1. Clemson is in. Again. The ACC is as strong and deep as it’s ever been, and Clemson has run away and hid from the rest of the league. For the third time this season the Tigers played a conference opponent in an ABC prime time game… and there was no reason for the unaffiliated fan to tune in.
In what was essentially a College Football Playoff quarterfinal game, the Tigers jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead and cruised to a 38-3 win over No. 7 Miami.
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) December 3, 2017
It’s Clemson’s third straight ACC title and will clinch Dabo Swinney and company’s third straight trip to the Playoff. The Tigers will be the No. 1 seed, playing in the Sugar Bowl, where a win would give Clemson the chance to defend their national title in a de facto home game in the CFP Championship in Atlanta.
2. Georgia is in. Kirby Smart’s tenure at Georgia will be compared to Nick Saban’s run at Alabama for as long as Smart wears red and black, but on Saturday Smart clinched something his mentor did not do. In 2008, Saban’s second year at Alabama, he lost a shot at the BCS championship in falling to Urban Meyer at Florida in the SEC Championship.
This is Smart’s second year at Georgia, and he secured his shot at the national title by taking the SEC Championship — and in emphatic fashion.
Georgia successfully flipped the script from its 40-17 loss at Auburn on Nov. 11 with a 28-7 win over War Eagle in Atlanta. Auburn opened the game with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but the Bulldogs closed the game with 10 straight stops, including two fumbles that Georgia turned into touchdowns. The first came on a Jarrett Stidham strip-sack inside the red zone; Georgia capitalized by moving 83 yards in seven plays to level the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter.
The second fumble all but ended the game, when Kerryon Johnson lost the ball at midfield, and within four plays a drive that could have given Auburn a 14-13 lead instead staked Georgia to a 21-7 edge early in the fourth quarter.
Last time around, Jake Fromm hit only 13 of his 28 passes, and Georgia was out-rushed 237-46. This time, Fromm nailed 16-of-22 throws and Georgia won the ground game, 238-114.
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) December 3, 2017
It’s Georgia’s 15th SEC championship, its first since 2005, and clinches its first Playoff berth.
3. Oklahoma is in. Oklahoma’s defense was called out like no individual unit in this 4-year Playoff era ever has before after the Sooners surrendered 52 points — in a game they scored 62 — in a Nov. 4 win at Oklahoma State. Mike Stoops’s unit responded by allowing 20, 3, 31 and 17 points — which, okay, you’re forgiven if that doesn’t exactly remind you of 2011 Alabama. But that’s more than good enough when you consider the other side of the ball is in the midst of the most efficient season in college football history. By a mile. Or, to be more precise, one yard per play, ever single play, across the entire season.
Oklahoma lost two 1,000-yard running backs and a Heisman finalist receiver and it averages a yard more per play than last year's team and a yard more per play than anyone else this year
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) December 2, 2017
Oklahoma took out TCU for the second time in four weeks in a nearly identical game as the first one. Whereas the Sooners led 38-17 at the half and coasted to a 38-20 win in Norman on Nov. 11, on Saturday Oklahoma jumped out to a 17-0 lead after one quarter, led 31-17 at the half and took the foot off the gas after taking a 41-17 at the end of the third.
Baker Mayfield wrapped up the most obvious Heisman Trophy ever by hitting 15-of-23 passes for 243 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, and Oklahoma clinched its second College Football Playoff berth in the 3-year Lincoln Riley/Mayfield era. More immediately, it’s Oklahoma’s 11th Big 12 championship and its second 3-peat.
Gatorade bath ✅
Confetti angels ✅
That's how you celebrate a 3-Peat!
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) December 2, 2017
4. Ohio State is in. Or at least they should be. It wasn’t the 59-0 onslaught of three years ago, but Ohio State’s 27-21 Big Ten Championship win over previously undefeated and 4th-ranked Wisconsin should be enough to push the Buckeyes into the Playoff at the 11th hour for the third time in four years. And that’s a problem for the committee. A quick history lesson:
2014: Ohio State drubs Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship, jumping both TCU and Baylor for the fourth spot despite both the Frogs and Bears winning impressively on Championship Saturday. The Buckeyes reward the committee’s faith by winning the national title.
2016: Ohio State becomes the first non-conference champion to reach the Playoff, despite losing to Big Ten champion Penn State. The Nittany Lions are left out for a) suffering two losses and b) getting blown out by Michigan. Ohio State is blown out in its semifinal by Clemson.
