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Parallel Universe College Football: Week Four

Somewhere in the multiverse, MSU was a big underdog to the Miami Hurricanes. Did Coach Mel Tucker score his first major upset in East Lansing?

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

In our universe, the college football season continues to trudge along. The ACC, SEC, and Big 12 have all started conference play, along with the AAC, C-USA, and Sunbelt leagues. As we all know, the Big Ten recently voted to start play in late October, and now the Pac-12, MAC, and Mountain West are following suit.

However, at the same time, multiple games are postponed or cancelled every week due to positive COVID-19 tests, including this weekend’s contest between Notre Dame and Wake Forest. Will the Big Ten actually be able to pull off an eight-week season with no byes and no margin for error?

We won’t know the answer to that question for several more weeks. In the meantime, I present my continuing “coverage” of the college football results from the parallel universe where the original schedule is still being played.

Season Overview

MSU opened the season with an exciting win at home over Northwestern, 46-40, only to fall flat the following week at BYU, 20-44. Last week, the Spartans seemed sluggish, but still managed to take care of the Toledo Rockets by a score of 20-7, which left the record at 2-1 after three weeks.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois are the only three teams that have started the season 3-0. Penn State lost an early game at Virginia Tech, while Michigan suffered a shocking loss to Arkansas State last week. Iowa dropped a game to in-state rivals Iowa State, but then turned around to hand Minnesota a loss the following week.

Miami (FL) at Michigan State (+16)

The Miami Hurricanes entered the season unranked. But after three blowout wins in the month of September, the Canes found themselves ranked in the Top 15 prior to the road trip to East Lansing. The Spartans entered the game as a surprisingly large 16-point underdog at home. Several Detroit area sports radio hosts commented during the week that the game was likely to get “pretty ugly, pretty fast for the Spartan faithful.”

A week ago, the weather in East Lansing was crisp and fall-like, but by mid-week the temperatures spiked once again. By the time the 3:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff time had arrived it was an almost Florida-like 80 degrees under mostly cloudy skies. It would have been nice if the weather had provided a bit more of a cool home field advantage.

The Spartans got the ball first this week and took the opening drive to around midfield before failing to convert on a third-and-three. The drive was reminiscent of many of the failed drives against Toledo, and fans in the stand were starting to grumble before the game was even a few minutes old. Soon, however, the Spartans defense gave the home crowd something to cheer about.

On Miami’s first drive, MSU forced the Canes into a third-and-long deep in Spartan territory. On the next play, defensive end Jack Camper hit Miami quarterback D’Eriq King as his arm went into a throwing motion and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Antjuan Simmons of the Miami 19-yard-line.

After a lengthy review, the officials confirmed that the quarterback’s arm was not moving forward, and Rocky Lombardi and the offense took over with great field position. Four plays later, sophomore running back Brandon Wright punched the ball into the end zone as a part of the goal line offense to give the Spartans an early 7-0 lead.

The Spartan defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense once again was on the move. The Spartans clearly had the early momentum. But, just as the Spartans crossed midfield, Lombardi was hit by a corner blitz and this time it was his turn to fumble the ball back to the opponent.

Two plays later, King misread the MSU defense, resulting in an interception by safety Michael Dowell, which was returned to the Miami 45-yard-line. This time, MSU advanced inside the 35-yard-line when a missed handoff to Elijah Collins resulted in the fourth turnover of the game in the final seconds of the very sloppy first quarter.

Both teams seemed to settle down in the second quarter and it became a game of field position. MSU forced another punt and got the ball back near midfield. The MSU drive stalled a few plays later, but the Spartans advanced far enough for Matt Coghlin to hit a 42-yard field goal to bring the score to 10-0. The teams traded a few punts with MSU again gaining in field position. This resulted in another Matt Coghlin field goal, this time from 47-yards, to bring the score to 13-0, MSU.

At this point in the game, the MSU defense was dominating. Miami had only netted a total of eight yards of offense, due in part to a large number of drive-killing penalties. As the second half drew to a close, the Miami offense showed some signs of life. The Cane ran an efficient two-minute drill and drove the ball 53 yards down to the MSU 18-yard-line.

