I had written this lede already. It was done. Ship it.
It was halftime of Ohio State-Michigan State, and I was sitting at my desk. Quarterback C.J. Stroud had completed 29 of 31 throws (including a record 17 straight) for 393 yards and six touchdowns in the first half.
It was one of the most dominant halves of football I had ever watched. And as it was happening, Stroud’s Heisman odds drastically shifted.
He began the day around 2/1 to win the award. At halftime, he was -400. Given his performance and the way the Buckeyes absolutely mauled a top 10 team, it was understandable.
The original idea for this copy was to explore how a strange Heisman race ended in about 30 minutes. For a few hours, I felt that way.
Then Bryce Young took the field, no longer the Heisman favorite.
And while Alabama’s performance against Arkansas was up-and-down, Young was superb. The sophomore threw for 559 yards and five touchdowns.
The Crimson Tide won 42-35, which was closer than expected. Although Young’s performance, on a day where Stroud tried to break the scoreboard, almost delivered a perfect counter.
As it stands now, Stroud is -200 and Young is 150. One could argue that Alabama linebacker Will Anderson is actually the best player in college football, and I could get behind that. I could also get behind those 80/1 odds.
But it looks like a QB, Stroud or Young, will win the award. And, as we evaluate their standing, we really don’t need to look at stats. This will largely come down to performance.
Ohio State closes with Michigan and then the Big Ten Championship Game if the Buckeyes win. Alabama has Auburn and then Georgia, which was solidified this weekend.
The biggest platform unquestionably belongs to Young. If Alabama gets past Auburn, Young has a chance to conquer the best defense the sport has seen in some time. But Stroud, who plays on the road next week, likely has an easier path. He also has much better offensive players around him.
It’s a conundrum. For those who invested early, they’ll just wait, watch and hope. For those who are watching now, after one of the most interesting days the award has ever seen, it’s far more complicated.
Stroud’s performance, as good as Young’s was, feels hard to overcome. He still feels like the pick.
Or, we could all just bet Will Anderson, the best player in the sport who leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. Let's do that instead.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Dan Mullen is out, which should come as no surprise. The Gators lost outright to Missouri on Saturday, which was more or less the final deathblow. Florida had lost four of the last five games and did not cover the spread in six of seven. This was inevitable, and now things get interesting. With openings at USC, LSU and UF, a ton of head coaches are likely to get calls. Mario Cristobal and Lane Kiffin feel like really nice fits in Gainesville, although they will not come cheap.
2. Well, the Pac-12 is out again. It’s become a yearly ritual to announce the conference’s playoff absence, and we can do it in 2021. Oregon was destroyed by Utah as a small road underdog, thus putting any conversation about the Ducks’ involvement in the playoff to rest. This also completely changes the conversation for Cincinnati, which was superb against SMU. (Finally.) While it could get weird for the Bearcats if Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game or Oklahoma State wins out, this was the kind of weekend it needed to get a bit more comfortable.
3. Jim Harbaugh. I’ve written about this man plenty. You might have strong feelings about him. And if you do, you probably don’t like him. At 10-1, however, I want to give Harbaugh some love. Michigan easily covered the spread in a potential letdown game against Maryland to move into Ohio State week with only one loss. I know we assume that the Wolverines will lose this game, and I’ll talk about it shortly. But Harbaugh’s season, outside of one bad half, has been pretty excellent. While we will obsess over what happens against his rival regardless of result, this has been a solid season he needed to have. Also, Harbaugh has been awfully kind to backers at 9-2 ATS on the year. Not bad.
4. What do we do with Clemson? I have thought about that a lot since the Tigers’ 48-27 win over Wake Forest. They easily covered as a small favorite, and they have now won four in a row. Dabo Swinney’s team is a respectable 8-3 with losses to Georgia, the best team in the sport, and road defeats to Pitt and NC State. Not terrible. This was also a team that began the season at No. 3 in the AP Poll, and we can't get away from that. The defense has been superb; the offense was superb in Week 12. I don’t know what we’ll get next season from Clemson, but I do know things look much better than they did six weeks ago.
5. I loved Utah over Oregon this week, which worked out. I also loved Kansas State over Baylor as a small favorite, which most certainly did not. I have to give the Bears credit. This felt like a massive possibility for a letdown, and Dave Aranda’s team stepped up with defense and just enough offense. At 9-2 (with only two losses ATS), this has to be one of the biggest surprises all year. I’m not sure if he’ll get a look for the LSU job, the place he left for Baylor, but he’s earned himself a raise and plenty of job stability.
