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Parallel Universe College Football: Week Two

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Somewhere in the multiverse, the Spartans played the first road game of the Mel Tucker era this weekend. It didn’t go so well.

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 08 BYU at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In our universe, college football continues to limp along, trying to salvage some semblance of normalcy despite the fact the Big Ten and the Pac 12 decided weeks ago to delay the season and several others teams have been forced to postpone or cancel games due to COVD-19 outbreaks. While reality is far from normal, I prefer to imagine a world where there is no global pandemic, and we just finished playing the second full week of the original schedule.

To that end, I present my continuing “coverage” of the results of Week Two of the 2020 college football season from the “parallel universe,” which was generated from a single Monte Carlo simulation, as outlined previously.

To briefly review the results of Week One, Mel Tucker and the Michigan State Spartans earned a hard fought win over Northwestern, 46-40 in the season and conference opener for both teams. Michigan scored a big win for the Big Ten on the road at Washington, 36-19, and there were a handful of notable upsets, including South Carolina getting blown out by Coastal Carolina, 21-3, at home.

How did Week Two pan out in the parallel universe? Let’s start with MSU’s first road game of the season, where they traveled to Provo, Utah to face BYU.

Michigan State (-4) at BYU

Based on MSU’s Week One parallel universe win over the Wildcats and BYU’s 51-20 blowout loss at Utah (a vast difference from the Cougars’ real life Week One performance against Navy), the Spartans entered the game as a four-point favorite on the road. However, the talk all week long focused on MSU and the Big Ten’s general struggle with winning non-conference road games west of the Mississippi. But, the Wolverines had broken through last week in Seattle. Could the Spartans do the same?

The weather in Provo was hot, clear, and dry in the afternoon, but as the 8:15 p.m. MDT kick-off time approached, the temperatures dropped into the lower 70s. BYU won the toss, and deferred to the second half. MSU received the opening kickoff, and managed to pick off one first down, despite drawing a false start penalty on the first snap of the game. But, on a first down play deep in Spartan territory, Rocky Lombardi threw his first pick of the season by overthrowing Tre Mosley in the flat. BYU took over on the MSU 36-yard-line.

BYU drove the ball inside the 10-yard-line, but the MSU defense held strong. The Cougars made it to the one-yard-line, but elected a to kick a field goal to put three early points on the board.

The Spartans’ second possession also lasted just four plays, but this time ended in a punt. On BYU’s next play, the Cougars completed a 26-yard deep out pass and advanced once again into Spartan territory. But, once again the MSU defense held strong and forced BYU to kick a second field goal to bring the score to 6-0 as the first quarter drew to a close.

The teams traded a few short drives which ended in punts. The Spartans wound up pinned deep in their own territory due to a poorly timed holding penalty, and a punt from the back of the end zone resulted in BYU taking over near midfield. The Cougars were able to string together several chunk plays in a row, mostly on the ground, to score the game’s first touchdown and to stretch their lead to 13-0.

On MSU’s ensuing possession, the Spartans started with good field position based on a Jalen Nailor kickoff return, but a third-down interception from Lombardi once again gave the Cougars excellent field position, and they capitalized again on a three-play quick strike touchdown drive to extend the lead to 20-0. The teams then once again traded a few short drives ending in punts until halftime.

Coming out of the locker room, the Spartan’s fortunes changes almost immediately. The Spartans kicked off, but the BYU kick returner muffed the catch and wound up fumblingly the ball inside the 10-yard-line. The Spartans recovered the ball at the one-yard line, and Elijah Collins punched the ball into the end zone on the next play to get MSU on the board, 20-7.

The Spartans’ good fortune then continued, as on the next BYU drive, quarterback Zach Wilson threw an interception which MSU returned to the 12-yard line. Two Collins runs later, and the score was 20-14.

The teams traded punts and then the Cougar quarterback erred again, throwing his second interception of the quarter, and for the third time giving the Spartans the back deep in BYU territory. This time, Ant Williams scored from five yards out. MSU was poised to take their first lead of the game, but the Matt Coghlin point after attempt was blocked, leaving the score dead locked at 20-20 as the third quarter came to an end.

The blocked PAT seems to invigorate BYU, and the MSU defense was starting to show signs of fatigue due both the the elevation and the fact that the MSU offense was scoring quickly on a short field. To start the fourth quarter, the Cougars put together a seven-play, 74-yard drive for a touchdown. After a three-and-out from the Spartan offense, the BYU offense then scored again on a 12-play, 67-yard drive to suddenly extend the lead to 34-20 with eight minutes remaining.

As the Spartan offense became more desperate, Coach Tucker made the call to go-for-it on fourth down near mid-field, but the Lombardi pass got knocked down at the line of scrimmage. BYU then added another field goal to stretch the lead to 37-20.

The Spartans final possession also ended in a turnover on downs near mid-field, and the Cougars added a garbage time touchdown in the final minute as the exhausted Spartan defense failed to get the Cougar running back to the ground on a simple draw play that got bounced to the outside.

In the end, Mel Tucker and the Spartans lost their first road game of the season to BYU by a final score of 44-20 to bring the record to 1-1. MSU managed to rush for 142 yards on the ground, but Lombardi struggled a bit, throwing for only 125 yards on 14 of 30 (47 percent) passing and two interceptions. The Spartan defense managed to force three turnovers, but it also gave up over 500 yards of offense to the Cougars.

Other Week Two Big Ten Results

Table 1 below summarizes the results of the other Big Ten games in the parallel universe this week.