At this point, the MSU defense stiffened once again and forced the Canes to settle for a 35-yard field goal to bring the score to 13-3. MSU ran out the clock and took this lead into the locker room.

During the second half kickoff, MSU got another bit of good fortune. For the second time in two games, MSU’s opponent muffed the kickoff and wound up fumbling the ball on their own three-yard-line. Two plays later, Lombardi connected on a short pass to Matt Dotson to bring MSU’s lead up to 20-3. The fans in Spartan Stadium went nuts.

Miami’s luck did not improve from there. A few plays later, Miami’s quarterback threw another interception, this time to Shakur Brown. MSU took over the ball on the Miami 34-yard-line. Three plays later, Lombardi connected with Jayden Reed on a long catch and run to bring the score to 27-3.

The Cane were clearly on the ropes, but they weren’t quite ready to go down without a fight. On Miami’s next possession, Shakur Brown got turned around on a double move and was burned for a 70-yard pass play for a touchdown, cutting the lead back to 27-10.

Calm was restored on the following possession, however, as MSU ground out a nice little seven-play drive that resulted in another Matt Coghlin field goal make, this time from 40 yards to bring the score to 30-10 as the third quarter drew to a close.

Miami would not challenge again. The Hurricanes had blown out Group of Five opponents in their first three games, and clearly seemed bothered by MSU’s physicality. By the fourth quarter, the MSU players started to impose their will. The teams traded punts for a few possessions, and then MSU managed an efficient 76-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 21-yard run by Ant Williams to bring the score to 34-10.

The Canes attempted to answer one more time, driving the ball down to the MSU 27-yard-line. But, a fourth down sack by Jacub Panasiuk gave the ball back to MSU.

At this point, Mel Tucker started to experiment with some of the younger players on the roster. Quarterback Theo Day took the field and managed to drive the Spartans far enough into Miami territory to add yet another field goal.

Following another Miami punt, redshirt freshman quarterback Payton Thorne made his debut in Spartan stadium. Thorne was impressive, leading the MSU offense to a final touchdown against a clearly demoralized Hurricane defense. In the end, MSU scored a massive upset of the No. 13 ranked Hurricanes, 47-10. The clearly joyful Spartans sang Victory For MSU in the southeast corner of Spartan Stadium as twilight settled over East Lansing. The first month of the Mel Tucker era ended with MSU sitting at 3-1 overall.

Other Week Four Big Ten Results

The results from the other Big Ten games in the parallel universe this week are summarized below in Table 1.

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

Big Ten teams had a strong week in non-conference play as MSU, Minnesota, and Purdue all scored upset wins over Miami, BYU, and Boston College. Iowa destroyed Northern Illinois, and Indiana scrapped by UCONN by three points, despite being almost a four-touchdown favorite. But, a win is a win. The lone Big Ten loser was Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers dropped a contest with Cincinnati by a score of 33-29.

Of the three conference games on the docket for Week Four, two of them were blowouts, Ohio State crushed Rutgers, 55-14, and Penn State destroyed Northwestern, 45-22. Similar to last week, the most exciting action in the conference took place in Ann Arbor.

It was an intense week in A-squared, following the stunning upset loss to Arkansas State in Week Three. Several Wolverine players even went so far as guaranteeing a victory over the visiting Wisconsin Badgers. Michigan had fallen out of the Top-25 polls following its loss, and the undefeated Badgers came to town with a No. 6 ranking and as almost a two-touchdown favorite. ESPN Gameday was on campus and the game was played under the lights in primetime.

It was an exciting and intense game from start to finish. The lead changes hands multiple times and neither team ever led by more than 10 points. As the fourth quarter drew to a close, the Wolverines were clinging to a 36-30 lead. But, on a third-and-long that might have clinched the win, Wolverine quarterback Joe Milton’s accuracy problems reared up again, and he threw an interception at midfield. Wisconsin then proceeded to march down the field and score the winning touchdown with under a minute to play. Michigan’s record dropped to 2-2.

