The arrival of conference championship weekend delivered everything we could hope for in Week 15. Between dominant performances and some close finishes, this weekend’s championship action lived up to the hype.
It all began on Friday with the Pac-12 Championship Game as the Oregon Ducks blew the doors off Utah with jaw-dropping performances on both sides of the ball.
The action gained even more excitement on Saturday. Oklahoma and Baylor delivered an overtime thriller that had everyone on the edge of their seats. A few hours later, No. 2 LSU walked all over No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Of course, the night ended in exciting fashion with No. 1 Ohio State delivering an unbelievable second-half comeback to win the Big 10 Championship.
Here are the 10 most jaw-dropping performances from college football’s conference championship action.
CJ Verdell, running back, Oregon Ducks
Many expected Friday’s game to be a final showcase for quarterback Justin Herbert. Instead, Verdell demonstrated why he could be the focal point of Oregon’s offense if he returns next season.
Utah’s defense was no match for Verdell’s strength and explosiveness. It started with a three-yard touchdown run to open the game. The redshirt sophomore kept punishing the Utes, especially on his 70-yard touchdown run that saw his legs blow through a few tackles then carry him to the end zone. Of course, Verdell added a 31-yard touchdown run to cap off a 208-yard, three-score performance.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, defensive end, Oregon Ducks
If college football fans are looking for the next Chase Young, just look to Oregon. Thibodeaux has played extremely well during his true freshman season and he made the Pac-12 Championship Game his national showcase on Friday.
Thibodeaux grabbed everyone’s attention early by coming off the edge on special teams and blocking the punt before a blocker could even spot him. The freshman then went after Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley and brought him down for 2.5 sacks. He’ll have a chance to get his 10th sack of the year in the Rose Bowl and it’s insane to think this is just the start of his collegiate career.
CeeDee Lamb, wide receiver, Oklahoma Sooners
On a day when Hurts wasn’t playing to his usual standard, Lamb provided Oklahoma’s passing game with the big plays it needed. Just look at his out route in the first quarter, turning a short catch into a stunning 71-yard gain with a few broken tackles along the way.
Of course, one catch didn’t define his entire game. He hauled in seven more passes for 102 yards, finishing with an eight-catch, 173-yard performance. Now we await to see if he’ll see Ohio State’s star cornerback Jeff Okudah or LSU’s rising star Derek Stingley Jr. in the College Football Playoff.
Darrynton Evans, running back, Appalachian State Mountaineers
While the Sun Belt Championship didn’t get much attention, Evans made sure those watching witnessed a thrilling performance. He didn’t just make a statement in the first quarter – he single-handedly carried the Mountaineers.
The junior kicked things off with a 58-yard receiving touchdown to put Appalachian State ahead early. Evans then ran in for an eight-yard score on the second drive before hauling in his third touchdown of the quarter to take a 21-0 lead. He finished with 136 yards and three scores, paving the way to the Mountaineers’ championship in a 45-38 thriller.
Joe Burrow, quarterback, LSU Tigers
Expect anything different? Burrow proved weeks ago that he deserves the Heisman Trophy, and his performance in the SEC Championship Game argued that he might deserve to win it by the widest margin ever.
Frankly, the game was over by halftime when Burrow completed 17-of-25 passes for 204 yards and two scores. Oh, did we mention that he’s playing at such an absurd level that he can now catch his own passes?
Burrow kept piling on in the second half, breaking Georgia’s heart and stunning a national audience with a Houdini escape before making another big throw. He finished with 349 passing yards, four touchdowns and 41 rushing yards in another legendary performance.
Derek Stingley Jr., cornerback, LSU Tigers
On a weekend when a fellow top-three prospect from the 2019 recruiting class shined, Stingley wanted his own breakout game. There was no bigger stage than Saturday and the true freshman showed why he’s already a star cornerback.
Remember, this is a 18-year-old starting for the No. 2 team in the country. Yet, when you watch him play, he already looks like an NFL player. From his athleticism to his instincts, he just knows how to play the position so well at an early age. LSU fans are fortunate they’ll get to watch him for two more years.
Tee Higgins, wide receiver, Clemson Tigers
Clemson wanted to send a message in the ACC Championship Game – message received. While they haven’t been viewed as one of the most dominant teams in the country this season, that’s exactly what they are with a receiver like Tee Higgins.
There are no proper words in the dictionary that capture the absurdity of his diving, sideline catch — watch it for yourself. Virginia’s secondary had no answer for the future NFL receiver. He racked up 182 receiving yards and three touchdowns before the fourth quarter even began. We can’t wait to watch him in the Playoff.
Jonathan Taylor, running back, Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin came into the this game as a massive underdog. Ohio State’s defense entered allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game (91.2) in the FBS and held Taylor to 52 yards on 20 carries in the October meeting. He nearly matched that total with his 44-yard touchdown run on the Badgers’ opening drive.
Taylor became the first running back to hit the 100-yard mark against Ohio State, which he achieved in two quarters. Unfortunately, everything fell apart for Wisconsin in the second half. Taylor played extremely well against a dominant defense, it just wasn’t enough because of Wisconsin’s quarterback and Ohio State’s offense.
Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson Tigers
This is the version of Lawrence the entire country fell in love with. When he’s playing at the level where he can drop dimes all over the field and hit the smallest of windows, there’s no stopping the Tigers.
It’s almost unfair that Virginia had to face this offense. Clemson found its stride in the second half of the season and wanted to use this game to prove it should be the No. 1 team in the country. Lawrence completed 73 percent of his passes, threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns and averaged 13.7 yards per attempt. Yeah, we’d say he’s ready for another magical run in the CFB Playoff.
Justin Fields, quarterback, Ohio State Buckeyes
Fields wasn’t going to be anywhere near this list after his first two quarters. The sophomore looked rattled by Wisconsin’s defense and it showed in his 50% completion rate with zero touchdowns. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, he emerged from the tunnel in the second half and carried this team to victory.
The 20-year-old started finding holes in the Badgers’ secondary immediately in the third quarter. He showed poise in the pocket and moved when he needed to, doing everything to buy his receivers time and putting it where only they could grab it. Ohio State’s 27 unanswered points happened largely because Fields went 12-of-17 with 172 passing yards and three touchdowns to close out the game. A remarkable comeback and an even better performance by the sophomore quarterback.