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The Fifth Quarter: Week 12 Rewind

Stanford Cardinal fans celebrate their NCAA football win over the Oregon Ducks in Eugene AP

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

BChaoS
Somewhere, Mike Slive is dancing on a couch.  Butt-nekkid.

Just one week ago, it appeared the SEC’s streak of six straight BcS championships was all but over.  Alabama’s loss left the heavyweight conference with no undefeated teams and seemingly on the outside of the crystal window looking in at three eligible unbeatens remaining.

Seven days later?  They’re right back in one of the two title-game driver’s seats.

No. 1 Oregon?  Dropped 17-14 by Stanford in overtime, in Eugene no less.

No. 2 Kansas State?  Humiliated 52-24 by a below-.500 Baylor squad.

Of course, the biggest winners of them all coming out of the stunning twin developments come from the SEC.  Provided Alabama, No. 4 in the last set of BcS rankings, handles business against lowly Auburn and Georgia, BcS No. 5, takes care of Georgia Tech, the winner of the SEC championship game will — rightly, I might add, given the turn of events in Week 12 — fill one of the two spots in the BcS title game.

The other spot?  On one level, it’s very simple.  If Notre Dame, comfortable winners over Wake Forest Saturday, beats a reeling USC squad next weekend, it will be the Irish charged with the task of knocking the SEC off its crystal perch.

If the Trojans pull off an upset for the ages?  It’s BcS chaos all over again.  Such a development would bring several teams back into the mix, including the two losers from tonight as well as Florida State and Florida, which will play each other in the regular-season finale to add yet another layer to what’s fast devolving into unchartered waters.

Hell, Oregon could even pull off an Alabama circa 2011: not play in its conference championship game — Stanford will represent the Pac-12 North if it beats UCLA next week — and still backdoor its way into the BcS title game depending on how things play out in front of them.

Undeniably, though, there’s one huge loser in all of this glorious late-season chaos: the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Along with Notre Dame, the Ohio State University is the last of the unbeatens and would be in position for its fourth title-game appearance in the BcS era were it not for NCAA sanctions that include a postseason ban for the 2012 season.  Hopefully, that 2012 Gator Bowl berth was worth it to Gene Smith & Company.

A close second to tOSU?  One line: North Carolina State 17, Florida State 16.  Oh, ‘Noles…

DAY OF CLINCHINGS
On the lighter side of college football news, and entering Week 12 of the 2012 season, just one conference or division champion — Georgia, SEC East — had officially been determined.  This weekend, a total of six division or conference champions were officially decided.  Below is a snapshot look at the teams that will be adding some hardware to their respective trophy cases in the coming days:

ACC Atlantic
After beating Clemson back in September, there was very little doubt No. 10 Florida State — even with an inexplicable loss to North Carolina State — would represent the Atlantic in the ACC championship game.  The Seminoles made it official Saturday as they overwhelmed undermanned Maryland 41-14.FSU will be appearing in their third ACC title game in the eight years the event has existed.  Just who the ‘Noles will play in that title game remains uncertain as Duke, Georgia Tech and Miami all remain in varying degrees of contention for the Coastal crown.

Big Ten Leaders
Ineligible for the postseason courtesy of NCAA sanctions, No. 6 Ohio State nonetheless claimed the Big Ten Leaders trophy on the strength of its overtime over Wisconsin.  The Badgers may have lost the battle but will end up winning the war, though; because of the Buckeyes’ sanctions, the Badgers will represent the division in the conference championship game in early December.

Conference USA West
With a two-game lead entering Week 12, Tulsa would’ve needed to lose its last three games to lose its stranglehold on the divisional lead.  The Golden Hurricane took that remote possibility out of play straight away thanks to a 23-21 win over UCF in a battle of Conference USA divisional leaders.  It marks the fifth time since Conference USA went to a two-division setup in 2005 that Tulsa has won or shared the West title.

MAC East
Thanks to its win over Bowling Green, which came into the game one game behind Kent State, the No. 25 Golden Flashes claimed the first MAC East title in the history of the football program.  Coupled with Northern Illinois’ win earlier in the week, the MAC becomes the first conference with its championship game slots officially filled: KSU-NIU Nov. 30 at Detroit’s Ford Field.

Pac-12 South
For the second consecutive season, a college football team from the city of Los Angeles will represent the South in the Pac-12 championship game.  Unbelievably, that team is again No. 17 UCLA and not No. 21 USC as the Bruins dropped their rivals for the first time since 2005 to the tune of 38-28.  Even sweeter, the win clinched the division title for the Bruins in their first season under Jim Mora Jr.  And, in an odd turn of events, the Bruins will go a long way in determining just who they will face in that championship game as they face Stanford next weekend.  If UCLA wins, they will face Oregon.  If UCLA loses, they will face… Stanford in a rematch six days later.  And the game would very likely be played on the Cardinal’s home turf.

WAC
In what will be the final season of the conference, the Utah State Aggies have staked its claim as the last champion of the soon-to-be-defunct conference.  And, in an odd twist, could very well have cost the remaining members a significant chunk of change.  In a matchup of the lone remaining WAC teams with unbeaten league marks, the Aggies outlasted No. 19 Louisiana Tech 48-41 in overtime.  The only problem with that?  LaTech was the lone hope for a BcS buster in 2012, meaning the loss has the potential to cost interested parties millions of dollars.  For some reason, we don’t think the Aggies give two spits right about now.

WINNERS

Les Miles

There are times in a man’s life when you just have to bow to another man’s greatness.  This press conference performance by LSU’s head coach is one of those times.  It’s an instant classic and must-see YouTube TV:

“THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FLOP THAT TAKES THE FIELD FOR OUR FOOTBALL TEAM… just so you know.”  Out-freaking-standing, Coach Grass-Eating Hat.  Out-freaking-standing.

