Skip to main content

Merry College Football Christmas: Your 10-Pack of Selection Sunday Nuggets

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 2.01.04 AM

Credit: Chicago Tribune

College football's Christmas morning is upon you. You bound down the stairs in your footy pajamas -- you in red, your little brother in green and your sister in pink -- turn the corner and set your gaze upon the tree. Except in this version of Christmas, your presents are already open. They are Clemson, wrapped in orange and a warm smile, and Alabama, packaged in crimson and a cold scowl. They are Oklahoma, plopped on the coffee table for a solid week now, and Michigan State, freshly packaged in a shiny, metallic green.

You know your presents ahead of time, but the lack of suspense, that paper-ripping drama you live for every year, doesn't disappoint you, because you know how they arrived in front of you on this day, and that is what matters.

1. The drive. Trailing 13-9, Michigan State accepted the ball at its own 18-yard line with nine and a half minutes to play. They would consume all but 27 of the remaining 571 seconds.

Needing a touchdown to win the game, Mark Dantonio's Spartans moved 82 yards in 22 gut-checking plays. No play traveled longer than 16 yards. They would survive two penalties, convert five of six third down tries and one fourth down try. The Spartans sucked away all three Iowa timeouts by running 17 times, including the final 12 plays covering the last 34 yards.

True freshman L.J. Scott rushed 13 times for 37 yards on the drive, including a final rush that was practically three carries on its own, a second-effort snapshot in history in which he denied the four Hawkeyes who tried to tackle him, extending his right hand straight to Dallas or Miami.

1a. For every time you forget Mark Dantonio is one of the elite coaches in this sport, remember this:

Coaches he's beaten over these last three seasons: Mark Helfrich, James Franklin, David Shaw, Art Briles, Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer -- twice.

2. Oklahoma is in. But you knew that already. FootballScoop secured exclusive footage of the Stoops household on Saturday evening.


3. Clemson can do it all. Don't let the 45-37 final margin deceive you: Clemson manhandled North Carolina on Saturday night. The Tigers out-rushed North Carolina 319-142, held the ball for nearly 39 minutes, achieved 33 first downs, notched drives of 96 and 97 yards, and harassed Marquise Williams into throwing incomplete on 22 of his 33 passes. Dabo Swinney's team has been on the No. 1 line every week of the season to date, and they'll be so again Sunday morning.

4. Alabama can't do it all, but it's really, really good at what it does do. Jake Coker is not A.J. McCarron, Greg McElroy, John Parker Wilson or even Blake Sims. That's partly because he doesn't have a Julio Jones or Amari Cooper to catch his passes. But forget about what the Tide doesn't have, because here's what it does have: the best front seven and best running back in college football. Alabama enters the Playoff as the best run defense on both a per game (74 yards) and per carry (2.38) basis. Kirby Smart's defense has recorded 46 sacks, most in college football and third-most on a per game basis (3.54), and its 8.69 plays of 10-plus yards allowed per game are the fewest in college football. Alabama also sits in the top 10 in tackles for loss and third down defense. On the other side of the ball, Derrick Henry's 1,986 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns are more than any other player in the game. And there's a strong chance he'll enter the Playoff with something else no one else has: the Heisman Trophy. So, yes, Oklahoma can throw the ball better. Clemson is more well-rounded. Michigan State has more late game mettle. But none of those advantages will matter if they don't first rectify themselves with Henry and Alabama's front seven.

5. About that Heisman Trophy. The official mission of the Heisman Trophy reads, "The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." What that in mind, consider Christian McCaffrey's statistics in Stanford's 41-22 victory over USC on Saturday night: 32 carries for 207 yards and one touchdown, four receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown, 120 kickoff return yards, 29 punt return yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to boot. His 461 all-purpose yards on the night and 3,496 this season were enough to break Barry Sanders' 27-year-old FBS single-season all-purpose yardage record. There are better running backs in college football. Better receivers, punt returners and kick returners, too. But how can one argue there's a better college football player than Christian McCaffrey?

5a. The frustration of watching McCaffrey run wild created an awkward situation in the Levi's Stadium press box.

6. The powers that be must spend their off-season improving college football's officiating. With 1:13 remaining and all three timeouts in its back pocket, North Carolina recovered an onside kick that would have given the Heels the ball at midfield needing only a touchdown and a two-point conversion to force Clemson into overtime.

But North Carolina was called offsides on a play where, clearly, no one was offsides.

But it didn't stop there. Actually, it didn't start there.

After all that, only Texas defensive back Kevin Vaccaro was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when, in reality, the only sin he committed was being pushed by a teammate as he attempted to step over Baylor quarterback Lynx Hawthorne.

Hawthorne should've been flagged for a late hit, as should the Texas player (not Vaccaro) who shoved Hawthorne after the tackle. And both teams deserved flags for unsportsmanlike conduct.

But, hey, at least the Big 12 and ACC don't already have officiating gaffes on their ledgers this season.

