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Top takeaways from Saturday’s Rivalry Week action

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn celebrates during Iron Bowl win over Alabama in Rivalry Week

After an entertaining slate of games on Friday, Rivalry Week kicked into high gear on Saturday with plenty of games that mattered on a national scale.

Ohio State and Michigan was predictably a raucous affair, as was the Iron Bowl between SEC giants Alabama and Auburn. Georgia did what you’d expect from a team contending for a title, and Lamar Jackson got into a fight as he likely played in his final regular-season game with Louisville.

Here’s what we’re taking away from all the madness.

Auburn is a top-four team right now

Heading into championship weekend, it’s safe to say Auburn is one of the best teams in the nation. Based on the way the Tigers have taken both Georgia and Alabama behind the woodshed the past few weeks, they’re one of the top-four teams in the nation.

On Saturday, we continued to see quarterback Jarrett Stidham evolve. Not only was he on fire throwing the ball (21-of-28 passing), but Stidham showed tremendous toughness running the ball.


He finished with 288 total yards and one touchdown.

Auburn’s defense was tremendous, too. Alabama went just 3-of-11 on third downs Saturday, and the Tigers owned the line of scrimmage on passing downs.

An injury to running back Kerryon Johnson will be something to monitor for next weekend’s SEC Championship Game against Georgia. But right now Auburn is clicking on both sides of the ball.

This leads us to our next point.

College Football Playoff needs to be expanded

Let’s say Auburn and Ohio State win their title games next weekend. Let’s say UCF does, too. The ACC Championship Game will send a one-loss team to the playoff, for sure.

Alabama has one loss but missed the SEC title game after being kicked in the teeth at Jordan-Hare Stadium. If Wisconsin loses to the Buckeyes, the Badgers will have one loss, too, and we haven’t even mentioned Penn State, USC or Georgia.

The point here is that, regardless of what the CFP committee decides at the end of the season, there will be teams worthy of playing for the championship that won’t even sniff that opportunity, including an undefeated Group of Five team assuming the Knights win next weekend.

One prominent head coach recently suggested the playoff should be expanded to include 16 teams. We’d settle for the top eight at this point, which would at least give the top teams a real chance to test themselves against the best for the national title.

Urban Meyer still owns Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines

Since Urban Meyer became the head coach for the Buckeyes in 2012, the program hasn’t lost a single game to Michigan. That winning streak extended to six in a row on Saturday as Ohio State overcame some early offensive issues to pour it on late and win, 31-20.

A big reason why Ohio State romped late was that backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins had the magic touch. He came into the game during the third quarter after J.T. Barrett exited with a knee injury. At the time of the injury, Michigan held a 20-14 lead.

Then Haskins opened up the passing game, which had been dead all game, completing 6-of-7 passes for 94 yards. That opened up the running game, and the rout was on. Ohio State went on to score 17 unanswered points.

If the Buckeyes win the Big Ten Championship, and if some other dominoes fall their way, they can certainly still make the playoff.

Georgia right back on track for playoff berth

As if there was any doubt. The Bulldogs bulldozed the Yellow Jackets to take ownership of the 2017 iteration of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.

Georgia Tech’s offense was stymied for much of the game, gaining just 212 total yards while moving the chains just 12 times for first downs all game long. Conversely, Georgia moved the ball at will, both through the air and on the ground, to the tune of 23 first downs and 471 yards.

With the 38-7 shellacking of their in-state rival, the Bulldogs are right back on track for a playoff berth.

All that remains now is to beat Auburn (in a grudge match, no less) next weekend in the SEC Championship Game. Easier said than done, but at least the dream is still alive.

Lamar Jackson shined in his (likely) final regular-season game for Louisville 

In all likelihood, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson will declare for the 2018 NFL Draft. He has nothing left to prove at the collegiate level after winning the Heisman last year and having a comparable season in 2017.

Plus, he can do stuff like this on a regular basis.

And this.