Heismanziel
Given the level of competition, Johnny Manziel was almost pedestrian in No. 9 Texas A&M’s 47-28 cruise over FCS-level Sam Houston State, throwing for 267 yards and three touchdowns while running for another 100 and two scores on the ground in under three quarters worth of work.  So, how exactly did the redshirt freshman likely vault to Heisman front-runner status?  Three words: Collin Klein imploded.  While the senior threw for nearly 300 yards in the upset loss to Baylor, Klein also threw three picks and was largely held in check by a defense that came into the game ranked 118th in scoring defense.  It has all set the stage for something that’s never happened in the 78-year history of the Heisman a freshman, redshirt or otherwise, taking home the most prestigious award in the sport.  And, if the voting were held today, that’s very likely exactly what would happen.

Boy oh Boyd
Speaking of the Heisman, if this performance doesn’t push Tajh Boyd deep into the discussion, nothing will.  All the Clemson quarterback did Saturday was set a school and ACC record for touchdowns in a single game with eight — five passing, three rushing — as the No. 11 Tigers outlasted North Carolina State 62-48.  Boyd also set the single-game school record for yards of total offense with 529 yards, 426 passing and a career-high 103 rushing.  Coming into the game second in passing efficiency, Boyd did nothing to hurt that standing, and has earned the right to be thrown in with the Collin Kleins and Johnny Footballs when it comes to the race for the 2012 stiff-armed trophy.

Nearly Scarlet Knighted
While Rutgers didn’t join in on the day of clinchings, they continue to control their own conference destiny.  Thanks to a rough-on-the-eyes 10-3 win over Cincinnati, the No. 22 Scarlet Knights inched closer to clinching the football program’s first-ever Big East crown.  Two wins over the next two weeks will clinch the conference and a BcS berth, as would just a single win when coupled with a Louisville loss in one of the Cardinals’ last two games.  Of course, Rutgers’ task is made a bit more difficult as they will face Louisville in the final game of the regular season in what will very likely serve as a de facto Big East championship game.  After losing their head coach to the NFL in the offseason, however, Rutgers is sitting prettier than most thought they would this soon.

Damn good Gardner
Denard who?  Yes, the pregame Senior Day festivities were all about Denard Robinson, but the 60 minutes of game time afterwards belonged to and were owned by Devin Gardner.  Making his third straight start in place of an injured Robinson, Gardner accounted for six touchdowns — three rushing, three passing  — as the Wolverines steamrolled hapless Iowa 42-17.  It was No. 23 Michigan’s third consecutive win with Gardner under center and sets up a very intriguing regular-season finale against undefeated Ohio State, with the subplot being a pair of dynamic young dual-threat quarterbacks — Gardner and the Buckeyes’ Heisman candidate Braxton Miller — squaring off in The Game.

This is how we do it
Following an unceremonious exit from Boston College, Montel Harris, the leading rusher in that school’s history, landed at Temple to finish out his collegiate days.  After a relatively quiet start to his one-year Owls career — 597 yards, five touchdowns — Harris literally exploded Saturday afternoon.  In Temple’s 63-32 obliteration of Army, Harris rushed for a school- and Big East-record 351 yards and seven touchdowns.  The latter total was just one off the single-game FBS record.  And it wasn’t just Harris slicing an Army defense that came in ranked 105th nationally against the run, either, as the Owls rushed for 534 yards on 57 carries.

LOSERS

College football fans
After the ACC had approved a $50 million exit fee for any team seeking to leave his conference, commissioner John Swofford was supremely confident that the door had slammed shut on expansion.  A few months later, Swofford was wrong — and the game’s worse off for it.  To review, multiple media outlets reported Saturday afternoon that Maryland was in serious negotiations with the Big Ten about a move from the ACC, and that Rutgers would likely leave the Big East for the Midwest conference as well.  Of course, that will have a trickle-down effect as the ACC will likely pilfer the Big East for a replacement, with the Big East looking elsewhere to fill that hole and so on and so on and so on.  While the Big Ten looks to further fill its financial coffers by adding significant television footprints to the Big Ten Network, it’s the fans that once again come out on the short end.  The game has been a lot about the money in recent years; these moves, if they come to fruition, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s all about the money in big-time college football.  To hell with rivalries and geography and everything else that had made this the greatest sport in the country.  The bottom line is all that matters to the movers and shakers anymore, and it will prove to be the downfall of this once-great game.

HorSECrap slate
Exactly a week ago, the SEC (momentarily) saw its hopes for a seventh consecutive BcS championship severely diminished with Alabama’s upset loss to Texas A&M.  In honor of that near-death experience, nearly the entire conference decided to take Week 12 off.  Of the 11 games involving SEC teams this weekend, seven of them came against opponents from the FCS level.  Just three games were conference matchups — Arkansas-Mississippi State, Ole Miss-LSU, Tennessee-Vanderbilt — while just one team went outside the conference against a BcS-level school — Missouri hosting Syracuse.  Yes, the pastries that make up this week’s SEC menu are not much different from other conferences earlier in this season.  The fact that the snacking comes this late in the year, though, just leaves a bad taste all around.

Fall of the Spartans
When the 2012 season began, Michigan State was ranked 13th in the country and widely viewed, along with in-state rival Michigan, as the favorites to claim the Big Ten Legends division title.  After 12 weeks?  A postseason bowling trip is in doubt as the Spartans are just 5-6 overall and a lowly 2-5 in conference play.  In order to become bowl eligible, MSU will need next week to beat Minnesota, with whom they are tied in the divisional cellar.  As it stands now, this would serve as the worst season the Spartans have endured in Mark Dantonio‘s six seasons in East Lansing.  Even more head-scratching is the fact that such a subpar season comes on the heels of back-to-back 11-win years.

