The gap between the truly elite programs and the rest of college football was never more apparent Saturday as No. 1 Clemson gave a glimpse of life after Trevor Lawrence in Death Valley and No. 3 Ohio State toyed with what was supposed to be the toughest opponent on its schedule.
In a season wracked with uncertainty and unpredictability brought on by trying to play through the pandemic, Clemson simply replaced the best quarterback prospect college football has had in years with its latest phenom and future NFL first-round draft pick.
DJ Uiagalelei took a little while to get going, but a scary half for Clemson’s defense against Boston College forced Dabo Swinney to unleash the five-star freshman. He delivered a monster game: 30 for 41 for 342 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a 30-yard touchdown run.
Clemson heads to No. 4 Notre Dame next week still unbeaten.
Uiagalelei will get the start in South Bend, too. Swinney ruled out Lawrence, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. The coach said Lawrence was feeling good, but put to rest any speculation that the golden boy could go from isolation to playing in the biggest game of Clemson’s season in 24 hours — which appeared to be the best-case scenario for the Tigers.
The Fighting Irish figure to pose a tougher test for Uiagalelei. Maybe.
Put it this way: The Fighting Irish will go into the game with a three-year starter at quarterback in Ian Book and it would be hard to argue Clemson doesn’t still have the advantage at that position. Uiagalelei would probably be starting this season at 75% of Power Five schools. And that’s a conservative estimate.
This has been major college football during most of the College Football Playoff era. Clemson and Alabama are in their own tier. Ohio State is there now, too.
The Buckeyes and Justin Fields were never threated at No. 18 Penn State. Fields, the presumptive No. 2 quarterback in the next draft behind Lawrence, passed for 318 yards and four touchdowns.
"He is talented and it's not just Justin. It’s all the pieces around him as well," said Nittany Lions coach James Franklin, who at one time had a verbal commitment from Fields to attend Penn State out of high school.
That didn't pan out and it has left Penn State in the college football's best of the rest tier with Notre Dame and others.
LSU crashed the college football's exclusive party last year by getting maybe the greatest individual performance by a college quarterback ever. Thanks, Joe Burrow.
It is has become crystal clear that was a one-off.
Georgia has pushed to be in the same class as Clemson and Alabama. The recruiting rankings say yes, but the results on the field say the Bulldogs are no closer to joining the club since Tua Tagovailoa ripped a national title away from them on second-and-26 three seasons ago.
Elite teams have elite offenses guided by elite quarterbacks.
Clemson currently has two on its roster.
“I’ve been preparing for this ever since I got to Clemson,” Uiagalelei aid.
Fields went to Georgia out of high school, but transferred to Ohio State and the gap between the Buckeyes and and Nittany Lions has been growing ever since. Meanwhile, Georgia is now starting a former walk-on at quarterback.
There will be a lot of games played between now and Jan. 1 when the College Football Playoff semifinals are scheduled. Some will be touted as having playoff implications.
The reality is you don’t need more than one hand to count the national title contenders. In fact, you just need three. Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State are in a class by themselves.
In this fragile season, maybe just skip ahead to playoff and have the Tigers, Tide and Buckeyes play a round-robin for the national championship.
Everybody else is just playing for fourth place.
LIES, DAMN LIES AND OPENING WEEK RESULTS
Week 1 of the the Big Ten season was a liar.
Michigan’s exciting new offense, the one that tore up Minnesota? Turns out Minnesota’s defense is bad enough to make Taulia Tagovailoa look like his older brother.
Michigan State’s opening-day disaster against Rutgers, portending a long first season for new coach Mel Tucker? Turns out if the Spartans don’t give the ball away seven times, they might be pretty decent.
The Wolverines’ loss at an almost empty Big House to their in-state rivals could be the low point of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan. Losing to Ohio State is crushing. But being on the wrong end against the Spartans triggers an existential crisis among Michigan fans.
What is Michigan football if it can only beat Michigan State half the time, which is what Harbaugh has done in six seasons.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: In consecutive weeks, No. 7 Cincinnati held high-scoring American Athletic Conference rivals SMU and Memphis to a total of 23 points in blowout victories. Any playoff conversation that includes a Big 12 team is probably going to have to include the Bearcats because the AAC and Big 12 are looking fairly comparable these days. ... This comes after Texas knocked off No. 6 Oklahoma State in overtime and No. 16 Kansas State was trounced at West Virginia. The Big 12 has no undefeated teams in conference play and it wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprising at this point if the league champ finishes with three losses. ... Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders is one of the most exciting players in the country, but too often not in a good way for Oklahoma State. ... How quickly can a coach burn the goodwill and credibility that comes with winning a national title? Well, Gene Chizik set the record, getting fired two seasons after winning it all with Auburn and Cam Newton in 2010. Not suggesting LSU’s Ed Orgeron is heading toward being Chizik’d next season. Auburn went winless in the SEC in 2012. LSU appears to have a lot of high-end underclassmen to build on going forward. But Coach O is going to need to hit the re-set on his defensive staff going into 2021 and have a pretty significant rebound because just breaking even might be tough this season after getting clubbed by Auburn. ... Next weekend’s schedule looks like not only the largest of this strange season, but maybe the best — if it remains intact. First off the Mid-American Conference opens with a full slate Wednesday night. On Friday night, No. 11 BYU is at No. 25 Boise State. No. 10 Florida faces No. 5 Georgia in a subdued but important World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Oklahoma State at Kansas State is still a pivotal Big 12 game. Michigan goes to No. 17 Indiana in a game that could push Wolverines fans’ angst to new heights.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/
You asked, we answered: 8 key questions about the Wisconsin football team’s COVID-19 outbreak
You asked, we answered: 8 key questions about the Wisconsin football team’s COVID-19 outbreak
How many Badgers have contracted COVID-19?
