1. Ohio State wins The Game. Again. No. 10 Ohio State supposedly entered Saturday's game with No. 4 Michigan vulnerable, bruised, and on the ropes. In other words, just where Urban Meyer wanted them.
Meyer will be in the College Football Hall of Fame because he's a master motivator, best evidenced by his 26-3 all-time record in rivalry games entering Saturday.
Make it 27-3.
Against the best defense in the country, Ohio State dropped 62 points -- the second most ever allowed by a Michigan team -- and 573 yards against a team that came in allowing 235 yards and 13.5 points a game. (And, sure, two of those scores can be laid at the feet of Michigan's special teams and offense, but if you're litigating fault for Ohio State's fourth and eighth touchdowns... you've kind of said all you need to say, haven't you?)
Aside from two second quarter stretches where Michigan had a chance to take a lead and then tie the game (but accomplished neither), Ohio State was just better. They had better players. They had better coaches. They had better schemes. The 62-39 final score truly says all you need to know.
Ohio State will now head to Indianapolis to play for its third Big Ten title in the past five years with a chance to sneak into the College Football Playoff for the third time in five years.
And to think, this same Ohio State team was a single incomplete pass away from being eliminated from both trophy hunts last week at Maryland. Seems like more than a week ago, doesn't it?
1a. Where does Michigan go from here? This was an "If not now, when?" game for Michigan. Ohio State entered, if not vulnerable, then wobbly. And not only did Michigan not get it done, the maize and blue were thoroughly demolished in the most embarrassing way possible.
If Michigan was going to lose this game, it was supposed to happen 21-17, not 62-39. Ohio State turned Michigan's supposed strength, its very identity as a program, into a joke over a 4-hour period.
Such is the DNA of this series over this century. Since Jim Tressel arrived in 2001, Ohio State is 16-2 against Michigan. 9-0 in Columbus. 7-0 under Urban Meyer. 4-0 against Jim Harbaugh.
In addition to simply having more good players, Ohio State enters each game with a simple schematic advantage that puts the team in red ahead of the team in blue. In watching four of these Meyer-Harbaugh games, it's clear that a lot has to go right for Michigan's offense to score, where only one thing has to go wrong for the defense for Ohio State's offense to score. This photo by the Columbus Dispatch's Kyle Robertson tells the story of this game and this series right now, where Ohio State's Parris Campbell, Jr. sprints into the future, leaving Harbaugh to point angrily at the past.
So, again, where does Michigan go from here? It's not as if Harbaugh is in any danger of being fired, but if Michigan were to move on -- what coach exists that could flip this thing? What quarterback exists that could tilt the balance of power? When everything goes so well for the first 11 weeks, does it really make sense to blow it up on one side of the ball and start over?
Whether he declared himself such or not, Harbaugh was supposed to be the savior of Michigan football. Four years in, Michigan's Savior in Khakis has won 38 games, but almost none that matter. None against Ohio State. No conference championships. No division championships. Certainly no national championships.
This was the type of loss that can push the Michigan fandom outside the Five Stages of Grief, beyond anger, bargaining, denial and all the rest and into quitting football altogether. If you go into this game expecting to exorcise your demons only to learn they're even stronger and more powerful than they've ever been, well, wouldn't you have to ask yourself, "Why do I do this to myself year after year? What's the point?"
They'll play this game again in 2019. Michigan will probably enter with Big Ten and national championship hopes; Ohio State most certainly will. And at some point in that game, Ohio State's players will look at each other expecting everything to break their way, and Michigan will players will look at each other wondering if this is the moment everything starts to fall apart again.
And both sides will probably be right.
2. Oklahoma wins (yet another) shootout, setting up a Red River Rematch. You know they say sometimes it's better to be lucky than good? One play in No. 6 Oklahoma's 59-56 win over No. 13 West Virginia epitomized that cliche. With OU leading 52-49 early in the fourth quarter, WVU running back Kennedy McKoy broke free for a 70-yard run to the OU 5. McKoy was able to run those 70 yards because WVU wide receiver TJ Simmons manhandled OU cornerback Tre Brown -- too much, it turned out. Simmons blocked Brown well beyond the field of play, drawing a personal foul and taking the ball from the OU 5 all the way back to the WVU 43. Three plays later, Oklahoma's defense hit West Virginia quarterback Will Grier while he was throwing, forcing a fumble which Sooner linebacker Curtis Bolton picked up and returned 48 yards for the decisive touchdown.
