Bulldogs close in on their triple crown
Confetti from a college football weekend.
College football has used many methods, including matter-of-opinion, to identify its national champions. For the longest time, it used the wire-service polls. The writers voted in the AP poll, the coaches in the UPI poll, and they made their calls before the bowl games. Then they prudently waited until after Jan. 1. Often, they disagreed.
With all that, no team has won the predominant version of the national championship three consecutive times since Minnesota did in 1936-37-38. Eight different organizations anointed the first two Gopher teams, and then a poll took over in ‘38. Bernie Bierman was the coach, and one of the better players was Bud Wilkinson, whose Oklahoma teams would win 47 consecutive games in the 50s.
Minnesota’s toughest opponent was not coached and did not play on the field. The team took a train to play at Washington in 1938, and stayed at the Florence Hotel in Missoula, Mt. At 3 a.m., the Gophers and the other patrons had to scramble for their lives when a fire broke out. Nobody was hurt, and Minnesota reached its destination after four days and won.
Now we have the Georgia Bulldogs, who travel more expeditiously and can win their third consecutive title on the field of play.
They won their 28th straight game, 38-10 at Tennessee, and defeated a ranked opponent for the third straight week. Not even the sight of Dolly Parton, singing “Rocky Top” while being escorted to midfield at Neyland Stadium by Peyton Manning, could faze them. Well, maybe it was a little unsettling, since Jaylen Wright opened the game with a 75-yard TD run for the Volunteers. It wasn’t a trend. Tennessee scored no more touchdowns and gained only 202 yards thereafter.
The Bulldogs were so relentless that Dolly might have considered singing “Here You Come Again” at halftime. Carson Beck was flawless, hitting 24 of 30 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns. Dillon Bell threw a touchdown pass and caught another. He, Brock Bowers and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint combined for 19 catches. And Beck continued to run the nation’s best third-down offense. Georgia converted nine of 13 on Saturday and hogged the ball for nearly 41 minutes.
Georgia has outscored its SEC opponents by 20.3 points per game, and the locale has not mattered. “It got a little quieter,” Rosemy-Jacksaint observed, “as the game went on.”
Kirby Smart, the Georgia grad who ran Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama before he came home, has built a program with endless inventory. The NFL has drafted 25 Georgia players in the past two seasons. Ten of those are first-rounders. The line keeps moving.
Georgia now plays an improved Georgia Tech squad before the SEC championship summit meeting with Alabama, which has only lost once, and is the last team to beat Georgia, in the same game two years ago. If the Bulldogs lose a close one, will they still make the 4-team playoff? That depends on other dominos. It also is based on a premise that seems less likely than a hotel fire.
Other confetti from a college football weekend:
Washington 22, Oregon State 20
– The Huskies stopped Oregon State on the plus-47 and had 2:08 to kill to nail down an 11-0 record. It came down to a third-and-three, and Michael Penix found Rome Odunze for 19 yards. That set up the victory formation and kept Washington alive for the College Football Playoff on a drenching day in Corvallis. It also prolonged the theme of the day, since Penix had already hit Odunze with two touchdown passes. Odunze has 11 TDs this year, 22 for his career.
– There’s always a different defensive savior for Washington, and in this one it was the gloriously-named Jabbar Muhammad, who played the previous three years at Oklahoma State. Against the Beavers, Muhammad intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble.
– Penix might have lost some Heisman Trophy support by going 13 for 28 with only 162 yards, but he threw no interceptions, and Washington got 93 rush yards from Dillon Johnson. This was a night for the defense, which forced a field goal when Washington led only 22-17 and then stopped Oregon State on downs. That defense was under heavy stress, since OSU had the ball for 37:27.
Florida State 58, North Alabama 13
– Seminoles fans suffered a double nightmare in the first quarter. North Alabama, 3-7, jumped ahead of Florida State, 13-0. Then Jordan Travis, FSU’s best player, was at the end of a run when he suffered a significant ankle injury. The cart came out, the trainers applied an air cast, and Travis will be out for the season.