7. There wasn't a Playoff spot on the line, but don't think Temple and Houston didn't have a lot to play for in the American championship. According to bowl guru Stewart Mandel's latest projections, the winner of the AAC title game would play in the Peach Bowl opposite Florida State on New Year's Eve.

The loser? They're playing in dilapidated Tropicana Field at 11 a.m. the day after Christmas in front of (probably) 7,000 people.

In real life terms, there may not have been a bigger dichotomy between victory and defeat than that on Saturday.

As for the actual game? Houston jumped out to a 24-3 lead and cruised to a 24-13 win. Tom Herman concludes his first regular season as a head coach with a 12-1 record, a conference title and nine wins by double digits.

In the state of Texas there are 20 Division I football programs spread across seven conferences. Only Herman's Cougars won theirs.

8. The Nuggets' official New Year's Six projections.

Orange Bowl: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State

Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Iowa
Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
Peach Bowl: Florida State vs. Houston

And, for the record, The Nuggets' non-existent Heisman ballot.

1. Christian McCaffrey
2. Derrick Henry
3. Deshaun Watson

With special shoutouts included for Dalvin Cook, Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson, Corey Coleman and Baker Mayfield.

9. The play of the season, and perhaps the decade. Here's the situation: your team leads 14-9. Your defense is rocking, with three straight three-and-outs with a cumulative minus-9 yards of offense in those nine plays. It's 4th-and-15. You're a punter. What do you do? You punt the football.

Here's what Clemson punter Andy Teasdall did.


Again, it's not fourth-and-1, it's fourth-and-15. FOURTH AND FIFTEEN! Poor Teasdall even made Dabo Swinney go un-Christian on him.

Andy Teasdall is my new hero, and should be yours, too.

10. Odds and Ends. a. Congrats to Dino Babers, who leaves Bowling Green after two seasons with 18 wins and a MAC championship with a 34-14 destruction of Northern Illinois on Friday night. The Falcons have scored 28 points or more in 14 straight games dating back to last season. b. On Sept. 27, Rocky Long and his San Diego State staff arrived at work at 1-3, losers of three straight. On Saturday night they hoisted a trophy as Mountain West champions, winners of nine straight games. The Aztecs fought back from three different deficits to fend off Air Force, 27-24. c. From Oct 17 to the three minute mark of the second quarter Saturday, Southern Miss was on a 310-105 scoring run. They were winners of six straight and appeared headed to a seventh. Then Western Kentucky woke up. The Hilltoppers tied the game by halftime and 38 of the game's final 45 points on their way to a 45-28 win and a Conference USA championship. d. It didn't come in a conference title game, but Arkansas State clinched its fourth Sun Belt title in five years with a 55-17 thumping of Texas State. e. "Impossible." That's the only word I, or anyone else, would've used heading into this season upon learning Texas would beat Oklahoma and Baylor -- both away from Austin -- and still miss a bowl. Charlie Strong's Horns beat the Sooners and Bears by a combined 47-34... and got outscored 150-30 in their four remaining games away from Austin. Texas shutout Baylor (led by its fourth-string quarterback Lynx Hawthorne) in the first half, then allowed the Bears to accumulate the bulk of their 66 rushes for 395 yards in the second half. A week after it ran for 403 yards and lost, Texas allowed 395 rushing yards and won. That string of facts seemingly can not exist, and yet here it is. Texas will be one of the most-curiously-watched college football teams in 2016. f. A congratulations are in order for Trent Miles and Georgia State. The Panthers entered this season without an FBS victory to their credit and entered their Nov. 14 trip to Texas State at 2-6. But the Panthers won that game, then beat South Alabama, then beat Troy and on Saturday went down to Statesboro and whipped rival Georgia Southern 34-7. An four-game winning streak by an average of 33-14 sends Georgia State to its first-ever bowl game. g. Three 5-7 teams will play in bowls this winter: Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State. Feel free to hiss in their general directions. h. Remember way back in August when North Dakota State and Montana kicked off the Division I season with a classic the Grizzlies pulled out in the last minute? Yeah, the Bison got revenge for that on Saturday. Hard. The Bison sent Bob Stitt and company packing with a 37-6 win, and the drive for five heads to its next stop against Northern Iowa next week. i. Let's take a moment to appreciate the gilded stupidity that is the entire College Football Playoff selection committee process. This is a group of highly accomplished people that willingly flush two days of their impossibly busy weeks straight down their diamond-encrusted toilets, for six straight weeks, all in an effort to produce an entirely meaningless set of rankings. Then, when Championship Weekend arrives and it's time to get down to real, knuckle-cracking business, they spend their Friday night eating out of a branded watermelon.

Then Saturday arrives and they sit in their leather thrones... watching football.

All in an grand effort to accomplish the same thing you and I could do over a single beer.

God Bless America.

j. And finally.... this will be the final edition of The Nuggets until September. Thanks to all who read along, whether this was your first time or you were a weekly reader. Hopefully this added to your college football weekend routine, and here's to next season.