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Parallel Universe College Football: Week Three

Somewhere in the multiverse, the Spartans hosted the Toledo Rockets in Week Three. Did Mel Tucker earn his second win in East Lansing?

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

In our universe, it was a pretty big week. On Wednesday, it was announced the Big Ten has worked out a plan where they believe that college football can be played while minimizing the safety risks associated with COVID-19. A revised Big Ten schedule has been announced and the first Big Ten kick-off is planned for Oct. 24. Football is back!

That said, we still have several weeks to wait. There is honestly no guarantee that we will actually make it late October without some other plot twist that will once again leave us with no Big Ten football in our particular universe. So, for the next few weeks, I continue my “coverage” of college football from that other, parallel universe where COVID-19 never happened, and the original schedule was played.

Season Recap

In the first two weeks of the season in the parallel universe, MSU manged to beat Northwestern in Week One, but ran out of steam in the second half at BYU, resulting in a 1-1 record. Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Ohio State and Michigan were both 2-0 with big wins over Oregon and Washington in the first two weeks, while dark horse Big Ten contender Penn State lost last week at Virginia Tech and sits at 1-1.

As for the rest of the FBS, a few notable upsets have already impacted the overall landscape. South Carolina suffered a baffling upset at home in Week One to Coastal Carolina. In Week Two, SEC East contender Florida dropped their SEC opener to Kentucky, while in the Big 12, Kansas managed an upset of Baylor. In the Group of Five, early New Year’s Six favorite Boise State lost its Mountain West opener at Air Force.

Toledo at Michigan State (-27)

There was a crisp chill in the air on Saturday morning, as the tailgaters gathered early on campus in this preparation for the noon kickoff at Spartan Stadium. Frost has settled over some parts of mid Michigan early Saturday morning, and winter coats made their first appearance on campus. Cider and donuts were available at most tailgates, and the smell of pumpkin beer and pumpkin spice lattes made their first Saturday morning appearance. As kickoff approached, the sky was a crystal clear shade of light blue, and the temperature hadn’t even made it to 60.

MSU won the toss and deferred to the second half. On the Rockets’ first possession, they picked up a first down and appeared to be on the move when a personal foul penalty stalled the drive. MSU’s first possession did not go much better, as the Spartans went three-and-out, but did manage to pin Toledo inside the 10-yard-line. After gaining only two yards, the Rockets kicked the ball back to MSU at almost mid-field.

Then, the MSU offense went to work. The Spartans went on a six-play, 46-yard drive that included a back-to-back 29-yard pass to Tre Mosley and a 15-yard pass to Trenton Gillison. The drive was capped off with a perfectly blocked jet sweep to the short side for a touchdown by Jalen Nailor on third and goal from the 10-yard line to bring the score to 7-0.

On the ensuing Rocket possession, the visitors from Toledo drove to midfield and appeared to be gaining a bit of momentum. But, Chase Kline picked off a pass at the Spartan 39-yard-line to give MSU the ball back. However, MSU could not advance the ball past the 50-yard line and decided to pin the Rockets deep with a punt as the first quarter drew to a close.

The second quarter was pretty uneventful. Toledo only managed one first down on the next drive and punted the ball back to MSU. This time, the Spartans were able to march down to the 25-yard-line, but had to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Matt Coghlin to bring the score to 10-0. The teams traded short drives and punts, and took the 10-0 score into the locker room.

To start the second half, MSU’s Nailor almost took the kickoff to the house, but he got tripped up at the Toledo 30-yard-line. The Rockets held their ground, however, and forced MSU to kick yet another field goal, this time from 44 yards, to bring the score to 13-0.

The teams traded three-and-outs and then Toledo once again made a push into Spartan territory. But, the Spartans held the Rockets at the 31-yard line and forced a 48-yard field goal attempt that missed wide left.

At this point in the third quarter, the Spartans went on their most impressive drive of the season to date. MSU put together a 13-play, 69-yard drive that included three third-down conversions and ended with an 16-yard touchdown strike to Mosley from Rocky Lombardi to push to lead to 20 points. The drive was even more impressive (sort of) due to the fact that MSU overcame multiple penalties, including a false start, a hold, and a chop block, any of which could have derailed the Spartans’ drive.

