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Last Week In College Football: #1 Goes Down and the Pac-12 Returns in Style

Notre Dame’s win over Clemson provided fans with the best game of the 2020 season, but the Tigers may very well be favored to topple the Irish should they meet again in the ACC championship.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday, October 7 was something of a banner day for American catholics; Joe Biden was presumptively elected as only the second catholic president in the history of the United States, and #4 Notre Dame knocked off the top-ranked Clemson Tigers in double overtime.

Notre Dame’s signature victory over Clemson is the frontrunner for game of the year in college football and could have major implications for both the race for the ACC championship and the college football playoff. While the Irish now control their destiny in the race to win the ACC in their first and possibly only season as a member of the conference, Clemson is now one loss away from being eliminated from playoff contention, giving renewed hope to the 5-1 Miami Hurricanes who fell to the Tigers earlier in the year, but face a winnable slate of games in their final four games of the regular season. Yet while Clemson may have faced a setback against Notre Dame, they still have ample reason for optimism regarding a potential rematch against the Irish in the ACC championship. The return of the Tigers’ star quarterback Trevor Lawrence in addition to several key players on both sides of the ball could give Clemson a meaningful edge over Notre Dame should the two teams meet again. The Tigers have looked dominant in every game in which Lawrence played, and few college football fans would be surprised to see Clemson claw its way into one of the four playoff spots before all is said and done.

Speaking of the college football playoff, Florida’s 44-28 victory over Georgia essentially eliminated the Bulldogs from playoff contention while giving the Gators an inside track to an SEC East title and a potential conference championship matchup against Alabama. The Gator offense showed that it could bare its teeth against an elite defense while the Bulldogs again struggled to consistently move the ball through the air against formidable opponents. As strong as the Georgia running game looked at times, Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis combined for only 112 yards on 9-29 passing against the Gators while former USC starter JT Daniels remained on the sideline throughout the game. Daniels’ absence from the Gators’ lineup was a major story as the Bulldogs slid to 4-2, and it remains unclear whether his lack of game action has more to do with lingering injury problems from his torn ACL in 2019 or his inability to master Georgia’s offense since being cleared for practice this fall. Either way, Georgia’s loss is a major boon for Florida, whose dynamic offense led by the near unstoppable Kyle Trask to Kyle Pitts connection remains one of the most devastating mismatches in all of college football.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12, the lone outlier among college football’s Power Five conferences, began play this week, adding a new element to the race for playoff contention. Conference frontrunner Oregon took care of business in its 35-14 win over Stanford, and while the Ducks’ passing attack seems less potent than it did when Justin Herbert was under center last season, Oregon’s rushing offense appears to be ready for prime time, as the Ducks gashed the Cardinal for 269 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Meanwhile, while the year’s first “Pac-12 After Dark” game between Washington State and Oregon proved relatively entertaining, this matchup was easily eclipsed by the inaugural edition of “Pac-12 At Sunrise,” which saw #20 USC score two touchdowns in the final minutes of the game to defeat Arizona State in an uncharacteristically early west coast game. It remains unclear whether the Pac-12’s abbreviated schedule will provide enough opportunities for USC, Oregon, or any of the conference’s other teams to sneak into the playoff, particularly after two games were cancelled during the league’s opening weekend. If nothing else, however, the Pac-12’s return should ensure that college football fans are treated to some exhilarating games over the next few several weeks.

Speaking of the playoff, the Big Ten has likely removed most of its teams from any potential title contention after another wild week. Michigan fell to 1-2 after a convincing loss to Indiana, Penn State lost its third straight game in a 35-19 loss to Maryland which dopped the Nittany Lions to 0-3 for the first time since 2001, and Wisconsin, the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten West, has now cancelled more games (two) than it was played (one) this season after having to scrap its division matchup against Purdue as a result of COVID-19. Ohio State may prove to be the lone bright spot in the conference this season, unless traditional middle-weights and bottom-feeders like Indiana, Northwestern, and Purdue can sustain their strong early season play and mount a serious challenge in the race for a conference title.

Finally, any discussion of Week Ten’s highlights would be incomplete without mentioning the 7-0 Liberty Flames’ road win against Virginia Tech. The Hokies appeared to have iced the game when quarterback Hendon Hooker threw a touchdown pass to Tre Turner with 52 seconds left, but Hugh Freeze’s squad managed to quickly drive into field goal range. Liberty’s chances to win the game appeared to seemingly ended a second time when Virginia Tech blocked a game-winning field goal which was returned for a touchdown, but the play was negated when the officials revealed that the Hokies’ head coach Justin Fuente had called timeout seconds before the snap. After Liberty used the timeout to draw up a play that earned them a first down, kicker Alex Barbir drilled a 51-yard walk-off kick to help the Flames shock Virginia Tech. As chaotic and frustrating as the 2020 football season has been, it’s tough not to root for a team like Liberty that is finding such success in only its second season playing at the FBS level. Who knows whether the Flames will be able to win road tilts against NC State and fellow Cinderella story Coastal Carolina and finish the season undefeated, but the fledgling team has certainly proved that they are worth watching.