It’s long been the Nuggets’ firm and fervent belief four is the perfect number for the College Football Playoff, most people just don’t know it yet.
This week, and this season, proved it.
1. Oklahoma is in. The team who entered the week in the most tenuous position is the first — and, for now — only team that knows it’s in a week ahead of Selection Sunday. (Thanks, Stanford!) The Sooners exploded on an Oklahoma State team that entered Bedlam with championship dreams of its own, dropping 44 first half points and 344 rushing yards at nearly 8.2 yards a pop.
Stoops on OU’s modest preseason expectations: “It just says you guys aren’t right very often. I’ll leave it at that.”
— David Ubben (@davidubben) November 29, 2015
Equally encouraging to the 58-23 final score was the way Oklahoma’s players and coaches celebrated with each other on the sidelines after the win. This is clearly a team that likes being around each other.
Knowing the success the Nuggets’ grand proclamations for Oklahoma have had in the past, these Sooners appear to be the best team approximating 2014 Ohio State’s formula – lose early, lay in the weeds, rally the troops, and use your running game and team chemistry to slingshot yourself to the front of the line.
1a. For the record, a Big 12 championship game would’ve been a complete disaster for the league. Instead of putting its feet up and watching everyone else battle for a golden ticket already in its hip pocket, the Big 12 would’ve asked Oklahoma to play another game against Baylor with absolutely no upside for OU or the leauge.
2. Clemson is in (as long as it beats North Carolina). The Tigers recorded perhaps the most dominant five point win of the season, out-gaining South Carolina by 170 yards and doubling their first downs output until the Gamecocks notched a cosmetic score with (literally) one second remaining. Deshaun Watson’s line? Just 20-for-27 passing with 279 yards and a touchdown plus 21 carries for 114 yards and three touchdowns. That’s all.
3. Alabama is in (as long as it beats Florida). The Tide’s formula is nakedly simple: run the ball and stop the run.
Auburn’s running statistics: 37 carries, 91 yards, zero touchdowns.
Derrick Henry’s running statistics: 46 carries, 271 yards, one touchdown.
Final score: Alabama 29, Auburn 13. Auburn would’ve been held out of the end zone entirely if not for a Ricardo Louis-style tipped touchdown catch by the Tigers’ Jason Smith.
“This is who we are,” Alabama says before every snap. “Now do it better than us or watch us plant our cleat on your chest.”
4. Iowa or Michigan State are in. The two sides of the winner-take-all Big Ten Championship took care of business over the weekend. Iowa went to Lincoln Friday and got out-gained by 183 yards, doubled up on first downs and never converted a third down in nine tries. But the Hawkeyes owned a 4-1 turnovers advantage, including an ultra-rare four-yard pick six, and never trailed on their way to a 28-20 win.
Michigan State avalanched Penn State Saturday 55-16, leading 6-0 after one, 20-10 at the half and notching their seventh and eighth touchdowns within eight seconds of each other by taking an interception back for a touchdown, forcing a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and scoring again on the very next play.
5. Notre Dame is out. The game of the weekend saw seven lead changes in the final three quarters and two in the final 30 seconds as Stanford edged Notre Dame 38-36 on Conrad Ukropina’s 45-yard field goal as time expired.
In a way, the Irish’s fate shows the beauty of the four-team format’s exclusivity. A total of four points separated Notre Dame from being an unquestioned No. 1 seed to being left out entirely.
6. Perhaps the best team in the country is out as well. The team wearing scarlet and gray that took the field in Ann Arbor Saturday has every argument to be the best college football team in 2015. The Buckeyes dropped 369 rushing yards on a defense that came in averaging 100 a game. They held the Wolverines to 57, roughly a third of their yearly average. Ohio State imposed their will on a stout Michigan team, 42-13.
However, that Ohio State team, the one that took the field Saturday, didn’t show up near often enough in 2015. There was the second half of the Virginia Tech game, the Rutgers game and a couple more examples here and there. And then, of course, there was last week’s Michigan State game, a stain that won’t be washed away no matter how dominant the Buckeyes were at the Big House.
7. To recap, here is your 2015 Playoff field… in some order.
Michigan State or Iowa
Alabama (assuming a win over Florida)
Clemson (assuming a win over North Carolina)
Stanford (assuming a win over USC), Ohio State and possibly North Carolina (assuming a win over Clemson) are ready and waiting to swoop in if the Tide or Tigers lose, but their chances are officially on life support.
