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MLB’s most wonderful 2020 playoffs moment? Will Smith homering off Will Smith

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ARLINGTON, Texas — In 1790, when the United States held its first census, one surname stood above all others. Nearly 6,000 white families, and more than 33,000 people, were called Smith. Today, 230 years later, among young and old, Black and white, Smith remains the king of American names, with nearly 2.5 million.

Similarly, there is a good case to be made that William has emerged as the most seminal given name in America. Never has William been the most popular, at least not since the government has kept track starting with births in the 1880s. But its staying power is remarkable. William has outlasted Robert, John, Michael, David and other challengers. William is so powerful that one of its derivatives, Liam, is currently the most popular boys’ name in America while William itself is fourth. It is a name that can be regal and hardscrabble, bourgeois and backcountry.

The consequence of these two things, then, is that the single most American name, owed such a title for its longevity, is William Smith. And while it’s unclear whether that’s numerically the case — it could be James Smith or John Williams or some other combination using Michael or David and Johnson or Brown or Jones — days like Friday certainly bolster the argument in its favor.

Something happened here, and it was beautiful: A 31-year-old man, born William Michael Smith, in Newnan, Georgia, stood on top of a 10-inch mound of dirt, 60 feet, 6 inches from a 25-year-old man named William Dills Smith, of Louisville, Kentucky. The Smith atop the pitcher’s mound throws a baseball with his left hand. The Smith who stood in the batter’s box swings a baseball bat from the right side.

In the annals of MLB postseason history, with thousands of games played, never before had two men with the same name faced one another. Will Smith, the pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, against Will Smith, the catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And it’s important to note that they’re both Will, because Will Smith vs. William Smith, or Will Smith vs. Will Smyth, or Wil Smith vs. Will Smith — those simply wouldn’t be the same. They’d be cute. They just wouldn’t be history. These are grown men, remember, men who choose to bear the name Will Smith, which happens to be shared by the person who, during their childhood, was arguably the biggest movie star in the world. Each could have remained William Smith, who’s an accountant or a banker or a truck driver or cashier. Both instead chose Will Smith, who punches aliens in the face.

That the National League Championship Series pitted them at perhaps its most vital moment made the confrontation that much more delicious. The Braves entered Game 5 of the series with a 3-1 advantage over the Dodgers. One Atlanta win would secure its first World Series appearance since 1999. The Braves led the Dodgers 2-1 in the top of the sixth inning when the dream of the tiniest niche imaginable — baseball geek/onomastics nerd — turned into a meme for the masses.

The at-bat was magnificent, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. However plain their names, the two Will Smiths who play baseball are very good. The pitcher signed a $40 million free-agent contract with the Braves over the winter. The catcher earlier this postseason became one of nine players ever to record five hits in a playoff game.

Old Will threw a first-pitch curveball and bent it into the top of the zone for strike one. He benefited from plate umpire Dan Iassogna’s friendly strike zone to get a called strike with a fastball on the inside corner. During at-bats in which he went down 0-2 this season, Young Will hit only .174.

He took two fastballs, at 94 and 95 mph, high and inside to even the count. He spit on a near-perfect slider — one closer to the plate than the pitch Iassogna called strike two. The count was full. The runners on first and second would be moving with two outs. As soon as the low-and-inside 94.5 mph fastball arrived, it exited precisely 10 mph faster. The ball soared into the night at Globe Life Field.

Smith the Dodger is not known for his expressions of joy. Zeno of Citium would marvel at his stoicism. So Smith’s reaction — bounding down the first-base line, caterwauling toward his dugout, rounding the bases having given the Dodgers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a season-saving 7-3 victory — illustrated the import of the moment as much as anything.

This wasn’t just a cute story of two guys named Will Smith playing baseball against one another. If the Dodgers do come back to beat the Braves on Saturday in Game 6 and then Sunday in Game 7 and win their first World Series since 1988, that at-bat — Will Smith vs. Will Smith — will mark the turning point every bit as much as Mookie Betts’ shoestring catch earlier in the game or the phenomenal walk by Max Muncy that preceded the Smiths’ at-bat.

“I’ll always bet on our Will Smith,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

When Fox went to commercial after the top of the sixth, it played one of actor/rapper Will Smith’s hits, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” Which was fine, even though he’s technically not William Smith; he was born Willard Carroll Smith Jr.

