No, Texas isn’t back. Neither is Miami. Michigan and USC won’t be either even if they win a few early games once their respective seasons start.
It’s the most often-used phrase in college football, insert former powerhouse name before “is back” despite no evidence suggesting that to be remotely possible.
It’s become an annual rite of fall, for a one-time power broker being considered part of the elite before warranting such a notion. We see it with how high schools like Texas are ranked in the preseason every year. Miami beat three lousy teams — Louisville, Florida State and UAB — and they were supposed to challenge Clemson in Death Valley on Saturday night?
Obviously, they were no match, falling 42-17, a game that was only even somewhat close at halftime because Dabo Swinney went for a 61-yard field goal in the rain that Miami blocked and returned for a touchdown. Texas followed a dismal home loss to TCU by dropping the Red River Rivalry to two-loss Oklahoma.
Coach Tom Herman is closer to being in hot water than supposedly having the Longhorns back. I obviously don’t blame the programs or even the fans. It’s not really the media’s fault either. I see it as Clemson-Alabama fatigue. We want fresh faces in the College Football Playoff. We get tired of Nick Saban and Swinney on the podium every year. After Florida’s impressive 2-0 start, there were already some calling the Gators this year’s LSU, an absurdly early comparison that really had no legs. LSU offered us a respite with its out-of-nowhere run to a title last year. But Florida’s defense can’t compare to LSU’s of a year ago, and that was clearly evident on Saturday when it couldn’t stop a nosebleed at Texas A&M in a return-to-reality 41-38 road loss.
Look, everyone would like to see Texas, Miami, USC and Michigan be back. To be title contenders. They are huge brands. They have great fan bases. But these last few weeks — and really the last several years — are just reminders of how premature these declarations have been. Let them actually be back before giving them credit for doing so.
Clear the swamp
Last week in this space, I wrote about the need for leaders in college football to set a better example for players during the COVID-19 pandemic. They, unfortunately, didn’t come close to doing so. Instead, Texas A&M’s Ford Field looked well above 50 percent capacity for the Aggies’ 41-38 upset of Florida, despite the reported attendance of 24,709. After the game, Florida coach Dan Mullen urged his school to allow Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to be filled to capacity for Saturday’s home game against defending champion LSU, citing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision that football stadiums in his state could be filled.
“Absolutely want to see 90,000 in The Swamp,” he said.
That’s why I railed against Georgia’s large crowd and it flouting SEC guidelines for face coverings and social distance measures. It set a poor precedent, one that continued this weekend as cases of the virus across the country have increased. Hopefully, Florida higher-ups push back against Mullen’s ignorant plea. The adults need to act likes adults.
Where’s the D?
There really is no way to quantify exactly how much the lack of spring football and limited preseason impacted the season. But it is clear the virus has hurt defense. Look at the 11 games featuring top-25 teams this weekend. Twelve teams scored in the 40s and three in the 50s. Alabama and Ole Miss combined for 1,370 yards of offense in the Crimson Tide’s 63-48 victory. Virginia Tech put up 45 points and still lost — by double figures at North Carolina. Maybe this changes once the Big Ten and Pac-12 begin. More likely, it doesn’t. Scoring is up across the board and it is trending into an absurd category. Just another example of how different this season will be.
The Post’s Top 10
1. Clemson (4-0) (Last week: 2)
Everyone is focused on Trevor Lawrence’s future as a franchise quarterback, and justifiably so. His running back, Travis Etienne, has a pretty bright future, too. Ask Miami, which was gashed by Etienne for 229 total yards and two touchdowns.
2. Alabama (3-0) (3)
So much for the strides the Crimson Tide has supposedly made defensively. Nick Saban won’t tolerate allowing 48 points and 647 total yards, even in a road victory.
3. Ohio State (0-0) (1)
The Big Ten is needed, particularly with the Arena Football League-type scores we’ve seen out of the SEC and Big 12.
4. Georgia (2-0) (5)
The Bulldogs defense looks legit, perhaps better than any other unit so far. They backed up a suffocating performance against Auburn by limiting Tennessee to 214 yards of total offense and shutting out the Vols after halftime.
5. Penn State (0-0) (6)
Under James Franklin, Penn State has become nationally relevant again, winning 11 games three of the last four years. The next step, however, has proven to be the toughest one, going from good to great.
6. Notre Dame (3-0) (7)
Three weeks later, Notre Dame was back on the field, and it showed, allowing 17 first-quarter points to Florida State before shaking off the considerable rust.
7. Florida (2-1) (4)
I never quite understood the early comparisons to LSU. The Gators couldn’t compare on defense, as witnessed by their porous performance in a dismal 41-38 loss at Texas A&M.
8. North Carolina (3-0) (9)
Calling it now: The Tar Heels will be 9-0 entering a Thanksgiving weekend showdown with Notre Dame. Quarterback Sam Howell and Co. have just too much firepower for the bottom half of the feeble ACC.
9. Cincinnati (3-0) (10)
The country’s seventh-ranked scoring defense has keyed this start, aiding an offense that has been turnover prone.
10. Oklahoma State (3-0) (NR)
It’s the Cowboys’ conference to lose, now that Oklahoma and Texas both have two league setbacks already. Suddenly, the Oct. 24 meeting with Iowa State carries plenty of weight.
Dropped out: Miami (3-1)
(in alphabetical order)
QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
A Fields-Trevor Lawrence race for the Heisman only seems right for the two Georgia natives who have worked with the same quarterback coach and are expected to be the top two quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft.
RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
The good news: Hubbard should be able to pile up impressive numbers in the defense-adverse Big 12. The bad news: A quarterback has won the Heisman in nine of the last 10 years and Hubbard hasn’t gotten out of the gate too fast, producing 339 yards and four touchdowns in three games.
QB Mac Jones, Alabama
Alabama fans couldn’t have asked for any more of Jones, who has now thrown for at least 417 yards in consecutive games. Remember, he didn’t have any soft non-conference games to find his rhythm.
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
This is the start Clemson and Lawrence had in mind: Ten passing touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 73.3 percent completion percentage through a perfect 4-0 start.
QB Kyle Trask, Florida
Yes, Florida lost, but don’t fault Trask. He remained prolific, completing 23 of 32 passes for 312 yards and four touchdown passes.