8. It’s a good thing Joe Alleva isn’t running the CIA because the man has no idea how to stage a coup. How do you oust a popular public figure? You build consensus behind the scenes and then you silently, quickly and ruthlessly strike when the time is right. Alleva did the exact opposite of that. He, and his cohorts within the LSU kingdom that wanted Les Miles gone, telegraphed their plan so blatantly it allowed Alleva’s opposition to gain a consensus and his supporters to second guess themselves.
LSU decision makers felt media had swayed public and if Les Miles was fired school would have apoeared mean-spirited, per source
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) November 29, 2015
His hand significantly overplayed, Alleva trotted in front of cameras after a 19-7 win over Texas A&M that saw the coach he wanted gone carried off the field with fans chanting his name to announce Les Miles would be back in 2016, like it was his idea in the first place.
And now the faction that wanted Miles gone and the faction that never wanted Miles out in the first place are both upset with Alleva. Perhaps LSU’s athletics director should consult a history book to see how those who watch their attempt to force out a popular leader backfire typically meet their ends. It’s never pretty.
9. It figures that only God could slow down Baylor and TCU. It says something about the state of these programs and the jobs done by Gary Patterson and Art Briles that a meeting between No. 7 Baylor and No. 19 TCU is viewed as a bit of a letdown, doesn’t it? A steady downpour and heavy injuries at both quarterback positions left the Revivalry completely unrecognizable from last year’s 61-58 classic.
The final 32 drives of regulation in Baylor-TCU did not produce any offensive points.
— David Ubben (@davidubben) November 28, 2015
Michigan State and Ohio State outscored Baylor and TCU in regulation. — Mike Wilson (@MikeWilson247) November 28, 2015
With 25 completed passes and 22 punts, this game became a reality unto itself, where nothing that came before or will come after applied to the soggy, gut-check of a game on the field. A 14-7 score midway through the first quarter turned into a 14-14 tie heading into overtime, which Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson opened by throwing his first complete pass after halftime — a four-yard jump pass to Devin Chafin to put the Bears on top.
TCU answered with a one-yard Trevone Boykin keeper, then surged ahead with an eight-yard strike from Boykin to KaVontae Turpin. The Frogs’ defense sustained four straight runs on Baylor’s next possession, as TCU linebacker Ty Summers ended the game by making his 23rd and final tackle when he stuffed Chafin for no gain on 4th-and-1 from the 16.
The win likely sends TCU to the Sugar Bowl and could secure the Frogs’ sixth top-10 finish in the last decade with a bowl victory.
10a. It’s Houston vs. Temple in the inaugural American championship. One week after losing at Connecticut, Tom Herman mastered his best coaching effort since… winning a national championship with his third-string quarterback. Okay, it hasn’t been that long a time. But still. Herman moved Brandon Wilson from cornerback to running back, and the move immediately paid off as Wilson rushed 22 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns, complimenting Greg Ward’s 308 passing yards, 84 rushing yards and four total scores in a 52-31 win over No. 15 Navy.
The Cougars gashed Navy for more points, passing yards (337), rushing yards (218), yards per play (6.94) and first downs (27) than any opponent this season — Notre Dame included — while holding the Middies 200 yards below their rushing average.
Temple blasted the same Connecticut team that beat Houston a week ago, 27-3. The Owls suffocated UConn’s offense to the tune of 26 carries for a grand total of nine yards. The American’s best offense will meet the American’s best defense with a Peach or Fiesta bowl bid on the line. Sign us up.
10b. The results of Conference USA’s own four-team playoff are in. A bit of serendipity (and smart scheduling) blessed C-USA with what amounted to semifinals as Western Kentucky battled Marshall for the East title while Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech met for the West crown. Western Kentucky blasted Marshall on Friday for the East title, jumping out to a 35-14 halftime lead and cruising to a 49-28 win. Dating back to last season’s 67-66 thriller of an upset, the Hilltoppers have posted more touchdowns (16) than punts (10) on Marshall’s defense. WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty’s numbers in those two games: 61-of-89 (68.5 percent) for 861 yards with 13 touchdowns against two picks.
Southern Miss continued kicking people’s cans, absolutely thrashing Louisiana Tech in the West championship 58-24. Todd Monken’s Eagles haven’t lost since Oct. 9 — and not only have they not lost over these last six weeks, they haven’t allowed anyone to come within 25 points over those six weeks.
