The coalescence of rivalry week in college football with the traditional Thanksgiving festivities tends to be a pretty normal occurrence this time on the calendar. Most years that is.
And this is not most years.
There's a raging global pandemic going on and there are still three weeks left to go in the regular season. What normally feels like the last throws of the college football campaign (and some final playoff statements being made) instead has given way to that period where you can smell the delicious feast from across the room but know it's still staying in the oven for a while longer.
Alas, this unique feeling has at least has resulted in a little extra time to do some shopping. In the absence of getting up early for some doorbusters though, a bit of online sleuthing during games this weekend led to some great Black Friday bargains. And unlike with others, there's no need to wait to see what some programs are excited to see arrive on their doorstep this winter.
The recipient: Michigan
The gift: New head coach, Matt Campbell
The cost: An amicable parting with Jim Harbaugh, a few million in buyout money, and $5 million per year over seven years for Campbell.
The reason: At this point, what more needs to be said about the Wolverines? They tried to speak up against their own president to play football this year, only to promptly embarrass themselves in losses to Michigan State, Wisconsin, and previously winless Penn State. They need luck and multiple overtimes to beat Rutgers. The defense is just a collection of names. The offensive guru that turned around two morbid programs in the Bay Area has yet to work any such magic in his childhood home.
And so, it's time. Time for the gift that Michigan fans have started to clamor for and the administration can no longer ignore. Hot off a likely Big 12 title game appearance, Campbell can return to the heart of the Midwest to awaken the Big Blue blueblood again.
The recipient: Scott Frost
The gift: A new coaching staff
The cost: Admitting it's time to reboot things in Lincoln.
The reason: The Cornhuskers dropped their sixth straight to rival Iowa on Friday and continue to shoot themselves in the foot whenever the occasion calls for it. They got into a tiff about clapping after the game, which was a convenient distraction away from the fact that the program is now 10-19 under their supposed savior. Nebraska has so far made little progress from where they have been for close to a decade — middling and disappointing.
And so it's time for Frost to admit that if he truly cares as much as he shows in numerous angry press conference moments, he has to jettison most of the coaching staff that helped him get his dream job — but are holding him back from achieving what he wants. No more hiring friends who are out of coaching, no more hiring overlooked assistants with a chip on their shoulder, it's time to infuse Big Red with some new blood on the headsets. Recruiting should be a factor too since that has not exactly been an area of excess pride (particular care needs to be paid to those with connections in the South and Florida for playmakers on both sides of the ball).
More than anything though, it's time to realize that accountability for the state of the program starts at the top and flows from there on and off the field.
The recipient: Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson
The gift: An ice bath and a do-over from his coach
The cost: a trip to the ice tub time machine
The reason: On a relatively subdued rivalry week, the diminutive Patterson was the star of the show in college football as #MACtion returned to Saturday with a bang. He tied an FBS record with eight touchdown runs and recorded the second-most yards in a game in history.
That alone deserves an ice bath for carrying the load for the Bulls, who look like the class of the MAC this season. The tough part is... he should have broken both records with ease were it not for the coaching staff getting in the way — a rare instance of actually getting angry with a team that puts up 70 points in a league known for eye-popping numbers.
Two touchdowns, including one in the closing minutes, were scored by a backup running back getting inserted into the lineup in relief of Patterson. Nobody on the coaching staff seemed to be aware of the history that could potentially be made by keeping the star tailback in the lineup either, much to the chagrin of those on both the broadcast and across social media.
So maybe somebody can turn back the clock and slip Lance Leipold and staff a note about what they could accomplish by feeding Patterson just a few more times? For as lifeless as Kent State's defense was against the run, everybody is pretty sure they won't mind.
The recipient: David Cutcliffe and Les Miles
The gift: Retirement packages
The cost: A few million in buyouts
The reason: College basketball began last week and two schools very much looking forward to things beginning on the hardcourt were undoubtedly Duke and Kansas. No, it wasn't just because of their general preference of round balls over spheroids but rather the state of their two respective CFB programs becoming nothing more than a distraction this time of year.
You can start in Durham, where Cutcliffe has done remarkable work over 13 years and should one day be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame for all his contributions to the game. But the Blue Devils haven't really had much happen of note in recent years, with their last winning record in conference play coming in 2014. They will miss out on a bowl for the second straight season and appear to have taken several steps back as Cut ages into his late 60s. Saturday's 56-33 loss to Georgia Tech was plagued by turnovers — including on three straight drives after halftime to make it the third game this year with five or more giveaways.
It's bad football and getting worse, leading to plenty of questions about where the school goes from here. Cutcliffe has earned the right to choose when it's time to walk away but now just might be time to come to grips with the game finally passing one of the great quarterback whisperers by.
Then there's what's happening in Lawrence.
Just once in the last seven years has a Big 12 team completed fewer than seven passes and won by 30 or more. Both times Kansas has been on the other end of those games, once when Samaje Perine set an FBS single-game rushing record for Oklahoma and the other on Saturday against TCU. The anticipated juice athletic director Jeff Long thought he could get in luring a name like Miles has never appeared and the woebegone program continues to cement its case as the worst at the Power 5 level with each passing year. Recruiting is not markedly better. Results on the field are just as bad, if not worse. Pandemic or not, the Jayhawks are regressing from the top on down.
Unlike Cutcliffe, Miles' ending to his tenure was written the moment he put pen to paper on his contract. The only unknown was when the actual time would come for the school to realize their mistake. Maybe the financial losses the athletic department is taking on in 2020 will punt a decision to next year but it would be best for all in blue for the national title-winning coach to fully buy into the broadcaster life and leave the clipboard behind at KU.
The recipient: The Pac-12
The gift: A full set of new referees
The cost: For shedding this reputation? Priceless.
