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Seven Comeback Stories to Watch Out for Down the Stretch

Seven Comeback Stories to Watch Out for Down the Stretch

Quite a few programs have put themselves in position to finish the season strong after stumbling out of the gate.

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where California’s offense is literally a fireable offense:

MORE DASH: Playoff Picture | A&M’s Implosion | Michigan’s Resumé Weakness

Fourth Quarter


The Dash salutes a few things we’d given up on earlier this season, but now have gotten their respective acts together well enough to reignite some interest and excitement:

The Florida-Florida State game (31). The Gators (6–4) and Seminoles (7–3) are heavily favored this week and should come into their season-ending rivalry game with at least seven wins apiece. While that seems like a relatively modest benchmark for programs of their history, it’s been a while since it happened—2016, in fact, a combined six head coaches ago if you count the interims.

This season looked like it might again get away from both programs at varying points. Florida State had a three-game losing streak that left it 4–3, and Florida was 4–4. Since then, they’ve combined for five straight wins to set the stage for a good one in Gainesville on Nov. 26. Quarterbacks Jordan Travis (FSU) and Anthony Richardson (UF) are playing well, and both defenses are coming off season-best performances.

It’s not exactly peak Bowden vs. Spurrier, but both programs are on their way back to where they should always be.

Iowa (32). Somehow, some way, a team with the worst offense in the Power 5 conferences has won three straight games to reach bowl eligibility and remain very much in the hunt for a second straight Big Ten West title. The Hawkeyes’ victory over Wisconsin on Saturday was so on-brand for this team that it hurt: season lows of 146 offensive yards and 2.15 yards per play; zero drives longer than 39 yards; zero plays longer than 19 yards; yet a two-touchdown victory.

Iowa’s defense and special teams did what they do, scoring and producing field position so its offense doesn’t have to. Defensive back Cooper DeJean had a pick-six, the Hawkeyes’ fourth defensive touchdown of the year (and his second), plus a 41-yard punt return. With even a poor offense, as opposed to an abysmal one, this team would be 8–2 right now.

Absolutely nobody wants to see Iowa in the Big Ten championship game against either Michigan or Ohio State, which beat the Hawkeyes by a combined 57 points earlier this season. But they still have a chance of getting there, which is a testament to their own perseverance after a 3–4 start that defied description.

Despite owning the Power 5’s worst offense, the Hawkeyes aren’t dead in the Big Ten title race.

Bryon Houlgrave/USA Today Network

Michigan State (33). On Oct. 29, the Spartans were embarrassing themselves with an outburst of violence aimed at a couple of Michigan players after a loss to their in-state rival in Ann Arbor. That led to the suspension of eight players and an ongoing criminal investigation. After dropping to 3–5, the program seemed to be in disarray.

There still might be more repercussions from the disgrace in the tunnel at the Big House (the Big Ten office has been strangely silent on the affair, perhaps awaiting cues from law enforcement). But Michigan State has at least shown some competitive pride the last two weeks. It upset Illinois 23–15 and followed that up with a win over Rutgers to reach 5–5. The Spartans can become bowl eligible Saturday against Indiana.

Fresno State (34). The Bulldogs were 1–4 five weeks ago, coming off three straight road games and trying to make do without injured star quarterback Jake Haener. Since then they’ve won five straight, playing better defense and getting Haener back in the lineup. If Fresno wins at last-place Nevada on Saturday, it’ll clinch the Mountain West’s West Division title and make its third appearance in the championship game under Jeff Tedford across his two stints at the school.

Washington (35). After reeling off four straight impressive wins at home to start the season, the Huskies went on the road and got their teeth kicked in by UCLA (understandable) and Arizona State (not). Since then they’ve regrouped to win four straight, highlighted by thrilling comebacks to beat Oregon State and Oregon in successive weeks. At 7–2, Washington remains in the hunt for the Pac-12 title in its first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

The comeback within the comeback is quarterback Michael Penix, who continues to regain the dazzling form he showed at Indiana between injuries and a dysfunctional 2021 season. Penix leads the nation in passing yards per game (364) and is one of many players who could grab votes in a widespread Heisman Trophy race.

Notre Dame (36). The Fighting Irish survived a letdown situation coming off their rout of Clemson, doing just enough to beat Navy, 35–32. That’s an improvement from a month ago, when they derailed momentum from wins over North Carolina and BYU with a home loss to a very bad Stanford team. The Irish have become the proverbial complementary football team, making big plays defensively and on special teams to support an offense that has taken much of the year to find its footing.

After starting 0–2 and 3–3, sitting at 7–3 is more satisfying that it would be under normal Notre Dame conditions. Many signs of progress as Marcus Freeman’s first season moves on.

The Fighting Irish have won four in a row and could derail USC’s College Football Playoff hopes in the final week of the regular season.

Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports

Literary Corner

If you’re old enough, you vividly remember the play—after all, we’d never seen anything like it before, and still haven’t since. If you’re not old enough and have only seen the sketchy video of the time and heard the great play-by-play—“the band is on the field!”—this is a chance to get caught up. Because this week marks the 40th anniversary of the ridiculous California kick return to beat Stanford, a play that is the centerpiece of a new book, Five Laterals and a Trombone (37), by Tyler Bridges.

Cal managed a five-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown on the final play—hence the book title—with Kevin Moen covering the final yards through the Stanford band and into the end zone before flattening trombonist Gary Tyrrell. He and fellow band members had prematurely rushed the field to celebrate, adding an additional surreal element to a play that already stretched the imagination and the rules. (In the modern era with replay review, the TD might have been overturned.)

The play ruined John Elway’s final game at Stanford and kept him from playing in a bowl game. But it didn’t ruin Tyrrell’s trombone, which survived the collision and today resides in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week

Jamey Chadwell (38), Coastal Carolina. Last week, Coastal announced that foundational quarterback Grayson McCall was lost for three to six weeks to an injury. Then the Chanticleers overcame the loss of their best player and leader to beat Southern Mississippi, 26–23, and clinch an appearance in the Sun Belt Conference championship game. Chadwell is 31–4 over the last three seasons, operating an innovative and entertaining offense. It would greatly surprise The Dash if no bigger school makes a serious run at him in the coming weeks, but he’s also a good fit at Coastal and has it rolling.

Coach Who Should Take the Bus to Work

Dave Doeren (39), North Carolina State. His Wolfpack had injury-riddled, 2–7 Boston College coming to Raleigh. A win could get N.C. State to 8–2 and improves chances of accomplishing just the second 10-win season in school history—and the first in 20 years. Then the Pack blew it, committing four turnovers and giving up a 20–7 second-half lead, losing 21–20 in the final minute. It’s been said many times that N.C. State cannot have nice things, and this is the latest proof of it.

Point After

When hungry and thirsty in the college football hub city of Atlanta, The Dash recommends a visit to South City Kitchen (40) for some fried chicken, greens and mashed potatoes. Pair that rib-sticking southern food with a Slap Fight IPA from Monday Night Brewing and thank The Dash later.

MORE DASH: Playoff Picture | A&M’s Implosion | Michigan’s Resumé Weakness

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