6. Speaking of job stability, let’s talk about Mel Tucker. With a rumored new contract of $95 million over 10 years in the works, things are about to get weird. It probably wasn’t the best time to lose to Ohio State by 1,000 points, although it might not matter. Tucker’s potential new contract speaks to a few things. First, television money and growing revenues in CFB allow teams down the pecking order to spend big on coaches. Second, as teams like USC and LSU and Florida try to fill jobs, the task is becoming more difficult because a lot of programs with big boosters are stepping up. Good for Tucker, regardless of where the deal ends up. And good for the coaches who will get raises in this new world. But I wonder where things are heading and how sustainable this path truly is.
7. Fry your turkeys. I know I usually use this space for college football/gamblin’ words, but don’t let your guests down. A fried turkey is a better turkey, plain and simple. If you have not done so before, this is the year. Also, brine your turkeys. Your guests deserve that, too. You should eat juicy meat on Thanksgiving. Your guests deserve it. You deserve it. Death to dry turkey.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
No. 2 Ohio State (-7., 61.5) at No. 6 Michigan
One of the best rivalries in all of sports is drenched in intrigue. We already discussed Stroud’s superb play on Saturday, and his growth over the past month has been evident. In the past two weeks, Ryan Day’s team has scored 115 points on Purdue and Michigan State. Frankly, it could have been more. (Ohio State obviously covered in both of those games.) Playing against Michigan in Ann Arbor should, however, present a bit of a different challenge. The Wolverines have been superb to backers this year (as we mentioned), and the defense has done the heavy lifting. Can it do enough to slow down an offense that looks unstoppable? Can Harbaugh finally conquer his greatest demon? Tall order this week.
No. 7 Oklahoma State (-4, 50.5) vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
First and foremost, I love Bedlam. It might be the most underappreciated rivalry in CFB. Second, this feels a little strange. Oklahoma State does not normally assume the role of favorite in this matchup, although it feels plenty appropriate. The Pokes just delivered a 23-0 shutout as a 10-point favorite over Texas Tech, and they now have the nation’s second-ranked scoring defense (tied with mighty A&M). OK State has also not lost a game against the spread since September 11, which is wild. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is coming off a 28-21 win (and cover) over Iowa State. The Sooners have been up and down, especially at quarterback. They’re also 1-4 ATS on the road this year, which is not a good sign heading into this one.
Mississippi State (-2, 61) vs. No. 8 Mississippi
I cannot tell you how excited I am about this game being on Thanksgiving. While this real estate is normally reserved for the NFL, the Egg Bowl is perfect in this spot. In terms of the actual game, this is fascinating. Ole Miss, having just won its ninth game of the year, is a small dog at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs know this kind of game well. While they’ve lost four times, they’ve covered the spread in the last four and played really well against quality teams. Outside of a blowout loss against Alabama, Mike Leach’s team has been tough. And as coaching searches around the country take a gander at Lane Kiffin, I really lean toward Mississippi State in this spot.
No. 11 Oregon (-7, 64.5) vs. Oregon State
Talk about a difference in experiences and emotions for football teams. On one side, there is Oregon. The Ducks were absolutely clobbered by Utah as a short underdog, thus putting an end to their playoff hopes. Oregon State, however, delivered a suffocating win over Arizona State. Both teams can still win the Pac-12 North, although Oregon’s path is cleaner. Win and they’re in. I can’t say I’ve loved what I have seen from the Ducks of late, even when they’ve covered. And Oregon State, while lively, has also been a tad inconsistent. My issue in this game for the Beavers is offense; if they can deliver enough of it, they have a chance. But playing at home, I tend to lean Oregon.
Penn State (-1, 53.5) at No. 12 Michigan State
It doesn’t have the same juice as some of the other rivalries, although it is intriguing. Michigan State, after such a dreadful weekend, has another really difficult matchup to close out the regular season. Playing at home should help. Not playing Ohio State should, too. But Penn State, which started slow against Rutgers last week, ultimately picked up the pace and covered the two-touchdown spread. The Nittany Lions have actually covered the spread in three-of-four, and the lone loss (Michigan) could’ve been a win. As for this game, I’m just not sure what we will get out of Sparty. After such a brutal defeat, I’m curious to see what we get as a response. This one is hard to figure out.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
Alabama (-20, 55) at Auburn: After Auburn’s outright loss to South Carolina, this one could get ugly. Or, perhaps Alabama is already looking ahead to Georgia. Or, perhaps Alabama simply isn’t as superb as it normally is. All might be true. Lots to mull over.
Wisconsin (-6.5, 38) at Minnesota: It might not be pretty, but it could be significant. The Big Ten West is still to be decided, and this game will help decide it. The total says a lot, and I tend to think we’ll get exactly the kind of game.
Washington State (-2, 43.5) at Washington: We end with the Apple Cup, which will be coached by two interim coaches having dealt with very weird years. Wazzu, however, has really rallied, and Jake Dickert has stepped in and done quite well.