But, the Rockets were not quite done yet. On the ensuing possession in the closing minutes of the third quarter, Toledo drove the ball all the way to the Spartan 17-yard-line. MSU forced Toledo to go for it on fourth-and-one, and Jacub Panasiuk blew up the play, creating a turnover on downs.

This stoppage seemed to have exhausted most of the Rockets’ fuel. Seeing this, Coach Mel Tucker began to substitute in some of the younger players, sensing that the game was almost in hand in the early minutes of the fourth quarter. The teams traded punts once more as the clock began to tick down. With about eight minutes remaining, things got a bit sloppy.

On his first carry of the season, sophomore Brandon Wright fumbled the ball on the MSU 30-yard line. Fortunately, the MSU defense held strong and forced another turnover on downs at the 24-yard-line. On the next possession, it was quarterback Theo Day’s turn to make a mistake, as on his first throw of the season, he riffled a pass directly into the chest of a Rocket linebacker for his first interception of the year.

Only this time, the MSU defense did not quite hold up, as Toledo finally scored on a 15-yard pass play to bring the score to 20-7. Coach Mel Tucker had seen enough, and he put the starters back in to milk the final four minutes off the clock and conserve the victory. In the end, MSU defeated the Toledo Rockets by a score of 20-7 to bring the record to 2-1 on the season.

In general, it was a bit of a sloppy effort from the Spartans, who drew seven total penalties, committed two turnovers, and let several drives stall near mid-field. MSU failed to cover the spread by 14-points and several MSU fans left Spartan Stadium feeling a bit salty.

MSU had a fairly successful day on the ground, picking up 167 yards rushing, while only allowing 106 to Toledo. Through the air, the Spartans picked up 254 yard on 22-for-40 passing (55 percent), while Toledo only managed 211 yards on 13-for-28 passing (46 percent). That said, the MSU secondary gave up 10 pass plays of over 10 yards. Coach Harlon Barnett was clearly not pleased.

Other Week Three Big Ten Results

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

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

In addition to MSU’s win over Toledo, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin all scored wins over Group of Five or FCS opponents this week. Indiana only scrapped by Ball State by four points, but the rest of those teams secured fairly easy victories.

The rest of the conference was not so lucky. Purdue, Rutgers, and Maryland were all underdogs this week, and all three teams lost. Purdue and Rutgers kept the contests with Air Force and Temple fairly close, but Maryland got absolutely blown out by West Virginia, 34-0.

In the sole conference game of the week, Iowa rebounded from last week’s loss to cross-state rivals Iowa State by upsetting the Minnesota Golden Gophers 35-26 in Minneapolis. Even after just one conference game, the Big Ten West looks to be a two-team race between Wisconsin and Iowa.

And then, there are the curious events that went down in Ann Arbor this week. Following last week’s lackluster performance against Ball State, Coach Harbaugh cited “distractions” as a partial explanation. Mid-week, the public found out what those distractions might have been.

On Tuesday, starting quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, who had led the Wolverines to wins over Washington and Ball State was reported to have stormed out of practice early. By Wednesday afternoon, he had entered the transfer, citing “philosophical differences” with the coaching staff. Then, on Thursday afternoon, senior wide receiver Nico Collins also shocking announced that he was leaving the team and focusing on preparation for the NFL Draft.

With McCaffrey gone, Joe Milton was announced as the starting quarterback, and from the opening kickoff, the Wolverines seemed rattled. On Michigan’s first possession, Milton threw an interception that was returned to the Michigan five-yard line. The Red Wolves punched the ball into the end zone a few plays later to take a 7-0 lead.

Then, the injuries started to pile up for the Wolverines. First, an offensive lineman went down. Then, a defensive lineman went down. A linebacker was next, followed by another offensive lineman, all before halftime. By the time the second quarter ended, Arkansas State had a 24-7 lead, in part due to a pick-six thrown by Milton in the second quarter.

After halftime, the Wolverines seemed more focused. Michigan slowly chipped away, and by the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Michigan took the lead for the first time, 28-24. But, on the next possession, with time running out, a Michigan defensive back tripped over his own feet and fell to the turf, leaving a wide open Red Wolf wide receiver streaking down the sideline. The Arkansas State quarterback hit him in stride with a pass, and he walked into the end zone with 90 seconds left on the clock.