Re-Buff’d yet again
Entering this weekend, Colorado ranked 115th or worse — there are 124 teams at the FBS level — in total offense/defense and scoring offense/defense.  Saturday’s outcome will do little to help statistically what is arguably the worst member of a BcS conference as the one-win Buffaloes were pounded 38-3 by Washington, with the Buffs allowing 476 yards of offense while mustering just 141 of their own.  Eight of their 10 losses have come by 25 or more points — four by 44 or more — and their average margin of defeat is just over 33 points per game.  In just his second year, it’s hard to say if Jon Embree and his 4-20 record are on the hot seat or not.  If he is, and based solely on the on-field results, it would be far from a surprising development.

UC… what the F?
With a shot at clinching a division title, UCF instead decided to spit its bit as they Knights fell to Tulsa 23-21.  On the other hand, the Golden Hurricane wrapped up its division and a spot in the Conference USA championship game with the win.  The good news for UCF?  All it needs is to upend three-win UAB next weekend in order to secure a rematch with Tulsa.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 8 LSU 41, Ole Miss 35: To be honest, I could care less about what happened during this game.  After the game was where all the necessary action was, as you can see by scrolling up several inches if you missed it.

– No. 12 South Carolina 24, Wofford 7: The Gamecocks were tied with the FCS-level school at seven-all early in the fourth quarter before pulling away with a 17-point mini explosion.  The combination of playing down to the level of competition and looking ahead to next weekend’s game against in-state rival Clemson were likely factors in this being a hell of a lot closer than what it should’ve been.

– No. 13 Oklahoma 50, West Virginia 49:  The Sooner’s last-minute win coupled with Kansas State’s stunning loss leaves OU just a K-State loss to Texas plus a Bedlam win over Oklahoma State from claiming the Big 12 championship and a BcS bowl berth.

– No. 23 Rutgers 10, Cincinnati 3: It was far from pretty, but the tight win over the Bearcats brought the Scarlet Knights one step closer to its first-ever Big East championship.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Notre Dame — As the only eligible unbeaten team left, they are the only option for the top spot.  Say what you want about their less-than-impressive resume’ and numerous close calls, but the Irish have done the one thing that no other team with a postseason shot has been able to do: avoid stubbing its toe.  Pretty or not, that’s all that matters. (Last week: No. 3)
Up next: at No. 21 USC

2. Alabama — Their pre-Thanksgiving nap, brought on by its FCS tryptophan feast, was rudely interrupted by the pair of upsets ahead of them that put the Tide right back on track for a second consecutive BcS title and third in four years.  After mauling Auburn in the Iron Bowl, trips to Atlanta and, possibly, Miami await. (Last week: No. 4)
Up next: vs. Auburn

3. Oregon — Let’s be clear on two fronts when it comes to the team from Eugene.  One, they lost to a really, really good Stanford team that took Notre Dame to overtime earlier in the year.  And, two, the Ducks are still a damn good team and would still be worthy of a title-game appearance, backdoor or not. (Last week: No. 1)
Up next: at No. 15 Oregon State

4. Ohio State — Ineligible or not, being one of the two remaining undefeated teams counts for something, even as arrogance on the part of university officials could cost Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes a shot at the crystal. (Last week: No. 5)
Up next: vs. No. 23 Michigan

5. Florida State — Since its inexplicable loss to North Carolina State Oct. 6, the Seminoles have steamrolled its next five opponents by an average of 25.6 points per game. (Last week: unranked)
Up next: vs. No. 7 Florida

COACHING HOT SEAT
A weekly look at some of the current head coaches who could most likely be an ex-head coaches by season’s end — if not sooner.

– USC’s Lane Kiffin: A little peacock birdie informed me last week that, if the Trojans did not beat cross-town rival UCLA and national rival Notre Dame, Kiffin would very likely be shown the door.  Saturday, the Trojans were embarrassed 38-28 by the little brother Bruins, becoming the first team since Auburn in 1984 to lose four games after being named the preseason No. 1.  Additionally, USC is in danger of becoming the first team since 1964 to end the season unranked after beginning at No. 1.  Following the loss to UCLA, Kiffin maintained that athletic director Pat Haden assured him he would return in 2013.  While that may very well end up being the case, there’s at least one Kiffin who will face the ax as defensive coordinator and Lane’s father Monte Kiffin is all but out.  Based on the preseason expectations, someone will have to fall on the sword, and who better than a 72-year-old assistant well on the downside of his career.

– Tennessee’s Derek Dooley: “The one thing Tennessee always does is kick the sh*t out of Vandy!”  Those were Dooley’s words in the locker room after the Volunteers beat the Commodores last season.  James Franklin‘s words (not really) to his team a year later?  “The one thing Vandy does is get Dooley’s sh*t kicked out the door!”  Or something like that as, with Vandy’s win over UT, the ‘Dores likely sealed Dooley’s fate in Knoxville.  Dooley was on the ropes prior to the game; Franklin and crew likely delivered the knockout punch.

HE SAID IT
“In other words, the bottom of the SAC.” — ESPN GameDay host Chris Fowler in describing Alabama’s Week 12 “competition,” Southern Athletic Conference member Western Carolina.

HELMET OF THE DAY
And by “Helmet of the Day” I mean “what in the name of common decency were you thinking/drinking/smoking, Virginia Tech?”

Holy Hokie helmet from hell…

YOU DON’T SAY?
USC’s Matt Barkley is first in the nation with 35 touchdown passes… and second in interceptions with 15.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– In West Virginia’s one-point loss to Oklahoma, wide receiver Tavon Austin rushed for 344 yards.  With 146 on kick returns and 82 receiving, the receiver accounted for a staggering 572 yards for the game.

– With a field goal early in the second quarter of Florida State’s division-clinching win over Maryland, Dustin Hopkins broke Boise State’s Kyle Brotzman‘s career record of 439 points by an FBS kicker.

– A first-half touchdown gave Wisconsin’s Montee Ball 78 for his career, tying former Miami of Ohio running back Travis Prentice for the most in FBS history.  The Badgers running back will have three games to break the mark.

John Simon totaled four sacks in Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin, a performance that likely locks up Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for the senior.

