Much like the adrenaline rush one gets from the festivities and pageantry surrounding kickoff, field stormings in college football are a straight injection of dopamine and relief directly into the brains of an entire fan base whether they are there in person to experience it or simply watching at home on the TV.
Though outsiders can be quick to debate whether certain games deserve such rarified outcomes, the symbolism of fans streaming onto torn-up patches of grass (or turf) is a sight to behold and the kind of images that stick around as fond memories far longer than they are used for B-roll in national telecasts.
This past weekend in the sport might well have set a record for the sheer volume of such occurrences – a full-blown cyclone spawning three days' worth of mass field rushings from the Pacific Northwest to the Carolinas. As bowl bids were locked up, division titles were secured, and coaching referendums decided, the fans just kept coming no matter how many security staffers in yellow windbreakers stood in the way.
It was part chaos, part catharsis for many as Rivalry Week transitioned into Championship Weekend.
You could begin just about anywhere but why not start in Seattle. Just a year removed from technically winning a division title, the Washington fan base capped off their most disastrous campaign in recent memory given the circumstances (yes, even worse than that 0-12 mark in 2008). Think about it, they lost as a ranked team to an FCS foe, had their coach run out of town after less than two years, and were put through a full slate of games featuring one of the most frustrating offenses to watch in the Pac-12.
All of which made it that much sweeter for Washington State fans to plunge the knife in even further. The Cougars didn’t just win, but won in such a convincing blowout fashion that their own fans flowed onto Husky Stadium without a lick of opposition.
Wazzu kept alive their slim Pac-12 title hopes in the process and did enough with their sixth conference win in their final seven shots to get the interim tag taken off head coach Jake Dickert. This fan base had been put through the ringer between trying early losses and blown leads, a player getting shot in September plus the entire Nick Rolovich fiasco. The Cougars never folded in the face of all that however and the jubilation on fans as they stomped on their biggest rival’s home turf was as palpable to outsiders as it was euphoric to those in crimson and gray.
On the opposite coast, NC State fans did the same in a slightly different manner by notching their second trip to the midfield logo at Carter-Finley Stadium this season. The first came against Clemson in a bit of getting the monkey-off-your-back type of effort in late September. Slaying the conference Goliath in overtime will do that.
What took place Friday night was a different occurrence entirely as unadulterated euphoria streamed out from the bleachers to ground level following an improbable two-touchdown (and an onside recovery) comeback in under 30 seconds against their triangle rivals North Carolina. This is a somewhat fatalistic group in Raleigh that has developed a tough skin over the decades watching the Wolfpack but that combination of beating the powder blues in that fashion will go down in school lore for years to come.
I mean, when you generate headlines along the lines of "fan breaks leg rushing field, says it’s 100 percent worth it" that pretty much sums it all up, right? And bonus points for the State faithful for delaying the pregame adulation of Duke basketball’s game against Gonzaga that was supposed to tip off right around the same time as the game went final.
While those outcomes had resonance within their own locales, the events that transpired at the Big House and in Stillwater reverberated far beyond the two college towns.
Michigan’s emphatic win over Ohio State felt like it was about so much more than just the final scoreboard in Ann Arbor and the sight of seeing if 100,000 people could fit on the infield of a football stadium.
This was a cleansing of nine long years' worth of red-stained dirt that was rubbed into the very fabric of those blue jerseys and everything associated with them. It was a release from the pain from "The Spot" and coming up an inch short in a game defined by yards. It was an exorcism of being good... but also not good enough for going on a near-decade.
Even more so than the actual outcome, it was the way the result was accomplished that added to the moment too. The Wolverines simply didn’t beat the Buckeyes for the first time since 2011, they physically and emotionally beat their rivals up. Putting up nearly 300 rushing yards (297) and six touchdowns isn’t just a man-handling, it’s rapturous anger delivered one carry at a time – over and over again.
It also has delivered Michigan to the doorstep of what native son Jim Harbaugh was brought in to do. The team has long been nationally relevant regardless of their overall record but now they are one win away from an elusive Big Ten title and by Tuesday shall find themselves firmly in the driver’s seat for a College Football Playoff bid. That has broader implications beyond the maize and blue as the return of such a historic powerhouse to the postseason mix will be a welcome one for most involved outside of the state of Ohio.
