The 2020 college football season has been one that’s showed us, in action, what long-term changes the sport needs to make. It starts with turning scheduling upside down.
On short notice, No. 13 BYU traveled across the country to No. 18 Coastal Carolina to play a football game that ended up with one of the best finishes of the year. The 22-17 win for the Chanticleers didn’t have any real College Football Playoff ramifications, though BYU would have helped its case for a New Year’s Six bowl with a victory. But in practice, BYU and Coastal proved college football decision-makers have everything backwards.
First of all, there is not a single nonconference game that ever needs to be announced eight years in advance again. It’s an absurd pretense. Secondly, nonconference games should be split before and after conference play. In the first couple of weeks, schools can still play warm-up games, nonconference rivals or a marquee neutral-site game. That’s their prerogative. But one weekend at the end of the regular season needs to be set up for games like BYU-Coastal Carolina. These games aren’t scheduled or even known until a week out. ESPN’s Bill Connelly has been banging this drum for years, calling them “Bowl Busters.”
Most of these games, like BYU-Coastal, are first and foremost for entertainment value. But some would have major playoff implications. College football’s regular season still means a lot in the playoff era, but by making just a little tweak to the order of the schedule, it can mean even more.
Necessity is the mother of invention. College football needed to think outside the box to make a 2020 season work. Not everything went smoothly, but a couple of ideas should be considered long-term solutions to make this sport even better.
Here’s what else we learned in Week 14 …
I know, I know. Quarterback Mac Jones is going to get the invite. He may even win the thing, and congratulations to him in advance if he does because he’ll have earned it. But you will have a hard time convincing me Smith isn’t the more valuable player for the Tide. Consider No. 1 Alabama’s 55-17 win over LSU. Jones went 20-of-28 passing for 385 yards and four touchdowns. Those are great numbers! But Smith had eight catches on 10 targets for 231 yards and three touchdowns. That’s 40% of Jones’ completions, 60% of his passing yards and 75% of his touchdowns thrown. This wasn’t even Smith’s first 200-yard game this season; in fact, it’s the fourth of his career. Leading up to Saturday, Smith accounted for 37% of Bama’s receiving yards and half of their receiving touchdowns. Pound for pound, Smith dominates the game as much as any player at any position.
Texas in a pickle with Tom Herman
As Texas put the finishing touches on wiping the floor with Kansas State 69-31 in Manhattan, one question came to mind: where has this team been? The Longhorns were the sharpest they’ve been all season in a game many — myself included — didn’t think they’d be up for emotionally. A dud, especially given the other gravities of 2020, would have been understandable. Instead, Texas did what it feels like it should do more often. Granted, K-State is a shell of the team that upset Oklahoma early in the year, but this was total domination.
Want more college football in your life? Listen below and subscribe to the Cover 3 College Football podcast for top-notch insight and analysis beyond the gridiron, including instant analysis of all the action from Week 14 below.
That throws a wrench in things. A dud would have easily justified a coaching move, but what about now? Did Herman do enough to keep it? This program has still underachieved. The Urban Meyer rumors aren’t going away, either. If Texas has made, or plans to make, overtures to Meyer, it may as well part ways with Herman. The danger, of course, is not getting what you want, and there’s no guarantee Meyer will be Texas’ next coach should they pursue him. If Texas is happy with Herman — athletic director Chris Del Conte already gave him a vote of confidence — then it needs to back him for 2021. Otherwise, this will continue to hang over the program, and that’s bad energy for everyone.
Indiana has earned everyone’s respect
So much of the national focus of the past week has been on No. 4 Ohio State and whether the Buckeyes will play enough games to make the conference championship game and, likely, the playoff. I have few doubts the league’s athletic directors will make sure the Buckeyes get what they need. They’re the best team in the conference, hands down. But lost in that is what a great job No. 12 Indiana is doing. Beating No. 16 Wisconsin 14-6 on the road without quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was impressive. The Hoosiers held the Badgers to just under 5 yards per play, had two takeaways and made just enough plays offensively. At 6-1 — the only loss, again, being by a touchdown at Ohio State — Indiana is well on its way to one of its best seasons ever. In the event Ohio State can’t go in the Big Ten title game, the Hoosiers aren’t a bad replacement by any means to play Northwestern.
Stanford is back to bully ball
Have the Cardinal regained their mojo? It sure looks like it. With two straight wins — the latest being 31-26 over No. 22 Washington — David Shaw’s team is 2-2 and could finish with a winning record coming off a 4-8 season in 2019. Stanford had eight drives against the Huskies on Saturday, the first five of which ended in a score and all were seven plays or more. The final drive of the night went 79 yards on 14 plays to run out the clock. Running back Austin Jones had 138 yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Davis Mills was an efficient 20 of 30 for 252 yards and a score. That’s the Stanford we’ve learned to love over the years — just road grading all over defenses up and down the field.
NC State turned things around when no one was looking
I’ve highlighted a lot of ACC teams in overreactions over the past few months, but NC State has gone unnoticed for too long. From eight losses in 2019 to eight wins in 2020, Dave Doeren and this staff have done a nice job getting the Wolfpack back on track. From managing the quarterback rotation — Devin Leary has been out for the year and Bailey Hockman has played better down the stretch — to winning close games, NC State has quietly had one of the best turnaround seasons of any team in 2020.