Hail to the Victors
Michigan and Oklahoma State both did something they rarely ever do this century and knocked off archrivals Ohio State and Oklahoma
When we say that college football is the best sport ever, we mean it.
Saturday proved it.
The ups and downs of rivalry week spread over the course of three days on Thanksgiving break could not have been scripted any better as championship hopes either lived on or were dashed.
Chaos knows no bounds in the sport. It does not discriminate against geography, weather, current record or past history. Just 72 hours of pure ecstasy.
Most importantly, it nearly guaranteed that were have three new faces in the College Football Playoff. Proving that parity is possible in the sport.
Since Jim Tressel became the Ohio State football coach in 2001, Michigan had only beaten the Buckeyes twice. Since Jim Harbaugh has been the head man at Michigan he has a winless record against the Buckeyes.
The Wolverines won a split national title in 1997, won the Big Ten in 2004 and were last in the national title picture in 2006 and 2016. I was convinced that I would never see Michigan truly compete for a national championship in my lifetime.
Being eviscerated every year the Saturday after Thanksgiving by the Buckeyes had seemed inevitable. Esspecially after Ryan Day—who has lost one regular season game in his short tenure so far— and the Buckeyes destroyed Michigan State 56-7 the week before (and if you’re keeping score, the Spartans had defeated the Wolverines).
Instead, the stars did align for Michigan. At home, in the snow, with Big Ten and CFP hopes on the line in a top five rivalry matchup. Harbaugh had said at media days that they would beat Ohio State or die trying.
Hassan Haskins averaged six yards per carry for 169 total rushing yards and five touchdowns. Michigan dominated right out of halftime and had even cushion and enough responses in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, to which over 100,000 maize and blue fans stormed the field.
On the plains of Auburn, the magic of Jordan Hare Stadium was in full effect. Auburn had spoiled the Tide’s SEC and national title chance at home previously in 2013 and 2019 (and also in 2017 before the CFP Committee choose Alabama anyway).
The No. 3 Crimson Tide could do nothing all day as Alabama only mustered three points for the first 59 minutes. Auburn could not do much better with only 10 points.
That is because each defense was engaged in what turned out to be an Alabama real estate bidding war in each other’s backfields. The Tide had six sacks and 15 TFL while the Tigers had seven sacks and 11 TFL. There were a total of 17 punts in the game.
Each team threw an interception and Auburn forced Alabama to turn it over on downs three times—one of which was due to a botched FG hold. Auburn did not capitalize on the interception or any of the three fourth down stops they got in the second half.
What hurt the most, other than being so close to the upset, was that Auburn made the worst mind-numbing blunder while trying to run out the clock. They got the ball back in Alabama territory with 1:56 to play, up seven, and the Tide had two timeouts. If the Tigers could play the sequence perfectly then they would either win by picking up the first down or give the ball back to Alabama with ~50 seconds left and no timeouts.
Instead, Tank Bigsby ran out of bounds on second down, saving Nick Saban a timeout. The Tide got the ball back with 1:32 left on the clock and managed to go 97 yards down the field to score the game-tying touchdown to force overtime.
In overtime, the Tide scored first. Auburn, with an immobile backup QB, somehow got a tying touchdown by an incredible one-handed reception by Landen King with a defender draped on his back. It probably would have made sense to go for two and the win in that scenario, but instead Auburn chose to kick the extra point and prolong the game.
Both teams kicked field goals in the second OT and converted two-point conversions in the third. In the fourth OT, after Auburn failed, Alabama’s Bryce Young found John Metchie III for the game-winning two-point conversion and keeping their Playoff hopes alive.
In any other situation, it would have been nice to see Alabama finally catch a break for the rivalry win. But this is not any other situation, this is Alabama and Nick Saban—the evil empire ruling over college football. They will face Georgia in the SEC title game—beating the Bulldogs may have even been enough to cover up an Iron Bowl loss anyway, but we will never know.
So the Auburn mistake stings—and the pain magnifies once you realize that Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma all could have been knocked off their pedestal on the very same day.
No. 8 Baylor needed to win in order to have a chance to advance to the Big 12 title game. Despite having about 20 guys come down with the flu during the week; having former coaches hired away and now working for their foe; and playing with a backup quarterback on a rainy and emotionally charged day in Waco, Texas, the Bears found a way to win 27-24.
The Red Raiders hung around even though they gave up 10 points off turnovers in the first half and found themselves down 10 with seven minutes to play in the game. They drove 53 yards in just over a minute, but missed a 53-yard field goal as time expired.
Baylor was now counting on Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State to do something they rarely ever do: beat Oklahoma. Gundy had a 2-14 record verses the rival Sooners since he became head coach in 2005 (only five wins total if you include his playing and assistance coaching careers) combined.