There are Will Smiths everywhere. A Will Smith running for office, a Will Smith who’s a comedian, a Will Smith who plays the drums, a Will Smith who works in local TV. Will Smith is Black. Will Smith is white. Will Smith plays baseball. Will Smith plays football. Will Smith will smith, so long as he’s got the proper materials.

“It’s a common enough name,” the Dodgers’ Smith later said, and because the Braves’ Smith did not speak after the game, this is pretty much all that was said by the subject on the subject. Actually, Dodger Smith did say he went to high school with another Will Smith, but that’s no surprise: Smith was one of 521 Williams born in Kentucky in 1995.

The internet loved it all. Will Smith trended No. 1 nationally on Twitter. Bots were posting the words “Will Smith” and attaching political memes. There were jokes about “Gemini Man,” the movie where alien-punching Will Smith faces a younger version of himself. It was funny for about three seconds. Fine. Maybe five.

What most didn’t realize is that exponential Will Smith was nothing new. On Sept. 7, 2019, Dodger Will Smith stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning as the go-ahead run and would face then-Giant Will Smith. The count ran full that time too, and pitcher Smith buried a back-foot slider over which catcher Smith swung. Friday was his revenge.

There could be a third act, one to settle the score for now. In Game 4, Smith stood on deck while Smith stood on the mound. They never were going to face one another in that particular scenario — the lefty-against-righty matchup is one Atlanta typically wants to avoid — but it showed what could be.

On Friday, we found out. It was an at-bat 230 years in the making. And it was well worth the wait.

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Barcelona and Real Madrid have their issues, but who needs to win El Clasico more?

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BARCELONA — Let me remind you of a Clasico-related statistic which is absolutely jaw-dropping and seems to be barely mentioned.

Real Madrid are, pound for pound, the most successful and prestigious club side in the history of football. No doubt about it. Not because they’ve won the most Spanish league titles by far (34 to Barcelona’s 26), but because they have utterly dominated the most powerful footballing continent since the European Cup was invented in the 1950s.

Whether it’s the early stranglehold of five straight European Cup wins from 1956-1960, the epic middle stage between 1998’s redemption and perhaps the greatest goal in a Champions league final (Zinedine Zidane‘s volley in 2002), or the first hat trick of wins (2016-18) since Bayern Munich (1974-76), Real Madrid write big football stories and paint their signature across their continent with a flourish.

So, consider this: Real Madrid, this footballing behemoth, have retained the Spanish title just once — yes, please check your eyes, ONCE in the last 30 years.

This is the competition which many top footballers and managers emphasise, over and again, is the most significant prize. The 38-week slog; a litmus test not simply of budget or skill but of grit, determination, character, luck and sheer bloody-mindedness. The competition which Zidane said made him the “happiest” to have won.

From 1990 onwards Los Blancos have won the title in 1995, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2017 and 2020. But for the exception of the Fabio Capello/Bernd Schuster follow-on triumphs from 2006-08, Real Madrid conquering La Liga has been followed by either Deportivo La Coruna, Valencia, Atletico or Barcelona taking it away from them.

What’s that saying about it being easier to reach the top than to stay there? A priori, this was their year. The opportunity to end this dismal record was simply beckoning to them: Barcelona and Valencia in various degrees of disarray; Atletico Madrid fighting to keep hold of Jan Oblak and Jose Gimenez, without the budget to reinforce heavily and Thomas Partey heading to London; Sevilla threatening but without any experience of winning Spain‘s Primera Division since 1946.

It’s not quite Madrid’s league just for the taking, but a certainly a golden chance to remove a stain on their otherwise gleaming record and retain their crown.

Cut to the present. As the first Clasico of the season approaches, Madrid are admittedly just a point off the top, having played fewer matches than the leaders, and are ahead of traditional rivals Atleti and Barca — who both have a game in hand.

However, Zidane’s team has degenerated from playing pretty unimpressively in the first few weeks to performing absolutely atrociously against newly-promoted Cadiz to lose 1-0 last weekend. As the proud Frenchman, such a magnet for success both as a footballer or coach, admitted glumly afterwards: “If Cadiz had stuck two or three past us in that first half then no drama, we’d have had no excuses.” And this about a modest Andaluz club which had never won away at Real Madrid before in their history and only tasted top division football for the first time in 1977.

