Sunday morning, just before noon on the East Coast, Manchester City and Liverpool will face off at Anfield, the historic grounds of Liverpool. These are two of the best, if not the two best, clubs in the world in the last five years. A few countries over, Real Madrid will play Barcelona in the greatest rivalry in the sport.
And, in both places, the atmosphere will be electric.
It is the closest thing to college football outside of the USA. Yet, it will not hold a candle to some of the scenes we saw across the country in week seven as college football remains the greatest sport in the world. Here is what I saw in a captivating twelve hours of watching college football Saturday.
A Night of a Lifetime in Knoxville
Twenty years ago, upon being crowned the winner of the first season of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson sang her song “A Moment Like This”. We all know the lyrics, but I bet they have special meaning to those in attendance at Neyland Stadium on Saturday that witnessed one of the greatest wins in the proud history of Tennessee Volunteer football, 52-49 over Alabama.
It wasn’t just they beat the Tide, a team that had beaten them 15 times in a row. It was more than beating your rival, a rival that has been on top of the sport for nearly two decades now. It was this release all of the pent-up disappointment that Volunteer fans have experienced since their national title in 1998. You could see it after the game, as the scenes in Neyland Stadium were some of the greatest I have ever seen in the sport. I’ve been in a similar position, as a senior at Penn State when the Nittany Lions beat Ohio State in 2016 in dramatic fashion. That moment of knowing you’re finally back, the dog days are truly over, is indescribable. Few feelings in life can come close to rivaling it, and anyone in attendance last night at Neyland now knows how it feels.
Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without standout quarterback Hendon Hooker. The Virginia Tech transfer has been on top of my Heisman ballot for a few weeks now. But, if you still needed convincing, you don’t anymore. His 385 yards passing and five touchdowns, all to Jalin Hyatt, look great on paper. But, it’s the way he played and the complete trust Vol Head Coach Josh Heupel has in him that makes that offense so potent. The fact that Heupel can trust Hooker to avoid the big mistakes allows Tennessee to attack defenses in every way possible, and they made the Tide defense look bad. Tennessee ran 70 plays for 567 yards Saturday, and Pete Golding’s defense looked lost in a way I’ve never seen Alabama look lost. The Vols also ran for 189 yards, and their pass protection was phenomenal against the two best pass rushing prospects in college football in Dallas Turner and Will Anderson.
The most impressive part, though, was the final drive. After Alabama kicker Will Reichard missed a 50-yard attempt with fifteen seconds remaining that would’ve given the Tide the lead with the game tied 49-49, Heupel had a choice to make. No one could blame him if he decided to go to overtime. After all, the first 59:45 proved that the Vols belonged on the field with Alabama and Tennessee probably would’ve been favorites in overtime. But he trusted Hooker, as he has all year. All Hooker did was deliver two absolute strikes and got Tennessee down into field goal range. Thirteen years after Terrence Cody blocked a Vol kick that would’ve beaten Alabama, a play that changed the trajectory of both programs, Tennessee would not be denied. Chase McGrath frankly shanked the kick, but it was the Vols’ night. It knuckled in from 40 yards, and by God, it was time for Tennessee to finally smoke cigars on the Third Saturday of October, the traditional date for the rivalry.
Tennessee should be No. 1 in the country when the AP poll comes out, but they won’t be. Their resume is the best in the country with wins over Alabama, Pitt, LSU, and Florida. The voters are not smart enough to make the right choice, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. Anyone who knows what they’re watching knows who the best team in America is right now.
As for Alabama, Pete Golding should’ve gotten tarmac’d. The defense was terrible. Make no mistake, the Vol offense is legit and as good as any in America. But Alabama has two NFL franchise pass rushers to build a defense around, and they looked totally lost. Numerous communication breakdowns had Nick Saban fuming on the sideline. It just doesn’t look like an Alabama defense. For so many years, it seemed like teams had to react to what the Tide was doing on defense, that you had to play offense on their terms. That was far from the case Saturday. UT did what it wanted when it wanted. Alabama looked like a slow, finesse defense. Those are words you’d never use to describe any defense of Saban’s prior to Golding’s tenure as coordinator. And the talent is there. Those aren’t slow or finesse football players. It falls at the feet of Golding.