It was the second time West Virginia essentially had a touchdown taken off the board due to a penalty and led to the second Grier fumble returned for a touchdown.
Trailing 59-49, West Virginia scored to pull within 59-56 but, with 4:12 to play, Dana Holgorsen elected to try an onside kick rather than trust his defense. The WVU defense forced OU into a 4th-and-5 but, with the ball at his opponent's 45 rather than inside his own territory, Lincoln Riley kept his offense on the field. Kyler Murray (478 yards, four touchdowns) rewarded that faith with an 8-yard completion, and his 17-yard run with 1:50 to play iced the game.
It's a game where West Virginia rolled up 704 yards and 33 first downs, but will spend the off-season lamenting missed opportunities. Combined with the 2012 shootout that saw WVU roll up 778 yards (including 426 by Tavon Austin alone) in a 50-49 loss, it's the second time Holgo and company have rolled up 700 yards against Oklahoma and lost the game.
If winning shootouts seems to be a weekly thing for Oklahoma, that's because it is. It's the fourth straight game Oklahoma has allowed 40 or more points (all wins). In Riley's four years in the program, it's the fifth time OU has allowed 600 or more yards (again, all wins).
In fact, in the Riley era Oklahoma is 8-3 when allowing 40 or more points. One of those losses came to Texas in October. The Sooners will get a chance to avenge that loss on Saturday.
3. Notre Dame is in. But it wasn't easy. Needing a win to book the first ticket to the 2018 College Football Playoff, Notre Dame made it interesting. The third-ranked Irish trailed USC 10-0 early, but climbed back in the game due to two things: 1) USC turnovers, and 2) relatedly, USC surrendering a second half run.
The 10-0 deficit actually could -- and should -- have been much worse had Notre Dame defenders not punched out two fumbles from USC wideouts well inside Irish territory. Trailing by just 10 instead of possibly 24, Notre Dame rallied from there, notching a touchdown to pull within 10-7 at the half, then taking the lead for good in the third quarter.
Notre Dame eventually scored 24 unanswered points before coming out with a 24-17 win. The victory puts Notre Dame at 12-0 and in the Playoff, cementing what is easily Brian Kelly's best coaching job after going 4-8 two years ago.
3a. About USC... The Trojans' loss sinks USC from Rose Bowl champions, to Pac-12 champions, to 5-7 and missing a bowl game in successive seasons. The focus will now turn to USC AD Lynn Swann to see if the best job west of Austin, Texas will now open.
4. The Game of the Year is officially on. It was nearly an afterthought on Saturday, but the game we've been waiting for since Tua Tagovailoa's rainbow found DaVonta Smith's arms in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium end zone to end the 2017 season is on -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Georgia for the SEC championship and so, so much more.
Alabama completed just the fourth undefeated regular season of the Nick Saban era with a 52-21 blowout of Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Tide led 17-14 at the half, but Tua tossed four touchdown passes in the next 15 minutes and 31 seconds to put the game away. The Heisman front runner closed the day with 350 total yards and six touchdowns.
Georgia continues to get better as the season wears on, evidenced by a 45-21 thrashing of Georgia Tech that wasn't as close as the final score. The Bulldogs scored on the first seven possessions which, when combined with last week's 66-27 drubbing of Massachusetts, pushed Georgia's streak to 17 consecutive possessions in which the Bulldogs' offense either produced points or ran the clock out.
Alabama went on to win the national title just once in the previous three times in which it rolled into Atlanta at 12-0. There was the 2008 season, where Alabama lost to Florida, who went on to win the national title. A year later, an undefeated Alabama defeated an undefeated Florida and later won the national title. And then there was 2016, when Alabama drubbed an overmatched Florida team but lost the title game to Clemson.
That brings us to this year's game.
5a. A brief history of how we got here, in four Alabama-Georgia games.