Madrid then followed up that result with something approaching humiliation in a 3-2 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Wednesday. The underlying trend, despite what La Liga’s table says, is that Madrid’s players, in the main, look jaded, not sufficiently committed to the hard work which made them domestically formidable last season.

From powerful to puny in just a few short weeks. There are exceptions, and the prognosis is not wholly gloomy, but Saturday’s Clasico at Camp Nou comes at a bad time. Part of Madrid’s apparently allergic reaction to winning the Spanish title in the first place is that they also have an awful habit of competing poorly in the first Clasico of their title-defence season.

– Madrid ratings: Real slump to dismal defeat vs. Shakhtar
– Barca ratings: Messi, Ansu star in rout of Ferencvaros

Indeed Los Blancos haven’t won that first Clasico as defending champions since December 2007. It was a firm win, at Camp Nou, with a lovely Julio Baptista lob over Victor Valdes as its emblem — Madrid’s second consecutive Spanish championship was eventually won at a canter a few months later. But that win unleashed a whirlwind of new football ideas, personalities and playing philosophy at Camp Nou, with Pep Guardiola being wooed by Joan Laporta not long after Baptista’s shot hit the net … though that’s a whole different story.

A Clasico which is played on matchday seven, in mid-October, simply can’t be called “title-crucial” or a definitive moment for either Barcelona or Madrid. Nevertheless, an away win for Zidane’s troubled side would be a massive first step away from this three-decade long tendency to go all weak and floppy in their title defence.

Lose and there’s certainly time to regroup, recoup the distance and end up with the trophy; win, however, and there would definitely be psychological significance — positive for the reigning champions and negative for the Bambi-steps which Ronald Koeman and his band of talented youngsters are beginning to take in Barcelona.

Unless you’re a diehard Barcelona fan it’s arguable that if Madrid were at full speed, if most of their senior players performed around their best, then Koeman’s re-shaping of the squad and his daring penchant for trusting ability irrespective of youth might be buffeted off course. Temporarily at least.

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Ale Moreno thinks Lionel Messi has finally realised the “false nine” position doesn’t suit his style of play.

Barcelona are undoubtedly working harder, look less lackadaisical, in fact disinterested, than under Quique Setien. In patches against a paper-thin Villarreal, throughout the 10-man victory over Celta in Vigo, for first-half spells in the 1-0 loss against Getafe, then for the majority of their 5-1 thrashing of Ferencvaros in the Champions League, Barcelona have been genuinely fun to watch.

There’s a huge wave of freshness, impishness, hard work, inventiveness and daring from Sergino Dest, Pedri, Francisco Trincao, Ansu Fati, Ronald Araujo and even the long-absent and mysteriously dopy Ousmane Dembele. Bit by bit, Frenkie de Jong is dusting off his armoury of skills, Lionel Messi isn’t sulking, Miralem Pjanic will soon be pushing to take Sergio Busquets‘ position and Philippe Coutinho has become a much more confident, impulsive footballer since his boot-camp reboot saw him win the Treble on loan at Bayern Munich.

Nevertheless there’s a scenario where four guys who are 20 or under — Trincao, Pedri, Ansu and Dest — have important roles against Madrid. Ditto two constantly injured strangers to the first-team, Junior Firpo and Dembele.

These are all, in the heat of a ‘no quarter given’ battle, decent sized risks. And Koeman now has a big dilemma as to whether Antoine Griezmann, who just can’t catch a break and probably wouldn’t be confident of catching a beach ball if it were thrown to him from close range, should start. Good player, good guy, but a good distance away from looking convincing.

So if Zidane had an XI with Thibaut Courtois, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Ferland Mendy, Luka Modric, Federico Valverde, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard all fit, in decent form and brimming with competitive aggression, you’d back them to come to Camp Nou and win. But he doesn’t. Far from it.

That Casemiro and Courtois are by far two of Madrid’s three most important footballers — the other being Ramos — tells you a lot. This stellar, scintillating, star-driven football outfit don’t yet have a player — not Benzema, not Vinicius Jr. (yet), nor Hazard (when?), certainly not poor old €60m striker Luka Jovic who is making Griezmann’s current form look like Ballon d’Or standard — who takes our breath away. No creative magician; no relentless goal poacher.

Benzema is a diamond, but he’s more of an acquired taste and, currently, he’s struggling for form; Vinicius is gradually adding brains to his brio and bravado; while Hazard, according to his Belgium teammate Courtois, will “erupt” soon. Well, perhaps in mid-November according to the smoke signals from Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground.