Table 1: Week two results for the Big Ten in the parallel universe

Half of Big Ten teams were playing FCS or Group of Five teams and managed to win fairly easily. It should be noted, however, that Michigan failed to cover the 32-point spread against Ball State. The Wolverines pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 41-23. In the post game press conference, Coach Harbaugh commented that there had been a series of “distractions” that the team and staff had been dealing with, and he promised a better effort next week.

In addition, Rutgers was able to secure a win over Syracuse, 39-31, and Purdue could not ride the momentum of its Week One upset over Nebraska. The Boilermakers fell to Memphis at home, 39-15. Both of these results were expected, but the results for the rest of the conference were more surprising.

In addition to MSU’s mild upset loss in Utah, the Iowa Hawkeyes laid an egg at home against their intrastate rivals, Iowa State, by a score of 36-17. The boys from Iowa City lost the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Trophy (its actual full name) for the first time since 2014. (Note that Parallel Universe Iowa State had a MUCH better weekend than real-life Iowa State. Woof.)

Penn State also had a tough weekend, losing a back-and-forth contest at Virginia Tech 41-39 on a late field. Parallel Universe James Franklin made a series of bizarre and seemingly poor coaching decisions in the final quarter that led directly to the Hokie come back. Sometimes the parallel universe is remarkably similar to our own.

Fortunately, The Ohio State Buckeyes were able to salvage the weekend for the conference with an impressive 43-16 win on the road at Oregon. The Ducks entered the game as a narrow favorite, but OSU dominated from start to finish.

Week Two Power Five Results

Table 2 below shows the results for the games involving the remaining Power Five teams in Week Two in the parallel universe.

Table 2: Week Two results for the Power Five in the parallel universe

As the table shows, it was an eventful weekend with several notable upsets. In the ACC, there was the previously mentioned Virginia Tech win over Penn State, despite the fact that the Nittany Lions were over a two-touchdown favorite.

But, the news in the rest of the conference was not as positive, as North Carolina State was upset by Mississippi State, and Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest all dropped games to Group of Five opponents. Boston College’s 30-point loss at home to Ohio was particularly notable. In conference play, Clemson got off to a good start in divisional play, as it destroyed Louisville, 42-12.

In the Big 12, Iowa State’s previously mentioned win over Iowa, as well as Oklahoma’s blowout win over Tennessee was the good news of the weekend. Texas was a surprising five-point favorite going into the contest at LSU, but the Longhorns lost in a shootout, 45-36. The biggest news of the weekend, however, was a stunning 34-19 win by the Kansas Jayhawks at Baylor (-12). Coach Les Miles and the potential turn around in Lawrence in year two suddenly became the biggest topic of discussion in Big 12 country (although, that certainly isn’t the case in real life, after Kansas was upset by Coastal Carolina yesterday).

Out west, while Oregon failed to get a marquee win over Ohio State, the Beavers of Oregon State gave at least half of the state something to cheer for, as they crushed Colorado State, 51-17 in a mild upset. The state of Colorado didn’t get any help from the Buffaloes, however, as Mel Tucker-less Colorado dropped a second-straight game to a Mountain West opponent, this time to Fresno State, 29-25. Washington State joined the Buffaloes in the standings by dropping the contest against Houston in blowout fashion, 51-20.

In the Southeast, it was a balanced, strong week for the SEC. While Arkansas and Tennessee did pick up expected losses to Notre Dame and Oklahoma, LSU and Mississippi State both picked up impressive wins over Texas and NC State, as mentioned above. Furthermore, Auburn was able to shutout North Carolina, 34-0, and South Carolina rebounded after the inexplicable Week One loss to Coastal Carolina with a 32-27 win over East Carolina. The biggest surprise of the weekend, however, was Kentucky’s thrilling 35-34 upset win over Florida in the conference opener for both teams.

Week Two Group of Five Results

Finally, Table 3 shows the Week Two results from parallel universe in the Group of Five conference and the independents.

Table 3: Week Two results for the Group of Five in the parallel universe

As the table shows, there were a handful of upsets, some of which were already noted above (such as Marshall over Pitt, Ohio over B.C., and Fresno State over Colorado). But, the most significant Group of Five result of the weekend was Air Force’s 34-26 upset of Boise State. The Broncos were an early favorite to claim the Group of Five slot in the New Year’s Six, but a loss in Week Two may put a big hole in those hopes. At this point, even winning the Mountain Division of the Mountain West could be a challenge.

Overall, it was a pretty crazy week of college football in the parallel universe, as 17 of the total 46 games ended in an upset.

Week Three Preview

Looking ahead to Week Three, most teams are finishing up their final cupcake of the non-conference season before conference play begins to ramp up in Week Four. With the exception of one game, the schedule is pretty pedestrian.

But, that one exception is a huge one, as Georgia travels to Alabama in a battle of Top-10 teams. Other than that, there are a few interesting games in the Big Ten, as listed below.

  • Georgia at Alabama (-6)
  • Florida State (-2) at Boise State
  • Maryland at West Virginia (-5.5)
  • Appalachian State at Wisconsin (-18)
  • Air Force at Purdue (+1)
  • Iowa at Minnesota (-5.5)
  • Michigan (-18.5) vs. Arkansas State
  • Michigan State (-27) vs. Toledo

As for the Spartans, MSU (1-1) returns home to face MAC opponent Toledo (0-2). The Rockets opened the season with two double-digit losses to Tulsa and San Diego State. MSU opened as almost a four-touchdown favorite. Tune in again next week to see what happens...in the parallel universe.