– North Carolina State wide receiver Tobias Palmer set an ACC record for all-purpose yards with 496 — 277 on kickoff returns and 219 receiving — in the high-scoring loss to Clemson.

– Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel became the first freshman, and the fifth player overall, in FBS history to pass for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a single season.

– After entering Saturday’s action with just 11 touchdown passes in 10 games, Keith Price tossed a career-high five in the win over Colorado.  As the game came against the Buffaloes, however, we’re uncertain if that’s an official personal mark or not.

– Kent State’s Dri Archer rushed for 241 yards on 17 carries as the Golden Flashes clinched their first-ever MAC divisional title.  The junior scored on touchdown runs of 79 and 74 yards.

– Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron saw his single-season NCAA record of consecutive pass attempts without an interception come to an end at 444 with an interception late in the second quarter against Utah State.

Steve Spurrier has 64 career wins as South Carolina’s head coach, tying him with Rex Enright for most in school history.

– Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch totaled 569 yards of offense (407 passing, 162 rushing) in the Huskies’ win over Toledo Wednesday night that clinched the MAC West.  It marked the second time this season that Lynch, fifth in the country in rushing yards per game entering the weekend (134.2), had passed for more than 300 yards and rushed for more than a 100 in a single game.

– Army has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in a single season — quarterback Trent Steelman and running back Raymond Maples — for the first time since 1984.  Steelman also has 44 career touchdowns, breaking the school record set by Glenn Davis back in the mid-40s.

– A 42-16 win over North Texas (sorry Ben) secured Louisiana-Monroe’s first winning season since moving to the FBS level in 1994.  The Warhawks had twice finished seasons at 6-6 (2007, 2009).

– Harvard has beaten Yale five straight times, the first time the Crimson have achieved that feat in a rivalry that dates back to 1875.

– Yulee (Fla.) High School running back and 2013 Alabama verbal commitment Derrick Henry rushed for 482 yards and six touchdowns — on an astounding 58 carries — in a playoff win Friday night, pushing his career rushing total to 11,254 yards.  That broke the national high school record of 11,232 yards set by Ken Hull of Sugarland (Tex.) way back in 1953.  Henry, who has rushed for over 100 yards in every single game of his high school career and has run for at least 200 yards every game this season, will have at least one more game to add to his record total.

SID NOTE OF THE WEEK
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron claimed sole possession of the school’s single-season passing touchdown record as he connected with Christion Jones on a 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter for his 21st on the year. He entered the game tied with Greg McElroy (2010) on the single season list.

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
UCLA is the only team to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship game.  Granted, it’s just two years into the event, but still…

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No. 14 Arizona State leads Washington after wind-swept first half

Taylor Kelly

With gusts of wind reaching 60 miles per hour, points and sustained drives have been hard to come by Saturday night in Seattle. No. 14 Arizona State have combined for more punts (11) than points as the Sun Devils lead 10-0 at the half.

After a scoreless first quarter, Arizona State busted through with a 50-yard touchdown drive, five consecutive rushes for 34 yards by Demario Richard (his only rushes of the half) and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Kelly to Jaelen StrongZane Gonzalez knocked through a 33-yard field goal in the half’s final minute to provide the other score.

Washington’s kicking game has been an adventure. Korey Durkee has punted six times for just a 30 yard average, with a number of kicks barely getting off the ground, and Cameron Van Winkle’s only field goal try was blocked.

While Kelly has completed 8-of-15 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, Washington has struggled to get anything going through the air; Troy Williams has connected on 9-of-14 passes, but for just 42 yards. Do-everything Shaq Thompson leads all runners with 40 yards on 10 carries, and Washington has out-rushed Arizona State 77-56 at the break.

Washington will receive the ball to open the second half.

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Buckeyes barely escape Happy Valley with double-OT win

Ohio State v Penn State Getty Images

With each passing game, the Nov. 8 showdown between Michigan State and Ohio State was looming larger and larger.

MSU did its part in Week 9, taking “big brother” Michigan to the woodshed yesterday afternoon. A few hours later in Happy Valley?  Meh, not so much on OSU’s part.

What was a comfortable 17-0 halftime lead turned into a nail-biting hair-puller for the Buckeyes, with Penn State putting a scare into the visitors a week ahead of Halloween before OSU was able to escape with a 31-24 win in double overtime.  Penn State capped a 17-0 second half run with a 31-yard field goal by Sam Fickens with :09 left to send it into the first overtime.  After both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first extra session, OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to give the Buckeyes a 31-24 lead.

On fourth down on the ensuing possession, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was “sacked” by OSU’s Joey Bosa — Bosa actually bullrushed his blocker into Hackenberg, knocking him down — to seal the win and send the No. 13 Buckeyes back to Columbus with a 6-1 record.

Were it not for the incompetence of the officiating crew, though, Penn State very well could’ve walked out of Beaver Stadium with its fifth win of the year.  A botched replay in the first quarter allowed the Buckeyes to maintain possession of an interception, turning the pick into seven points.  A delay of game wasn’t called on a 49-yard field goal attempt that was good; a penalty there likely would’ve pushed the Buckeyes out of field-goal range.

To say that some of the sheen has come off the matchup with the Spartans two weeks from Saturday would be an understatement.  The Buckeyes didn’t look like they could hang with a directional Michigan school most of the night let alone the best team in the state.  If OSU can’t improve on its woeful performance — even head coach Urban Meyer acknowledged afterward that his charges didn’t play well — it’ll be a long night in East Lansing.

The good news for Meyer and company is that they have two weeks to work on their issues.  Part of that work will be a home game against Illinois in which they’ll be 20-plus-point favorites, with OSU knowing that, despite the uneven Week 9 performance, wins the next two weeks would place them squarely in the East Division driver’s seat.

Again, however, the Buckeyes need to step their game up, lest Sparty takes a second consecutive rival to its version of the woodshed.  At least based on last night, that doesn’t look promising.