Then there’s Bedlam, which continued the theme of the entrenched blue bloods in the CFP race getting brushed aside in 2021 by a familiar yet less affluent rival. It is not exactly going out of one’s way to say Oklahoma State has been the better team from Week 1 but the history of the series suggests they would have a few bizarre plays against Oklahoma and would face an uphill battle even if favored in a game that would take place in Stillwater.
And that’s exactly what took place right up until the point where the demons faded into the background and a Gatorade-soaked Mike Gundy donned a black cowboy hat like the second coming of the Sundance Kid. This was a team that had gone against their typical ethos and came to be defined by defense. Fittingly, the Cowboys vanquished their rival on that side of the ball, literally crawling on the field to end it with a sack of OU quarterback Caleb Williams. Surviving a safety, a muffed punt, and a near pick-six all to deny the state’s more prominent flagship a shot at their seventh Big 12 title in a row won’t soon be forgotten by those in orange in black.
That it happened in a year in which the Sooners left in the proverbial middle of the night for the SEC and saw their head coach skip town less than 12 hours later for USC, well, that only added to the effect.
Few may have been able to take that amount of solace from a victory but Oklahoma State was far from the only one to greet their adoring ticket holders between the lines in celebration. Minnesota rowed the damn boat Saturday afternoon to nab Paul Bunyan’s Axe over Wisconsin and cap a year in which seemingly every key contributor found a spot on IR. LSU’s collective pride in coming back to beat Texas A&M (and a spurning head coach Jimbo Fisher) in the final seconds to send Ed Orgeron out in style was phenomenal to see.
Out West, Chip Kelly and UCLA secured their first eight-win season since 2015 by dropping 25 unanswered in the second half on Cal. That was also part of a 102-point outburst by the Bruins over the Bears and crosstown rival USC the week before too and, combined with an earlier thrashing of Stanford, their first sweep of the California Pac-12 schools since 1998.
BYU didn’t play a rival but how nice must it have been for the fan base, after years of hearing they would never be a fit for the Pac-12, follow up the latest realignment chaos by going 5-0 against the conference in a campaign that was quite the cherry on top of securing their eventual move to a Power 5Five league. Throw in a win over in-state rival Utah on the basketball court on Saturday and this may have been the best weekend capping off the best athletic season the school has had since winning their lone football national title.
That is saying something.
Heck, Hawaii won in Laramie for the first time since 1991 and it barely made waves. And who could overlook North Texas likely saving their head coach’s job by capping a remarkable run to bowl eligibility and straight beating down a previously undefeated UTSA to unleash some madness upon Denton?
It was all cathartic. It was very much chaotic. It was everything pure and fun about college football distilled into three fantastic days complete with all the fixings.
From Thursday to deep into the night on Saturday, it was the sport at its best.
Tweet of the Week
Play of the Week
Whiff Left or the Whiff at Ben Griff?
Stat of the Week
Make it Make Sense Item of the Week
No Really, Make it Make Sense
Superlatives of the Week
Best player: Hassan Haskins/Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Team of the Week: North Texas
Goat of the Week: Jeff Traylor, UTSA
Heisman Five: 1. Will Anderson (Alabama), 2. Matt Araiza (San Diego State), 3. Jordan Davis (Georgia)/Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan), 5. Kenneth Walker III (Michigan State)
Projected Playoff: 1. Georgia, 2. Michigan, 3. Cincinnati, 4. Oklahoma State
Projected New Year’s Six: Cotton Bowl — Michigan vs. Cincinnati, Orange Bowl — Georgia vs. Oklahoma State, Rose Bowl — Utah vs. Ohio State, Sugar Bowl — Alabama vs. Baylor, Fiesta Bowl — Michigan State vs. Notre Dame, Peach Bowl — Ole Miss vs. Pitt
The Super 16
Here’s my ballot in this week’s FWAA/NFF Super 16 Poll:
4. Oklahoma State
6. Notre Dame
7. Ole Miss
8. Ohio State
9. Michigan State
14. San Diego State
Conference USA Championship Game – WKU at UTSA (Fri.)
