much oxygen. It's suffocating. This is the case in normal years when teams have an even number of games and heavyweight nonconference matchups have some gravity. But here we are in 2020 where Notre Dame might play 12 games and Ohio State may play five. How does the playoff committee weigh that against other teams in the running?Man, I don't know. We're lucky to be playing football at all, and at the rate games are getting postponed/canceled, that luck is going to be at a premium moving forward.
One of the annual storylines that has taken a backseat in the playoff era is the Heisman race. Some of that is because of what I just mentioned, but some of it is that there have been clear frontrunners in most years. Did anyone think Joe Burrow wasn't going to win last year? How about Lamar Jackson in 2016? Not every race has been a virtual lock, but there have been obvious choices.
That's not the case in 2020.
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Just how deep is this race? There are multiple teams with more than one candidate. For example, you could make a case at Alabama for quarterback Mac Jones. He's up to 2,700 yards passing and 23 touchdowns. Those numbers are among the best in the country. But what about receiver Devonta Smith, who has an argument as not only the best player on their elite offense, but the best receiver in Alabama history (he's already No. 1 in receiving TDs and will likely be No. 1 in yards).
Florida is similar. Quarterback Kyle Trask is putting up the type of numbers that win hardware ... but is he even the best player on his own team? Tight end Kyle Pitts doesn't control the game like Trask does, but find me a bigger mismatch in college football right now. He has 11 receiving touchdowns in 24 quarters of football.
Those two have an embarrassment of riches. So only now, several paragraphs down, am I even mentioning Trevor Lawrence, whose biggest shortcoming has been missing a couple of games due to COVID-19. And while a rough performance against Indiana and coronavirus-related cancellations have hindered his case some, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is still at least in the conversation. So, too, is BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with his 34 total touchdowns.
There are more names, but you get the point. The limited number of votes means you won't get a ton of players for the finalist ceremony. I've long believed the Heisman should open up voting and allow more players to be included; it's a good chance to tell their stories and highlight their achievements. It won't happen, but this would be a perfect year for that since the field is so stacked.
Here's what else we learned from this weekend's college football action ...
Texas A&M can smother you
In some ways, the Aggies looked like a team that hadn't taken the field in three weeks playing in crappy weather. But there's not a lot to complain about in a 20-7 win over LSU. The Tigers' only score was in garbage time, and that had more wagering implications than anything else. Otherwise, they had seven three-and-outs, a pick-six and one score on 16 drives. Texas A&M's defensive front is legit and they get all kinds of disruption. DL DeMarvin Leal was an absolute monster with seven tackles and a pair of quarterback hurries. There's team speed everywhere on that defense. The Aggies probably aren't going to win the SEC West, but they've turned an early-season disappointment vs. Alabama into a nice bounce-back.
Michigan State is the Big Ten's chaos team
This is turning into quite a Year 0 for Mel Tucker's Spartans. They lost to Rutgers and were blown out by Iowa and Indiana ... but have wins over Michigan and now No. 8 Northwestern. Now, were the Wildcats a top-10 team? No. Their defense is good enough to win the Big Ten West, but that's about as high as I'd put their ceiling. Still, Tucker's team brings its own juice when there's a lot on the line. Will Michigan State beat Ohio State next week (if the game can be played at all)? Unlikely, but the game at Penn State is winnable and that's a big rivalry. Three, maybe four wins in a year like this would be a big deal for Tucker, especially considering the opponents.
That's a big win for Mel Tucker (duh). Defense played well all game. Offense did just enough.— Chris Vannini 😷 (@ChrisVannini) November 29, 2020
NW had allowed only 10 second-half points all year. Offense got six, and then the lateral made it 12.
First time since the U-M game that MSU looked focused throughout.
Elijah Moore, weirdly, paved the way for his own success
Ole Miss' top wideout broke a single-season school receptions record in a 31-24 win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. With his 12 catches for 139 yards, Moore hit 86 catches on the season, passing the previous record of 85 set by AJ Brown in 2018. It's a bit poetic that Moore broke the record against Mississippi State, considering it was Moore's dog-peeing celebration last year that led to a missed extra point that cost Ole Miss a chance at tying the game with four seconds remaining. But that loss pushed the school to fire coach Matt Luke and replace him with Lane Kiffin, a prolific offensive mind who sets up the same playmakers over and over for success until a defense shows it can stop the mismatch. Moore has been that weapon.
Sarah Fuller did her job and did it well
Fresh off an SEC championship, the goalkeeper for Vanderbilt's women's soccer team was thrust into duty for the Commodores' 41-0 loss to Missouri on Saturday due to COVID-19 issues within the football team. Her debut, the first for any female in the Power Five ranks, came on the opening kickoff for the second half. The squib -- and, yes, that's what it was -- went about 30 yards as it bounced in bounds on the right side of the field with no chance for a return. Vanderbilt's special teams were prepared for how her kick played out as they swarmed to the ball and Missouri fell on it. That's how it was supposed to go and, frankly, it was probably the best-case scenario for someone who's never kicked in a football game.
Didn’t go OB..Didn’t give up a TD.. Gave 0 chance for a return. Set up the D 🗣🗣👏🏻👏🏻— Pat McAFLEET (@PatMcAfeeShow) November 28, 2020
Congrats to @SarahFuller_27 for being THE FIRST EVER WOMAN TO KICKOFF A POWER 5 GAME.
Incredibly rare to be the “1st ever person to do something” these days..this is really cool #ForTheBrand pic.twitter.com/A7vQsAFiM1
The reaction to Fuller's kick was largely positive. She received a nice ovation by the Missouri home crowd and praise on social media. She did not, however, have an opportunity to kick an extra point or field goal. Still, her participation, no matter how it came to be, can be viewed as an inspiration for women in football. Those feelings are valid. But to boil it down, Fuller was asked on short notice to do something she's never done before. She did her job well, and that should be more than good enough for anyone.
Pac-12 race is full of intrigue
There's not much of a playoff angle for the Pac-12, but its conference title game race is off to an interesting start. Colorado and Washington are 3-0 under first-year coaches Karl Dorrell and Jimmy Lake. The Buffaloes were able to flex some nonconference muscles against San Diego State after their game against USC was canceled and came away with a nice 20-10 win over the Aztecs. It's a shame we won't get to see Colorado against the Trojans, but this team has found a way to win tight games. They are absolutely the unexpected team in the Pac-12 South hunt. Meanwhile, the Huskies came back from 21-0 to Utah to win 24-21. With Oregon's loss to rival Oregon State on Friday, that puts Washington in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 North. The Dec. 12 game in Eugene is going to be big, and Washington might be the Pac-12 favorite at this point.
Buffalo and Lance Leipold not getting enough attention
Running back Jaret Patterson was the big story in Buffalo's 70-41 win over Kent State when he tied the FBS single-game touchdown record, but don't sleep on Leipold as one of college football's best coaches. The Bulls are averaging almost 51 points per game and beating MAC opponents by nearly four full touchdowns. They're probably the MAC's best team, and could go undefeated. At the very least, Leipold should have Buffalo enjoying its fourth straight season of being .500 or better. The program has six overall since 1999. Leipold crushed it at DIII powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater, winning six national championships. He was an out-of-the-box hire by Buffalo and it's paying off.