As the college football season comes to a close, it’s time to take stock of what happened this year. The story in Ohio is about being atop the Big Ten East with an undefeated record while Michigan State has made their case for staying perfect by winning out against Top-5 teams on both sides of the ball. These are two different paths towards victory that show what it takes to stay at top of your game all season long.
Cincinnati had eight opportunities to lose a football game in the last three minutes of Saturday’s slugfest against Tulsa, but it won.
This narrative may be told in two ways. Cincinnati failed terribly yet again in one. The College Football Playoff committee delivered a clear message last week by rating the Bearcats sixth, implying that the playoff race is a beauty contest for them, and Cincinnati would be fortunate to win Miss Congeniality. A nail-biter versus three-win Tulsa, a tight victory over Navy, a poor game against Tulane, and now this. This squad will give Cincinnati fans a heart attack if all that cheddar on a bowl of Skyline Chili doesn’t.
In the other tale, Cincinnati’s defense performed a feat that will go down in history. Tulsa had a chance to win the football game in the end, trimming a 16-point deficit to eight points and driving deep into Cincinnati territory. The game seemed to be over when Deshawn Pace stopped up Sam Crawford Jr. inches from a first down. Then Desmond Ridder fumbled, and the Bearcats’ defense had to start all over. It delivered once again, recovering a fumble in the end zone after yet another failed fourth-down attempt.
We already know which story will take center stage in the next round of committee rankings. Because it is in a league that is a step beneath the big guys, Cincinnati is not given grace. Forget about Notre Dame’s victory. Forget about the 18 victories in a row during the regular season. Forget about Saturday’s late-game heroics. Cincinnati’s second-class status is evident in its mere existence.
However, when you consider the rest of Saturday’s outcomes, it’s evident how difficult it is to win a football game.
Michigan State learned the hard way that underdogs are difficult to defeat. The Boilermakers already had a victory against a top-five team this season, so this wasn’t exactly Purdue’s Super Bowl, to borrow an old coaching cliché, but see Jackson Anthrop’s crazy touchdown grab and realize that there were no rules in this battle. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm seemed to have thrown up a play from those fridge magnets with strange phrases on them: double, reversal, flea-flicker, throwback, screen. It was a game of Mad Libs based on a playbook. Plays like those make it difficult to win.