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No. 5 Auburn continues to roll on offense, defeats South Carolina 42-35

The South Carolina Gamecocks threw everything they had at the fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers, and it simply wasn’t enough.

Auburn continues to prove week in and week out why its one of the most dangerous teams in the nation. The program’s 42-35 victory over South Carolina Saturday is just another example.

To borrow an old tagline: “You can’t stop Auburn’s offense. You can only hope to contain it.”

The Gamecocks used fourth-down conversions, trick plays and even a surprise onside kick, yet it still didn’t slow Auburn. At one point in the game, the Tigers scored a touchdown during six straight offensive drives.

Auburn amassed an impressive 551 total yards in one of their best offensive performances of the season.

Quarterback Nick Marshall led the way 228 total yards and four touchdowns, including a trifecta of rushing scores. Running back Cameron Artis-Payne also impressed with 167 rushing yards.

The concerns for the Tigers come on the defensive side of the ball. Auburn surrendered 535 total yards. South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson lit up Auburn’s defense with 402 passing yards and five touchdowns.

The effort simply wasn’t good enough for a team expected to be in the top four of the first College Football Playoff rankings.

With the win, Auburn will likely become the No. 4 in the AP Top 25 after Ole Miss lost to LSU. The Tigers still face the No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs and No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide. As long as the Tigers’ offense continues to click, Auburn will remain in contention even as it runs through the gauntlet of SEC play.

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Lane Kiffin wins return to Neyland Stadium, No. 4 Tide tops Tennessee 34-20

Alabama v Tennessee Getty Images

No. 4 Alabama built a nearly insurmountable lead first half lead and coasted from there, turning a 27-0 early lead into a 34-20 victory over Tennessee Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.

Lane Kiffin‘s much-hyped return to Knoxville quieted the Tennessee crowd from the opening snap, as Alabama scored on its first play from scrimmage with an 80-yard pass from Blake Sims to Amari Cooper. The Tide followed that up with touchdown drives of 79 and 90 yards, grabbing a 20-0 lead. By the time Alabama got the ball with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter, Tennessee had punted four times and saw itself get out-gained 249-78.

After forcing a Joshua Dobbs fumble deep in Volunteer territory and turning it into a 28-yard Blake Sims touchdown run to push the lead to 27-0 three minutes into the second quarter it seemed the Tide was ready avalanche Tennessee the same way it did Texas A&M last week.

But then Tennessee rallied.

The Vols responded with a 10-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to get on the board, and closed the half with a long field goal drive to pull within 27-10 at the break.

Tennessee mounted another long touchdown drive in the third quarter to pull within 27-17, but Derrick Henry put the game away with a 28-yard touchdown jaunt with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.

In the end, Tennessee never pulled within closer than 10 points, but it didn’t pack up shop when things got tough. Tennessee is a program long on moral victories and impatient for actual victories, but the Vols got better tonight.

For one, Dobbs has the makings of being a solution at quarterback. He hit 19-of-32 passes for 192 yards for two touchdowns and one interceptions and led the club in rushing with 19 carries for 75 yards. Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane combined for 107 yards on 19 carries, and Tennessee nearly matched Alabama yard-for-yard on the ground, 183 to 181.

Still, the combination of Sims to Cooper was too much for Tennessee. Sims was 14-of-24 for 286 yards and two touchdowns, and Cooper caught nine of those passes for 224 yards and both touchdowns. Only six players touched the ball for Alabama tonight: Sims, Cooper, Henry (16 carries, 78 yards and the touchdown), T.J. Yeldon (14 carries, 52 yards and a touchdown, one catch for three yards), DeAndrew White (four grabs for 59 yards, one rush for a loss of one) and Jaiston Fowler (two carries for 24 yards).

In all, Kiffin’s offense produced 34 points, 23 first downs, 469 yards of total offense and a cool 11-of-15 mark on third down.

Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) will take next week off before preparing for a trip to No. 24 LSU on Nov. 8, which happens to be its final road game of the season. Tennessee, 3-5, winless in SEC play and weary from playing four Top 12 teams in eight games, will visit South Carolina next week and, deservedly, closes with four games against unranked opponents.

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Poor decision costs No. 3 Ole Miss as Rebels lose to No. 24 LSU 10-7

Mississippi v LSU Getty Images

Death Valley claimed another victim Saturday night.

The No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels fell to the 24th-ranked LSU Tigers 10-7 even though Les Miles‘ squad nearly had the game slip away.

With nine seconds remaining, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze made a dumbfounding decision. After initially allowing his kicker to line up to attempt a game-tying field goal, Freeze decided to take one shot toward the end zone after LSU called a timeout.

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace rolled to his left after the snap. He lobbed the ball toward the end zone for one final attempt to claim a victory. The quarterback didn’t put enough loft on the ball, and it was intercepted by LSU safety Ronald Martin. Game over. Ole Miss kicker Gary Wunderlich never got a chance to prove himself in adverse conditions.

Freeze’s decision was immediately panned on social media:

Those are just a few examples.

Wallace played his worst game of the season at the wrong time. Even if his mind-boggling poor throw at the end of the game is excluded, Wallace was still 14-of-32 passing for 176 yards.

The Rebels were never able to get on track on offense, while LSU dominated in the trences.

LSU ran the ball 55 times for 264 yards against a defense that was ranked fourth overall in stopping the run entering the contest. Ole Miss’ undersized front simply couldn’t hold up as LSU continued to deliver blow after blow. Freshman running back Leonard Fournette led the way with 113 rushing yards.

The Tigers’ resiliency under Miles has been remarkable.

Even after a season-defining victory for LSU, the Tigers won’t be the happiest program due to this outcome. With the loss, Ole Miss will likely drop out of the Top 5 and create a spot for another a one-loss program to slide into the top four once the College Football Playoff committee releases its initial rankings Tuesday.

