Campus Cleanup: Penn State just one of the college football teams rising from the dead

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Look, the zombies are everywhere. They’ve just popped up on the nutty night in Happy Valley. They’ve streamed across the Loveliest Village on the Plains. See them materialize out of midair from the Appalachian Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Louisiana bayou.

They’re even coming from Dallas.

Some were dead for weeks; others, for years or even decades. They’re all looking freshly undead now.

There’s a batch of them from P-P-P-Penn State. Most of us had forgotten about Penn State. Now, going on midnight in the East, inexplicable things began happening. Penn State blocked an Ohio State punt with 11:10 left. Penn State blocked an Ohio State field goal with 4:27 left, scooped up that thing and ran it 60 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, with this Grant Haley chased by the holder who doubles as an outstanding Australian punter. The Nittany Lions preserved their win through sacks of the elusive J.T. Barrett and through interfering with a receiver when nobody was looking, what with everyone concerned with zombies.

Dead, forgotten Penn State inverts all the known experiences and upends the whole season. It dislodges Ohio State from the No. 2 spot and drops Urban Meyer’s Ohio State record to 56-5 by picking at a Meyer stronghold: the special teams. Roughly 107,280 go mad, fill the field with white shirts while Penn State Coach James Franklin loses his mind on ABC and claims the win “starts our healing process.”

For a school that “suffered” because of sexual abuse that imperiled the lives of others, this comment was stupendously inappropriate, but it’s easy to lose your mind with zombies everywhere.

Down on the Loveliest Village on the Plain, the Auburn season had stalled at 1-2. The vaunted offense had gasped at 266 yards against Clemson, a pretty good 399 against Texas A&M. A win over LSU needed a game-winning replay reversal.

Now, the season stands at 5-2. Now, the offense just rang up 632 total yards on No. 17 Arkansas, a 543-25 advantage in rushing. Now, in a win by the mind-addling score of 56-3, everything works. Eli Stove goes 78 yards on the first play. Quarterback Sean White tells reporters, “It seemed like every play we were calling was just working.”

Now, even the once-dormant Iron Bowl, set for Nov. 26 in Tuscaloosa, looks enticing.

Now, what’s this emerging from the pretty green mountains of West Virginia? Nobody thought about West Virginia in August, when everybody sits to concoct their preseason rankings. In the little area called “Others Receiving Votes” beneath the Associated Press top 25, the others receiving votes were Miami (Fla.), Texas A&M, Utah, Washington State, Boise State, San Diego State, Wisconsin, Auburn, Pittsburgh, Arkansas, Texas, Nebraska, Navy, Northwestern, Western Kentucky, South Florida and Toledo. None was West Virginia.

West Virginia began the calendar year 2016 with a 43-42 win over Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl. No one noticed. Now, after a 34-10 pounding of TCU (No. 13 in preseason), West Virginia is uncommonly alive at 6-0, ranking No. 12 and bubbling. And it’s finding some nice reflections out of Lubbock.

One week after the Mountaineers went into Lubbock and limited Texas Tech to 17 points, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II completed 52 of 88 passes for 734 yards and five touchdowns — against Oklahoma.

He and Texas Tech also lost, 66-59, as the total-yards category wound up at a brain-frying 854-854, which did make a fine reflection on West Virginia, which goes to Oklahoma State next and welcomes Oklahoma on Nov. 19 and Baylor on Dec. 3.

On the Great Plains, ghosts prowl anew. Nebraska, which had gotten lampooned for firing a coach who won about two-thirds of the time, based on some nostalgic premise of expected glory, stands 7-0. When it heads into Wisconsin next weekend, both teams figure to occupy the top 10. Of course, Nebraska remains so ghostly that nobody much believes in it, and somebody did ask quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. about whether it would be helpful to play a top 10 team for some telltale measurement.

“Yeah,” Armstrong said helpfully.

He added, “It’s on our schedule, so we’re going to play it, regardless.”

That would be true, even if we all thought we probably wouldn’t have to bother to notice.

And what’s this under the Rockies? It’s Colorado, forgotten and ignored and neglected for so long that many might have wondered whether it had ceased operations and decided to concentrate solely on something bizarre, such as academics. Some might remember that Colorado won an AP national title in 1990, a chaotic year in which the title probably should have stayed vacated like those music competitions that sometimes declare no winner.

The Buffaloes joined the Pacific-12 earlier this decade. Also earlier this decade, they went 3-10 in 2011, 1-10 in 2012, 4-8 in 2013, 2-10 in 2014 and 4-9 in 2015. That added up to 14-47. In an era with so many bowls that you can get into one almost by breathing, nobody has seen them in a bowl since the 2007 Independence Bowl, which they lost, 30-24, to Alabama, in its first season under Nick Saban.

Now, they’re bowl-eligible at the most appealing 6-2 mark in the land, and it’s not even November. They just zombie’d their way to a 10-5 win at defending conference and Rose Bowl champion Stanford, after which any Colorado fan who isn’t nouveau might have wept as quarterback Sefo Liufau spoke to Buffs TV, referred to the dreary days and said, “No one left. That’s the big thing. No one left. No one quit on each other. We all stayed here.”

Then, in the night in Louisiana, LSU, presumed dormant at 2-2 with the axing of longtime coach Les Miles, has surged to 5-2 under interim coach Ed Orgeron. Running back Leonard Fournette, forgotten while injured, rampaged through a 38-21 win over Ole Miss for 284 rushing yards on 16 — 16! — carries, a terrifying 17.8 yards per. He scored from 76 yards and, with that not quite good enough, 78. Then he went on ESPN and said his mother would be cooking his post-game meal: “Mostly gumbo.”

It should be gluten-free gumbo, because the next match comes Nov. 5 at home against No. 1 Alabama, which certainly is no zombie, but whose November schedule suddenly looks full of hazardous zombies with both LSU and Auburn.

And if all that rising from the dead weren’t enough, there came a win Saturday from a program that actually did spend time dead. SMU, which received the NCAA’s death penalty in the late 1980s, and once lost famously to Houston by 95-21, up and beat No. 11 Houston, 38-16, for possibly its largest win since those dead days.

It concluded a downer week for Houston, which didn’t get into the Big 12 when the buzzards circled over the expansion possibilities there. It became SMU’s first win over a team ranked that highly since it tripped Pitt, 7-3, in the 1982 Cotton Bowl. Said Coach Chad Morris, former Clemson assistant and nice man: “And I shared with our players for the last two weeks, it takes just one [win] to start a revolution.”

Sometimes it takes one, sometimes it takes several, sometimes it takes 543 rushing yards and sometimes it takes two lunatic blocked kicks in someplace called Happy Valley.

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