By the time Jackson was done, the Cardinals walked out of Commonwealth Stadium with a 44-17 victory to move to 8-4 this season. And if you’ve been watching Louisville this year, then you know the Cardinals would struggle to win a single game if not for the genius of Jackson.

The dual-threat quarterback finished with 372 yards and two passing touchdowns. He did get into a fight in the first quarter, which he should have avoided. But overall he had just another standard, highlight-reel-laced performance.

Likely, we’ll have just one more chance to see Jackson playing at the college level. Soak it in, folks. He’s a generational talent.

Memphis with the 70 Burger in AAC title game tuneup

Next weekend’s American Athletic Conference Championship Game is going to be a ton of fun to watch. That is, if you enjoy endless offensive fireworks. One day after UCF put USF down, 49-42, to finish its regular season undefeated, Memphis dropped 70 points against East Carolina.

Senior quarterback Riley Ferguson threw for an unbelievable 299 yards despite attempting just 13 passes. Led by Patrick Taylor Jr. and Darrell Henderson — both rushed for at least 122 yards — the Tigers averaged 9.8 yards per attempt, finishing with 333 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Three different receivers hauled in Ferguson touchdown passes, which went for 89, 46 and 61 yards, respectively.

The defense scored on a 32-yard pick-six by Jonathan Cook. Tony Pollard also took a kickoff return 100 yards to the house.

Sure, it was against East Carolina, which won just three games this year. But this was still an impressive showing by Memphis ahead of the title game next weekend.

Florida State bowl game streak appears safe

It looks like Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles will play in a bowl game this December after they carved up the Florida Gators on Saturday, winning 38-22.

It was an ugly win in which the Gators simply made made more mistakes than the Seminoles. But it was a win nevertheless.

This victory pulls Florida State one game closer to the six-win threshold. And it makes the program’s decision to pull off some scheduling magic for next weekend’s cupcake game against Louisiana Monroe look like a stroke of genius.

The Seminoles have won three out of their last four games now and will qualify for a bowl next weekend, assuming they do knock off the Warhawks at home.

So much for Baker Mayfield’s ‘punishment’

As a result of his crude gestures last weekend against Kansas, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was stripped of his captaincy and didn’t start Saturday against West Virginia.

Only, Sooners players brought out Mayfield’s No. 6 jersey for the coin toss, effectively minimizing any impact of not being a captain.

Then, after the Sooners scored on their first offensive possession (which was all of two plays that took 49 seconds off the clock, both called runs), Mayfield was inserted into the game.

Quite honestly, the whole thing was a sham. Lincoln Riley’s whole song and dance about it being a very emotional decision rings awfully hollow now, because the “punishment” ended up being even less than a halfhearted slap on the wrist.

Regarding the game, Oklahoma absolutely dominated West Virginia, which was without starting quarterback Will Grier. Mayfield finished with 281 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-17 passing, solidifying his Heisman bid. The final score of 59-31 sends the Sooners to the Big 12 Championship Game on a high note.

Huskies destroy Cougars as Luke Falk implodes once again on the road

The Washington State Cougars had a shot to win the Pac-12 North with a win against in-state rival Washington during Saturday’s Apple Cup.

Let’s just say, that didn’t happen. In fact, the game wasn’t close. From the moment Washington stepped onto the field on its first offensive possession until the final whistle, the Huskies were in control. In particular, running back Myles Gaskin and defensive tackle Vita Vea were dominant.

On the other side, Washington State’s offense was a train wreck. Senior quarterback Luke Falk had one of the awful road games that has defined his final season at the helm of Mike Leach’s offense. He finished with 369 yards on 37-of-55 passing with one late touchdown and three interceptions.

The final result was a 41-14 butt kicking the Cougars won’t soon forget.

It was just an awful effort (something of a theme for this team against Washington the past four years) by Wazzu in a key game that could have propelled the program to new heights.

Fourth-quarter meltdown dooms Irish 

Near the end of the third quarter, Notre Dame took a three-point lead to go up 20-17. It had been a very competitive game throughout the evening against Stanford. Then the wheels came off.