Coach Harbaugh was clearly frustrated in the postgame press conference. “We are not playing Michigan Football right now. We are going to go back to the submarine and get this figured out. We are the leaders and best, dammit, and we are finally going to show that next week or die trying. All of our goals are still in front of us. Next week Penn State won’t know what hit them.”

Other Week Four Power Five Results

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

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

The ACC saw several upsets this week, including the Miami and Boston College’s losses to Big Ten teams as mentioned above. As September drew to a close, the conference favorites seemed to be rising to the top, as Clemson, Florida State, and Virginia Tech all still have flawless records. Joining them in this group is Duke, who improved its record to 4-0 this week with an upset win over Pitt.

The action in the Big 12 this week was fairly tame, although TCU did get upset by SMU and Kansas scored a win over the previously undefeated Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Overall, the Oklahoma schools remained undefeated, and they were joined by Iowa State, who defeated Texas Tech this week, and Kansas State, who downed West Virginia.

In the Pac-12, there were actually no upsets in Week Four in the parallel universe. Overall, 3-1 Oregon is still considered to be the favorite, but Oregon State made it to 3-1 this week with a win over Washington State. In the South, it was a big weekend for Arizona State and UCLA, who scored major victories over USC and Stanford respectively and now have 4-0 records.

Finally, in the SEC, the results were a bit more surprising. Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Missouri all scored easy wins to stay undefeated, as did Georgia to make it to 3-1. Notably, Kentucky also made it to 4-0 after a 12-point win over the struggling Gamecocks of South Carolina.

But, the most notable games included Arkansas’ upset win over Texas A&M which knocked the Aggies from the ranks of the undefeated. In the primetime game of the week down south, Florida scored a mild upset win at Tennessee to stay alive in the SEC East race.

Week Four Group of Five Results

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

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

It was a bit of a wild weekend, especially in the American Athletic Conference, as almost every contest ended in an upset. The most important result was likely Memphis’ upset loss to UTSA, which certainly will put a dent in the Tigers’ hopes of making it to another New Year’s Six Bowl game this year. In contrast, Cincinnati’s win over Nebraska has the Bearcats now as the clear favorite in the AAC and in the chase for the coveted New Year’s Six slot.

As for other teams that could be a factor, Marshall’s hopes also took a major hit, as the Thundering Herd lost narrowly to Boise State. In Conference USA, the sole undefeated team is now Old Dominion, who defeated Middle Tennessee State this weekend. In MACtion, Ohio at 3-1 (and with a win over Boston College) is now the only real hope for a New Year’s Six bid, but the Bobcats’ loss to Marshall last week makes this a long shot.

In the Mountain West, the Air Force Academy continued on a hot streak by shooting down Fresno State. In the Sunbelt, Louisiana-Lafayette improved its record with a win over conference foe, Georgia Southern. Both the Falcons and the Ragin’ Cajuns now sit at 4-0 on the season.

In total, 16 of the 56 games in Week Four ended in an upset.

Week Five Preview

As college football moves to Week Five in the parallel universe, most teams now begin conference play in earnest. For MSU, this means a road game in Iowa City to face the 3-1 Hawkeyes. The Spartan’s strong performance against Miami did turn some heads, but nevertheless, MSU opened as a 13-point underdog.

Across the country, the notable games in Week Five include:

  • Michigan State at Iowa (-13)
  • Penn State at Michigan (+5)
  • Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin (-15.5)
  • Texas at Kansas State (-14.5)
  • Washington at Oregon (-14.5)
  • Kentucky at Auburn (-42)
  • Missouri at Tennessee (-9)
  • South Florida at Cincinnati (-17)
  • Memphis at SMU (+11)
  • Navy at Air Force (-25)

Can Coach Mel Tucker and the Spartans pull yet another upset to get to 4-1? Can Parallel Universe Michigan turn its luck around vs. Penn State, as promised? Tune in next week to find out.