The 2020 college football season has almost come to end.
After Week 15, all that is left is conference championship weekend and then it is bowl season. A season that was in doubt from the get-go has nearly wound its way to its conclusion.
So here for one final time are six takeaways from the BYU and Utah games, Utah State’s eventful week, Top-25 upsets and what might be the worst penalty in the history of the sport.
Bounceback win affirms it: This year is one to be remembered for BYU
BYU defeated San Diego State 28-14 Saturday night.
The Cougars won differently than they had all season, out-grinding a physical Aztec team. They avenged their 13-3 loss to San Diego State last season and shook off the disappointment of losing to No. 13 Coastal Carolina in the process.
The win was BYU’s regular-season finale, barring something incredibly unexpected, and it was the Cougars’ 10th victory of the year.
This could go into how physical BYU played and how encouraging it was for the Cougars to demonstrate their ability to win a different type of game.
Or it could go into how they overcame a difficult start and the absence of key players like Tyler Allgeier.
Quarterback Zach Wilson had one of his better games of the season, too, all things considered, another takeaway that could be examined.
Mostly though, the win over the Aztecs did one thing: it made sure the 2020 Cougars will be remembered.
The 10-win season is the first in nearly a decade for BYU. The last time they won 10 or more games came back in 2011, their first year of independence.
Since 2011, BYU struggled mightily when compared to the previous decade. From 2000 to 2010, BYU won 10 or more games in a single season five times. From 2011 through 2019, that happened once.
In the three seasons prior to 2020, the Cougars suffered through a four-win year and a pair of middling 7-6 campaigns.
Those seasons weren’t what anyone associated with the program wanted. A 10-win campaign on the other hand? That is what BYU wants, and after beating San Diego State the Cougars are back at a level where they surely will hope to stay in the coming years.
Something interesting is building in Salt Lake City
The season is getting more and more interesting where the Utah Utes concerned.
A week after defeating Oregon State for their first win of the season, the Utes did it again Saturday, this time upsetting No. 21 Colorado 38-21.
Utah rallied in the second half, powered by the legs of running back Ty Jordan and wide receiver Britain Covey, not to mention a season-best performance by the defense.
“This team hung in there and fought their way out of a tough spot,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They never flinched and the offense got clicking. … That’s a good road win against a top-25 team.”
And it gives real hope for the future and let’s face it, that is what this season is about.
Sure, Utah could win this upcoming weekend, against an as-of-yet-to-be-named opponent and improve to 3-2 on the year, secure a berth in a bowl game and win there and all of a sudden Utah would finish the 2020 season 4-2 overall. At that point, the Utes would look like one of the better Pac-12 teams.
And yet, what the victory over Colorado signified more than anything else is that the future is exceptionally bright for Utah.
As has been a growing theme the longer the season has gone on, it was the Utes’ younger players, like Jordan, safety Nate Ritchie, or any number of defensive backs, who made key game-altering plays.
Yes, veterans like Jake Bentley, Maxs Tupai and Covey were vital in the victory, but it has been the continued growth of the underclassmen that has seen Utah improve on a weekly basis.
Given two additional games this season, plus a normal spring and fall camp in 2021, and the Utes could be right back where they were at the end of 2018 and 2019 — in the Pac-12 championship game.
Not a bad place to be given everything that has happened this season.
A new era has officially begun at Utah State and it couldn’t have come at a more needed time
Has the 2020 season been the most difficult in Utah State football history?
Given everything that has gone on in Logan this year, a case can certainly be made.
Let’s lay it out:
- Spring football is canceled, a blow to the Aggies who have new offensive and defensive systems to install.
- The Mountain West Conference decides to cancel the fall football season and shoot for the spring of 2021.
- Oh wait, the MWC will be play in the fall after all and camp will last only a month.
- USU gets pummeled by Boise State, San Diego State and Nevada.
- Head coach Gary Andersen is fired.
- Another blowout loss, this one to Fresno State.
- Quarterback Jason Shelley is dismissed from the team.
- The rivalry game against Wyoming is canceled due to COVID-19.
- Starters Deven Thompkins, Troy Lefeged Jr., Cash Gilliam and Jaylen Warren elect to leave the program.
- The Aggies win a game, taking down New Mexico.
- Then lose again, this time to Air Force.
- Utah State’s players opt out of the season finale against Colorado State after alleged discriminatory comments made by university president Noelle Cockett about interim head coach Frank Maile and his candidacy for the permanent head coaching job.
- USU hires Blake Anderson as the program’s new head coach.
There is more that could be listed. Utah State is the seventh youngest team in the FBS and most of those young players have been forced to see action this year.
At the moment, though, the biggest concern are the allegations against Cockett and USU’s Board of Trustees announced Saturday that there will be an independent investigation.
More than perhaps any program in college football, the Aggies need to close the book on 2020 and if his first impression is any indication, Anderson might be the right man to help USU do just that.
Of course, given the way 2020 has gone for Utah State, who knows what will happen tomorrow.
