Done all that they could to earn a trip to the final four
There were 10 conference championship games on display this weekend, marking the final big weekend of action before bowl season.
The College Football Playoff contenders have now done all that they could to earn a trip to the final four, while other major bowl berths were decided as well.
These were the biggest takeaways from the college football championship games Friday night and Saturday.
Huskies saved their best for last
Heading into the MAC Championship Game, Buffalo was the team we highlighted as having offensive firepower worth talking about. While Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson did come up huge early on, it was Northern Illinois’ Marcus Childers who came through in the end with the game-winning effort.
The sophomore quarterback threw three of his four touchdown passes in the game’s final 16 minutes, helping the Huskies come back from a 19-point deficit to win by a single point. His final touchdown came with just over a minute left on the clock, and the Huskies’ defense held on to close out the game.
Remarkably, this big win for the Huskies helped extend a streak in which they have beaten the Bulls all 12 times they’ve faced off in MAC play, a streak that dates back to 1999.
Pac-12 title game was fittingly ugly
The Pac-12 has been its own worst enemy for years now, and what transpired Friday night at Levi’s Stadium didn’t do anything to dispel that.
First off, hardly anyone showed up to watch Washington and Utah slug it out.
Secondly, the game itself was almost unwatchable. It was ugly, nasty, offensively-challenged football in which the two starting quarterbacks threw four interceptions.
The only touchdown scored came on a Byron Murphy pick-six. That was the difference in the game, as Washington took the Pac-12 crown with a 10-3 win that sent the Huskies to the Rose Bowl.
Sweet revenge for Sooners
The Oklahoma Sooners entered the Big 12 Championship Game with just one loss on their record, and a chance to get some revenge against the team that handed it to them earlier in the season.
They got it, too. The Sooners came from behind in thrilling fashion to dominate Texas in the final quarter, scoring the game’s final 12 points to win, 39-27. Surprisingly, it was their defense that turned the tide when they needed a big play. Then Kyler Murray and Co. came through with a dagger late in the fourth quarter.
It sure seems like the way things played out later in the day — Bama beating Georgia — that this win will be enough to vault Oklahoma from No. 5 to No. 4 heading into the playoff. Especially considering the way the Sooners stepped up on defense, and that they beat the No. 14 team in the nation to do it.
Blazers cap off magnificent season with gutty win
One week after getting annihilated by Middle Tennessee, UAB was right back at Floyd Stadium for a second-consecutive game against the Blue Raiders. The stakes were significantly higher this time around, however, and so were the results.
The Blazers battled back from an early deficit to take an eight-point halftime lead, fought through an inexplicably awful call by the officials that may have cost them a touchdown late and held off their opponent’s final attempt at a comeback in the game’s final moments to win, 27-25.
Quite aside from how remarkable a turnaround it was for UAB a week after nearly being shut out by Middle Tennessee, it’s just stunning how fast this program got so good under head coach Bill Clark. Remember, the school only reinstated the football program two short years ago. Now it has a conference championship trophy.
Appalachian State wins inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game
The Mountaineers have become quite the powerhouse since head coach Scott Satterfield took over five years ago. They came into Saturday’s inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game with a 9-2 record, and not surprisingly they were heavily favored to beat Louisville for the title.
Appalachian State did just that, though how it came away with the win was somewhat surprising. Zac Thomas couldn’t get anything going through the air, but his two long touchdown runs sparked the offense. The Mountaineers also got a 97-yard kick return for a touchdown and forced two interceptions on defense.
The end result was a 30-19 win that led to a first-ever Sun Belt Championship Game victory.
Daniel Mack Jr. and the Knights showed remarkable heart
Nobody would fault you if you stopped watching the AAC Championship Game between Memphis and UCF after the first half. At this point, the Tigers had the undefeated Knights on the ropes, up 38-21 at halftime.
It looked like the Knights were just too emotionally spent after losing McKenzie Milton last weekend, and then seeing him go through so much following his brutal injury. His replacement, Darriel Mack Jr., struggled in the first half and had just one touchdown to his credit.
A different team showed up in Orlando after the half, however. UCF displayed the signature toughness that’s defined the program since last season, and Mack bounced back with a signature win. The redshirt freshman accounted for five touchdowns in the second half, including four on the ground. UCF’s defense showed up big, too, holding the Tigers to just a solitary field goal in the final 30 minutes of the game.
The end result was a 56-41 blowout that keeps the Knights undefeated going all the way back to Week 1 of the 2017 season.
Alabama comes full circle as Hurts leads epic comeback win
One day, they’ll make a movie out of what happened in Atlanta Saturday during the SEC Championship Game between Georgia and Alabama.
Tua Tagovailoa was uncharacteristically slow to read the field when he wasn’t getting pummeled by Georgia’s defensive front. He was banged up on his first offensive possession and limped around the rest of the evening before finally exiting the game for good in the fourth quarter following what looked like a very painful ankle injury.