As of Nov. 7, the Badgers football program has 30 active cases of COVID-19 — 17 student-athletes and 13 staff members — since Oct. 21.
The program only identified one of those cases, saying head coach Paul Chryst has contracted the virus. Sources told the State Journal that offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and quarterbacks Graham Mertz (above) and Chase Wolf were among those to test positive.
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said during a news conference that the program had one positive test in the first few weeks of daily testing. Then one student-athlete tested positive on Wednesday, Oct. 21, followed by 29 more people within the program from Oct. 24-Nov. 7.
Why are the canceled games no contests if the Badgers aren’t at “red/red” levels?
Because UW’s decision was based on its COVID-19 testing numbers, the games are considered no contests and won’t be counted on the team’s records.
Big Ten protocols state that games are considered no contests if they’re canceled due to a program reaching what has been called “red/red” levels. Those levels are defined as a seven-day rolling average of a team’s positivity rate over 5%, and a seven-day rolling average of a team population positivity rate over 7.5%
UW officials have stated that the Badgers are at “orange/red” levels, meaning they have an average team positivity rate between 2-5% and an average team population positivity rate over 7.5%.
Per Big Ten protocols, a program must “proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention” and “consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition” if it reaches “orange/red” levels. Alvarez said UW decided to pause its team activities and cancel the games to stop the spread of the virus and “get their arms around it.”
Will they schedule make-up games?
When the Big Ten debuted its truncated schedule calling for nine games in nine weeks, the lack of open dates eliminated chances to reschedule games during the regular-season window.
Nebraska requested that the Big Ten change its ruling about allowing non-conference games in an attempt to play a game against Tennessee-Chattanooga. The conference denied the request.
The canceled game against Purdue will also not be rescheduled.
Does Illinois’ team have COVID-19 cases after playing the Badgers?
Illinois announced Saturday morning that quarterback Brandon Peters and tight end Griffin Moore tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Oct. 29. Both players will be out of game action for 21 days.
"Contact tracing also sidelined several other players for (Saturday) and next week's game against Minnesota," a release from the program read.
Illinois lost its season opener 45-7 to UW at Camp Randall Stadium.
Will the Badgers play next week?
To be determined
UW is slated to play at Michigan on Nov. 14. If that game will be played is still being decided.
The Badgers’ pause on team activities was lifted on Nov. 6 and limited on-field conditioning work resumed.
Why do the players who have contracted the virus have to sit out 21 days?
The Big Ten requires that players wait at least 14 days from their initial diagnosis to go through a cardiac screening that can clear them to start working back toward competition. The league also built in seven more days for players to build back toward competition after being cleared in the cardiac testing.
The 21-day break from game action is the longest league protocol among the Power Five conferences.
Jim Borchers, the team physician at Ohio State who was co-chair of the Big Ten’s return to competition medical subcommittee, said experts told the conference that cardiac testing and evaluation couldn’t start until two weeks after diagnosis.
However, this 21-day layoff has come under scrutiny this week.
A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found little evidence of myocarditis in COVID-positive college athletes who had mild or no symptoms. The report didn’t recommend cardiac testing to the level the Big Ten is conducting.
Alvarez (above) told Sports Illustrated that the Big Ten should “reevaluate” the protocol.
Can the Badgers still make the Big Ten championship game?
Yes, but they can’t miss any more games.
The conference changed its divisional tiebreakers for this season, and those modifications will now be necessary considering at least two teams — UW and Nebraska — won’t complete the eight-game regular-season slate.
According to a Big Ten policy put in place this season, “a team must play at least six games to be considered for participation in the championship game. However, if the average number of conference games played by all teams falls below six, then teams must play no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of conference games played by all teams to be considered.”
How are the players doing? Are they symptomatic?
UW is not releasing updates regarding individual players’ illness and has not said whether some or all have experienced symptoms of COVID-19. Michael Moll, the program's Chief Infection Officer for the Big Ten, said no players or staff members have had severe symptoms or required hospitalization.
During a Zoom call with reporters, Chryst said he felt fine physically and he completed his isolation period without symptoms.
In an effort to stop the spread of the virus, players are isolating themselves in their living spaces. UW has secured hotel rooms to separate those who live together.