Western Kentucky earned one of the spots in the Conference USA championship game on Black Friday. A day later, they learned who will be their competition on the other sidelines next weekend.
Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech came into their game Saturday tied atop the West division standings at 6-1, effectively turning the contest into a play-in game. Thanks to a huge day from quarterback Nick Mullens, the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 24-10 halftime and really poured it on in the fourth quarter in rolling to a 58-24 win over the Bulldogs.
Mullens passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns in the win. It was Ito Smith, though, who put the final nails in the Bulldogs’ coffin as the USM back ran for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to turn the game into a rout.
With the win, Southern Miss will move on to face Western Kentucky in the conference championship game next Saturday afternoon in Bowling Green. The Hilltoppers finished a perfect 8-0 in conference play to the Golden Eagles’ 7-1, giving WKU the home-field advantage.
Southern Miss will be playing in its first Conference USA title game and third overall. WKU is in just its second season in Conference USA, and will be playing for its first conference title.
The division title also continues the quietly astounding turnaround head coach Todd Monken has fashioned in Hattiesburg. In Monken’s first year, coming off a winless 2012 season, the Eagles went 1-11 and followed it up with a 3-9 2014 campaign. With two games remaining in 2015, Monken has his team sitting at 9-3, easily the team’s best record since going 12-2 in Larry Fedora‘s last season in 2011.
Six days ago, Iowa State announced that it had dismissed head coach Paul Rhoads. Less than a week later, it appears the Cyclones have found a replacement.
According to a report from SI.com, Toledo head coach Matt Campbell has emerged as the front-runner for the ISU job and is expected to agree to a deal in the next 48 hours. To put an exclamation point on the report, interviews with all other candidates have been canceled.
The 35-year-old Campbell has gone 35-15 during his four seasons with the Rockets. UT had a chance to wrap up a spot in the MAC championship game, but a loss Friday handed the West division to Northern Illinois.
Campbell will be taking over a Cyclones team that has gone 8-27 overall and 4-23 in Big 12 play the last three seasons. ISU has won eight or more games in a season just once since 1978, going 9-3 under Dan McCarney in 2000. That was just the second season in program history in which the Cyclones won nine or more games, with the other coming back in 1906.
Whatever Ohio State team that was that took the field last in last week’s debacle against Michigan State, you had to know a different group would make the trip up north to Ann Arbor. Looking like the version of itself many expected the entire season, No. 8 Ohio State thumped No. 10 Michigan 42-13 at the Big House.
Similar to games past in this run of dominance the Buckeyes have enjoyed over the Wolverines — make it four in a row, 11 of the past 12 and 13 of 15 since Jim Tressel‘s arrival in 2001 — Ohio State dominated both lines of scrimmage. Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett combined to rush….
It was enough to leave one believing this Buckeyes team, the team we saw Saturday afternoon, in the second half against Virginia Tech and a handful of times elsewhere, truly is the best team in the country – or at least one of the top four. It was also enough to leave one wondering why last week’s performance was allowed to happen.
The downpour started on the Buckeyes’ second possession when, two plays after a roughing the punter penalty at its own 9 extended the drive, Elliott rumbled 66 yards and Barrett walked in from seven yards out two snaps later. After a Michigan field goal, Ohio State again rumbled 75 yards, with Elliott and Barrett rushing on all but one of the eight snaps, capped by a five-yard Elliott rush.
Jake Rudock hit Jehu Chesson for a five-yard touchdown to pull the Wolverines within 14-10 at the half, but Michigan’s second-ranked rush defense found no answers for Ohio State’s ground game in the locker room.
Ohio State moved 82 yards in eight plays, capped by a highlight 25-yard Jalin Marshall touchdown grab, to push the lead back to two scores.
The Buckeyes put the game out of reach for good with two more lengthy drives — consuming 84 and 75 yards — punctuated by Barrett (13 yards) and Elliott (10 yards) scoring dashes.
Barrett put the cherry on top with a 17-yard touchdown run, ending his day with 19 carries for 139 yards and three touchdowns to go with 113 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-13 passing. Elliott totaled 214 yards and two scores on 30 carries.
As a team, Ohio State out-rushed the Wolverines 371-57, pounding out an even seven yards a carry while limiting Michigan to 2.28.
The win moved Ohio State to 11-1 on the season (7-1 Big Ten) and keeps the club’s faint hopes of a second straight Big Ten championship alive, pending Saturday afternoon’s Michigan State-Penn State result, while keeping the Buckeyes in the mix to benefit in the event Clemson, Alabama, or Oklahoma lose between now and Selection Sunday. At the very worst, Ohio State, which remains unbeaten in true road games under Urban Meyer and 6-2 overall inside Michigan Stadium since the turn of the century, figures to be in line for an at-large berth in the Peach or Fiesta bowl.
Michigan (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) now has a month-plus with which to reconcile a season that looked and played much better than a Brady Hoke season, but offers a very similar result. Jim Harbaugh‘s Wolverines had a plan and executed it, but in the end they’re left with another season without a win over Michigan State or Ohio State, another season without a Big Ten championship, and another season ending outside a major bowl game.
Clemson gave South Carolina chances to pull one of those only-in-a-rivalry-game stunners, but the No. 1 Tigers were too much for the three-win Gamecocks, pulling out a 37-32 win in Columbia.
Clemson lost fumbles near midfield on two of its first three possessions, but South Carolina achieved only a three-and-out and a missed field goal on the two following touches.
The Tigers then broke the game open by scoring touchdowns on their next four non-clock killing possessions, scoring on a pair of Deshaun Watson runs (from five and 30 yards out), a 55-yard Watson strike to Deon Cain and a four-yard C.J. Fuller plunge, turning a scoreless tie into a 28-10 blowout late in the third quarter.
But South Carolina climbed back in the game, first on a 57-yard heave from Perry Orth to Pharoh Cooper and then, after a Clemson fumble, a one-yard Shon Carson run. Lorenzo Nunez‘s two-point conversion made the score 28-25 with 12:19 remaining.
Watson answered by driving Clemson 75 yards in 10 plays, ending the push with his third scoring run of the day — this time from three yards out.
South Carolina (3-9) could not muster a second rally, going three-and-out on the ensuing possession and then turning the ball over on downs at its own 25 with 1:28 remaining to end any hope of a comeback. Greg Huegel added a 36-yard field goal for Clemson with 1:22 remaining, and South Carolina posted a cosmetic touchdown pass from Orth to Deebo Samuel with one tick left on the clock.
Watson closed the day with Heisman-like numbers, hitting 20-of-27 passes for 279 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while rushing 21 rushes for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Wayne Gallman added 19 carries for 102 yards, and the Tigers out-gained the ‘Cocks 515-402 while holding a 26-17 first downs advantage.
The win moves Clemson to 12-0 on the season — its first 12-0 record since claiming the 1981 national championship — heading into an ACC Championship showdown with once-beaten and 14th-ranked North Carolina next Saturday in Charlotte.
The win also ends Clemson’s three-game losing streak at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tigers beat the cross-state Gamecocks in back-to-back years for the first time since 2007-08 and extended their all-time lead to 67-42-4 in a series dating back to 1896.