1. The Game of the Year was... the game of the year. We've waited all year -- since Jan. 8, to be precise -- for Georgia to get another shot at Alabama. The Bulldogs and Tide went back to the scene of the crime from the 2017 CFP National Championship and staged, essentially, the exact same game.
Georgia dominated early. The Bulldogs led 7-0 through one, then 21-7 in the second quarter. When Alabama pulled within 21-14 at the half, Georgia opened the second half by forcing a three-and-out, then hitting plays of 21 and 23 yards to go up 28-14, threatening to leave Alabama in the dust.
Once again, Alabama was having quarterback problems. Hobbled by a sprained ankle and flustered by the best defense he's faced all season, Tua Tagovailoa went 3-of-9 for 35 yards with an interception in the first half. After two three-and-outs to open the half, he ended the Tide's third second half possession with an interception in the end zone. He made up for that with a 51-yard scoring strike to Jaylen Waddle, but the ankle overwhelmed Tua to the point where Nick Saban had to pull him early in the fourth quarter.
And for the second straight game, Alabama's backup quarterback came in and immediately lit Georgia on fire.
Jalen Hurts's first pass went for 13 yards to Irv Smith, Jr., and a 10-yard toss to Jerry Jeudy tied the game at 28-28 with 5:19 remaining.
Watching another championship slip away before his eyes, Kirby Smart called for a fake punt at midfield with 3:04 remaining -- on 4th-and-11.
Alabama wasn't fooled, and five plays later Hurts waltzed in for a 15-yard touchdown.
Jake Fromm's Hail Mary on the final play of the game was batted away, and Alabama, 11 months after rallying from 13-0 down to win 26-23, rallied from 28-14 down to beat Georgia 35-28.
In one quarter of action and 11 months after losing his job to Tua, Hurts saved Alabama's bacon by going 7-of-9 for 82 yards and a touchdown while running five times for 28 yards and a touchdown. It was a script any college-level creative writing professor would reject, largely because of the ending. The same team keeps winning every time. 1a. Let's run through the last decade of Georgia football, shall we?
- 2008: Georgia begins the year as the preseason AP No. 1, but sees its brief control of the SEC snatched away when upstart Alabama comes to Athens and leads 31-0 at halftime en route to a 41-30 win. This was the night the Nick Saban Dynasty was born.
- 2012: In a de facto BCS Championship Semifinal, Georgia jumps out to a 21-10 lead before losing 32-28 when Aaron Murray's game-winning pass comes up five yards short. Alabama rolls to its third national title under Saban.
- 2017: Georgia leads Alabama 13-0 and 20-7 in the CFP National Championship, but is shut out in the fourth quarter and loses 26-23 in overtime when Tua Tagovailoa ignites the Tide offense off the bench.
- 2018: Georgia leads Alabama 21-7 and 28014 in the SEC Championship, but is shut out in the fourth quarter and loses 35-28 when Jalen Hurts ignites the Tide offense off the bench.
2. Oklahoma's Red River Revenge game played out just about perfectly. Obviously, Lincoln Riley and company would've loved to pull a 2014 Ohio State and beat Texas 59-0, but we're talking about a team that only beat Kansas by 15.
Leading 30-27 with nine minutes to play, Oklahoma appeared to have a finishing score when CeeDee Lamb broke free down the sideline, but Texas linebacker Gary Johnson caught up and punched the ball free from behind, allowing Texas to take over at its own 8. And then the Oklahoma defense, the embattled, embarrassed and ineffective Oklahoma defense, made a play.
It wasn't a touchdown like the OU defense produced in last week's win over West Virginia (two of them, actually), but it turned out to be even better.
Leading 32-27, Kyler Murray put the finishing touches on his Heisman Trophy argument by directing a perfect drive for the situation. OU moved 65 yards in 11 plays -- consuming 6:27 of the 8:20 remaining -- while hitting two third down completions to set up the third down completion, an 18-yard touchdown to Grant Calcaterra to put the cap on a 39-27 win.
While Tua struggled, Kyler soared, hitting 25-of-34 passes for 379 yards (plus 39 rushing) and three touchdowns.
3. Clemson and Ohio State rolled in their title games. Clemson handled Pitt 42-10. The Tigers rushed for 301 yards and four touchdowns. When accounting for a 30-yard interception return, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was 4-of-16 for minus-22 yards. That's not a typo.
Ohio State needed a miracle to reach the No. 4 line after remaining behind Oklahoma on Tuesday night, and friend-turned-enemy Tom Herman couldn't deliver one. Georgia's competitive showing against Alabama all but removed the Buckeyes from the conversation as Saturday evening turned to night. Even a 59-0 drubbing, a la 2014, probably wouldn't have done the trick, and Northwestern did not oblige.
