There weren’t many big surprises for fans to savor during college football’s championship weekend. However, thanks to one outcome, the CFP selection committee does have a key decision to make heading into the postseason.
Stanford and USC got the festivities started out with an amazing Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night. Ohio State and Wisconsin wrapped up the weekend with a nail-biter late Saturday night that featured the literal turf being ripped off the field.
These were the biggest takeaways from the final games — minus the Army-Navy Game — before bowl season.
Defense, Sam Darnold came through in the clutch for USC
There was a sequence of events that transpired midway through the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Pac-12 Championship Game between Stanford and USC that sealed the win for the Trojans.
Up by three points, 24-21, after allowing Stanford’s offense to march down the field and potentially take the lead, the defense stiffened with a goal-line stand that will be remembered for a long, long time. Bryce Love, who was incredible playing through intense pain, got Stanford to the two-yard line. Cameron Scarlett ran the ball for another yard on third-and-goal, and David Shaw — showing a rare surge of emotion on the sideline — called for a touchdown attempt, rather than take three points to tie the game.
That’s when this happened.
— YourSports (@YourSports) December 2, 2017
USC still needed to do some work after stuffing that fourth-down try, however, backed up into their own end zone. Following a one-yard run by Ronald Jones, Sam Darnold came through with one of his signature pressure-doesn’t-faze-me moments. He evaded what looked to be a sack in the end zone, fired a strike downfield to Michael Pittman Jr. for 54 yards, sparking a 99-yard touchdown-scoring drive that was capped off by Jones.
The defensive stop and following touchdown proved to be the difference in the game. Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello led a touchdown-scoring drive of his own on the next Cardinal possession, but the special teams unit was unable to convert the onside kick to give him another shot to win the game at the end.
USC moved to 11-2 on the season, and if Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had any say in the matter the Trojans should be playing for the national title.
Lane Kiffin caps off tremendous season with blowout championship win
The Florida Atlatic Owls won eight games in a row heading into the Conference-USA Championship Game against North Texas. They were huge favorites heading into the title game and lived up to the expectations, blowing out Mean Green 41-17.
As we predicted, running back Devin Singletary had a big game, rushing for 164 yards and three touchdowns to spark the win. Really, the only thing that went wrong for the Owls all game long happened late in the fourth quarter when John Franklin III carelessly dropped the ball on an easy touchdown right before he crossed the goal line (watch here).
Kiffin has done an amazing job in his first year at FAU. The program went 3-9 last year, and the two years before that, too. Now the Owls are 10-3 heading into bowl season, and they’ll certainly land a nice financial windfall in a major bowl — the Rose Bowl, if they’ll take them, would be Kiffin’s preference.
UCF endures epic nail-biter against Memphis to stay perfect
Of course it took overtime. Given the way both Memphis and UCF came into Saturday’s American Athletic Conference Championship Game, that’s really the only way this game could have ended. In the end, UCF found a way to get the job done as it’s done all year long, winning 62-55 in double-overtime thanks to an interception by Tre Neal — forced by Shaquem Griffin — to put the game on ice.
— Casey Baker (@CaseyBake16) December 2, 2017
Memphis did two things that normally would win a game. First, they controlled the clock in a huge way, hanging onto the ball over 48 minutes to keep the potent Knights offense on the sideline. Secondly, the Tigers forced UCF into four turnovers, which their offense turned into 14 points.
It wasn’t enough. Despite the Tigers racking up 753 yards and scoring 55 points. That’s stunning.
Possessing the ball just over 26 minutes, the Knights scored eight touchdowns, proving there is no offense in the nation more potent.
What Scott Frost has done in two years at UCF is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s no wonder he’s on his way to Nebraska now to resuscitate that ailing program, and we wish him nothing but the best of luck as he embarks on his next journey.
We sent him out with a 🏆
Good luck back home, Coach. pic.twitter.com/ivcqXm7sJr
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) December 2, 2017
As for the Knights, we have no doubt the CFP committee will once again show no love when the final rankings come out. At least UCF will land a New Year’s Six Bowl out of its amazing season.
Baker Mayfield, Sooners are going to be tough to beat in CFP
If there was any doubt about Baker Mayfield bringing home the Heisman Trophy this year (there shouldn’t have been), he erased all of them Saturday. Showing off the ruthless efficiency that has been the hallmark of his 2017 campaign, Mayfield threw just 23 passes in the Big 12 Championship Game against TCU. He completed 15 of them for 243 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
His laser-like precision was on display all year and continued to shine against a darn good TCU defense.
— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) December 2, 2017
Oklahoma’s defense pitched in as well, scoring a touchdown on the Horned Frogs’ first offensive possession of the game (watch here). TCU never had a chance.
Heading into the playoff, it’s tough to imagine any defense slowing Mayfield down. He’s been indomitable all year long, and the only reason the Sooners lost to Iowa State back in the beginning of October is that Kyle Kempt played out of his mind for the Cyclones. To this scribe, that’s going to be the only way Oklahoma loses this postseason — another quarterback must out-duel Mayfield.
Good luck with that.
Sweet revenge for Georgia over Auburn must send Bulldogs to playoff
We knew this game wouldn’t look anything like the one contested a few weekends ago at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers were unstoppable at home this year, and they came into the SEC title game limping, with Kamryn Pettway out and Kerryon Johnson ailing with a shoulder injury.
The only real shot they had to win on neutral ground was if Johnson could shrug off the pain and have a big game. It didn’t happen. He was ineffective most of the game as Georgia’s defensive front lit up Auburn’s offensive line, and he turned the ball over on a fumble, finishing with just 44 yards on 13 carries.