Oklahoma State had only won Bedlam 18 times in series history. The orange-pistol wielding cowboys from up north held Baylor’s fate in their hands like a tiny bird. And it very nearly went very wrong for the folks in Waco.
I cannot even begin to enumerate the errors for both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State made in this sloppy mess of a game that exhibited offensive fireworks in the first half and build defensive stonewalls in the second half.
The teams traded touchdowns on four consecutive possessions in the first quarter. Then Gabe Brkic for Oklahoma State had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown. The Sooners and Cowboys then traded field goals with the Pokes holding onto a 24-17 lead.
Then Spencer Sanders threw an interception to set the Sooners up at the Oklahoma State 14-yard line with less than two minutes before halftime. Caleb Williams was able to tie the game on a 10-yard pass to Brayden Willis. The Cowboy turnover foreshadowed things to come after halftime.
Oklahoma pinned the Cowboys at the eight-yard line and immediately forced a fumble, which Oklahoma State recovered in their own end zone for a safety. Coach Gundy was upset and argued, to no avail, that an offsides penalty should have been called (just file that away for later).
The Sooners had to punt again, however, this time it went through the hands of returner Brennan Presley and was recovered for a touchdown. All of a sudden it was 33-24 Oklahoma. Oklahoma State would miss a field goal on their next drive, and then after recovering a fumble in Sooner territory, Sanders would throw his second interception inside the 10.
In the fourth quarter, the tables seemed to turn as Oklahoma State finally got that spark they were looking for with a 37-yard touchdown run by Sanders. The Cowboys very nearly ruined their own momentum by having an unnecessary roughness, late hit penalty called on them after stopping Oklahoma on third down.
Instead the officials gathered, and somehow made the inexplicable decision to pick up the flag thereby forcing the Sooners to punt from their own 14-yard line. It was the most home-field advantage/make-up call that I can remember.
We cannot be certain that Oklahoma would have capitalized with a new set of downs; however, more time would have been taken off the clock and the field would have been flipped.
This is important because the Cowboys next drive only gained 17 yards—the Sooners’ defense was solid too—and punted from midfield. Oklahoma return man Eric Gray fumbled in basically the same spot as Presley did with the Cowboys recovering at the five-yard line. They would score a touchdown (and fail the two-point try) three plays later to go ahead 37-33.
Like the Iron Bowl, Oklahoma turned the ball over on downs at the end. But they had all three timeouts and forced a three-and out to get the ball back at the 20-yard line with 54 seconds left.
Williams trotted out onto the field, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The true freshman had an opportunity in front him to add to his legacy and place in Oklahoma and CFB lore. And on the second play, he broke out near ran 56 yards to the Pokes’ 24-yard line—in total distance he covered 66 yards since he began his run at the 10-yard line.
It almost seemed inevitable that Oklahoma would find a way to punch the ball into the end zone and pull of another unreal comeback two-minute drive on the road against their archrival a la Alabama.
Instead, there was a no call for defensive pass interference in the end zone with 22 seconds left, a catch that was out of bounds in the end zone with 14 seconds left and then a fourth down sack with eight seconds left to end the game.
Cue the rushing of the field with Mike Gundy in a soaking wet cowboy hat as Lincoln Riley tried to convince everyone that he would not be going anywhere anytime soon.
Everyone loves the leftovers after a good Thanksgiving meal, and CFB had plenty of it. Some had conference championship or New Years Six Bowl implications, and others just had the directionless chaos—kinda like dessert.
Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate
No. 1 Georgia dominated the Yellow Jackets on the road to cap their perfect regular season, beating Georgia Tech 45-0.
The ACC Champions
No. 18 Wake Forest beat Boston College on the road 41-10 to clinch their first ACC title berth since 2006—when they won it all. Their opponent, No. 17 Pitt, beat Syracuse 31-14.
Both the Deacs and Panthers are kicking themselves for losing non-conference games to UNC and Western Michigan respectively.
No. 20 NC State was down nine on Friday night verses UNC with less than two minutes to play. The Wolfpack proceeded to score a touchdown, recover an onside kick and then score another TD to win the game. The victory officially eliminated Clemson from ACC title contention. No. 23 Clemson quietly shut out rival South Carolina 30-0 to finish the year 9-3.
No. 4 Cincinnati beat East Carolina 35-13 on Friday afternoon, and finish the regular season perfect and will host the American conference championship against No. 24 Houston. The Cougars beat UConn 45-17 on Saturday.
This wil be one last opportunity for Cincinnati to break the CFP glass ceiling for Group of 5 programs.