Will Ramos definitely be fit and on form? I would have said that he’ll play come hell or high water but why is it always on him, aged 34 and perpetually the hungriest man at Real Madrid, who’s got to produce the Seventh Cavalry act in matches which threaten to slip away?

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Ale Moreno slams the first-half performance of Real Madrid in their 3-2 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Casemiro and Valverde are still shaking off the jet lag that comes from respective 30-hour round trips from Brazil and Uruguay and the pressure of playing for their nations in South America’s World Cup qualification process. But it’s Toni Kroos who perturbs me. All season, after a masterclass in winning the title, the German midfield manipulator has been second to the loose ball, slow to press and disinterested in running back to cover gaps. This Madrid team can’t afford that.

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And they simply don’t score a sufficient number of goals either. Not killer goals when they are on top; not lucky goals when they pinch a win; not goals to get out of jail with a draw; not goals which divert in off Benzema’s backside.

In their last 14 Liga matches you’ll find eight single-goal wins, one 0-0 draw and a single goal defeat — perpetually teetering on a tightrope. Those single goal wins look like things of shimmering beauty when you look at them as stats, they count for three points just the same as a 5-0 thrashing and they won Zidane’s squad the title, but the margin for error, if it continues as it has this season, is too slim. Only three two-goal margins in 14 matches for a club like Madrid is not a healthy sign.

Still, Madrid are jam-packed full of talent and character and are liable to squeeze some of those attractive facets out of tired limbs and minds when they see Blaugrana stripes in front of them this weekend. Barcelona are twinkle-toed, slender, and deft — but, last week, Getafe showed Madrid how to out-muscle them.

If Koeman gets his team selection right and they play at a high, confident tempo, then Barca can win. But if Zidane is to become the first Real manager in 30 long years to retain the title then it’s Madrid who go into the game knowing that they ‘must’ win.

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Can Joe Milton put a stop to Michigan’s quarterback carousel?

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When Michigan plays Minnesota on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), it will mark the first time Jim Harbaugh opens a season as head coach of the Wolverines with a starting quarterback he recruited out of high school.

Let that sink in.

Harbaugh has had holdovers from the previous staff and transfers brought in in an attempt to patch holes in his five previous seasons in Ann Arbor. One of his recruits started a few games, but never someone who won the job in the offseason.

Quarterback hasn’t been Michigan’s only problem, but it is a position that has held its offense back in the past. In 2019, Michigan had a solid offensive line, playmaking wide receivers on the outside and options at running back. But it was missing that final piece.

Coaches hope they now have that in Joe Milton.

“If you said who’s probably one of the most improved players on the team, obviously I would like to throw Joe in that mix,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said. “I don’t want to just say that from a physical standpoint, when we’re talking about improvement and improvement comes in a number of different ways. Leadership, physically and then obviously being able to learn the offense.”

Harbaugh wouldn’t go as far as naming Milton the starter even though he has been running with the first team in practice, but all signs point to the 2018 four-star recruit taking over. A 6-foot-5, 243-pound quarterback from Pahokee, Florida, Milton has the tools and ability to elevate the Wolverines’ offense. Some of his coaches and teammates believe he could be a future first-round NFL draft pick.

As everyone focuses how Michigan’s offense will perform against its toughest competition — mainly Ohio State — it begs the question of whether Milton is the Wolverines’ missing piece.

“I think that he’s, I know that he’s very ready. He’s playing with so much confidence,” safety Brad Hawkins said. “The way that he’s very poised, he comes out there every day ready to work. His confidence is just off the charts and I just can’t wait to see what he brings to the table and what he does for this offense and this football team Saturday.”

Struggles under center

In Harbaugh’s first recruiting class, 2015, Michigan signed ESPN 300 quarterback Zach Gentry, a 6-7, 237-pound prospect from New Mexico who flipped from Texas. He also signed four-star in-state quarterback Alex Malzone. Both of them were options down the road as Harbaugh brought in Jake Rudock, a transfer from Iowa meant to be more a transition piece than a trend-starter.

Rudock threw for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns in a 10-3 season, and there was positivity around the program despite losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. But Gentry switched to tight end once he hit campus and Malzone never attempted a pass in three years, eventually transferring to Miami (Ohio).