2017: A year after becoming the first non-champion to reach the field, Ohio State now seeks to become a) the first 2-loss team and b) the first team to suffer a blowout to reach the field…. while an 11-1 non-champion Alabama would be left at home.
In other words, the committee used one set of reasoning to push Ohio State over Penn State in one year, and then a year later would turn around and use the exact opposite argument to push in Ohio State over Alabama. All while having Ohio State AD Gene Smith on the committee. You can hear the grumbling now: “The criteria is whatever it takes to get Ohio State in the field. It’s all about ratings, money and brand name.” Heck, you may be one of those complainers.
And yet in 2015 a defending national champion Ohio State was left out of the field despite an 11-1 record because the Buckeyes of that season didn’t beat enough top teams. If there’s one (and a half) standard that’s remained consistent throughout the 4-year system, it’s this: you better beat somebody, and you should probably win your conference.
Ohio State has three wins (Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State) better than Alabama’s best win (LSU). Putting an Alabama team in that didn’t win its division and didn’t beat a top-15 team would break even more of a precedent. And that should be enough to get the Buckeyes in at the last moment. Again.
5. USC isn’t in, but that’s okay. This season began with Stanford owning a 3-game winning streak over USC and an 8-3 advantage since the beginning of the Harbaugh/Shaw era in 2007, and the Cardinal gained that edge for one simple reason. They were tougher.
USC was tougher in 2017.
The Trojans out-rushed Stanford 307-170 in a 42-24 win in September, and won the ground game again on Friday night, 176-151. A slight advantage on the ground was enough for USC, because the Trojans had a clear edge at quarterback as Sam Darnold hit 17-of-24 passes for 325 yards with two touchdowns and no picks in a 31-28 win.
The key sequence came with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter and USC clinging to a 24-21 lead. Facing a fourth-and-goal at the USC 1-yard line, David Shaw kept his field goal team on the sideline and tried to go bully ball to take the lead. The USC defense stuffed the run, and two plays later Darnold hit Michael Pittman, Jr., for a 54-yard catch-and-run. USC completed the drive six plays later, grabbing a 31-21 lead with 4:22 to play that Stanford could not overcome.
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) December 2, 2017
USC won’t reach the Playoff, but the program is in a very good place right now: winners of 20 of their last 22 with a Rose Bowl victory and a Pac-12 championship — their 39th overall and first since 2008 — in that span with a Fiesta Bowl trip waiting.
6. Central Florida played the game of the year for the second straight week. As if last week’s 49-42 thriller over South Florida wasn’t enough, UCF and Memphis had to go out and top it. The nation’s highest-scoring offenses played 60-plus minutes of whatever-you-can-do-I-can-do-better. I mean, just look at these numbers.
UCF led 17-7 after one quarter, Memphis roared back to a 31-24 lead at the half, only to see UCF shoot forward for a 45-34 lead after the third. The Knights had a 48-34 lead with nine minutes remaining, only to see Memphis tie the game within five minutes and whiff a 51-yard game-winning field goal, sending the game to overtime at 48-48.
Both teams found pay dirt in the first overtime, and UCF secured the win with a 3-play touchdown drive and then an interception at the 4-yard line. Because of course it was a defensive play that sealed a 62-55 win.
The win gives UCF the American championship and completes the first winless-to-undefeated regular season in major college football history. Perhaps even crazier than that, a 5th-year senior at UCF began his career with an AAC championship and a Fiesta Bowl win, suffered a winless season as a sophomore and then went undefeated with another AAC title and a Peach Bowl berth as a senior.
UCF’s Last Five Seasons
2013: 12-1 (8-0)
2014: 9-4 (7-1)
2015: 0-12 (0-8)
2016: 6-7 (4-4)
2017: 12-0 (9-0)
5a. But something even more important happened to UCF on Saturday. News broke before UCF’s win over Memphis even finished that Scott Frost was leaving for Nebraska. Stevie Wonder could see this coming as soon as last weekend, when Florida hired Dan Mullen and Nebraska wasn’t interviewing anyone. But the official became official on Saturday, and both schools handled a coaching change as amicably as two schools possibly can.
We sent him out with a 🏆
Good luck back home, Coach. pic.twitter.com/ivcqXm7sJr
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) December 2, 2017
One heck of a season @UCF_Football!
