Sports in this Day and Age: Upsets, records and close calls

     This column seeks to cover significant current events in the sporting world as it navigates the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

College football is always wild and full of surprises. This past week was no different, as we saw four ranked teams lose to unranked teams, and three barely squeak by. One of the biggest games, if not the biggest game of the season so far, also happened on Saturday, Oct. 17 as second-ranked Alabama (4-0) defeated then third-ranked Georgia (3-1). All of these and more will be covered, as well as a special preview of next weekend’s action, including the return of Big 10 football.

The action last week was not confined to Fridays or Saturdays, as on Wednesday Coastal Carolina University (CCU) (4-0) defeated the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (3-1) 30-27. This knocked the Ragin’ Cajuns out of the top 25 and allowed CCU to sneak in at number 25. On Friday, Southern Methodist University (SMU) (5-0) barely edged out Tulane (2-3) in a hotly contested contest that went into overtime, ending 37-34 thanks to a 34-yard Chris Nagger field goal. However, Friday’s action wasn’t yet over as Brigham Young University (5-0) easily handled Houston (1-1) 43-26 in Houston’s second game of the season.

Saturday’s action kept up the frantic pace set the night before, as top-ranked Clemson (5-0) throttled Georgia Tech (2-3) 73-7 as Trevor Lawrence had a career day, throwing for 404 yards and five touchdowns, all of which came in the first half, which put them up 52-7 before the third quarter even started. After that, Clemson cruised through the second half, posting another three touchdowns while preventing the Yellow Jackets from scoring for the rest of the game. It was a thorough route and the largest win-differential in Atlantic Coast Conference history. 

Compared to the elegance of Clemson’s win, Notre Dame (4-0) feels like the ugly duckling, as they barely managed to make it past the  Louisville Cardinals (1-4). After scoring the first six points via two field goals in the first quarter, neither team scored again until midway through the third quarter when Malik Cunningham connected with Marshon Ford to put the Cardinals up 7-6. Notre Dame ended the scoring less than four minutes later with a 13-yard touchdown and a failed two-point conversion, leading to an ugly 12-7 win for the third-ranked team in the nation.

South Carolina (2-2) and Kentucky (2-2) both played the spoiler in their respective games, with South Carolina defeating Auburn (2-2) 30-22 and Kentucky thoroughly defeating Tennessee (2-2) 34-7. Auburn and Tennessee, ranked 11th and 18th last week respectively, both dropped out of the rankings after poor showings by both teams. For Auburn, the chance at redemption looms as they take on Ole Miss (1-3), while Tennessee’s woes continue as they face Alabama on Saturday.

North Carolina (3-1) also suffered, as they dropped their game against Florida State (2-3) by three, losing 28-31. For the Tar Heels this loss reverberates even more, as they were ranked fifth in the nation heading into this game, while Florida State was unranked. The Tar Heels dropped nine spots in the rankings to number 14. The Seminoles still remain unranked despite the win against a top-five opponent. However, after a disappointing start to the season, this may mark a turning point for the team moving forward.

Saturday’s primetime game did not disappoint either, as Alabama defeated Georgia in an entertaining game that ended 41-24. Georgia, which could lay claim to one of the best if not the best defenses in the nation, could not stop Alabama’s offense in which Mac Jones threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns while running back Najee Harris ran for 152 yards and a score. 

Georgia put up plenty of offense itself; however, all of that offense was crammed in the first half, as they went into halftime holding a 24-20 lead, before going scoreless in the second half and allowing Alabama to run away with the win. Come playoff time, this loss may hurt Georgia. For Alabama, this win puts them firmly in charge of their destiny as they now have the head-to-head win against Georgia, although they could meet again in the Southeaster Conference championship game.

With last week’s games in the books, we can look ahead to next week. The big headline heading into this week is the start of Big 10 football, which so far had been postponed. The Big 10 will kick things off on Friday as 16th ranked Wisconsin goes up against Illinois. Marquee matchups for the Big 10 on Saturday also include fifth-ranked Ohio State taking on Nebraska and 18th ranked Michigan facing off against 21st ranked Minnesota in one of several ranked matchups happening this week. 

Other notable matchups this week include number nine Cincinnati against 16th ranked SMU and sixth-ranked Oklahoma State taking on 17th ranked Iowa State. With plenty to look forward to, this next week of college football will be even more action-packed and eventful than before.