The Buckeyes' 45-24 win won't be enough to send them to Dallas or Miami, but Ohio State is the back-to-back Big Ten champion and will play in the Rose Bowl for just the second time since the 1996 season and the first time of Urban Meyer's 7-year tenure.
4. Quit stalling and tell us who's in the Playoff already. Each season has a way of testing the strength and values of this system in a unique ways, but no season cuts at the Playoff's core philosophy quite like 2018. In fact, here's the selection committee's protocol, taken directly from the organization's website (emphasis added):
Ranking football teams is an art, not a science. Football is popular in some measure because the outcome of a game between reasonably matched teams is so often decided by emotional commitment, momentum, injuries and the "unexpected bounce of the ball." In any ranking system, perfection or consensus is not possible and the physical impact of the game on student athletes prevents elaborate playoff systems of multiple games. For purposes of any four team playoff, the process will inevitably need to select the four best teams from among several with legitimate claims to participate.
Given that we just saw the No. 4 team go toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team, how can you move Georgia down? SEC commissioner Greg Sankey certainly thinks Georgia should stay above that No. 4 line.
Considering the committee's opinion of the SEC -- eight teams are currently ranked -- couldn't you imagine turning on the TV Sunday and seeing:
Cotton Bowl: (1) Alabama vs. (4) Notre Dame
Orange Bowl: (2) Clemson vs. (3) Georgia
And yet, it's hard to imagine the selection committee being blind to the ramifications of leaving three Power 5 conferences at home to put in a 10-2 non-conference champion. The LSU-Alabama rematch in 2011 helped kill the BCS, and putting Georgia in over Oklahoma would help kill the 4-team format.
When push finally meets shove in that meeting room on Sunday morning, here's what I think it boils down to: when 1-loss non-champions have gotten in Playoff over conference champions, the committee consistently used as evidence the blowout losses suffered by the 2-loss conference champions.
In 2016, Penn State's 49-10 loss to Michigan put 11-1, non-champion Ohio State in the field over the 11-2, Big Ten champion Nittany Lions. Last year, the committee cited Ohio State's 55-24 loss at Iowa to lift 11-1, non-champion Alabama in the field over 11-2, Big Ten champion Ohio State.
This year, it's 11-2 Georgia that has a blowout loss, a 36-16 defeat at LSU on Oct. 13. Oklahoma loss came by three points on a neutral field, a loss the Sooners avenged on Saturday.
Given that, I think the field is:
Orange Bowl: (1) Alabama vs. (4) Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: (2) Clemson vs. (3) Notre Dame
4a. How confident are you in that prediction? Not at all.
5. While Playoff Chaos consumed the other power conferences, the Pac-12 Championship.... happened. One photo sums up the state of Larry Scott's Pac-12.
Yeah, the crowd filled in after that... but you invite such photos upon yourself when you stage your title game at 5 p.m. local time a thousand miles from either campus, don't you?
Considering The Oregonian's John Canzano spent the week waylaying Scott's leadership, it's hard to imagine a worse end to a worse year for the Pac-12's embattled commissioner.
And then Washington went out and beat Utah 10-3, a 494 combined yards from scrimmage, four turnovers and no offensive touchdowns.
Pac-12 football: Feel the excitement, everybody.
5a. Snark aside, Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin deserve your respect. Washington's quarterback and running back have been four year starters and absolute rocks for Chris Petersen's program. With one game to go, Browning has tossed 1,430 career passes and Gaskin has logged 983 career touches from scrimmage. Both players have given their absolute all to their program, and in the process led Washington to a 39-14 record with two Pac-12 championships. They won't make the Playoff, as they did as sophomores, but U-Dub's first Rose Bowl trip in 18 years is quite a sendoff.
6. UCF went from 0-12 to 13-0 in a 2-year span. What UAB just did may be more impressive. Bill Clark's Blazers overcame a self-imposed death penalty to win Conference USA, though it wasn't easy.
A week after losing 27-3 at Middle Tennessee, UAB went back to Murfreesboro and found itself in a 13-3 hole after one quarter. UAB dominated the second quarter, opening the frame with a 16-play, 8-minute touchdown drive, forcing an MTSU three-and-out, knifing 68 yards in four plays for another touchdown, then intercepting Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill in his own territory and turning that into another touchdown. In a crucial sequence, UAB's defense turned away the Blue Raider offense inside the 10-yard line just before halftime, turning seven Middle Tennessee points into three and taking a 24-16 lead to the break.
A defensive struggle broke out in the second half -- UAB mustered only 112 yards after halftime -- but Spencer Brown's 30-yard run was enough to set up a 28-yard Nick Vogel field goal with 3:23 remaining, and the Blazer defense forced three straight Stockstill incompletions from the UAB 46, forcing a turnover on downs with 1:21 to play.