— ❄️❄️ Nebraska Football ❄️❄️ (@HuskerFBNation) December 2, 2017
UCF wouldn’t have been this chummy if Frost had chosen to mosey down Florida’s Turnpike to Gainesville, but there’s something different about going home. This is more than your run-of-the-mill coaching hire: Scott Frost is the perfect marriage of past, present and future at Nebraska.
7. Prediction time. Here are the Nuggets’ official New Year’s Six projections:
Rose Bowl (5 p.m. ET New Year’s Day): Oklahoma vs. Georgia
Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET New Year’s Day): Clemson vs. Ohio State
Cotton Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET Dec. 30): Auburn vs. Notre Dame
Fiesta Bowl (4 p.m. ET New Year’s Eve): USC vs. Wisconsin
Orange Bowl (8 p.m. ET New Year’s Eve): Alabama vs. Miami
Peach Bowl (12:30 p.m. ET New Year’s Day): Central Florida vs. Penn State
8. The Super 16. The Nuggets is once again honored to vote in this year’s NFF-FWAA Super 16 poll. Here’s this week’s ballot.
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Central Florida
- Notre Dame
- Oklahoma State
9. Odds and Ends
a. Toledo locked up its 11th MAC championship and first since 2004 with a 45-28 blowout of Akron. Jason Candle led the Rockets to 11 wins for the first time since 1995 with a shot at the school’s first 12-win season since 1971.
b. His Twitter feed has overshadowed his actual team of late, but Lane Kiffin built himself a juggernaut in Boca Raton. A Florida Atlantic program that booked three straight 3-9 seasons prior to his arrival — and employed Carl Pelini for a season and a half before that — won its first Conference USA championship with a 41-17 win over North Texas. Florida Atlantic sits at 10-3 (the previous record since joining FBS in 2005 was eight wins) and rolled through C-USA with a perfect 9-0 record, winning by an average margin of 45-23.
c. A week after losing at Fresno State, Boise State got its revenge with a 17-14 defeat of the Bulldogs, claiming the Broncos’ third Mountain West title and 11th overall conference crown since 2002. Boise trailed for the entire second half until capping a 90-yard drive with a 2-yard plunge with 4:42 remaining, then held on for the win by forcing a three-and-out and an interception. This is Boise State’s 15th 10-win season since 1999.
d. In the closest thing the Sun Belt will have to a championship game, Arkansas State rallied from a 24-13 deficit midway through the fourth quarter to take a 25-24 lead with 1:28 remaining, but Troy struck back with a touchdown pass with 17 seconds left to steal a 32-25 win in Jonesboro. The Trojans finish at 10-2 and share the Sun Belt crown with Appalachian State, who won 63-14 over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. Troy and App State both finished 7-1 in league play and did not play each other, but next year they will after the league joins the rest of FBS by adding a title game.
e. I understand their reasons for not doing so, but you can’t tell me there wouldn’t be more interest in a Group of 5 Playoff pitting Central Florida against Troy and Boise State against Florida Atlantic than there is in the status quo.
f. It won’t lead any of the highlight shows, but the biggest win by scale of the entire weekend was New Mexico State’s 22-17 win over South Alabama. In the program’s final year of Sun Belt membership, Doug Martin and company led the Aggies to the brink of their first bowl game since NINETEEN FIFTY SEVEN. New Mexico State sits at just 6-6, and there are more eligible teams than available spots this year. But it would be an absolute crime if the Aggies are left at home this winter.
Aggies are BOWL ELIGIBLE and look to snap the 57-year drought!! Tickets for the potential bowl game can be bought at the Pan Am ticket office!!https://t.co/HIlLziMYQv#AggieUp #MadeHistory pic.twitter.com/6qZWEztpJS
— NM State Football (@NMStateFootball) December 3, 2017
g. Florida State beat Louisiana-Monroe 42-10 to clinch its 35th straight bowl game at 6-6. The coaching staff is about to change over, and the ‘Noles will probably spend Christmas in Shreveport. Hope it was worth it.
h. Come to think of it, if there’s a conflict, New Mexico State should get Florida State’s bowl spot if the Aggies don’t have one elsewhere.
i. Idaho won its final game of FBS membership, a 24-10 victory at Georgia State. Paul Petrino and the Vandals will join the FCS Big Sky Conference in 2018.
j. Butch Davis will take FIU bowling in his first season. The Golden Panthers are 8-4 after a 63-45 win over Massachusetts.
10. And finally… That’s it for this season of Nuggets. Whether this is your first time through or you’re here every week, I want to thank you for reading. Let’s do it again in September.