Championship weekend is set and there are some intriguing matchups
Conference championship week has arrived. The postseason is officially here, unless you’e one of the Pac-12/Big Ten teams who are rumored to be playing against each other on Saturday.
Starting on Friday, with Conference USA, the MAC and the Pac-12, and finishing up on Saturday, all 10 FBS conferences will decide their 2020 champion.
Here are the matchups:
Conference USA — Marshall vs. UAB
MAC — Ball State vs. Buffalo
Pac-12 — Washington at USC
Big Ten — Northwestern vs. Ohio State
Big 12 — Oklahoma vs. Iowa State
Sun Belt — Louisiana at Coastal Carolina
ACC — Clemson vs. Notre Dame
AAC — Tulsa at Cincinnati
SEC — Alabama vs. Florida
Mountain West — Boise State vs. San Jose State
The most compelling matchup might actually be the rematch between Louisiana and Coastal Carolina... OK, it is actually the rematch between Clemson and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish upset the Tigers in South Bend earlier this year, but Clemson was without starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence. What difference will he make in Round 2? That is a question, as it was the Tigers’ defense, not the offense, that let them down in their only loss this season.
As for the rematch between the Chanticleers and Ragin’ Cajuns, it will be certainly be interesting. CCU defeated Louisiana 30-27 in the previous matchup, but the Ragin’ Cajuns defeated Iowa State earlier in the year. It would not be a surprise to see Louisiana pull off the upset.
Other games of note include the AAC championship. Cincinnati, which fell to No. 8 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, has to win to keep its hold on the automatic New Year’s Six bowl berth reserved for the highest ranked Group of Five champion. A loss to the Golden Hurricane would spoil what otherwise has been a historic season.
The winner of Oklahoma and Iowa State could make some noise in the CFP rankings, but only if they are especially in dominant in their win in the title game.
Who will win the Pac-12 is anyone’s best guess. Washington has been good, mostly only for half of each game, while USC has found ways to win. Alabama should comfortably win the SEC, Ohio State the Big Ten.
As for the Mountain West, it is upstart versus powerhouse, and given the way San Jose State has played this season — head coach Brent Brennan has been rumored as a preeminent candidate for the open Arizona job — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Spartans win.
Upsets and some near upsets and what they mean
Save for perhaps a true evenly matched showdown between heavyweights, there is nothing more fun about college football, any sport really, than an upset.
Week 15 provided a few of those.
No. 6 Florida was upset by LSU 37-34, No. 10 Miami was pummeled by No. 17 North Carolina 62-26 and Utah, of course, took down previously undefeated and No. 21-ranked Colorado.
There were some close calls as well, as No. 15 USC had to rally to defeat rival UCLA 43-38 — the Trojans outscored the Bruins 20-3 in the fourth quarter — and No. 13 Coastal Carolina rallied to defeat Troy 42-38.
The upsets and close calls were needed, as six games that would have featured a Top 25 team were canceled this week because of COVID-19, including Ohio State-Michigan, Oklahoma-West Virginia and Tulsa-Cincinnati.
What do the latest upsets mean for the College Football Playoff?
The Gators are out, even if they somehow find a way to upset the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game. The ACC, meanwhile, is officially a two-team league — two-and-a-half if you want to be kind to the Tar Heels — and at least one of Clemson and Notre Dame will be playing in the season-ending ESPN invitational, err CFP playoff.
As for the Pac-12, well as Dennis Green so profoundly stated more than a decade ago, “They are who we thought they were,” an entertaining league without an elite contender, even if USC ends up the undefeated conference champion.
Expect Miami to fall out of the Top 10, to around 16 or 17, while Florida will likely fall behind Iowa State, Georgia and Oklahoma. Colorado will probably drop from the rankings altogether.
The worst penalty in college football history?
Speaking of Florida, the Gators were knocked out of contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff because of the loss to the Tigers.
The team won’t admit it — in his postgame interview, Florida head coach Dan Mullen feigned complete ignorance — but the loss falls squarely on the shoulders of defensive back Marco Wilson.
Wilson is regularly a good player for the Gators, but he made arguably the worst decision in college football history Saturday night.
With the game tied with under three minutes remaining, Florida stopped LSU short on a third-and-10 try. Tigers quarterback Max Johnson threw short of the pylon and Florida made the stop, tackling Kole Taylor as he attempted to leap a defender.
In any other instance, LSU would have then punted and given the ball back to Florida’s offense, headed by Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Trask.
As Taylor made his leap, though, trying to get the first down, his shoe came off, straight into the hands of Wilson.
What’d Wilson do with his newly acquired footwear? To celebrate the Gators’ defensive stand, he chucked the shoe 40 yards down the field.
That, of course, drew an unsportsmanlike penalty, and given new life, LSU scored on a 57-yard field goal by Cade York.
Florida had a shot at the end, but Evan McPherson missed on his 51-yard try.
There have been horrible penalties committed in the history of college football. Wilson’s miscue cost Florida a shot at the CFP, however, and as such it will go down in infamy.