2020 is a bad year for many things, but it’s been a good year for unexpectedly good teams. Week 11, in its own, backwards way, highlighted this fact. Fifteen games for Saturday were either postponed or canceled due to COVID-19. That’s a season high and reflective of what’s happening across the country. Among the 15 games that were scratched, six included top-25 teams. Alabama, Ohio State and Texas A&M didn’t play.
Sure, those games are missed, but it also makes room for the other teams every bit as deserving of our attention. Now’s the time to put more eyeballs on No. 7 Cincinnati, which just throttled ECU 55-17 on Friday. The Bearcats have a top-five defense per SP+ and quarterback Desmond Ridder has been a touchdown machine. And if you like passing, No. 8 BYU should be your favorite team. Quarterback Zach Wilson is getting first-round pub for next year’s draft. No. 22 Liberty might be the most fun you’ll have watching a team this year. Tulsa is about to be ranked at 4-1 after beating SMU and is criminally underrated. The list goes on. There are legitimately six or seven Group of Five teams tearing it up right now.
Even within the Power Five conferences, there are worthy teams flying under the radar. No. 23 Northwestern is 4-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1996. The Wildcats’ home game against No. 13 Wisconsin next week will be for a leg up in the West Division race. And top-10 Indiana (!) has Big Ten East showdown with Ohio State on the same date.
This year’s a wash for most teams. Some will play 11 games and others will play three. If a team is healthy and able to get to Saturday, they get extended reps. If not, then they won’t. It’s best not to take what happens too seriously. Enjoy the chaos because it’s the rare kind that’s good. And celebrate the teams doing unexpectedly well amidst all of it.
Here’s what else we learned in Week 11 …
Notre Dame passed the trap game
Good teams win. Great teams cover. For No. 2 Notre Dame, handling Boston College 45-31 was the perfect follow-up to upsetting Clemson in Week 10. The Eagles are well-coached and good enough to pull off this type of upset, but Notre Dame dominated in the trenches again (274 yards rushing to 85) and everyone on the Irish’s offense looked like a mismatch. They’re just better, full stop. This could easily have been a trap game, but instead Boston College looked like a team trying to keep pace. Notre Dame looks legit — like, actually legit. Upcoming games at North Carolina and Wake Forest could be challenging, too, but right now Notre Dame is playing its best football.
Penn State is 0-4 for the first time since 2001. No preseason AP Top 10 team has ever started 0-5, but that’s a real possibility as the Nittany Lions look ahead to Iowa after a comeback against Nebraska fell short on Saturday, 30-23. I don’t buy into the idea that James Franklin’s team has quit. They outgained Nebraska by more than 200 yards and were in a position to win. Outside of the egg they laid against Maryland, Penn State has been close to winning games or not too far off. But, everything that’s gone wrong basically has and, for one reason or another, the Nittany Lions haven’t been able to put it together. The Nebraska lost felt like it could be the season and this team is running out of gut-check chances to turn things around.
It’s Don Brown, not Jim Harbaugh, on the hot seat
Has Harbaugh worn out the welcome at Michigan? Yeah, and the 49-11 loss to Wisconsin affirmed as much. But I’d sooner bet on wholesale coordinator changes for 2021 before Harbaugh gets the axe. A lot of that has to do with his remaining contract. This would mean Brown, Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator of the last four-plus years, is the more likely target of “fresh faces, new places.” (He, and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.) Brown’s defenses were elite in his first two seasons and have still been top-25 caliber in each of the last three. This year, though, inexperience and injuries have played a big role in the inability to create disruptions or takeaways.
The most entertaining game of the day: North Carolina’s 59-53 shootout win over Wake Forest. Quarterback Sam Howell had a record-breaking performance with 550 yards and six touchdowns through the air — both school records. Through eight games, Howell has 2,631 yards passing and 23 touchdowns, both of which rank atop the ACC. Granted, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence has missed the past two games after contracting COVID-19, but that doesn’t take away from Howell’s productivity. Expectations were high for Howell entering the season and he’s lived up to them.
Oregon showed its mettle on the road
No. 11 Oregon beat Washington State 43-29, but it looked for almost a full half like the Ducks were on serious upset alert. Three turnovers in the first 20 minutes of the game let Washington State take a 19-7 lead. With 20 seconds left in the first half, though, Oregon return man Mykael Wright gave his team good field position with a 39-yard kickoff return. On the next play, quarterback Tyler Shough hit Jaylon Redd for a 57-yard pass that went to the Wazzu 3-yard line. Running back CJ Verdell then punched it in with three seconds remaining to make it 19-14. That quick strike saved the game for Oregon, which went on to outscore Washington State 29-10 in the second half.