The reason: Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith likely has new Pac-12 associate commissioner for football Merton Hanks on speed dial at this point to discuss blunders that have cost his team. This year alone there was a controversial spot in the fourth quarter of the Beavers' loss to Washington and on Friday the team may have gotten their QB seriously hurt on a play that never should have happened if a line judge did their job properly.
Oregon State at least got a win over their in-state rivals when all was said and done but the latest edition of the "Don't call it a Civil War" series was but the latest example of Pac-12 officials drawing the ire of fans, coaches and players alike for missed calls and obvious blunders. It's a common refrain in 2020 just as it has been for much of the past decade, as the increased spotlight on the folks out West has allowed most fans to see just how bad the zebras have become in the conference.
So maybe this holiday season, the conference of champions can get the gift they truly deserve in the form of yet another overhaul of their officiating operations.
The recipient: Texas
The gift: Patience
The cost: Ten figures worth of savings.
The reason: The Longhorns' 23-20 loss to Iowa State on Friday ended any hope of sneaking into the Big 12 title game and made it a full decade of at least three Ls on the team's record — something that happened five times in the 2000s under Mack Brown. It's Year 4 under Tom Herman but the Mensa member continues to see his hot seat heat up among the fan base and key boosters with a 30-18 record. Assuming wins in their final two against the Kansas schools (no small thing against Kansas State after LT Samuel Cosmi's opt-out signaling the team is done with 2020 too), that's a 50-game sample size under the current staff that includes one Sugar Bowl highlight but otherwise meh results relative to expectations.
The thing is though, Texas is a blueblood at being a middling program. The Horns underachieve far more often than they achieve or even overachieve. This is who they are largely, albeit outside one legendary season in four decades where the stars aligned.
The 50 games prior to Tom Herman? UT went 24-26. Setting aside that renaissance reeling off double-digit win seasons from 2001-09, Texas went... 30-19-1 prior to Mack Brown's arrival from North Carolina. The school is going to raise $25 million for buyouts because the trajectory of things in Austin... is exactly what it has been for most of their history?
It's rare that one would encourage punting on a difficult decision but there's not much forcing the Longhorns' hands this year. So here's a bit of patience that could wind up working out better for the long haul.
Well, unless Urban Meyer really wants to coach again...
The recipient: Sarah Fuller
The gift: An offense that gets into FG position
The cost: Commodores competency
The reason: It truly takes a special moment for the nation to pay attention to Vanderbilt football and on Saturday against Missouri, much of the CFB-watching world tuned in to see Fuller become the first woman to play in a Power 5 game — an SEC one no less.
Sports figures and celebrities noted the history-making moment and after interviews and the final whistle, #PlayLikeAGirl kept trending on Twitter. The moment highlighted a nice bright spot for a sport that has mostly been focused on what hasn't gone right in 2020.
Yet if we could give one thing to both Vanderbilt and Fuller to make things even more memorable, it's for the Commodores to have a functioning offense for once so that a perfectly executed squib kickoff is not the lone highlight of the kicker's career. The team never even made it into the red zone against the Tigers and may have an equally tough time next time out against Georgia.
Fuller and (now former) head coach Derek Mason indicated this won't be a one-week moonlighting so hopefully for everybody involved, next Saturday can at least offer the opportunity for actual points scored on a field goal attempt. It's a tall task given the state of affairs in Nashville but this holiday season, few gifts could be more warmly received by fans inside and outside of college football.
Tweet of the Week
Storming the field looks a bit different in 2020 (unless you're Notre Dame).
Play(s) of the Week
Stat of the Week
The Pac-12 has more non-conference wins than the Big Ten and SEC combined in 2020.
Superlatives of the Week
Best player: Jaret Patterson, Buffalo
Team of the Week: Oregon State
Goat of the Week: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (Honorable mention: Lance Leipold)
Heisman Five: 1. Zach Wilson (BYU), 2. Kyle Pitts (Florida), 3. Kyle Trask (Florida), 4. Zaven Collins (Tulsa), 5. Jaret Patterson (Buffalo)
Projected Playoff: 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Ohio State, 4. Notre Dame
Projected New Year's Six: Rose Bowl — Clemson vs. Ohio State, Sugar Bowl — Alabama vs. Notre Dame, Fiesta Bowl — BYU vs. USC, Orange Bowl — Miami vs. Florida, Cotton Bowl — Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma, Peach Bowl — Cincinnati vs. Georgia
Here's my latest top 25 of those teams that are playing this fall:
2. Notre Dame
4. Ohio State
7. Texas A&M
10. Iowa State
14. Coastal Carolina
20. Boise State
23. Oklahoma State
24. San Jose State
Indiana at Wisconsin
The outlook for this game depends heavily on the status of Hoosiers QB Michael Penix Jr., who left the win over Maryland with a leg injury. IU's defense is still very good but if they can't get any production out of their offense, eventually that dam is going to break. The Badgers bounce back to nab the win at home regardless of who is under center for the visitors. The Pick: Indiana +14
Liberty at Coastal Carolina
The Flames thumped lowly UMass on Black Friday while Coastal took care of business in San Marcos by beating Texas State and locking up a place in the Sun Belt title game. If the Chanticleers still have their eye on a potential New Year's Six berth though, they'll need to bring it again to keep their undefeated record. Perhaps the winner between the two head coaches can advance to the next round of interviews in the South Carolina gig? The Pick: Coastal -7
Texas A&M at Auburn
Neither side looked particularly impressive on Thanksgiving weekend, with the Tigers getting whipped in the Iron Bowl and the Aggies slogging through a win over LSU. Bo Nix should be much better with this one on the Plains and something says AU leads for most of the game before A&M steals it late in a contest where points are hard to come by. The Pick: Texas A&M -4
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of @UBFootball)