In 2016, Michigan turned to Brady Hoke recruit Wilton Speight and Houston transfer John O’Korn. Behind them was Brandon Peters, rated the No. 3 pocket passer in the 2016 recruiting class, a quarterback Michigan hoped would be Harbaugh’s big recruit and who was slated to sit and develop before taking over under center.

Michigan went 10-3 again that season, with losses to Iowa and Ohio State, as well as Florida State in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Speight completed 61.6% of his passes and threw for 2,538 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“Joe got here a semester before me, but I’ve been around Joe just as much as anybody and he’s just lights out right now. It’s very exciting to play alongside him.” Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell

The next season brought on many doubts at the quarterback position. Speight broke three vertebrae in his back in a Week 4 win over Purdue, which brought O’Korn and Peters to the field.

The three combined for only nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season. As a team, Michigan finished 113th among all FBS programs in completion percentage, 108th in yards per attempt, 76th in interceptions per attempt and 123rd in touchdowns per attempt.

The hope surrounding Peters deflated after he went 36-for-63 with 482 yards and four touchdowns in games against Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland and Wisconsin. He relinquished the job to Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson and ultimately transferred to Illinois prior to the 2019 season.

Patterson won the job over Dylan McCaffrey, an ESPN 300 quarterback in the 2017 class who has attempted only 35 passes in 11 games — and announced he will transfer after this season — and Milton, who was rated the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 class.

In 2018, Michigan was 79th in passing yards per game with only 215.7 yards per game, 29th in yards per attempt, 65th in interceptions per attempt, 48th in passing touchdowns overall and 43rd in interceptions overall.

The 2019 season started off rough, but there was a change in the middle of Gattis’ first season as offensive coordinator. Michigan had the biggest improvement in Bill Connelly’s SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency, from the first half to the second, going from 66th to 21st.

The offense started to click in the three games prior to the matchup against Ohio State, a stretch during which Patterson averaged 300.3 yards per game, threw 10 touchdowns to only one interception, and threw catchable attempts on 81.53% of his passes.

The problem, however, came in the five regular-season games against ranked opponents, which accounted for three of Michigan’s four losses in 2019. In those five games, Patterson averaged a 49.6% completion percentage and 209.4 yards passing. He had five touchdowns to four interceptions and his catchable attempts dropped to 72.54%.

It’s those games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State — the biggest stage — where Michigan is looking for leadership and a quarterback who can perform.

That’s where the Wolverines hope Milton can step in.

“We’ve got a quarterback leading the offense, leading the entire team in a very special way,” defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said. “You look at Joe and you just, you’re just excited for Joe because you know everything he’s gone through to get to this point. … It’s like, seeing all of that come to fruition is incredible and what we have at quarterback is very special.

“A very special leader, very special guy and I’m very excited for him.”

‘You knew one day … it’ll be his time’

When the Wolverines signed Milton in 2018, an assistant coach said privately he believed Milton would eventually be the best quarterback Harbaugh has had at Michigan.

What Milton brings to the table that’s different than Michigan’s past quarterbacks begins with his physical attributes. He has the size and the ability to make plays with his feet. Gattis and defensive coordinator Don Brown also note Milton’s power with his arm, something that can be a blessing and a curse. That has been part of his development: He doesn’t need to use all his speed and power in every throw.

“Everyone’s got all five fingers, so there’s no fingers getting jammed out there, no one losing anything,” Gattis said. “His accuracy has been exceptional, and that was one of the things we had talked about as far as taking RPMs off of it. Knowing how to give a catchable ball and that was never — accuracy as far as ball placement was never an issue.

“Sometimes the issue had been in the past is whether or not those receivers could catch it that fast.”

What might separate Milton most, though, is his confidence and his command of the offense and the team. Brown said Milton sometimes pops into his office to ask about coverages and the defense’s different looks to help him prepare. Leadership can’t be quantified and being a vocal leader is something that is learned, but Michigan has needed that presence at quarterback.

“You watch him grow since freshman year and I go back to Joe’s freshman year when he was scout quarterback,” Kemp said. “How he led the scout team, you knew one day that, OK, this guy right here, when it’s his time, it’ll be his time and it’s going to be very special. And now he’s grown up into his third year with the same guys that he used to lead on that scout team.”

Sure, Michigan’s recent quarterback history cautions against buying into the hype, and Milton has yet to start a game for the Wolverines. But there is a different sense of optimism when it comes to Milton.

