Skip to main content

#Nuggets: Cincinnati is in, Michigan is in, and Alabama does it again.

Plus: This isn't Lincoln Riley's Big 12 anymore, in more ways than one.

Alabama does it to Georgia again. In one afternoon, Alabama put up more points on Georgia than the Bulldogs allowed in any single month this season. Seriously, UGA surrendered 23 points in September, 30 in October, 30 in November, and 41 to the Crimson Tide. 

Turns out, the 2021 Georgia wasn't the post-modern version of 2011 Alabama or the 1985 Chicago Bears. They just hadn't played Bama yet.

Bryce Young probably won the Heisman Trophy at Georgia's expense, setting an SEC Championship record with 461 yards of total offense and four touchdowns on 47 touches. Meanwhile, a Georgia offense that entered Saturday fourth in the country at 7.06 yards a play mustered just 5.76. 

The 41-24 final score perfectly mirrored Georgia's 2020 loss to Alabama. That season ended with another Alabama national championship while Georgia had a nice year that fell well short of its goals. Is history repeating itself again?

“It didn’t do any damage," Kirby Smart said of the loss's effect on Georgia's psyche. "What it did is reinvigorated our energy. It recenters you, right? Their greatest thing is when they lost their game against Texas A&M, they garnered some focus and some attention. To me, that’s an opportunity for a wakeup call, if anything."

I don't expect Kirby to come out and say Georgia was demoralized, but, really? The chance to finally beat Alabama, win the SEC and knock the Tide out of the Playoff didn't center the Bulldogs' energy on its own?

And if Georgia gets that rematch with Alabama? When they see the crimson line up on the other side of the line of scrimmage, knowing no one in red and black has ever beaten Alabama and what the Tide did to Georgia in their previous meeting, there's not going to be the tiniest bit of doubt creeping into those red helmets? 

Cincinnati is going to the College Football Playoff. In a system set up to lock them out, the Bearcats kicked the damn door down. All they had to do to win the CFP selection committee's respect was go 13-0 this year, and 9-1 last year, and 22-5 the two seasons before that. And do so in a year where the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 eliminate themselves. And all that had to occur where Cincinnati happens to visit Notre Dame for the first time since 1900, in a year where Notre Dame didn't lose another game.

A galaxy of stars aligned, and Cincinnati is now two wins away from a national championship.

Like you'd expect of a team that's 22-1 over the past two seasons, Cincinnati displayed a killer instinct to put this game away. 

Leading 14-13 at the half, Luke Fickell's team opened the third quarter with a 75-yard touchdown drive, an interception on Houston's first snap, a 2-play touchdown drive, a three-and-out, and then a 62-play touchdown drive. In seven and a half minutes, Cincinnati took the game from a nail-biter to a coronation.

At long last, Jim Harbaugh is taking Michigan to the Playoff. I think we all expected Harbaugh to win the Big Ten championship and lead Michigan to the CFP when he took the job in the winter of 2014. I don't think any of us expected it to happen after an offseason where he cut his pay in half and restocked his coaching staff almost entirely of 30-somethings who have never before done the job they're doing at Michigan. 

After watching Oklahoma State fail to match its energy level from a week ago, I wondered if we'd see the same from Michigan. A couple early turnovers, maybe a punt block, and all of a sudden the maize and blue find themselves playing a game on Iowa's terms.

Don't tell me you weren't thinking the same thing when Michigan opened the game with a three-and-out and then Iowa moved down the field. But then Iowa's Caleb Shudak missed a 33-yard field goal and Michigan opened the scoring with a 67-yard Blake Corum run, then hit a 75-yard double pass on its next offensive snap. At 14-0 you knew Iowa wouldn't have trouble keeping up -- that's the nice way of saying Iowa's offense is terrible -- and the Wolverines broke the game open for the second straight second half, a 28-0 rout to win 42-3. 

It's the second straight second half Michigan has scored 28 points. Do that two more times and Michigan will be national champions. 

Defense wins championships, especially in the Big 12. This isn't Baker Mayfield's Big 12. This isn't Kliff Kingsbury's Big 12. And this definitely isn't Lincoln Riley's Big 12. 

In the first Big 12 Championship since 2009 not to feature Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State staged one of the hardest-hitting games of the season. Neither team rushed for two yards a carry. Fifteen first downs, 242 yards of total offense and 21 points weren't a first-half total of a team trying and failing to keep pace with a Riley-led offense, they were enough to win the game

Of the 37 points scored in Baylor's 21-16 win, 27 came immediately after a turnover. The cumulative length of the four total touchdown drives was 131 yards, the longest traveling 47. 

And now for the points not scored. After Baylor running back Tristan Ebner muffed a punt, Oklahoma State took over at the plus-30, trailing 21-13 with 12:40 to play. A Spencer Sanders wheel route to running back Dezmon Jackson put the ball at the Baylor 1. The next three plays went for no gain, no gain, and a fumble OK State was lucky to recover. The Cowboys kicked a field goal.

Three punts later, Oklahoma State took over at its own 10 with 3:14 to play. Rarely are the stakes of a drive so clear or so high: Score a touchdown and Oklahoma State wins the game, the Big 12 title, and likely makes the Playoff. Lose, and a long winter of sadness and regret.