Sept. 27, 2008: No. 8 Alabama heads to a blacked-out Sanford Stadium and crushes No. 3 Georgia, 41-30. The Tide rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead, announcing Nick Saban's program as a legitimate national power until further notice.
Dec. 1, 2012: With a trip to the BCS National Championship on the line, No. 3 Georgia falls to No. 2 Alabama, 32-28. Georgia's pass from the Alabama 8-yard line with five seconds left in the game is complete, but five yards short of the goal line. Alabama rolls over Notre Dame to win its second straight national title, while a much-awaited national title continues to elude Georgia under Mark Richt.
Oct. 3, 2015: In a last-stand game for Richt, No. 13 Alabama again visits Sanford Stadium and again crushes a higher-ranked Bulldogs team. Playing through a driving rainstorm, the Tide jumps out to a 38-3 lead over No. 8 Georgia en route to a 38-10 win, marking the beginning of the end of the Mark Richt era in Athens.
Jan. 8, 2018: In the CFP National Championship, Georgia is in prime position for a pupil-usurps-master story in Year 2 under Kirby Smart, taking a 13-0 lead over Alabama at halftime. But Nick Saban inserts true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the second half, who ignites a second half comeback, then a stunning 2nd-and-26 touchdown pass to hand Alabama a 26-23 win.
5. Just as we saw in Columbus, rivalry losing streaks are hard to end for a reason. On Friday night, Washington State had a chance to close perhaps its best regular season ever in perhaps the biggest Apple Cup ever. Washington made the trip to the Palouse with the Pac-12 North on the line... and the Huskies pretty much dominated.
Washington led 14-0 late in the first half, 20-9 midway through the third quarter and, with Wazzu within five in the fourth quarter, put the game away with an 80-yard Myles Gaskin run. The Huskies defense harassed Gardner Minshew into his worst game as a Cougar, completing 26-of-35 passes for just 152 yards and two interceptions, while Washington's senior backfield of Jake Browning (207 passing yards) and Gaskin (170 yards, three scores) closed out a perfect Apple Cup career with a 28-15 win.
The win moved Washington to 6-0 against its in-state rival in the Chris Petersen era and sent the Huskies to the Pac-12 Championship for the second time in three years, where they'll face Utah with the Rose Bowl on the line. Washington State, at 10-2, will have to settle for the Fiesta Bowl.
Earlier on Friday, Virginia was thisclose to not only ending its 14-game Commonwealth Cup losing streak to Virginia Tech, but also to keeping the Hokies home for the winter for the first time since 1992. How close?
That fumble came with 1:51 to play in the fourth quarter and Virginia leading 31-24. Hop on that ball, and Virginia Tech's streaks are over. Instead, Virginia Tech recovered the ball in the end zone, sending the game to overtime -- which Virginia Tech won, 34-31.
Winners of 15 straight over Virginia, Virginia Tech will play Marshall next week for the right to make their 26th consecutive bowl trip.
5a. That said, it's not impossible. The way to take all the bad rivalry game voodoo working against you is to simply pummel your rival. That's what Minnesota did in snapping its 14-game losing streak to Wisconsin with a 37-15 win, taking Paul Bunyan's Axe for the first time since 2003 and sending the Gophers to a bowl game.
With Minnesota's win, the most-played rivalry in FBS is now square at 60-60-8.
6. The longest bowl streak in FBS history is over. Florida State's bowl streak needed help last year to make it to Year 36, but Year 36 is where it will end. Florida dumped Florida State 41-14 in Tallahassee, handing the Gators their first win over their archrivals since 2012 and Florida State its first losing record since 1976.