“Joe as a quarterback, I talked about it with one of the guys probably like a week ago, this is the best I’ve ever seen Joe,” Ronnie Bell, Michigan’s leading receiver in 2019, said in September. “Joe got here a semester before me, but I’ve been around Joe just as much as anybody and he’s just lights out right now. It’s very exciting to play alongside him.”

The Wolverines have recruited more speed to accommodate what Gattis wants to see on the field, in the form of wide receivers Mike Sainristil, Giles Jackson, A.J. Henning and Roman Wilson. There’s finally a group of running backs to give Michigan a strong ground game, with Zach Charbonnet, Chris Evans, Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum and Christian Turner.

There are pieces around Milton that will ease the pressure on him. Michigan doesn’t need Milton to be mistake-free, but the Wolverines need him to elevate the offense against tougher competition on the schedule. They need him to solidify himself as a trustworthy and reliable passer to stop the quarterback carousel.

“I just like to credit [quarterbacks] Coach [Ben] McDaniels and Coach Harbaugh and those guys developing that position, because I’ll tell you it was scary a little bit for us, losing a quarterback, a starting quarterback,” Gattis said. “Going into the offseason, I really challenged [the quarterbacks] and said, ‘Hey, we need someone to step up and show us they can lead this team.’ And what we’ve seen so far from Cade [McNamara, a sophomore] and Joe, both those guys display a tremendous amount of talent to be able to lead this team at the quarterback position, and obviously both guys are playing really well.”

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A pair of unbeatens in the Group of 5 face off, plus what to expect in the Big Ten’s return

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The biggest college football game on Saturday? It’s happening in Dallas between No. 9 Cincinnati and No. 16 SMU — two of the nine unbeaten teams left in the FBS.

If you’re eager for the Big Ten’s return, the Bearcats vs. the Mustangs may not be the game you’re most excited for. But these two ranked Group of 5 teams face an opportunity to add a résumé-building win in an attempt to accomplish the seemingly impossible: make the College Football Playoff.

We’re not getting ahead of ourselves here — even in a season when most conferences have started on their own time and are playing their own conference-specific schedules, a G5 team’s best effort might not make the committee bat an eye, but it’s fun to root for chaos.

SMU will be Cincinnati’s biggest test of the season since its 24-10 win over Army on Sept. 26. And while the Bearcats haven’t played since Oct. 3 (their Oct. 17 game at Tulsa was postponed due to COVID-19 cases within the Cincinnati program), they have been consistent in their three games so far.

Of note: their defense that is ranked 5th in SP+. That still “wins championships” right?

With SMU, we weren’t completely sure what to expect out of them. Sonny Dykes took over in 2018 (going 5-7 that season) and quickly turned things around with a 10-3 season in 2019.

Through five games this year, they’ve proven 2019 was no flash in the pan, and have presented themselves as a real challenger at the top of the conference. QB Shane Buechele is a big reason why, completing just under 67% of his passes for 1,710 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

This game is a later start (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) so you should make time for it. Even if you’re just casually flipping over for a drive or two. Keep that football palate diverse. You’ll thank us later.

SMU’s super fan keeps streak alive

For a while last Saturday, Paul Layne remained in his seat, watching his beloved SMU take on Tulane, the 525th straight Mustangs game he has attended. Then it dawned on him: Why not get up and move around? After all, he wouldn’t be blocking anyone’s view.

For 44 years, Layne has been a fixture in the stands — home and away — but last week’s game was unique. Tulane wasn’t allowing fans for the visiting team because of COVID-19 protocols, but Layne was able to pull a few strings and nab a ticket. That left him all alone, save a hundred or so cardboard cutouts. TV cameras trained on him, a perfect visual expression of college football in 2020, and suddenly Layne was a celebrity.

“My phone went dead from so many people texting,” Layne said.

It doesn’t hurt that there are a lot more eyes on SMU these days, too. The No. 16 Mustangs face off against No. 9 Cincinnati on Saturday, arguably the biggest game in three decades for the program. A top-25 ranking and marquee matchups have been a welcome return to glory after so many years of bad teams.

“For a long time, I didn’t know if I’d live long enough to do that again,” Layne said. “It’s a very exciting time now.”

