Welcome back to The Weekend in College Football, VICE Sports' new column. Each week, we'll take you through everything you missed on Saturday (or, God forbid, Friday night), the things worth learning, and look ahead to what happens next. Enjoy.
1st and 10
Michigan–Wisconsin was the only marquee game on this week’s slate, and it doubled as a long-awaited referendum on Wisconsin’s legitimacy as a playoff contender. Consider the test passed.
On face value, this was a paint-by-numbers Badger victory. Jonathan Taylor churned out 132 rushing yards, the defense held the Wolverines’ offense to 234 total yards, and Alex Hornibrook was a ho-hum nine of 19 for 143 yards, a touchdown, and a pick.
In reality, Hornibrook answered major questions about his mettle by nailing several key throws late in the third quarter, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Taylor. Consequently, he forced Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown to cut down on his overloaded fronts, which freed up Taylor to come into his own and put the game on ice.
None of this is to say that Hornibrook is the sort of player who can will the Badgers to postseason victories; he isn’t, at least not yet. But Michigan’s defense, ranked sixth by S&P+, is a championship-caliber unit and Hornibrook did enough to best it. It certainly doesn’t hurt, either, that in Taylor, Troy Fumagalli, and Danny Davis, the Badgers have their most talented stable of pass catchers in years (and that’s without leading receiver Quintez Cephus, who is out for the season).
This is still an uphill climb for Wisconsin—from convincing the selection committee to look past a soft schedule, to defeating an overwhelmingly talented Ohio State team, to possibly taking down two playoff teams—but on Saturday the Badgers proved that, if nothing else, it’s worth taking them seriously while they try.
2nd and 8
On a weekend devoid of many high-stakes games, most of the other headlines went to Baker Mayfield, who went out and talked some shit. That is a fairly regular occurrence these days, but let’s delve into Saturday’s incident with Kansas.
The Jayhawks fired the first shot in the opening coin toss when they declined to shake Mayfield’s hand. The Heisman frontrunner took all the others by driving the Sooners to a 41-3 victory, grabbing his crotch, apparently yelling “Fuck you” at the opposing sideline, and telling Kansas fans to stick to basketball.
Considering the perpetually dismal state of affairs that is Jayhawk football, that last point is 100,000 percent justified. The rest, a little less so—but it was eminently predictable, considering the blatant provocation as well as the person Kansas was trying to needle. It is exactly what Johnny Manziel would have done, and by now we’ve seen enough of Mayfield to regard him as the on-field second coming of Johnny Football, with all of the moxie and the extemporizing and an abject refusal to take bullshit.
None of it should overshadow the fact that there are only a few opportunities left to marvel at one of the most unique careers in college football history, one propelled by the very same qualities that led Mayfield to end a war of words using firepower that’s a little too heavy-duty. He’s flawed and he’s great, and he’s great because he’s flawed. All that’s left to do is see Mayfield pick up a trophy that validates the total experience.
Clip of the Week
Bronze: Boston College has been one of this season’s pleasant surprises, and A.J. Dillon is a major reason why. The 240-pound Connecticut native has been the nation’s best true freshman tailback outside of Wisconsin’s transcendent Jonathan Taylor, routinely blasting through piles en route to 1,239 rushing yards and ten rushing touchdowns on 245 carries. This, against UConn, is some of his best work:
Silver: UCLA came up short against crosstown rival USC, but that’s not on Jordan Lasley. The junior from Compton ripped off a monumental ten receptions for 204 yards and three touchdowns, and none of it was more dynamic than an early fourth-quarter snare that ricocheted off two Trojan defenders into his right hand.
Gold: Not to be outdone, USC deployed one of football’s ballsiest, sneakiest plays: the fake punt return. Rodger Sherman wrote a good explainer of how it works a few years ago but, in a nutshell, the returning team shifts its returner and almost all of its blockers away from the ball, thus drawing the punting team, which generally eyes the returner instead of the ball, along for the ride. Meanwhile, a blocker—in this case, USC sophomore wide receiver Michael Pittman—snares the punt on the other side of the field, where he can run almost unopposed to the end zone.
On Saturday, it worked to perfection. Take a good look, because something this beautiful only graces the football landscape every once in a rare while.