Offensively, Bryce Young was magnificent. As good as Hooker was, Young was better. Despite battling an injured throwing shoulder, Young showed why anyone who takes another quarterback over him in the draft next year should immediately be fired. Apart from all of the physical talent, the guy just has it and plays his best in big games. If Alabama could make a single big kick in the Nick Saban tenure, we’d be talking about how Young willed a poor performance by the Tide to a win.
Alabama will be okay. But, something just is not quite clicking there.
As for Tennessee, no matter what happens the rest of the season, which is now playoff (or even more) or bust, they will have the memory of singing Dixieland Delight while basking in the glow of maybe the greatest game Neyland Stadium has ever seen. It was college football at its absolute best.
There were a lot of unanswered questions regarding the Michigan Wolverines heading into their top-ten matchup with Penn State at home on Saturday. After all, they played arguably the weakest non-conference schedule in America and hadn’t played any of the Big Ten’s big hitters through three games of conference play. Plus, they hadn’t looked the best in any of those Big Ten games, and no one really knew what they had.
They may not have answered all the questions in Saturday’s 41-17 romp of the Nittany Lions that wasn’t as close as the score suggests, but they sure did answer a lot of them. Their offensive line punked Penn State for four quarters, paving the way for 418 yards on the ground while never punting. Blake Corum was great again, and had 166 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns. But backup running back Donovan Edwards actually led the way with 173 yards on 16 carries and 2 touchdowns himself. Frankly, they could’ve picked someone out of the stands and they would’ve been able to get five yards a pop against a Penn State front that looked terrible and a scheme that looked even worse.
JJ McCarthy didn’t really have to do much of anything throwing the ball, due to Penn State’s downright puzzling scheme. But, that’s the formula Michigan wants to play with anyways. Harbaugh has things going in Ann Arbor better than he ever has, and they’re follwoing up last year’s playoff team with another squad I think very may well beat Ohio State again.
As for James Franklin and Penn State, it was yet again another road embarrassment in a big game. The Nittany Lions were coming off a bye, but the scheme on defense was as if they refused to watch any film on the Wolverines at all. First-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz consistently had Penn State in light boxes against the Michigan run game. Most thought he would load the box and rely on Penn State’s excellent secondary, arguably the best in the country, to play one-on-one across the board. That’s clearly not what the Nittany Lions did, and it worked as well as a Boeing 747 with no wings. Sean Clifford was bad outside of two big plays, freshman running back Nick Singleton had a stinker of a game, and it was a bad time all around for the Nittany Lions.
Clifford left the game late with an injury, and many Penn State fans hope Drew Allar, the top-ranked quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class according to 247sports, starts next week in a must-win White Out game against Minnesota. Ohio State follows, and if the Nittany Lions lose three games in a row after a 5-0 start for the second season in a row, James Franklin may lose a fan base that he will never get back.
Sonny Day In Fort Worth
TCU is as big of a surprise team as anyone in the nation. After going 5-7 a year ago, they shockingly fired Gary Patterson. Not-so-shockingly, they hired Sonny Dykes away from SMU. The Horned Frogs found themselves 5-0 hosting #8 Oklahoma State this weekend. But TCU trailed nearly the whole way, and they found themselves down 30-16 heading to the fourth quarter.
But just like he’s done all season long, TCU quarterback Max Duggan came up big, and the Frogs scored twice in the final 9:22 to tie the game, heroically stopped Oklahoma State at the end of regulation, and scored on both overtime possessions to win a thriller 43-40.
All of a sudden, TCU has real playoff aspirations. They’re already through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Oklahoma State. But the Big 12 is surprisingly deep this year, and there are no gimmes left on their schedule in what figures to be a wild ride to determine the top two teams who will play for the Big 12 Championship. A matchup at Texas looms on November 5 as probably the biggest game left in the Big 12 regular season.