Layne’s streak started when he was a freshman at SMU, serving as a cheerleader. He’s 66 now. Somewhere around Year 17, it finally dawned on him that perhaps the streak was something he should work to keep alive, and last week’s game wasn’t his first near-miss. In 1995, Layne came down with chicken pox. Fortunately for him, the game was on Halloween weekend. SMU was playing Rice, and the Owls weren’t bringing many fans, so Layne dressed as a scarecrow and took a seat in an empty section of the old Cotton Bowl typically reserved for visiting fans.

Keeping the streak alive during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a trickier proposition. SMU is allowing 25% capacity for its home games, including Saturday’s showdown against Cincinnati, but the road trips have been a tougher ticket. Layne said he booked his travel in May, though he was doubtful any games would even be played.

The next tough call comes Nov. 5 at Temple, where fans still aren’t allowed in the stadium. He’s planning to fly to Philadelphia anyway, and if he has to watch the game from outside the stadium, he’s confident he’ll find a view that will make the trip worth it.

“I couldn’t imagine being somewhere else on a Saturday afternoon or evening other than an SMU game,” Layne said. “I guess I’m kind of loyal. Or crazy.”

What else to watch

How many points does Clemson score against Syracuse?

It’s been a tough season for the Orange. Syracuse is 1-4, with one of the worst games in program history coming last week in a 38-21 loss to Liberty, which racked up over 300 yards in the first half alone. Their lone victory came against Georgia Tech, whom Clemson hung 73 on last week. With the way Syracuse has looked this season, there’s a non-zero chance that Clemson could do that again this week. If the Orange can prevent Clemson from having their punter play a whole series at quarterback, they will have done better than Georgia Tech.

Auburn‘s bad offense vs. Ole Miss‘s bad defense

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Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin doesn’t want the loss to effect this week’s preparation and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn is focused on less self-inflecting penalties.

Auburn’s offense has been hot and cold all season, and it’s been the latter more times than not. Ole Miss’ defense hasn’t shown any signs of being able to stop any offense, with their best performance (can you call it a performance?) coming against Arkansas, when it gave up 33 points. Auburn QB Bo Nix will probably be able to find WR Seth Williams for a big play or two, but as inconsistent as Auburn has been offensively, there is no reason Ole Miss can’t counter with a couple of big plays of their own.

Don’t sleep on Minnesota

In case you haven’t heard all week, Big Ten football is back this weekend. There’s — appropriately — a lot of talk about Ohio State and Justin Fields. But one team that isn’t being discussed enough, particularly in a wide-open Big Ten West, is Minnesota, who opens up against Michigan. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is coming off of a solid sophomore campaign in which he threw for 3,253 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven picks. Lucky for him, future first-round NFL draft pick wideout Rashod Bateman opted back in and has been cleared to play this season. Going up against Michigan will be a nice early test, and barometer for what we might be able to expect from the Gophers this season.

LSU‘s rebound attempt

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LSU’s Ed Orgeron knows it will be a tough game against the Gamecocks as South Carolina’s Will Muschamp says it’s his job as a coach to keep his team dialed in weekly.

The Tigers need a win against South Carolina. Their Week 1 loss to Mississippi State didn’t seem awful at the time, especially since K.J. Costello threw for the most yards in any SEC game — ever. Since then, Costello was benched against Texas A&M, and the LSU defense gave up 45 points in a loss to Missouri. A game against South Carolina would usually be a nice and easy way to turn things around, but on top of their poor defensive play through three games, QB Myles Brennan may miss the game with a ‘significant’ lower-body injury. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said Monday he’s confident in either of their freshmen quarterbacks (TJ Finley or Max Johnson) to start, but there’s still plenty of concern in Baton Rouge.

Game Day Q&A with former Coastal Carolina head coach Joe Moglia

As the chairman of TD Ameritrade, Joe Moglia is helping shepherd through a deal with Charles Schwab that will end with the company having a market cap around $75 billion — and it also means he’ll be stepping down from his role. He’s done that before, though. In 2001, Moglia took a break from his job as CEO and got into coaching — a profession he’d left 20 years earlier — eventually becoming the head football coach at Coastal Carolina from 2011 through 2018. He’s written books on finance and football and is working on a new one on leadership, just as his Chanticleers have reached the top 25 for the first time in team history. We caught up with Moglia to talk Coastal Carolina, his former boss Bo Pelini, and the future of college football amid a COVID-19 financial crunch.

ESPN: What has it been like to see Coastal reach this level of success? Did you ever envision the program could be nationally ranked so soon after moving up to FBS?