It started when Stanford marched right down the field on its next offensive possession to score a touchdown. Brandon Wimbush then proceeded to throw a ghastly interception on Notre Dame’s first play following a kickoff return, which the Cardinal quickly turned into another seven points. On the following kickoff, the Irish fumbled, leading to a third straight touchdown for Stanford.

In roughly three-and-a-half minutes, the Fighting Irish squandered their three-point lead and were suddenly down by 18 points.

That was all she wrote.

It’s worth noting that Stanford’s redshirt freshman quarterback, K.J. Costello, continued to stay hot and finished with four touchdown passes. The future of the program is bright indeed with him under center in the coming years.

Parting Shots

— The season from hell is finally over for the Florida Gators, who were smoked by their in-state rivals at home. Finishing the season 4-7 after firing head coach Jim McElwain, the 2017 campaign been marked by one miserable failure after another. Next year can’t get here soon enough for the Gators and their fans. Now the only question is, who’s going to be the coach in 2018?

— Michigan needs to get its quarterback situation figured out. Maybe Brandon Peters is good enough to take the Wolverines to another level next season, but who knows? What we do know for sure is that John O’Korn was awful all year (he’s a senior and won’t be back) and Wilton Speight wasn’t much better. Michigan’s quarterbacks were the biggest reason the program took steps in the wrong direction in 2017.

— Oklahoma State’s senior quarterback Mason Rudolph finished off his final regular season with a brilliant game against Kansas. Completing 72 percent of his passes, Rudolph went for 438 yards with two touchdowns. Distributing the ball to 10 different pass catchers, rudolph had three of them go for over 106 yards in the 58-17 blowout win.

— Minnesota never had a chance to beat Wisconsin. The Badgers continued to flex their defensive muscles, holding the Golden Gophers to just 133 yards and eight first downs in the shutout win. And this weekend Alex Hornibrook actually had a very nice game, sending his team to the Big Ten Championship Game on a nice positive note.

— Penn State finished its regular season on a high note, too, demolishing Maryland in College Park by the blowout score of 66-3. The Nittany Lions will land a nice bowl berth after winning 10 games this year, but it’s clear they’re not in the same stratosphere as other two-loss teams like Ohio State and Auburn.

— Clayton Thorson and Co. have quietly sewn up a brilliant nine-win season after shutting down Illinois Saturday. Northwestern has been getting some love in recent weeks in the rankings, and we’ll look forward to seeing the Wildcats competing in one of the bigger bowl games this December.

— If Saturday’s Boise State-Fresno State game was any indication, next weekend’s Mountain West Conference Championship Game is going to come down to the wire. The Bulldogs prevailed in the first of two games in a row between these two teams, thanks to a strong game by quarterback Marcus McMaryion.

— Arkansas State’s junior quarterback Justice Hansen has a humongous game against Louisiana Monroe to help the Red Wolves prevail in a barnburner, 67-50. He finished with 558 total yards and six touchdowns. That’s how you cross the finish line in style.

— What a finish by Kansas State. Down by two scores to rival Iowa State with less than a quarter to play, Skylar Thompson engineered two straight touchdown-scoring drives that chewed up a total of 23 plays and 155 yards, ending the game with no time left and a one-point victory on the second score.

— Oregon put a hurt on in-state rival Oregon State, breaking the previous record (65) for most points scored in a Civil War game. At the end of it all, the Ducks dropped 69 points in the blowout victory, with the Beavers managing a meager 10 in response.

— Clemson sure seems ready for the ACC Championship Game. The Tigers laid waste to a darn good South Carolina team on Saturday night, dominating on both sides of the ball to the tune of 34-10 on the scoreboard and 469-207 in total yardage.

— If this was Kevin Sumlin’s last game coaching the Aggies (it should be) then he’s definitely going out on a sour note. It’s really something when you can make LSU’s passing game look even remotely competent. Yet Danny Etling went off for 347 yards and three touchdowns, and the Tigers romped, 45-21. Texas A&M deserves better than what Sumlin’s provided in recent years.