Disaster almost struck on the point after attempt for the Red Wolves, as the holder mishandled the snap. But, in dramatic fashion, the holder toss the ball into the hands of the kicker, who ran into the end zone for a two-point conversion, giving the Red Wolves a 32-28 lead.

In the Wolverines’ final possession, needing a touchdown to win, they managed to drive all the way down to the 15-yard line. But, on third down, Milton threw his third interception of the game in the end zone. Arkansas State preserved the upset, 32-28. The maize and blue clad fans sat in virtual silence as the Red Wolves celebrated.

After the game, Coach Harbaugh was terse with the media. He stated that it was “a tough loss” and that he looked forward to coaching his team for the rest of the year since, “at the least the guys still here aren’t quitters.” He refused to answer any follow-up questions.

Week Three Power Five Results

Table 2 below summarizes the results from the rest of the Power Five in the parallel universe this week.

Table 2: Week three results for the remainder of the Power Five in the parallel universe

The action in the rest of the Power Five was a bit less interesting than what went down in Ann Arbor. In the ACC, there were really only three games of note, and the ACC picked up wins in all three games. First, Florida State traveled to the blue field of Boise State and came away with a 47-26 win. Then, in more surprising news, Boston College picked up an upset win at Kansas and then Georgia Tech picked up a blow-out win over Central Florida.

In the Big 12, Kansas, as mentioned above, was the only team to pick up a loss. West Virginia blew out Maryland, Texas Tech earned a win over Arizona, and Kansas State blew out Vanderbilt in notable Power Five inter-league play.

In the Pac-12, the state of Oregon and the state of Washington were both happy come Sunday morning, as were fans of Arizona State and UCLA. But, there was no joy in Boulder or Salt Lake City, as the Colorado Buffaloes fell to Texas A&M and the Utah Utes were upset by Wyoming. In conference play, USC scored an early season upset at Stanford, which gives the Trojans a leg-up in the Pac-12 South race.

In SEC country, Alabama defeated Georgia, 42-28 in the national game of the week and solidified its position as a likely pick for a College Football Playoff spot. In conference play, Arkansas rebounded from its two early season losses to earn an upset win over Mississippi State, while Auburn mauled Ole Miss and Missouri crushed South Carolina.

Week Three Group of Five Results

Table 3 below summarizes the results from the rest of the Group of Five in the parallel universe this week.

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

The big upsets of the week involving Group of Five teams were mentioned above: Arkansas State’s stunning upset of Michigan and Utah’s loss to Wyoming. From a point-spread perspective, Marshall’s upset of Ohio, New Mexico State’s upset of New Mexico, and Northern Illinois’s upset of Eastern Michigan were also notable.

On the negative side of the coin for the Group of Five was UCF’s loss at Georgia Tech, despite being almost 20-point favorites (the opposite result of what happened in real life on Saturday, where UCF won 49-21). Even though we are only three weeks into season in the parallel universe, the possible candidates for the Group of Five’s slot in the New Years Six are already dwindling. UCF is in trouble, and Boise State now has two losses.

Of course, it’s still early, but teams like Memphis and Cincinnati in the AAC seem to already be rising to top in the Group of Five. That said, teams like Air Force, Wyoming, Marshall, Coastal Carolina, and UL Lafayette are worth watching.

In total, there were a total of 13 upsets in Week Three in the parallel universe, which is a typical number.

Week Four Preview

Looking ahead to Week Four in the parallel universe, MSU (2-1) wraps up the non-conference schedule by hosting the Miami Hurricanes (3-0). The Hurricanes come in relatively untested, with wins over Temple, Wagner, an UAB, but the team is averaging 44 points a game and none of the contests have been remotely close. MSU opened as a 16-point underdog at home.

The notable Week Four games in the parallel universe are shown below:

  • Miami at MSU (+16)
  • Wisconsin at Michigan (+13)
  • BYU at Minnesota (-7)
  • Cincinnati at Nebraska (pick’em)
  • Purdue at Boston College (-1)
  • Virginia at Clemson (-30)
  • Kansas State at West Virginia (+2)
  • Arizona State at USC (+7.5)
  • Florida at Tennessee (-6)

Will Parallel Universe MSU be able to start the season 3-1 with an upset over the Canes? Tune in next week to find out.