The No. 5 Auburn Tigers, No. 6 Oregon Ducks, No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and No. 8 Michigan State Spartans will all be vying for that final spot. With Ole Miss out of the way (for now), one of those program are expected to make a very important move into the upper echelon of college football.

The Rebels season isn’t over, though.

Ole Miss can reclaim its status as one of the nation’s top teams. Next weekend’s contest against Auburn will be vitally important to the program’s future.

It doesn’t get any easier for LSU either. The Tigers host the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide in two weeks.

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Near perfect defense, just enough offense leads No. 21 Clemson to 16-6 defeat of Syracuse

Syracuse v Clemson Getty Images

The Clemson defense was near perfect on Saturday night, and it nearly had to be as the offense struggled to find a rhythm in a 16-6 defeat of Syracuse at Death Valley.

Playing in his first start since losing his job to freshman Deshaun WatsonCole Stoudt turned the ball over three times and managed a meager 209 passing yards on 24 attempts. He also rushed eight times for 36 yards. Dabo Swinney has promised Watson will not lose his job due to a hand injury sidelining him for around a month, and Stoudt’s play affirmed that. If this was professional football – hold your jokes, folks – Watson’s agent would be sitting in front of Swinney tomorrow morning demanding a contract extension.

That said, Stoudt led Clemson to 13 second half points and notched the game’s only touchdown, a 19-yard toss to Stanton Steckinger half a minute into the fourth quarter, to essentially put the game away.

Stoudt’s scoring strike was the only touchdown of the night. This one was a thing of beauty for those who love ugly football: seven turnovers, five field goals and 15 punts. In addition to Stoudt’s three turnovers, Clemson running back C.J. Davidson lost a fumble inside the Syracuse 10-yard line before the half.

Frustrating as the Clemson offense was at times, it didn’t matter because Brent Venables‘ defense was up to the challenge and then some.

Syracuse’s only points came by way of Clemson turnovers. The Tigers limited the Orange to only 170 yards of total offense, 10 first downs, nine punts, three conversions in 16 tries, three turnovers of their own while registering four sacks and a dozen tackles for loss.

The Orange touched the ball seven times after taking a 6-3 lead into the half. Six possessions went 12 yards or less, four ended in puts, two ended in turnovers, and one culminated with a missed field goal.

Clemson (6-2, 5-1 ACC) is off next week before visiting Wake Forest in a Thursday night affair, while Syracuse (3-5, 1-3 ACC) returns home to the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome to face N.C. State.

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No. 15 Arizona ties school record by defeating Washington State 59-37

Arizona v Washington State

Saturday’s meeting between the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats and the Washington State Cougars was the irresistible force against the movable objects.

Washington State entered the game with the nation’s 95th-ranked defense. Arizona was 88th overall. On the other side of the ball, Arizona claimed college football’s fourth-best offense, while Washington State was ranked ninth.

The Wildcats got the best of Wazzu on both ends as Arizona won 59-37. The 59 points was a school record for Arizona in conference play.

Arizona took over very early in the contest. Rich Rodriguez‘s squad built a 24-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Wildcats were up 31-0 before the Cougars even placed a tally on the scoreboard.

Arizona’s freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon, was efficient throughout the game and continued to make the right read and throw. Solomon was 26-of-38 passing for 294 yards and five touchdowns.

Overall, the Wildcats accumulated 451 total yards. A number that was eclipsed by Washington State.

Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday threw the ball 79 times and amassed 489 passing yards. He also threw a pair of touchdowns and interceptions.

Halliday is on pace to shatter passing records this season in Mike Leach‘s Air Raid offense.

After giving up 21 inconsequential points in the fourth quarter, Arizona is now bowl eligible and remains in contention for Pac-12 South.

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Sketchy officiating pushes Buckeyes to first-half lead on Nittany Lions

Ohio State v Penn State Getty Images

Ohio State caught an incredibly fortunate break on a blown instant replay review early in the first quarter, and it was all downhill from there officiating-wise and scoreboard-wise for home-standing Penn State.

The Buckeyes scored on The Interception That Wasn’t seven plays later and never looked back, grabbing a 17-3 lead and heading into the locker room.  A Vonn Bell “interception” on the Nittany Lions’ fourth play from scrimmage obviously hit the ground and should’ve been overturned, but there was some type of issue in the replay booth that didn’t allow the replay official to see the proper feed.

OSU caught a break on its next scoring drive as well as the play clock appeared to be at zero for at least two seconds before the snap on what turned out to be a 49-yard field goal that pushed the lead to 10-0.

The officiating gaffes didn’t necessarily cause Penn State’s double-digit deficit at the half… wait, yes it did.  Well, that and OSU’s punishing ground attack

The Nittany Lions entered the game as the nation’s top defense against the run, giving up 60.8 yards per game; the Buckeyes totaled 84… in the first quarter alone en route to a 119-yard rushing effort in the first half.  Running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback J.T. Barrett accounted for all of those yards, with 76 going to the former and 46 for the latter (there was a minus-three yard run credited to “team” at the end of the half).

Field position also played a pivotal role in each team’s success, or lack thereof.  Penn State started all six of its first-half drive from inside its 25-yard line, including three inside the 20.  Ohio State, meanwhile, started all but one of its six drives from outside its own 25-yard line.  OSU’s starting position was an average of 20 yards better than PSU’s.

The Buckeyes, already up, will get the kickoff to open the second half.

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No. 4 Alabama comes out firing, leads Tennessee 27-10 at the half

Blake Sims

It’s hard to start a game hotter than No. 4 Alabama did at Tennessee tonight.

After forcing a Tennessee punt to open the game, Blake Sims found Amari Cooper for an 80-yard touchdown pass on Alabama’s first play from scrimmage. The Tide immediately forced a Tennessee three-and-out, and then marched 79 yards in seven plays, capped by a 41-yard scoring strike from Sims to Cooper, to take a 13-0 lead six minutes into the game.