3rd and 1
Farewell to Jim Mora Jr., whom UCLA fired Sunday after nearly six seasons at the helm. Mora brought some good times to Westwood: three consecutive victories over USC from 2012 through 2014, multiple weeks in the AP Top 10 poll, several iconic players including Miles Jack and Anthony Barr.
But there is only one true mandate in Westwood, and the longer Mora’s tenure dragged, the more apparent it became that he was no more capable of wresting control of Los Angeles from USC than Rick Neuheisel, Karl Dorrell, and Bob Toledo were before him. Consequently, he was given the same exit as Neuheisel and Dorrell, and canned less than 48 hours after losing to USC one last time.
It’s odd timing. The Bruins played the Trojans closer than they had in either of the past two seasons, and a win at home against Cal will put UCLA back in a bowl game after missing out last season. UCLA forked over $12 million to pay Mora’s buyout, so this wasn’t a cheap goodbye, either.
Put it together, and it’s obvious that athletic director Dan Guerrero will be big-game hunting in what might be his last crack at a major coaching hire. Does that mean Chip Kelly? The internet rumor mill says yes, but the Bruins will have no shortage of well-funded competitors hoping to lure the former Oregon boss back to the college game. Speaking of which…
Not long ago, Oregon was college football’s cutting edge. A cornucopia of flashy uniforms. The warp-speed offense. Facilities that looked like spaceships. The Ducks were the Joneses and everyone else was simply trying to keep up. Fast forward to 2017 and Oregon’s out here ripping off Miami’s vaunted turnover chain with a hunk of metal that looks like a second-grade art project.
The chain has become one of the biggest stories of the season, so someone inevitably was going to appropriate it. It’s just disappointing that Oregon, of all schools, would not only be the first to try but somehow make it look so lame along the way.
Player Who Deserves to Be Paid This Week
Kansas State snuck past 13th-ranked Oklahoma State in Stillwater, a game that they seemingly had no business winning. How’d that happen? By Byron Pringle popping the top off of the Cowboys’ defense. (I’ll let you decide whether the pun is intended or not.) The junior receiver became the first player in Big 12 history to catch three touchdown passes and return a kickoff for a touchdown in the same game, and finished the afternoon averaging 41.5 yards per reception. A little money probably goes a long way in Manhattan, Kansas, so someone give Pringle even some of what he rightfully deserves so he can have a nice night out in the Little Apple.
Coach Who Does Not
I’ve written plenty of words about Kirk Ferentz and the stale marriage Iowa has locked itself into with the longest-tenured coach in college football, so I’ll spare you a rehash of the bigger picture. For better or worse, they’re stuck with each other until 2026, and while that occasionally yields moments like a smackdown of Ohio State, a letdown like Saturday is never too far off in the distance.
It isn’t just that Iowa lost to Purdue at home. It’s that it took genuine effort for a 24-15 defeat to even remain that close. Iowa was the more talented team but the Boilermakers played hungrier while their young head coach, the ascending Jeff Brohm, looked hungrier and, by Ferentz’s own admission, bamboozled Iowa’s coaching staff. Prior to the season, Ferentz drew some headlines by forfeiting $50,000 of his $2.47 million salary. A loss like this ought to mean returning much more.
Obscure College Football Team of Note
Say hello to the Stony Brook Seawolves, who were mere seconds away from a deflating loss to Maine. Now watch this clip and say goodbye to Maine’s grip on this game when wide receiver Harrison Jackson reels in a Hail Mary from quarterback Joe Carbone as time expires to bump the Seawolves to 9-2 on the season:
Something to Look Forward To
In a weekend rife with rivalry games, the Iron Bowl stands out among the rest. Not only is it a matchup of top-ten—and possibly top-five—teams, but Auburn represents a stiff roadblock for Alabama ahead of an SEC Championship Game date with Georgia.
The only means of ever stopping the Crimson Tide is to take the game to them up front, and the Tigers are among the very few with a defensive line potent enough to slow Alabama’s vaunted ground game. The offense is another story, but Jarrett Stidham is the most talented quarterback Gus Malzahn has had since Cam Newton, and he doesn’t turn the ball over, either. The Tigers will still be comfortable underdogs, but there’s enough on hand to at least pester Alabama, which is about as much as any team can hope for these days.
And if Auburn somehow punches above its weight? Strap in for playoff chaos.