Go ahead and poke holes in Notre Dame’s seismic victory if you must. Point to the absence of Trevor Lawrence. The three missing defensive starters, James Skalski, Mike Jones Jr. and Tyler Davis. The fact the game was in South Bend, Ind.
It’s fair. It’s true. Clemson was not at its best on Saturday, as its 36-game regular-season winning streak was snapped. It was not at full strength. But, guess what: Notre Dame didn’t play its ‘A’ game either. It left plenty of points on the board, managing just nine points on its first four drives into the red zone. There were dropped passes. A costly Ian Book fumble at the goal-line.
And the undefeated Irish still prevailed. They still were able to get off the mat after blowing a 13-point lead. They rallied in the final minute to force overtime. They had more gas in the tank in the second overtime, the defense producing two sacks after Kyren Williams’ 3-yard rushing touchdown, clinching their first win over the No. 1 team in the country in 27 years.
Lawrence missed his second straight after his positive COVID-19 test, but his replacement, five-star freshman D.J. Uiagalelei, was brilliant. He threw for 439 yards and two touchdowns, ran for another score and played mistake-free football. How much better could Lawrence have performed? Clemson missed their three defensive starters more, especially Davis, the All-ACC preseason first-team selection at defensive tackle, as Notre Dame ran for 209 yards, controlling both sides of the line of scrimmage, limiting the Tigers to 34 rushing yards.
I’m not saying Clemson won’t beat them if there is a rematch in the ACC championship game, a likely scenario. Lawrence is expected to practice Monday, so he should be back. Clemson hopes to have Jones, Davis and Skalski back by then, too. The Tigers will be a heavy favorite.
But Saturday was no accident. It wasn’t the result of Notre Dame facing an undermanned team. It was one very good team beating another very good team. The Irish were better up front. They have a wide array of playmakers, from Williams to tight end Michael Mayer to receivers Avery Davis and Jacon McKinley. And their questioned quarterback, Book, made winning plays in crunch time, using both his right arm and his legs.
This was a team capable of beating anyone in the country, and that includes Alabama, Ohio State and a full-strength Clemson. Saturday proved it. Notre Dame absolutely belongs among the nation’s elite.
Doth my IU deceive me?
I had to do a double take when I saw the Indiana-Michigan betting line. The Wolverines were 3.5-point favorites on the road. Rarely do the experts get it wrong. As the saying goes, Vegas knows.
Not with this game. Indiana predictably rolled, 38-21, continuing to prove this isn’t the Indiana we’ve grown accustomed to for most of its existence, a program that has never previously won double-digit games and owns just two Big Ten titles.
This is a team that will challenge Ohio State on Nov. 21, that can absolutely win the Big Ten. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is a star who will play on Sundays, the secondary is very good and the Hoosiers are gaining confidence every week, riding the momentum from the Week 1 overtime upset of Penn State.
Indiana is for real. Pay attention, Vegas.
Whole lotta nothing
The remainder of the college football regular season has a problem. Barring some mammoth upsets, there are very few games that will alter the landscape of the playoff.
There is Ohio State against Indiana on Nov. 21, a game that will likely determine the Big Ten East crown. There will be the ACC and SEC championship games, which should feature Notre Dame-Clemson and Florida-Alabama, respectively.
Otherwise, there really isn’t a lot to zero in on. We’ve already had all the big games, whether it’s Clemson-Notre Dame, Florida-Georgia, Alabama-Georgia and Alabama Texas A&M. If you want chaos, a few Davids will need to slay their Goliaths.
1. Alabama (6-0) (Last week: 1)
The Iron Bowl against Auburn can be unpredictable and a trip to improved Arkansas won’t be easy, but Alabama is unlikely to play a single-possession game the entire regular season.
2. Ohio State (3-0) (3)
The game of the year in the Big Ten won’t be Ohio State-Michigan or Ohio State-Penn State. It will be Ohio State-Indiana in two weeks in Columbus, a showdown of undefeated teams few expected to matter so much even a few weeks ago.
3. Notre Dame (7-0) (5)
Ian Book answered his critics — yours truly included — in Saturday’s dramatic double-overtime victory over Clemson, making winning plays all evening to key the Irish’s first win over the No. 1 team in the country in 27 years.
4. Clemson (7-1) (2)
Yes, Clemson missed Trevor Lawrence, but the absence of key injured defensive starters James Skalski, Mike Jones Jr. and Tyler Davis was just as significant in the Tigers’ double-overtime loss to Notre Dame.
5. Florida (4-1) (6)
The SEC East has a new king. Florida can lose once and still claim the division, courtesy of their commanding win over Georgia.
6. Cincinnati (6-0) (7)
Cincinnati hasn’t just beaten three of the better teams in the AAC in recent weeks, it has annihilated Memphis, SMU and Houston by a combined 129-33.
7. Texas A&M (5-1) (8)
This has been the exact season Jimbo Fisher needed, a significant step in the desired direction, the Aggies looking like arguably the second best team in the SEC after Alabama.
8. Indiana (3-0) (NR)
The oddsmakers installed the Hoosiers as a 3.5-point home underdog to Michigan, an obvious mistake in a one-sided Indiana victory. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and Co. are legit Big Ten East contenders.
9. Oregon (1-0) (9)
This was the start Oregon and the Pac-12 needed, a comfortable victory over Stanford that grabs the playoff committee’s attention.
10. BYU (8-0) (10)
BYU left little doubt against its best opponent, thrashing Boise State 51-17, but now just two games remain, against North Alabama and San Diego State, giving the Cougars little shot to make a statement that it deserves a spot in the playoff.
Dropped out: Georgia (4-2)
(in alphabetical order)
QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields has thrown as many touchdown passes as incompletions — 11 apiece — in his immaculate start to the season.
QB Mac Jones, Alabama
It will be stat-padding Saturday in Baton Rouge for Jones, facing LSU’s woeful defense as Alabama seeks revenge for last year’s loss.
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence returns to practice on Monday after missing the last two games following his positive COVID-19 test. He can’t afford to ease himself back in — he has to hit the accelerator immediately.
QB Kyle Trask, Florida
It’s time to take Trask very seriously for the Heisman. He decimated Georgia’s high-caliber defense, throwing four touchdown passes and completing 30 of 43 attempts for 474 yards.
QB Zach Wilson, BYU
The dual-threat junior has produced at least two touchdowns every week and has accounted for 29 scores for undefeated BYU.
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