The Big 12
Texas snapped their six-game losing streak with a 22-17 win over Kansas State in Austin, but still finished 5-7. Iowa State beat TCU 48-14 as Breece Hall scored a rushing TD in his record 24th straight game.
No. 15 Texas A&M was poised for a season of a lifetime but ended up finishing 8-4 and fifth in the SEC West. The last loss comes at the hands of LSU, who are parting ways with their national champion head coach, who scored the game-winning TD with 20 seconds left in the game.
Florida, also without a head coach, became bowl eligible with a 24-21 win over Florida State. Tennessee beat Vanderbilt 45-21.
Notre Dame blew out Stanford 45-14 down on the farm and finished the regular season 11-1. Without a championship to play for, the Irish are officially the bottleneck of college football.
BYU finished 10-2 on the season, but 5-0 against Pac-12 competition as they beat USC 35-31 in the finale. They also beat UVA and lost to Baylor, making them 6-1 against Power 5 opponents this year. If not for the loss to Baylor or Boise State, the Cougars could have been in a similar position as Notre Dame.
The Contract Extension
Both Michigan State’s Mel Tucker and Penn State’s James Franklin received multi-year and multi-million contract extensions to stay at their respective schools—as opposed to being poached by LSU, USC, Florida, etc.
In a blizzard in East Lansing, the Spartans were able to hold the Nittany Lions off 30-27. It keeps their hopes alive for a New Years Six bowl game. Kenneth Walker III rushed for 138 yards and a score. With over 1,700 yards of offense and 19 touchdowns, Walker has my vote for the Heisman.
No. 14 Wisconsin had an opportunity to clinch the Big Ten West with a win over Minnesota. But instead the Golden Gophers won the axe for the first time since 2018—but only the fourth time since 1995— and sent Iowa to the Big Ten championship to play Michigan.
Heroes & Corn
Oh poor Nebraska. How do we even put this into words?
The Cornhuskers finished 3-9 and lost all their games by single digits—the first time that has ever happened.
They led the Hawkeyes 21-9 entering the fourth quarter, but collapsed as Iowa blocked a punt for a TD, got an intentional grounding safety, tied the game with a FG and scored the go-ahead TD with just under three minutes to play.
Iowa will now play in the Big Ten title game for the first time since 2015, but the story is really about Nebraska, and now Michigan. And that’s how the Hawkeye’s season has been in a nutshell.
Land of Lincoln
Illinois beat Northwestern 47-14 for the first time since 2014 (and only the seventh time since the turn of the century). In his last two games vs the Wildcats, Brett Bielema has hung 117 points on Pat Fitzgerald’s crew.
Old Oaken Bucket
Purdue proved to be the best team in Indiana with a 44-7 win over the Hoosiers. They reclaimed the bucket for the first time since 2018 as Indiana won it in ‘19 and the 2020 version was canceled due to Covid-19.
Virginia Tech eked out a 29-24 win over UVA, clinching the Commonwealth Cup for the 21st time since 1999 (21-2). Hokies fans stormed the UVA field.
The Apple Cup
With both programs having fired their respective coaches mid-season—Washington State due to a Covid-19 vaccine dispute and Washington due to a player assault situation—this game featured rotten apples both on and off the field.
The Cougars blew out the Huskies 40-13 to snap a seven-game losing skid in the series and their fans also rushed the Washington field.
The Civil War
No. 11 Oregon controlled the game over rival Oregon State to win 38-29 to set up a rematch Friday with No. 19 Utah in the Pac-12 championship game.
The Territorial Cup
Arizona State beat Arizona 38-15 for the fifth straight time. The Wildcats’ highlight of the year was beating Cal 10-3 to snap a 20-game losing streak, but have now lost 23 of their last 24 games.
Mississippi teams don’t change their ways, and the ending to this year’s version of the Egg Bowl was just as weird. The Bulldogs threw for the end zone on the game’s final play with the No. 8 Rebels up 31-21 and Mississippi was called for pass interference. Since the game cannot end on a penalty, there would be one final play.
Though it would not effect the ultimate outcome, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin called a timeout anyway to ensure that they would not cede another point.
Maybe it would have mattered if Mississippi State hadn’t missed two field goals earlier in the first half.
The San Diego State Aztecs used 21 unanswered points to beat Boise State and clinch a spot in the Mountain West championship game. They will host Utah State Saturday.
The Roadrunners saw their perfect season get decimated in Denton, Texas. North Texas crushed UTSA 45-23. Though UTSA will still host the C-USA championship game this Friday against Western Kentucky, who beat Marshall on Saturday.
What a day for the sport of college football and her fans! I cannot believe that championship week is already here, but am excited for what comes next.
And that should be potentially three new faces in the CFP.