One of the biggest reasons why Auburn’s offense was stymied — the Tigers gained just 257 yards and scored one touchdown — was the stellar play of linebacker Roquan Smith. He had a hand in both of Georgia’s forced turnovers and was all of the field making plays for the Bulldogs.
As we’ve seen all year, Georgia’s running game was stellar, racking up 238 yards on 41 carries. D’Andre Swift’s 64-yard touchdown put the game away in the fourth quarter. But the biggest difference between the two teams was that freshman Jake Fromm vastly outplayed Jarrett Stidham, completing 16-of-22 passes for 183 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
— FnA Georgia Bulldogs (@FnA_GeorgiaDogs) December 2, 2017
Georgia absolutely has to get into the playoff now. The only game it lost all year was to this same Auburn team, at Jordan-Hare as we previously mentioned. The Bulldogs have the SEC crown. They also have just one loss and beat an Auburn team Alabama could not.
Ohio State gives CFP selection something to chew on
Forget about the fact that Ohio State nearly allowed Wisconsin to win the Big Ten Championship Game. Anyone who watched the game would agree the Buckeyes made some glaring mistakes in their 27-21 win. If the Badgers had a good quarterback, they would have won.
That doesn’t stop us from pointing out something that has been the source of much debate Saturday, which is that either Ohio State or Alabama should be the No. 4 seed when the CFP selection committee releases its final rankings Sunday morning.
Yes, we get the fact that Alabama only lost one game and was ahead of Ohio State heading into championship weekend. We get the fact that Ohio State did everything it could to allow the Badgers to remain undefeated.
But here’s something else that is just as salient when discussing this entire argument: Alabama’s resume is weak. The best win the Crimson Tide had all year came against LSU.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes beat the No. 4 team in the nation on Saturday night, beat Michigan State into the dirt a few weekends back and outlasted then-No. 2 Penn State when the Nittany Lions were undefeated. They also have the conference title to their credit, and one of their two losses came against Oklahoma, which will be in the playoff.
Given the love Alabama gets from big media, we’ll be surprised if the Buckeyes get in. And regardless of the committee’s decision, there are going to be some very unhappy fans one way or another.
Clemson far too potent on both sides of ball for Miami
Anyone who thought the Hurricanes had a chance to win this game learned very quickly they did not. Following up the team’s awful showing last weekend against Pitt, Miami was unable to do much of anything positive offensively and found itself down 21-0 at the half.
It was about as lopsided as any big game we’ve seen all year. Heading into the second half, the Tigers had already outgained the ‘Canes 231 yards to 64, allowing just three first downs to Miami’s offense. Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant completed his first 15 passes and rushed in one of the three scores for the Tigers, after which he mocked Miami’s turnover chain.
The second half was no better. Clemson scored 17 points in the third quarter to go up 38-0. It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that Miami finally scored on a field goal, marking the only points the Hurricanes managed. In the end, it was a 38-3 blowout in which Miami didn’t do much of anything right on either side of the ball.
The past two weeks have been unkind to Mark Richt and Co., who got spanked by Pitt before laying down in the biggest game of the year. Clemson, however, is in great shape heading into the playoff and had no trouble maintaining its top seed and its third ACC Championship Game win in a row.
Clemson takes down Miami in dominant fashion to win its 3rd straight ACC title. pic.twitter.com/s6TKT3O5Q6
— ESPN (@espn) December 3, 2017
Boise State wins ugly to claim Mountain West
Boise State and Fresno State took the field against one another for the second time in as many weeks. The Bulldogs claimed Round 1, but it was a meaningless game that really had little bearing on either team, both of which already earned trips to the Mountain West Football Championship Game.
Hosting this time around, the Broncos did just enough to win at home, but the outcome was in doubt until the very end. Leighton Vander Esch sealed the win for Boise State by intercepting Marcus McMaryion on Fresno State’s final offensive possession. Neither McMaryion or Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien were sharp in this game, and both teams struggled to run the ball as well.
It was a defensive struggle all the way through, minus the extraordinary effort of Broncos receiver Cedrick Wilson.
In the end, the game boiled down to the fact that Haden Hoggarth made one of the two field goals he attempted, while Fresno State kicker Jimmy Camacho missed his only attempt from 41 yards out following his team’s first offensive possession of the game.
— Stanford should feel great about next year, especially at the quarterback position. As a freshman during the latter stages of this year, K.J. Costello proved he’s going to be special in the coming years, and he has tremendous rapport with Michael Pittman Jr. that should only grow as they train together heading into the 2018 campaign.
— To nobody’s surprise, Florida State had no trouble beating Louisiana Monroe to keep its now 36-year bowl-eligible streak going. Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers both went well over 100 yards on the ground and both scored twice, leading a rushing attack that finished with 305 yards and five touchdowns. Credit goes to interim head coach Odell Haggins, who’s been a defensive line coach at Florida State for years, for keeping his team focused after Jimbo Fisher jumped ship for a boatload of cash at Texas A&M.
— Though not a championship game, the contest between UMass and Florida International Saturday was a fireworks-loaded affair. The Golden Panthers came out ahead to win their eighth game of the season, 63-45. The two teams combined for 51 first downs and 1,222 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.
— Logan Woodside once again owned Akron’s defense. For the second time this year, he passed for at least four touchdowns against the Zips, leading the Rockets to a convincing 45-28 victory over their MAC rivals to take the conference title. It’s the first time Toledo has won the MAC Championship Game since 2004.
— Congratulations are in order for Doug Martin and the New Mexico State Aggies. With a 22-17 win Saturday over South Alabama, the Aggies are eligible for a bowl game for the first time in 57 years. That was the longest drought in the FBS until they broke through with the victory. Here’s the play that sealed the win, with just 32 seconds remaining on the clock.
— NM State Football (@NMStateFootball) December 3, 2017