At this point, ‘Bama’s offense was just barely alive, the only real spark coming a bit earlier when Jaylen Waddle used his wheels to go 51 yards and pull the Tide to within one score.
From the moment that Hurts stepped onto the field, however, the tenor of the entire game changed. He immediately tied the game up with a gorgeous touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy, and then on the next drive, after a godawful fake punt by Georgia, Hurts won it with his legs.
The poetry involved here is incredible. Obviously, Hurts lost his job to Tagovailoa last season in the title game and never got it back. Expected by many to transfer, he stuck with the program and remained a good, true teammate. When his number was called, Hurts delivered in epic style.
The way this game turned out, in fact, was so amazing it even made Nick Saban shed a tear or two.
Mountain West gave us a heavy dose of weird
A blizzard rolled into Albertsons Stadium Saturday night as Boise State hosted Fresno State, and while fans absolutely loved watching the snow game, it wasn’t pretty for the teams involved. Or, for the pyrotechnic team, either.
Fresno State took a 13-7 lead into the fourth quarter, despite Boise State dominating the time of possession battle and putting up significantly more yardage in the game. Then, the Broncos finally broke out of their scoring slump with eight minutes left in the game when Alexander Mattison plowed through the snow and the Bulldogs defense on a 34-yard rushing score.
Except, instead of taking the lead, Boise State kicker Haden Hoggarth had his extra point blocked and the weird game remained a tie. It remained tied at the end of regulation, going into overtime.
From there, Fresno State held Boise State to a field goal, then punched in a touchdown to win the game. In the process, it also won for the first time in 11 tries playing on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium.
Travis Etienne, Clemson’s pass defense make Tigers very dangerous
Clemson was on cruise control Saturday night against Pitt and easily won, 42-10. This result was in no way surprising. The Tigers have been destroying teams all year long and the Panthers were blown out just last weekend by Miami.
The real takeaway here is that Clemson’s offense, led by running back Travis Etienne, continues to be very formidable. Etienne got the game started off with a 75-yard touchdown on the first snap in the first quarter, and from there the game was pretty much over.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson’s dynamic defense absolutely shut down Pitt’s passing game, and shut the offense down completely in the second half. Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett suffered through a miserable night completing just 4-of-16 passes for eight yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He was under constant pressure, which has been pretty standard for quarterbacks facing the Tigers this year.
Dabo Swinney has his club perfectly positioned to make another run at ‘Bama in January.
Ohio State is not a playoff team
Northwestern has been a great story this year, but the Wildcats aren’t really a great team. Particularly on offense, this team is rather plodding — as my colleague David Kenyon pointed out Saturday, Northwestern came into Saturday with the fifth-lowest yards per snap in the nation.
Yet as Ohio State has done far too often this season, it played down to the competition for much of the Big Ten Championship Game. Defensively, the Buckeyes allowed yet another 70-plus-yard run (their sixth this season), and the Wildcats continually found purchase going against this unit.
Dwayne Haskins showed off his NFL-caliber arm and made some magnificent throws to overwhelm Northwestern’s defense and lead the Buckeyes to the 45-24 victory. But in no way did Ohio State do enough to vault over Oklahoma and get into the playoff.
Kyler Murray deserves the Heisman
For most of the season, it’s been a foregone conclusion that Tua Tagovailoa would win the Heisman Trophy. However, Murray has been inching closer and closer in recent weeks, and he had another phenomenal outing in the Big 12 Championship Game against Texas. Tagovailoa, on the other hand, had an awful game against Georgia before exiting with an injury.
If you compare these two players side-by-side, there’s a huge gap in production.
- Murray: 4,945 total yards, 51 total touchdowns and seven interceptions
- Tagovailoa: 3,543 total yards, 42 total touchdowns and four interceptions
Granted, Tagovailoa barely played in the fourth quarter of any game this year. What he did throughout the 2018 season is just amazing. But in the end, the Heisman Trophy should go to Murray, who did more.
As an aside here, it should be obvious that the third man deserving a trip to New York is Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, who’s been a phenomenal pure passer this year and has a bright future in the NFL.
No, Kirk Herbstreit, Georgia shouldn’t move UP to No. 3
During Saturday night’s ACC Championship Game, Kirk Herbstreit made an absurd argument for Georgia to actually leap-frog Notre Dame to move from No. 4 up to No. 3 in the final rankings…after losing to Alabama.
As much as everyone loves to tout the SEC, there’s no way a two-loss Georgia should get into the playoff. And there’s no way in hell it’s displacing an undefeated Notre Dame team.
After the conference championship games, it’s clear that Alabama is No. 1, Clemson is No. 2, and that Notre Dame is No. 3. It seems to me that Oklahoma should move up to No. 4 and that Georgia should slide down a spot to No. 5, leaving Ohio State at No. 6.