Oklahoma State needed to go 90 yards. They went 89.9.

After a pass interference turned a 4th-and-3 into a 1st-and-goal at the 2, Oklahoma State ran Jackson twice for one yard. Having gained nothing up the middle in five tries, Oklahoma State passed, but not to receivers Tay Martin (9 catches in the game, 61 on the season). Sanders threw to freshman Jaden Bray, who entered Saturday with nine catches. It was incomplete.

On fourth-and-history, Oklahoma State tried an outside run. It came approximately three inches short.

If it feels like this type of thing only happens in the Big 12, that's because this type of thing only happens in the Big 12. Starting with the very first Big 12 Championship, this league has an unparalleled ability to ruin its own national championship chances.

-- 1996: Unranked Texas 37, No. 3 Nebraska 27
-- 1998: No. 10 Texas A&M 36, No. 2 Kansas State 33 (2 OT)
-- 2001: No. 9 Colorado 39, No. 3 Texas 37
-- 2003: No. 13 Kansas State 35, No. 1 Oklahoma 7
-- 2007: No. 9 Oklahoma 38, No. 1 Missouri 17
-- 2021: No. 9 Baylor 21, No. 5 Oklahoma State 16

How many similar upsets have we seen from other conferences?

Big Ten:

-- 2013: No. 10 Michigan State 34, No. 2 Ohio State 24

ACC:

Never

SEC:

Never.

Top-3 SEC teams have lost in SEC title games. In fact, one lost Saturday. But not a single SEC team has entered Championship Saturday in the championship picture, then fallen out thanks to an upset loss to a team outside the title race. 

Pac-12:

-- 2019: No. 13 Oregon 37, No. 5 Utah. 

As it turns out, Oklahoma State would've had a slim chance even if Dezmon Jackson's run went just a hair longer. But Baylor made sure the Pokes never had the chance.

In the season where we learned Texas and Oklahoma would soon leave and the Big 12 will soon become an entirely different conference than its original founding, perhaps a large reason why the Big 12 is in this situation in the first place is because so many of its own teams killed the league's title chances. The Big 12 really has been its own worst enemy all along. 

Quit stalling and give us your top four. Okay, fine.

-- Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Cincinnati
-- Orange Bowl: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia


FRIES

The Super 16. This week's FWAA-NFF Super 16 ballot

1. Michigan
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. Cincinnati
5. Baylor
6. Notre Dame
7. Ohio State
8. Oklahoma State
9. Ole Miss
10. Michigan State
11. BYU
12. Utah
13. Pitt
14. Oklahoma
15. Louisiana
16. UTSA

Odds and Ends

a. How about Blake Anderson and Utah State going to San Diego LA and bludgeoning San Diego State? Aggies 46, Aztecs 13, and now Utah State is the Mountain West champion for the first time. 

b. The Conference USA title game was incredible. UTSA built a 42-13 lead and held on by a feather, 49-41, as WKU QB Bailey Zappe threw for a C-USA Championship 577 yards, but UTSA threw for 252 yards and ran for 304 more. 

c. Northern Illinois avenged a regular season loss to manhandle Kent State, 41-23, winning the program's sixth MAC championship, and its fifth since 2011. 

d. For just the third time in program history and first time in the ACC, Pitt is a conference champion. Wake Forest scored 21 points in the first quarter and zero in the last three as Pat Narduzzi's team cruised to a 45-21 win.

e. Utah has won a Fiesta Bowl and a Sugar Bowl, but there's nothing like the Rose Bowl. Thirty years ago, Utah had appeared in three bowl games ever, and none since 1964. Ron McBride woke the program up, winning 88 games from 1990-2002. Urban Meyer took it into overdrive, going 22-2 in two seasons. And now Kyle Whittingham is taking Utah to the Granddaddy of Them All. 

Cincinnati will get the headlines as the ultimate Cinderella in a sport that takes pride in locking Cinderella out of the ball, but let's not overlook what a crowning achievement it is for a program that spent decades winning nothing in the WAC to win the Pac-12 and play in the crown jewel of the college football postseason.

f. Louisiana defeated App State twice this year, this time to win their first outright Sun Belt title with a 24-16 triump. The Billy Napier era ends at 40-12, 33-5 over the past three seasons, the first 12-win season in school history, the first outright SBC crown, and a shot at the highest ranking in school history. What a way to go out.

g. A year ago, Baylor went 2-7. Now they're Big 12 champions.

h. A year ago, Michigan went 2-4. Now they're Big Ten champions.

i. A year ago, Utah State went 1-5. Now they're Mountain West champions.

j. A year ago, Northern Illinois went 0-6. Now they're MAC champions.

k. Two years ago, UTSA went 4-8. Now they're Conference USA champions.

l. A year ago, Alabama went... okay this bit doesn't work here.


DESSERT

I want to end the final 2021 edition of #Nuggets with a sincere thank you. I was genuinely moved by how many people reached out after I put the column on a youth football-induced hiatus earlier this fall, and it was your appreciation that motivated me to bring it back as soon as I could. College football is the greatest sport on earth and I'm so blessed to share that love with so many of you.

Whether you're here every week or it's your first time through, I'm glad you're here. Let's do it again in 2022. 

Tags
terms: