College Football Recap: #8 and #7 of the Top 10 Countdown

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Photo courtesy of Youtube

Michael Maynard, Staff Writer

#8: Clemson 24 vs. Syracuse 27

Every year brings about a couple of games that make no sense. This is one of them. Alike Oklahoma losing to Iowa State, or last year when Clemson lost to Pitt, sometimes upsets happen.

This game is the definition of a “trap game,” or when a better team may play down to their competition. Clemson certainly had games against Auburn and Florida State circled on their calendars, but there wasn’t a ton of anticipation for the Friday night matchup at the Carrier Dome. As the defending champs, Syracuse was going to give the Tigers everything they had.

All being said, this had to be the perfect storm for Syracuse to win. Clemson is a better team in every aspect of the game. Everything was clicking for Syracuse, and Clemson couldn’t get anything going, and it didn’t help that Tigers’ QB Kelly Bryant left due to a concussion and missed the second half. Syracuse hung with them through the fourth quarter, when Cole Murphy kicked a field goal to put them up 3 with 9:41 left, and the score held 27-24 for the remainder of the game.

Oddly for Syracuse, this was their final win of the 2017 season. This win brought them to 4-3, but the Orange dropped their last 5 to finish 4-8 in Head Coach Dino Babers’s second year. This win however, was a statement game that will go a long way in recruiting. They proved that they could compete with- and beat- the best in the ACC, and pair that with Babers’s up-tempo, fun offense, and Syracuse could be relevant in a few years.

The loss did not break Clemson’s season. All it did was ensure they must run the table to make the playoff, which they did. However, in a rematch of the last two national championships, Clemson was dominated by Alabama 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl, sending the Tide to their 3rd straight playoff appearance.

 

#7: USF 42, UCF 49/ Memphis 55, UCF 62 (2OT)

I’m going to cheat my system here and use two games for the price of one, as both helped shape UCF’s season and status as the National Champion (If you’re confused, it will all make sense by the end of this).

The Rivalry Week matchup vs. USF in the game that’s become known as the War on I-4 was a play-in game to get to the American Athletic Conference Championship vs. Memphis. UCF came into the game 11-0, USF 10-1. As one team from a Group of 5 school gets to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl, the winner of this game would increase their chance of doing such.

The game lived up to the hype. Down 42-34 with 2:21 left, USF QB Quinton Flowers threw an 83 yard TD pass and converted the 2-point conversion to tie the game. UCF immediately responded with a 95 yard kickoff return TD from Mike Hughes to which USF couldn’t answer, and UCF prevailed.

The following week, UCF hosted Memphis for the AAC title. Perhaps the biggest discussion point during the game had nothing to do with the game itself. UCF Head Coach Scott Frost came over following the 2015 season, after UCF had gone 0-12. This turnaround made him one of the hottest coaching candidates at a Power 5 school, as Brett McMurphy reported mid-4th quarter that Frost had accepted the same position at Nebraska.

Nonetheless, this wasn’t a distraction for Frost during the game, with the game tied at 48 at the end of regulation. The teams traded touchdowns in the first OT, and after UCF scored a touchdown in the second OT, they got an interception to seal the conference title and New Year’s Six Bowl appearance for the Knights.

Here’s a couple takeaways from UCF’s rollercoaster season. In the 4 years of the playoff, the Group of 5 has produced some of the most entertaining stories of the season. Last year it was PJ Fleck rowing the boat at Western Michigan to an unbeaten regular season and Cotton Bowl appearance. The idea that these teams have all the characteristics of an elite team, but won’t get the national recognition because of their weaker competition and less nationally televised games, makes for a compelling underdog story to root for throughout the season.

Getting a Group of 5 team to a New Year’s Six Bowl has proven to be a major resume booster for a bigger school. Frost turned the rebuild of UCF into his dream job at his alma mater. Fleck has rowed his boat over to the twin cities, where he is currently undertaking a similar rebuilding job at Minnesota that he did at Western.

This year, UCF brought attention to the transitive property. The transitive property is a concept we all learn in geometry, where A leads to B and B leads to C, so therefore A leads to C. After UCF beat Auburn 34-27 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl to finish undefeated at 13-0, they jokingly claimed to be National Champions because they beat Auburn, who beat both Georgia and Alabama, who were playing for the National Championship. It was as much of a satire of the College Football Playoff for its exclusion of Group of 5 teams as much as a story to get national attention. It started with changing their Twitter name to “2017 National Champions,” and has evolved to where there is proposed legislation to have state license plates recognizing them as National Champions. Maybe it’s gone too far, but it’s a story to remind us why we love the Group of 5.