A wild regular season setting the scene for what’s to come
After 14 weeks, hundreds of games and a handful of pivotal moments, the college football regular season has set the championship field.
For every program involved in the College Football Playoff or the ones that narrowly missed, there are particular moments — whether a specific play or result — that shaped the outcome of the 2018 campaign.
Botched calls, bad throws and amazing individual efforts all created a wild regular season and molded the outlook of what’s to come.
Chris Finke’s catch puts Michigan in a hole
On the first loaded weekend of the regular season, Notre Dame pulled out a 24-17 victory over Michigan. The most stunning part of that showdown was the Fighting Irish’s hot start against an elite defense, and the biggest play was Chris Finke’s improbable touchdown grab. Brandon Wimbush launched the ball downfield, and Finke went over the top of a Michigan defender to give ND a 14-0 edge. Shea Patterson and the Wolverines couldn’t recover from that deficit. And for Notre Dame, that triumph sparked an undefeated run to the College Football playoff.
McKenzie Milton flips into the end zone
Although a gruesome injury is the lasting 2018 memory of McKenzie Milton, the junior saved UCF’s perfect season in mid-October. Memphis surged to a 30-14 first-half advantage before Milton staged a comeback. Early in the fourth quarter, he sprinted toward the right hashmark, sized up the hopeful tackler and attempted to leap over him.
Milton didn’t quite clear him, flipping head-over-heels at the goal line. But the ball broke the plane. UCF improved to 5-0 and closed the campaign with six straight wins of double-digit margins and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
Washington State’s loss at USC plagues the breakout
Trailing 39-36 late in the fourth quarter at USC, Washington State had chances to either take the lead or even the score. Instead, there was a missed targeting penalty. Three plays later, a blocked field goal ended Wazzu’s hopes of a victory at the Coliseum. Throw in a mishandled extra point, and it special teams doomed the team. Though the Cougs rattled off seven straight wins, that loss lingered as an unforgivable flaw on an unspectacular resume. Even if the Cougs had beat Washington and won the Pac-12, they likely would’ve fallen short of the CFP.
Oklahoma navigates Army in overtime
Upsets scattered the Week 4 slate, but nothing popped eyeballs quite like Army’s near-miss at Oklahoma. The Black Knights dominated the ball in Norman, controlling possession for an absurd 44 minutes and 41 seconds during regulation. They converted 17 of 26 third- and fourth-down snaps and held Heisman Trophy contender Kyler Murray to only 236 yards of total offense. But the Sooners, despite not scoring in the second half, still managed to steal an overtime win. Had the Cadets finished off the upset, Oklahoma likely would’ve fallen short in the final CFP debate.
Chase Brice saves Clemson from an upset
It seemed like a perfect storm. Dabo Swinney’s decision to start Trevor Lawrence resulted in Kelly Bryant leaving the team. Then, a freshman mistake sidelined Lawrence. Suddenly, Clemson was without a quarterback who guided the program to the CFP in 2017 and also a young superstar. Chase Brice stepped in and became the hero. The Tigers fought back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, highlighted by a crucial fourth-down throw from Brice on the go-ahead drive. Clemson might’ve made the CFP anyway but would’ve sweated out Selection Day as a one-loss team.
Blocked punt secures Ohio State’s rout of Michigan
Michigan had a dismal first half, but two late touchdowns had the Wolverines back in the fight. While they started slowly after the break, Ohio State only held a 27-19 edge when Michigan lined up for a punt.
The Buckeyes blocked it and never looked back, then scoring a touchdown on four straight possessions for a 62-39 rout of their rival. Ohio State clinched a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game, where it defeated Northwestern for a Rose Bowl berth. Urban Meyer, who will retire after the season, ended his OSU career 4-0 against Jim Harbaugh and UM.
Oklahoma State’s two-point conversion falls incomplete
The play-call was perfect. Mike Gundy was there to win, and Tylan Wallace created a wide-open throwing lane. Taylor Cornelius, though, misfired on the two-point conversion as Oklahoma State trailed Oklahoma 48-47. One unsuccessful onside kick later, the Sooners survived a close call. A second loss for OU would’ve set up a lame-duck clash for the Big 12 title. Winning the conference is great, but that’s not the ultimate goal. If Cornelius hits that throw and OU’s desperation drive falls short, the Sooners definitely aren’t preparing for Alabama right now.
Georgia’s failed fake sets up Jalen Hurts’ heroics
We admire the audacious decision, Kirby Smart. Football is better with aggressive coaches playing to win and not to lose. During the SEC Championship Game, though, a fake punt on 4th-and-11 at midfield failed. The botched play handed Alabama terrific field position late in the fourth quarter of a 28-28 game. And then, in perfect symmetry, Jalen Hurts — who had replaced Tua Tagovailoa in Mercedes-Benz Stadium — finished off a comeback. Alabama locked up its No. 1 place in the CFP standings, and Georgia came up short — just like the fake punt.