Alabama then forced the Volunteers’ third punt of the first quarter, and promptly moved 90 yards in nine plays and exactly four minutes to push the lead to 20-0.

Sims added a 28-yard touchdown run with 12:03 to go in the second quarter to push the gap to 27-0, and Alabama’s overall run to 86-0 dating back to its 59-0 demolition of Texas A&M last week.

Tennessee closed the half on a 10-0 run, getting a nine-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs to Josh Malone and an Aaron Medley field goal to close the half, but the Tide have felt firmly in control of this game from the opening gun.

Sims has hit 8-of-16 passes for 219 yards and two scores, plus the 28-yard run, and Cooper has toyed with the Tennessee secondary, catching half a dozen passes for 194 yards and those two touchdowns.

Dobbs replaced starter Nathan Peterman after a 2-for-4 start for 10 yards and completed eight of his 13 passes for 89 yards and a score while also serving as Tennessee’s leading rusher with 10 carries for 56 yards.

Alabama will receive the ball to open the second half.

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South Carolina goes toe-to-toe with No. 5 Auburn, tied 21-21 at half

Steve Spurrier

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier decided to hold nothing back against the No. 5 Auburn Tigers. And the Gamecocks are standing toe-to-toe with Gus Malzahn‘s Tigers.

After two quarters of play, the two teams are tied 21-12 at halftime. Each and every time the Gamecocks took a lead, the Tigers answered.

South Carolina got on the board first with a fantastic 32-yard pass from Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson to wide receiver Shaq Roland. Thompson was 12-of-19 passing for 197 yard and three touchdowns.

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall wasn’t impressed. The senior accumulated 123 total yards with a pair of touchdowns.

But the most impressive player on the field was South Carolina running back Mike Davis. The junior ran for 40 yards on nine carries. He also proved to be a weapon out of the backfield with three catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.

On the other hand, Cameron Artis-Payne led Auburn with 86 rushing yards on 12 carries.

During the second half, South Carolina must keep its foot on the gas pedal. Spurrier can’t let up as his team attempts to upset one of the most talented programs in the country.

Auburn, meanwhile, simply needs to execute and remain disciplined on defense. The Gamecocks will continue to throw everything they have at them. If Ellis Johnson‘s defense does what it’s coached to do, they’ll likely be able to capitalize on an eventual mistake. Thompson already made one with an interception in the red zone. He’ll be prone to making another.

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LSU not afraid to attack Ole Miss as Rebels lead 7-3 at halftime

Terrence Magee, La'el Collins

The LSU Tigers decided that instead of avoiding the strength of Ole Miss’ defense to attack it.

Ole Miss entered Saturday’s contest as the nation’s sixth-best run defense. LSU didn’t care. The Tigers ran for 147 yards with the Rebels leading 7-3 at halftime.

Despite the attention given to Ole Miss’ “Landshark” defense, it’s an undersized unit. And the biggest advantage for the Tigers is their size and physicality along an experienced offensive line. Les Miles‘ coaching staff took full advantage of the size disparity.

Ball control became a priority for the Tigers. During LSU’s only scoring drive, the Tigers held the ball for nine minutes and seven seconds. LSU eventually settled for a field goal after the 17-play, 90-yard drive.

However, LSU had Ole Miss’ defense on its heels throughout the first half. The score might be different if LSU’s freshman running back, Leonard Fournette, didn’t fumble the football within Ole Miss’ 5-yard line earlier in the contest. LSU turned the ball over twice in the first half.

Ole Miss wasn’t executing at a high level either. Quarterback Bo Wallace has been lauded for the mistake-free football he’s played during the Rebels’ initial conference games. The senior signal-caller has been far more daring with his passes in Death Valley. And it’s nearly cost the team.

Wallace was only 5-of-15 passing during the first half.

Overall, the Rebels were in position to score multiple times when they had possession of the football. Instead, two touchdowns were called back (one due to review and another from a penalty). Ole Miss can move the ball, but it needs to stop LSU’s running attack to gain possession and score.

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Clearly missing Deshaun Watson, No. 21 Clemson trailing Syracuse 6-3 at the half

Cole Stoudt

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney promised injured quarterback Deshaun Watson his starting job will be there for him when he returns from surgery to repair an injured hand. Swinney’s words have proven unnecessary through one half against Syracuse, as backup quarterback Cole Stoudt‘s command of the offense has been all the assurance Watson could ever need.

Behind Stoudt’s 11-of-15 passing for 96 yards with an interception and a fumble, the 21st-ranked Tigers trail Syracuse 6-3 at the break.

Clemson was poised to take the lead just before the half, but a brilliant Chad Morris play-call saw C.J. Davidson drop a pitch and then fail to recover loose ball at the Orange’s eight-yard line. Then, after getting the ball back with 1:22 remaining in the quarter, Stoudt lost the ball as he was being tackled by a host of Syracuse defenders, as the Orange’s Dyshawn Davis came away with the ball.

Stoudt’s fumble allowed Syracuse to take a 6-3 lead as time expired in the half.

Though it’s on the wrong end of the scoreboard, the Clemson defense has been outstanding. Syracuse has mounted only 127 yards of total offense and committed a turnover of its own.

Clemson will receive the ball to open the second half.

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No. 15 Arizona Wildcats race past Wazzu 31-16 at halftime

Davonte' Neal, Michael Lowe

The No. 15 Arizona Wildcats set the tone against the Washington State Cougars Saturday evening with the team’s very first touch of the contest.

Arizona’s Devonte’ Neal caught a punt from Washington State’s Jordan Dascalo and blew past the Cougars’ coverage team for 53 yards and a special teams touchdown.

It was the first of four first-half touchdowns by the Wildcats. Arizona leads 31-16 after two quarters of play.

Neal was the game’s early star. The punt-return touchdown wasn’t the sophomore’s only score. The talented running back/wide receiver caught three passes for 29 yards, including a two-yard touchdown reception.