Year 1 of perhaps a new 10 Year War between Dan Mullen and Willie Taggart went resoundingly to the former, as Florida improved upon last year's 4-7 season to post a 9-3 regular season with a possible New Year's Six berth, giving the Gators a shot at 10 wins and a top-10 final ranking. Taggart, meanwhile, will have a long, long time to think about where his Year 1 went wrong and how to fix it. Longer than any Florida State coach has had to examine and reflect in 37 years. 7. How do you douse your head coach in Gatorade an hour before losing the game? LSU found out how. Trailing No. 22 Texas A&M 24-17 early in the fourth quarter, No. 7 LSU punched out a Trayveon Williams fumble and raced it back for a touchdown to tie the game, then added another score to surge ahead 31-24. That score appeared it would hold when, with 36 seconds left, A&M quarterback Kellen Mond was intercepted by Tigers safety Grant Delpit. Cue Gatorade bath for the head coach, and cue LSU coaches vacating their booth in the A&M press box to join in on the victory celebration. But replay showed Mond's knee actually grazed the ground when corralling an errant snap and before launching his ill-fated pass, giving A&M the ball back -- at their own 39, with no timeouts, and only 26 seconds to work with after a mandatory 10-second runoff. After an incomplete pass, Mond hit passes of 20 and 22 yards to take the ball to the LSU 19, but he was not able to spike the ball before the clock hit triple zeroes, ending the game for a second time.... until the officials put one more second back on the clock. Given a third life, Mond hit Quartney Davis for a touchdown as time expired, extending what would become the longest and highest-scoring game in FBS history.
- In the first overtime, both teams hit field goals
- In the second, both scored touchdowns on 3-yard touchdown runs
- In the third, both hit 25-yard touchdown passes, then threw for 2-point conversions
- In the fourth, both set up 1st-and-goals before settling for short field goals
- In the fifth, both threw touchdown passes but missed their 2-point passes
- In the sixth, both scored touchdowns and converted their 2-point tries
Then, with in the fifth seven overtime game in FBS history, Joe Burrow charged for a 10-yard touchdown run but missed his 2-point pass, providing an opening for Mond to again hit Davis for a game-tying touchdown pass, then find Kendrick Rogers for the game-winning 2-point try. After nearly losing 31-24 two separate times, Texas A&M won the highest-scoring game in FBS history, 74-72.
The result gives Texas A&M its first win over LSU in SEC play and allows the Aggies to finish in second in the SEC West in Jimbo Fisher's first season (albeit three games behind Alabama). For LSU, the loss is consequential. A win would have put LSU at 10-2 and, considering their dominant win over Georgia in October, given the Tigers an argument to pass the Bulldogs in the event of an SEC Championship loss and possibly play a de facto home game in the Sugar Bowl. Instead, LSU enters bowl season at 9-3 and losing head-to-head to No. 13 Florida, possibly knocking the Bayou Bengals out of the New Year's Six altogether.
8. The Super 16. The Nuggets is once again honored to vote in the FWAA-NFF Super 16. Here's this week's ballot.
- Notre Dame
- Ohio State
- Central Florida
- Penn State
- Washington State
- West Virginia
9. Odds and Ends
a. Miami (Ohio) beat Ball State 42-21 on Tuesday night, meaning a Bowling Green win over Buffalo on Friday would send Chuck Martin's 6-6 RedHawks to the MAC Championship. Alas, Buffalo handled BG 44-14, meaning Lance Leipold's 10-2 Bulls will face Northern Illinois in Detroit.
b. Playing without its best offensive and defensive players, Houston didn't have enough horses (or Cougars) to keep up with Memphis. A 31-31 tie entering the fourth quarter ended in a 52-31 Memphis win, handing Mike Norvell's Tigers their second consecutive American West championship.
c. The complexion of Saturday's American Championship changed greatly on Friday when UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton left the War on I-4 on a cart with a serious leg injury. Even without their starting quarterback, the Knights extended their FBS-best winning streak to 24 with a 38-10 win over South Florida. Greg McCrae picked up the slack for UCF's offense, rushing 16 times for 181 yards and three touchdowns.
d. Mississippi State trolled the heck out of Ole Miss in the closing moments of their 35-3 Egg Bowl win. If you're reading this, you know Ole Miss's defense calls itself the Land Sharks. If you don't understand the context of this troll, find the nearest parent of a toddler and they'll fill you in.
e. The two sides scuffled at multiple points on Thursday night. Joe Moorhead doesn't seem to be a fan of Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork.
f. Oregon won the Civil War for the 10th time in 11 seasons, smashing Oregon State 55-15.