– The burden falls on Tate Rodemacher. He’s been in the program since 2020. Mike Norvell recruited the 3-star quarterback hard when he was coaching Memphis State, so when Norvell took the FSU job just 71 miles from Rodemacher’s home from Valdosta, it was an easy call for Rodemacher. Against North Alabama, Rodemacher completed two TD passes and hit 13 of 23 passes.
– Florida State has Florida next week, and then a confident Louisville team in the ACC championship game. Will the College Football Playoff selectors play it straight and give Rodemacher a chance, or will they assume that the Seminoles are automatically weaker without Travis?
Northwestern 23, Purdue 15
– A year ago David Braun was the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State. He took the equivalent job at Northwestern in January. In July he suddenly became the acting head coach when Pat Fitzgerald was fired, and was in charge of a team that had won once in 2022. His first public appearance was at Big Ten Media Day, in front of reporters from all over. What he’s done, since then, should make him Best Actor. Northwestern’s win Saturday was the Wildcats’ sixth and made them bowl eligible.
– Fitzgerald had taken Northwestern to 10 bowls in 17 seasons and was the top winner in school history. He also pushed for, and received, the second most expensive football facility in the Big 10. He was fired after a series of hazing incidents were revealed in the spring, and Braun seemed like a substitute teacher as Northwestern lost four of its first seven. But a 33-27 upset of Maryland changed things, and Northwestern then beat Wisconin and Purdue consecutively. Braun was named the permanent coach last week, and is the first coach to win at least five games at Northwestern in his first year since 1903.
– Northwestern has lost one fumble all season and has 48 sacks. Former 3-star recruits Aidan Hubbard and Xander Mueller have combined for 11 of those sacks. Ben Bryant, who previously quarterbacked at Eastern Michigan and Cincinnati, threw for 230 yards and hit Cam Johnson with a 52-yard touchdown, and Cam Porter ran for two touchdowns..
New Mexico State 31, Auburn 10
– Until Jerry Kill became the coach in 2022, New Mexico State’s last two winning seasons were in 2002 and 2017. Eight times since 2005, the Aggies have won zero, one or two games. So it’s not hard to rank this upset in school annals. Diego Pavia threw two touchdown passes and New Mexico State raised its record to 8-3 and will play Liberty in the Conference USA championship game.
– Auburn had won three consecutive games to get to 6-4, but there was nothing freaky or fluky about this loss. New Mexico State outgained the Tigers 414-213 and outrushed them 213-65, without the benefit of a takeaway. The visitors held the ball for over 38 minutes. Pavia quarterbacked New Mexico Military Institute to a national JC championship after he had played at Volcano Vista High in Albuquerque. “He has a quiet strut about him,” Kill has said.
– Kill’s first team beat Liberty and won the Quick Lane Bowl last year. His own comeback is one for the books. He has won 174 games at six different schools but has been plagued by epileptic seizures on game days throughout his career, and left the Minnesota job in 2015 to solve those issues. After six years out of the game he joined Gary Patterson’s staff at TCU, and got the NMSU job in 2022. He is the first coach to post back-to-back winning seasons in Las Cruces since Warren Woodson in 1966-67.
Michigan 31, Maryland 24 and Ohio State 37, Minnesota 3
– For the first time in a while, the Wolverines didn’t look as good as Ohio State in their remote game of one-upsmanship. TreVeyon Henderson is healthy and rolling, with 146 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns, and Kyle McCord was a solid 20 for 30 for 212 yards. Ohio State’s defense hasn’t given up a TD in two weeks and hasn’t given up more than 17 points (Maryland) in any game.
– That Maryland team became the first to score more than 15 on Michigan. The Wolverines led 16-3 after one quarter before Maryland came back. Up 29-24, Michigan couldn’t run out the clock and had to punt, but downed Tommy Doman’s kick on the Maryland one yard line. Then Taulia Tagovailoa committed intentional grounding in the end zone, giving Michigan a safety and a chance to kill the final 3:35, which Blake Corum did with seven consecutive runs.
– Michigan became the first football program to win 1,000 games. To win 1,001, Michigan will have to win what might be the most fraught and significant game in the history of the Ohio State rivalry, with both teams unbeaten. It also might have to expand its passing game. J.J. McCarthy went 12 for 23 for 141 yards and no TDs in this one.