Washington State simply couldn’t match up with the talent Arizona presents at the skill positions.

Arizona’s freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon, was 19-of-28 passing for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Eight different targets caught passes from the young signal-caller.

On the other side of the field, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday continues to produce in Mike Leach‘s prolific passing attack. The senior was 25-of-37 passing for 209 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Senior wide receiver Isiah Myers was the primary recipient of Halliday’s passes. Myers caught six passes for 95 yards and both touchdowns.

Since Washington State’s defense isn’t capable of slowing Arizona’s offense, the Cougars will attempt to win this contest like they always do…by outscoring their opponent. However, Arizona’s offense may be far too potent for that to happen.

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No. 10 TCU sets all sorts of records in 82-27 rout of Texas Tech

Trevone Boykin

Trevone Boykin announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy in a major way by leading No. 10 TCU to a rec0rd-setting 82-27 stomping of Texas Tech Saturday in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs’ 82 points were a school and Big 12 inter-conference record and the most ever allowed by Texas Tech. TCU racked up 785 yards of total offense on the day, also a school record.

In three quarters of work, the junior completed 22-of-39 passes for 433 yards and a school-record seven touchdown passes while adding another 28 yards on the ground on seven attempts. Boykin threw for two scores in the first quarter, one in the second and four in the third, meaning one of every three completions (roughly) found pay dirt. His touchdown throws traveled 249 yards on their own, with scoring strikes of 51 yards (to Josh Doctson), 92 yards (to Deante’ Gray) and 57 yards (to Ty Slanina).

As if that wasn’t enough, seven Frogs runners combined to rush 41 times for 305 yards – 7.4 yards a pop – and three touchdowns. Aaron Green rushed six times for 105 yards, opening the scoring for TCU with a 62-yard dash a minute and 14 seconds into the game, and Trevorris Johnson added 10 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns strictly in mop up duty (he didn’t enter the game until TCU had a 61-27 lead deep into the third quarter).

Overall, TCU ran 86 plays, averaged 9.12 yards per snap, threw for 480 yards, rushed for 305, achieved 32 first downs, and punted twice in 16 possessions. Four separate receivers averaged 19 yards or more per reception, while 13 players caught at least one pass. There was some bad news, though, as Josh Doctson was lost for the game and taken for an evaluation with an ankle injury.

The Frogs’ 82 points surpassed the Big 12’s record for points in a conference game, set by Oklahoma in a 77-0 stomping of Texas A&M in 2003, and came two points shy of Oklahoma State’s conference record for points in any game in an 84-0 rout of Savannah State in 2012.

Bad as it appears, this game wasn’t always a blowout.

Texas Tech opened the scoring 51 seconds into the contest on a 57-yard catch-and-run by Kenny Williams, and played to a 24-17 score through one quarter. The Red Raiders scored only 10 more points for the rest of the game, and only three while the outcome was still in doubt. Davis Webb threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns, but committed three first-half turnovers that led directly to 13 TCU points, giving the Horned Frogs the space they needed to turn this game into a blowout. Webb left the game with an ankle injury, and Jakeem Grant was also lost with a leg injury.

Patrick Mahomes finished off the game by completing 5-of-11 passes for 45 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and rushed seven times for 18 yards.

As tends to happen in games with a 55-point margin of victory, TCU won the turnover battle 4-0.

TCU moves to 6-1 (3-1 Big 12) with the win and prepares to head for a massive game at No. 22 West Virginia (themselves 34-10 winners over Oklahoma State on Saturday) on Saturday. Texas Tech, meanwhile, heads back to Lubbock for a somebody-has-to-win date with Texas.

 

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No. 1 Miss. St. Bulldogs appear vulnerable during 45-31 victory over Kentucky

Mississippi State v Kentucky Getty Images

Surivive and advance. That’s all that matters at this point in the season.

The No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs escaped Lexington, Kentucky with a 45-31 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Don’t let the final score fool you.

The Wildcats only trailed by a touchdown as the two teams entered the third quarter. Mark Stoops‘ squad had two opportunities late in the game. During the Kentucky’s drive with five minutes remaining, two dropped passes (one on third down and one in the end zone) kept the Wildcats from getting within striking distance.

It didn’t matter since Kentucky then got the ball back after stopping Mississippi State on the ensuing drive. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles led his team on a seven-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by the signal-caller.

An unheard of touchdown during the onside kick is what turned this contest in a two-score victory for the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State never dominated this contest like the best team in the nation should have. Kentucky is a young and improving program, but their best win this season came against a struggling South Carolina squad. Otherwise, the Wildcats’ other four wins came against the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks, Ohio Bobcats, Vanderbilt Commodores and Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.

Dan Mullen‘s squad wasn’t crisp on offense, quarterback Dak Prescott struggled in the passing game and the team’s bend-but-don’t-break defense finally broke…multiple times.

The Bulldogs didn’t have an answer for Towles. Kentucky’s quarterback threw for 390 yards and ran for 76 more despite being sacked numerous times.

Kentucky amassed an impressive 504 yards. As the Bulldogs continue their season, an inability to consistently stop opposing offenses becomes a major red flag.

Mississippi State’s backfield once again became the team’s saving grace.

Quarterback Dak Prescott accumulated 304 total yards and three touchdowns to keep his Heisman campaign chugging along. Prescott made multiple highlight-reel runs during the contest, but running back Josh Robinson was Mississippi State’s bell cow Saturday afternoon.

The Bulldogs’ bowling ball of a running back ran for 198 yards including a 73-yard touchdown romp early in the fourth quarter.

Mississippi State was in unfamiliar territory this weekend. Expectations are sky high after the team received its first No. 1 overall ranking in school history. The Bulldogs could have faltered. Kentucky gave them everything they could handle. Instead, the Bulldogs kept their undefeated season alive. And that is all that matters.

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