g. Iowa has now beaten Nebraska four times in a row for the first time ever, though it wasn't easy. The Huskers trailed 28-13 in the fourth quarter but forced Iowa to convert a field goal as time expired to win 31-28. Nebraska will miss a bowl for the second straight season, but Scott Frost's team won four of its final six games, with the losses coming 36-31 at Ohio State and 31-28 at Iowa. Huskers comin'.
h. Baylor won a loser-stays-home game over Texas Tech, 35-24 before (checks notes) less than 28,000 fans at AT&T Stadium. A year after going 1-11, Baylor is going bowling in Year 2 under Matt Rhule.
i. Purdue took the Old Oaken Bucket and a bowl bid from Indiana, winning 28-21 in what could be Jeff Brohm's final game in black and gold.
j. Mike Sanford needed two wins to likely keep his job at Western Kentucky, and he got his two wins. WKU upset Louisiana Tech 30-15, closing the year at 3-9.
k. If you're Vanderbilt, what's better than beating Tennessee a third straight time for the first time since 1926? Beating Tennessee a third straight time and keeping the Vols home for the winter while clinching a bowl trip for yourself. That's what Derek Mason's crew did with a 31-13 thumping in Nashville.
l. Marshall upset FIU, creating a 3-way tie in the C-USA East that Middle Tennessee won. Marshall's win went final right as the Blue Raiders were kicking off against UAB -- setting up an immediate rematch with the Blazers, already crowned C-USA West champions, and rendering Saturday's game completely irrelevant. Middle Tennessee won anyway, 27-3.
m. UConn became the first team in FBS history to allow at least 50 points a game, closing the book on 2018 with a 57-7 loss to Temple, pushing the Huskies' scoring defense to 50.42 points a game.
n. App State won the Sun Belt East championship game, 21-10 over Troy. The Mountaineers will meet Louisiana-Lafayette, who clinched the West with a 31-28 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
o. Needing a win to reach a bowl game, Arizona seemed golden when it took a 40-21 lead over Arizona State to the fourth quarter. But a field goal, a touchdown and a 2-point conversion pulled the Sun Devils within 40-32, then Arizona turned the ball over twice in three plays to hand Arizona State a 41-40 lead. Still, Arizona had a 45-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The kick sailed wide right, and just like that Arizona's season was over.
p. After seeing its bowl dream die at the 1-yard line on their final play of the season in 2017, Tulane faced a similar win-or-stay-home game with Navy. The Green Wave jumped out to a 21-0 lead, but found themselves down 28-21 with 3:44 to play. Tulane got a 26-yard touchdown pass with 1:27 left, and Willie Fritz again boiled his season down to one play. This time, Tulane got it, as Justin McMillan's pass was good, and Tulane hung on for a 29-28 win. The Green Wave are going bowling for the third time this century.
q. There's a chance Bill Snyder has coached his final game at Kansas State. The 5-6 Wildcats appeared safe with a 38-21 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Cyclones stormed back to win 42-38, thereby ending K-State's season and perhaps Snyder's career.
r. Clemson beat South Carolina by 21, and here's what Brent Venables had to say afterward.
The Tigers won 56-35 while surrendering an even 600 yards of total offense.
s. No. 17 Utah rallied from a 20-0 deficit to win the Holy War over BYU, 35-27
t. No. 23 Boise State held off No. 21 Utah State 33-24 to win the Mountain West's Mountain Division. The Broncos will host Fresno State for the league title.
u. Teams that needed a win to reach a bowl game and got it (in no particular order): Baylor, Minnesota, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Miami (Ohio), Virginia Tech*, Tulane, Wake Forest, Liberty*, Wyoming, Southern Miss, Tulane, TCU
(*) Needs another win next week to reach bowl eligibility
v. Teams that needed a win to reach a bowl game and didn't get it (in no particular order): Texas Tech, Indiana, Tennessee, Akron, Coastal Carolina, Florida State, Maryland, SMU, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas State, Colorado, USC
10. And finally... Honestly, if you're still reading this thing after 3,600 words, come find me at the AFCA Convention and I'll reward you with a Grade A handshake.