Moglia: I couldn’t be prouder. You look at the staff, I recruited [head coach] Jamey [Chadwell]. I’ve always believed in him and thought he’d be a great successor and would do a great job of leading Coastal’s football team. … I really did envision we could become an elite FCS program. That prompted the Sun Belt to invite us. It takes a while to transition the scholarships and the transition with the coaching staff. … But I always thought we’d wind up being competitive. To beat a nationally ranked team, to be nationally ranked, to be undefeated at this point of the season — I definitely believed we could be competitive and hold our own.

ESPN: When you decided to get back into coaching, you spent two years working with Bo Pelini at Nebraska. He’s off to a rough start as the defensive coordinator at LSU now. Do you think he can get things fixed?

Moglia: I worked with Bo for two years as the executive advisor to the head football coach. Frankly, if I didn’t have that opportunity, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity at Coastal. He’s a good friend, a loyal guy, a very bright guy, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that. I really think that Bo is a tremendous defensive coordinator. He won a national championship at LSU before. Our defenses were always really good at Nebraska and he was the person behind that. I have no doubt they’ll figure it out and get done what they need to get done.

Player to watch

Lyles: Ohio State QB Justin Fields

I’m only kind of sorry I don’t have a deeper cut of an answer for you guys here this week, but I really, really want to see this guy play this weekend. Fields is one of the best players in the country, and I want to see how he comes out in the Buckeyes’ opener. Last season against Nebraska, he went 15-of-21 with 212 yards passing and three touchdowns, and added 72 yards and a TD on the ground. Don’t be surprised if he does better than that on Saturday.

Hale: Notre Dame QB Ian Book

The Irish are ranked No. 3 in the country, but their competition has accounted for just three FBS wins so far, and last week’s lackluster performance against Louisville offers cause for concern. More concerning is the struggles of the passing game. Book has just three completions of 20 yards or more to wide receivers this season. Meanwhile, Pitt’s defense can be dominant, and the Panthers’ secondary is more than capable of challenging the Irish receivers. Brian Kelly has made a point of saying he wants to get the passing game going, and this will be a good test for Book and Co. to see if they can improve on the unimpressive numbers thus far.

Under-the-radar game of the week

Lyles: Georgia Southern vs. Coastal Carolina

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Massimo Biscardi’s 40-yard field goal is good, giving Coastal Carolina the 30-27 win.

It feels like the Sun Belt produces at least one game that you must keep your eye on each week, and for the second straight week, Coastal Carolina (now ranked No. 25 in the AP poll) is featured. Georgia Southern is 3-1 this season, with the lone loss to a ranked Louisiana team that just narrowly lost to Coastal last week. The intrigue in this game for me is mostly about answering this question, “How good is Coastal Carolina, actually?” Because while Southern might not be their toughest game to date, it’s still a good test.

Hale: Arkansas State at Appalachian State

The Sun Belt has arguably been the most fun conference in college football so far, with last week’s showdown between Arkansas State and Georgia State serving as Exhibit A, a 59-52 Red Wolves win. After the win, Arkansas State fired its defensive coordinator. Its offense, however, has been incredible, with its two-QB system of Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher combining for more than 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns so far. App State was the preseason favorite in the Sun Belt, but an early loss to Marshall was followed by two straight postponements due to COVID-19. How will Zac Thomas and company respond? It might start with getting the ground game going. That was the bread and butter of the Mountaineers’ attack in 2019, but the unit managed just 96 yards on 33 carries in the loss to Marshall.

Upset of the week

Lyles: TCU over Oklahoma

I don’t feel very confident with this pick, but if Oklahoma continues to be sloppy on defense, it can definitely happen. Both teams have won and lost the same number of games in the Big 12, a place I never thought we’d be at this point in the season. Of course, Spencer Rattler could make me look silly and pop off, which I wouldn’t be mad about.

Hale: South Carolina over LSU

The defense is a mess. The quarterback is hurt. The depth chart is depleted. LSU is reeling, and there’s a real concern it is going to be tough to turn things around in the short term. Meanwhile, South Carolina is riding high after a stunning upset of Auburn, and the Gamecocks’ offense, which has been a disaster during the bulk of Will Muschamp’s tenure, has shown some real explosiveness at times this season. It is always risky betting against a desperate LSU team at home, but there is a lot of ground the Tigers need to make up in a hurry if they want to win this one.

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