The Hilltoppers and their imported FCS offense are on the hot streak while the Roadrunners are fresh off their first defeat of the year amid a shaky past month. Despite momentum heading in opposite directions, UTSA gets it done (meep meep) thanks to some timely turnovers and a more productive run game. The Pick: UTSA Pick 'em
Pac-12 Championship Game – Oregon vs. Utah (Fri.)
Can one become a physical team again in the span of three weeks? We’re about to find out for the Ducks’ sake as they get a shot at redemption in Las Vegas. This feels like it will be much closer than their first meeting in Salt Lake City but the final outcome could end up being the same with the Utes on the verge of a program-altering Rose Bowl bid. The Pick: Utah -3
Big 12 Championship Game – Baylor vs. Oklahoma State
This might be the prime case of a letdown for the Cowboys coming off Bedlam even if they do still know what’s on the line at AT&T Stadium. Both defenses are extra salty and it feels like we’re setting the line at 4.5 turnovers in this one as a result. Assuming quarterback Gerry Bohanon is good to go, don’t be shocked if the Bears keep this close even if OSU advances to the playoff. The Pick: Baylor +5.5
MAC Championship Game – Kent State vs. Northern Illinois
Does one take Northern Illinois’ luck in so many one-score games as a sign of destiny or more that such an ability to win close games will run out against better teams? Kent State has been maddening a few times this season but have the better crew coming into Detroit. While it typically is better to go with the plucky underdog in the #MACtion title game, the Golden Flashes can get it done by double digits on Saturday. The Pick: Kent State -3
Mountain West Championship Game – Utah State at San Diego State
Talk about two teams that didn’t expect to be here and have taken very different paths to success. Blake Anderson needs to get some well-deserved attention in the national coach of the year honors for what he’s done with the Aggies both on and off the field. That said, hard to go against the Punt God himself (Matt Araiza) as the Aztecs’ defensive front combined with that field position will prove too much to overcome. The Pick: San Diego State -5
Sun Belt Championship Game – Appalachian State at Louisiana
How much will Billy Napier’s departure impact a Louisiana team that truthfully has played down to their competition a lot this season? It could be a factor early on as the two rivals feel each other out but despite the great job AppState has done to get to this point, a ton of players returned to Lafayette to win this specific game. The Pick: Louisiana +2.5
SEC Championship Game – Georgia vs. Alabama
It’s now or what feels like never for Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs. They’ve proven to be the superior team each and every week of the season and they have just three tests left to see if they can join some rarified air and put 1980 to bed. The front seven may do too much damage to Bama’s offensive line to fathom but still, is anybody feeling that confident about a scenario where Nick Saban is getting points to go fully on board the other way? UGA wins in Atlanta but closer than expected at the end. The Pick: Alabama +6.5
AAC Championship Game – Houston at Cincinnati
Is the world prepared for the Group of 5 to fully crash the playoff party? This seems like a great spot for Dana Holgorsen and Houston to make things interesting given the Cougars have a feisty defense and one of the most impactful special teams units in the country. That may well keep things close for a half but UC ends up getting the job done as they need to. The Pick: Cincinnati -10
Big Ten Championship Game – Michigan vs. Iowa
Surely Jim Harbaugh and company wouldn’t let this golden opportunity slip away after finally beating Ohio State, would they? Probably not but that Hawkeyes defense is no joke and can help keep things close with a turnover or three in what has typically been a close championship game in recent years. The Wolverines emerge to sing as the victors but Kirk Ferentz' crew is pesky until the clock hits zero. The Pick: Iowa +10.5
ACC Championship Game – Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest
It's not the ACC title game anybody expected, but it is the delightful ACC title game we all deserve. This could end up being a terrific little nightcap to the weekend with a combined score closer to 100 than not given the two offenses involved. The Panthers have just slightly more explosiveness so we’ll lean with the Coastal crew with some hesitation. The Pick: Pittsburgh -3
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.