As for the Cowboys, it’s another missed opportunity for a program that just can’t quite seem to get over the final hurdle under Mike Gundy. Still, they have everything to play for and will be a factor in the Big 12 race. They will host Texas next week in a crucial game.
Despite Caleb Williams playing out of his mind, USC lost to Utah on the road 43-42 on a late two-point conversion by Ute quarterback Cam Rising. Credit to Utah and their crowd for excellent performance, but the focus coming out of the game is on the health of star Trojan WR Jordan Addison, who left the game with a leg injury in the 2nd half. The Pac-12’s sole playoff hope may just be UCLA.
Clemson was outgained by Florida State by nearly 100 yards, but a stretch of dominance to bridge the second and third quarters led Clemson to a 34-28 win. I’m not sure what to make of the Tigers, who I don’t think are a top-four team. But, it’s hard to argue that they don’t have the easiest road to the playoff of anyone in a putrid ACC.
Speaking of the ACC, Syracuse is off to their best start since 1987 as they beat a Devin Leary-less NC State to get to 6-0. The Orange, who actually beat Clemson a few seasons ago, are probably the toughest game left on Clemson’s schedule. In fact, it may be the toughest opponent Clemson plays all year. Man, the ACC is awful.
They’re not in the ACC for football, but ACC-adjacent Notre Dame is downright awful. Stanford had lost their last eleven games to FBS teams, but it was nothing a trip to South Bend couldn’t fix as Stanford beat the Irish at home. Just when it looked like Marcus Freeman had stabilized things after that disastrous 0-2 start, they looked terrible again. There’s got to be serious questions if this was the right hire to replace Brian Kelly, as the cupboard was far from bare for Freeman. Notre Dame’s putrid performance makes them my Down Bad Team Of The Week
The runner-up for the DBTOTW is the Cal Golden Bears. Justin Wilcox’s men lost to winless Colorado after a Bear receiver dropped the tying pass in the end zone on the game’s final play. I say with total seriousness, it is more likely Cal drops football than it is if they're ever relevant on the national stage ever again.
Mississippi State suffered a crushing loss to Kentucky and a very banged-up Will Levis. I know the history in Starkville isn’t great historically, but it’s no different than Ole Miss’s, and it has to be tough to look at Lane Kiffin having the Rebs runnin’.
Speaking of those Rebels, they ran the ball 69 times for 448 yards against Auburn en route to a 48-34 win. Lane Kiffin has his team in sole possession of first place in the SEC West. He should be Auburn’s first call after they mercifully fire Bryan Harsin.
Back to the Big Ten, where Illinois handily beat Minnesota, 26-14. The game was not as close as the score indicates, as total yardage was a whopping 472-180. Wisconsin and Nebraska should be strongly considering Bret Bielema, who is going to win the Big Ten West in year two. Not sure Wisconsin could swallow rehiring him, though.
Meanwhile, the wheels have come off quickly for the Gophers, who have now lost two in a row and have to go to Beaver Stadium for the vaunted White Out. They’ll do it likely without Tanner Morgan, who left Saturday’s game with a concussion.
If Jim Leonhard is auditioning for the permanent job at Wisconsin, he’s not doing a great job. The Badgers lost to lowly Michigan State on Saturday, 34-28 in overtime. Do the right thing, Bucky, and hire either Bielema or Leipold.
Billy Napier is already on the hot seat in the minds of many Gator fans after Florida lost to LSU 45-35. Credit to Brian Kelly who does have it going in the right direction. I thought maybe they didn’t after their blowout loss to Tennessee last week. Turns out the Vols are just really good.
Miami finally got their first Power Five win of the season, as they beat Virginia Tech 20-14 in another underwhelming performance for the ‘Canes. Virginia Tech appears to be one of the worst power five teams in the country under first-year head coach Brent Pry.
1. Hendon Hooker, Quarterback, Tennessee
2. Bryce Young, Quarterback, Alabama
3. Caleb Williams, Quarterback, USC
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter - @RealGarrettCarr