1oc. MACtion gonna MACtion. Northern Illinois lost to Ohio 26-21 on Tuesday night, snapping a 22-game losing streak in the month of November, seemingly handing the MAC West back to Toledo. Except it didn’t. Needing only to beat Western Michigan at home to clinch a rematch with rival Bowling Green for the MAC championship, the Rockets’ boats got rowed, 35-30 on Friday.
Northern Illinois will play in its sixth straight MAC title game, and third straight against Bowling Green. The two teams split the previous two meetings, with the Huskies taking last year’s title in a 51-17 rout.
11. So few of us in life get to choose our endings. We all hope we can go out like Frank Beamer, with a fourth quarter rally extending our streak of bowl games (23) and wins over arch-rival Virginia (12).
But, sadly, most of us will go out like Gary Pinkel, a premature ending driven home with a 28-3 loss to Arkansas in the driving rain. Gary deserved an ending like Frank’s.
12. Odds and Ends
a. Texas Tech’s 48-45 win over Texas snapped a whole of of streaks and trends: it was the Red Raiders’ first win in Austin since 1997, which clinched UT’s third losing season since ’97 and first back-to-back losing campaigns since 1988-89.
It was also the first Horns-Raiders game since 1989 where the team that rushed for more yards lost the game, and Texas became the first team since Rice in 2004 to rush for 400-plus yards and force four turnovers and not win the game. The game also saw Kliff Kingsbury’s two most daring, creative play calls ever.
b. I didn’t look this up, but I am still no less confident in its accuracy: Central Florida had the fastest fall from grace in college football history. Twenty-two months after knocking off No. 6 Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and finishing with the first AP top-10 final ranking in school history, the Knights completed a winless season with a 44-6 loss to South Florida on Thursday night. UCF didn’t come within one score of an FBS opponent since their 15-14 loss to Florida International on Sept. 3.
c. With 7 minutes and 40 seconds remaining in its season, Tulsa trailed Tulane 34-24. The Hurricane won 45-34. Tulsa pulled within three thanks to a four-play, 75-yard, 55-second touchdown drive, then took the lead one play later on a pick-six. With Tulane threatening to take the lead inside the final 90 seconds, Tulsa returned another interception (this time from 89 yards out) for a touchdown to put the game away. Philip Montgomery’s crew moved to 6-6 on the year and will head to a bowl game in their first year on the job.
d. Don’t look now, but John Bonamego and Central Michigan actually finished in a four-way tie for first in the MAC West with Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan. Raise your hand if you had that pegged in August.
e. Talk about a collapse. One year after turning a 5-1 start into a 5-7 finish, concluding with a loss to Louisville, Kentucky turned a 4-1 start into another 5-7 finish, again concluding with a loss to Louisville. The ‘Cats led 24-7 at halftime and lost 38-24.
f. Florida State crushed Florida, 27-2. Florida State’s Twitter account had something to say to Florida alum and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio.
— FSU Football (@FSU_Football) November 29, 2015
g. From the “Baxter Ate a Whole Wheel of Cheese” Department:
BC finished 0-8 in the ACC with the No. 1 defense in the country. — Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 28, 2015
h. Justin Fuente left Memphis in style, as Paxton Lynch completed 9-of-14 passes for 222 yards and an unbelievable seven touchdowns, all in the first half. Memphis led SMU 49-0 at the half and won 63-0.
i. USC clinched the Pac-12 South by running away from UCLA, 40-21. Clay Helton was the fourth USC head coach Jim Mora faced in his four seasons at UCLA, and Trojans coach to beat him. There’s a growing belief winning the South may be enough for Helton to keep the full-time job.
j. Ole Miss jumped out to a 21-0 lead and held on to beat Mississippi State 38-27. Hugh Freeze has now won three of four meetings against Dan Mullen.
k. Wisconsin has now won 12 straight meetings with rival Minnesota after beating the Gophers 31-21. Tracy Claeys closed the year 1-4 as Minnesota’s full-time head coach, but his losses came to Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. Combined record of those four: 41-7.
l. More rivalry game minutiae: Clemson won in Columbia for the first time since 2007. Florida State has won three straight in Gainesville for the first time ever. Ole Miss won in Starkville for the first time since 2003. Oregon and Washington have each won four straight home games against their intrastate rivals.
m. In his final game as head coach, Paul Rhoads called two successful fake punts on the same drive. Alas, it wasn’t enough as Iowa State fell 30-6 to West Virginia.
n. Kevin Wilson clinched his first bowl trip in his fifth season at Indiana with a 54-36 win over Purdue.
o. While we’re at it, let’s close on that note: Indiana will play in a bowl game this winter, while Nebraska and Texas will not.