However, Middle Tennessee still had all three timeouts, forcing a UAB punt from the MTSU 46 with 1:02 remaining... but the punt never happened.
It's nice to be good, it's great to be lucky, but to win a conference title you've got to be lucky and good.
No team has ever overcome more adversity to win its conference, given that powerful forces in Alabama literally drove the program out of existence just two years ago.
There were plenty of great coaching jobs in 2018, but Bill Clark is the national coach of the year.
6a. Go ahead and make Jeff Tedford the Co-Coach of the Year while you're at it. Fresno State wasn't dead when Tedford took over ahead of the 2017 season, but it was close. The Bulldogs went 3-9 in 2015 and 1-11 in 2016.
Tedford was an immediate success in Fresno, leading the Bulldogs to the Mountain West title game after a 28-17 win over Boise State in Fresno, but Fresno State couldn't win the rematch on the blue turf. Still, Tedford's debut was a smashing success at 10-4 with a Hawaii Bowl win over Houston.
In 2018, Fresno State again reached the title game, which again required a trip to the blue turf -- a place Fresno hadn't won since 1984, back when the blue turf was actually green.
But this time was different.
Playing in a cold, wet rain storm that turned into snow, Fresno State held leads of 7-0 and 13-7, but seemed dead in the water when Boise's Alexander Mattison busted free for a 34-yard touchdown run with 8:01 remaining. However, Fresno blocked the PAT, then forced the game to overtime at 13-13, even overcoming a fumble inside its own territory by forcing a Boise punt from the Bulldog 42 with 3:15 to play.
Fresno State's defense forced a field goal to open the extra frame, meaning a touchdown would win the Mountain West title -- and a touchdown is what they got. Ronnie Rivers' 1-yard touchdown run gave Fresno State a 19-16 win.
If you had Tedford at 21-6 with two MW West Division titles and one Mountain West title two years in, go ahead and stand up.
7. UCF's 25th consecutive win was its most impressive. Considering the horrific injury McKenzie Milton suffered last week, it would've been understandable if UCF cratered against a tough Memphis team in Saturday's American Championship.
Halfway through the game, it looked like they had. Memphis rolled up 336 rushing yards -- the most by any team in any half this season -- and UCF coughed up three fumbles, two of them by new starting quarterback Darriel Mack, Jr., to help the Tigers to a 38-21 halftime lead.
UCF knew it would have to play a perfect second half to keep the streak alive, and that's exactly what it did.
In five second half possessions, UCF scored five touchdowns, in the process gaining 353 yards on 39 plays. The Knights' defense limited Memphis to 65 second half rushing yards and harassed Memphis quarterback Brady White throughout.
Mack threw for one second half touchdown and then finished off the Knights' last four drives with touchdown runs of four, two, two and five yards, in the process turning a 38-21 deficit into a 56-41 win.
UCF won't make the Playoff, but the Knights are the owners of back-to-back American championships and back-to-back 12-0 records. They'll head to the Fiesta Bowl with a shot at making it back-to-back 13-0 campaigns.
8. The Super 16. The Nuggets is once again honored to vote in the FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here's this week's ballot.
- Notre Dame
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Washington State
- Fresno State
9. Odds and Ends
a. App State cruised to a win in the first Sun Belt Championship with a 30-19 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, giving the Mountaineers at least a share of three straight Sun Belt crowns. Scott Satterfield's last four seasons: 40-11 overall and 29-4 in Sun Belt play. If this is it for him in Boone, what a run it was.
b. Buffalo led the MAC Championship 29-10 deep into the third quarter, but Northern Illinois hit touchdown passes of 28, 32 and 35 yards, the last of which coming with 1:09 to play, to shoot past the Bulls for a 30-29 win. At 8-5, the Huskies are MAC champions for the fourth time in the past eight years.
c. With Florida State's loss last week, Virginia Tech is officially the owner of the nation's longest bowl streak. The Hokies are going bowling for the 26th consecutive year after handling Marshall, 41-20.
d. Liberty is bowl eligible in its first year of FBS play after beating Norfolk State, 52-17.
e. In two weather makeup games, South Carolina handled Akron 28-3 while NC State dusted East Carolina 58-3.
f. Iowa State also staged a makeup game and had to schedule non-scholarship Drake after a game with Incarnate Word fell through. Iowa State prepared for a scrimmage, while Drake prepared for a game against the Big 12 opponent that lives just down the road. Scholarships: Iowa State 85, Drake 0. Total yards: Drake 279, Iowa State 273. Final score: Iowa State 27, Drake 24.
g. In a year where it looked like Cal had a great chance to win back the Axe, Stanford retained control for the eighth straight year with a 23-13 win in Berkeley.
10. And finally... That's a wrap on another year of Nuggets columns. Whether this is your first time here or you're here every week, I want to sincerely thank you for stopping by. Let's do it again in September.