Will Alabama vs. Texas A&M dictate BCS title race?

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Alabama has won two consecutive BCS national titles despite having one blemish on their final record. For Alabama, the goal is simply not to win but to do so displaying excellence in every way possible. Deep down Alabama players and coaches know they can afford to take a hit in conference play, but this week’s road trip to Texas A&M is about much more. The Aggies were the only team to manage to out-score Alabama last season, and they did so in eye-opening fashion by jumping out to a big first quarter lead and celebrating on Alabama’s storied field with the fans that made the trip to Tuscaloosa last November.

This one has to be a little more personal for Alabama. It is the hottest ticket in College Station perhaps in program history and even the most casual college football fan has probably had this game circled on the calendar since the calendar changed from 2012 to 2013. The hype machine has been in full force all week, but is it worth it? What would be the fallout if Alabama happened to lose? Would Texas A&M automatically pass Oregon, Ohio State and Clemson on their way up the rankings with a win? What exactly does this particular game mean in the grand scheme of the college football world?

Let’s explore both possible outcomes in a little more detail…

If Alabama wins…

Should the Crimson Tide overcome the 12th Man and Johnny Manziel’s latest performance, not too much will change as far as the college football world is concerned. Alabama will remain on top of the polls and could very well gobble up what few first-place votes do not already belong to them. A win on the road against a top ten SEC team tends to speak loudly, which is ironic as it would come at the home of the Midnight Yell and Yell leaders. For Alabama, it will continue to be business as usual, which means the next most important game on the schedule could be November 9 when LSU comes to Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s schedule is favorable leading up to that game, and with a win over Texas A&M the Crimson Tide could be in a position to afford a late loss in division play.

Depending on what happens with LSU, it would be possible Alabama could lose to LSU and still advance to the SEC Championship Game if they manage to win the other games on their schedule, including a regular season finale at Auburn. Texas A&M would likely need Alabama to lose twice in order for the Aggies to make a trip to Atlanta, and that is under the extreme scenario in which LSU loses twice. So for Alabama, a win in College Station may give the defending SEC champs a much easier path back to Atlanta.

But should we write Texas A&M off so soon? Absolutely not. A loss to the top-ranked team, if close, should not result in a significant drop in the polls for the Aggies. With plenty of games still to be played, there will be plenty of time for Texas A&M to work their way back up the polls if they can manage to pick up some key wins along the way. Texas A&M’s schedule is less favorable than Alabama though. The Aggies still have road games at Arkansas, LSU and a surprisingly hot Ole Miss. Texas A&M may need a lot of help to get to Atlanta, but the Aggies could very well play in to the BCS at-large equation by the end of the year.

If Texas A&M wins…

If Texas A&M once again proves they can control the Tide, the Aggies could grab a large handful of first place votes in the polls. The question would then become how many first place votes do they grab away from Oregon, Clemson, and Ohio State? Given the schedule this weekend, a Texas A&M victory could score major points from the voters, so it is entirely possible Texas A&M could become the top-ranked team for the first time since 1957, when Paul “Bear” Bryant was the head coach. Maybe this is a stretch, but it is certainly a realistic possibility despite entering the weekend ranked sixth in the AP and coaches polls.

Like Alabama, Texas A&M would jump out in front of the SEC West division race and take a Texas-sized step toward Atlanta. But this is where it begins to get fun. If the game happens to be close, decided by a single score, it is not at all likely Alabama drops very far in the polls. Alabama would likely remain a top five team and they almost certainly would fall no lower sixth unless Manziel goes off and rewrites all of the offensive record books. And just like Texas A&M, Alabama would have plenty of time to work their way back up the rankings. In fact, it would hypothetically be possible Alabama could ascend back to number one by the end of the regular season and still get shutout of the SEC Championship Game. A lot would have to happen, but it is possible once you take a closer look at the rest of the season and the SEC division tiebreaker rules. Of course, a top-ranked Alabama, SEC championship game appearance or not, would be a virtual lock to own one of the top two spots in the BCS rankings as well to send them back to the championship game.

So does this game really matter all that much?

This match-up certainly matters, but if the main objective is to win a BCS championship then this game may not be quite as important as you may think. After all, Alabama has won the past two BCS titles with a loss on their record so if any program knows it is more about the marathon and not the first couple of miles it is the Crimson Tide. The winner gets the edge in the race to Atlanta, so there is plenty riding on the outcome, but if you are focused on a crystal football at the end of the year, there will be many more important games to come.

Josh Rosen gets the stats, Sam Darnold the win as No. 11 USC tops crosstown rival UCLA

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UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen grabbed all the gaudy stats, but USC signal-caller Sam Darnold managed the win.

The primetime battle of potential No. 1 overall picks in next year’s NFL Draft didn’t quite live up to the hype for fans or scouts alike, but the No. 11 Trojans completed their regular season on Saturday night with a hard-fought 28-23 win over their crosstown rivals at the L.A. Coliseum in a contest that was far from the shootout that was expected coming in.

Darnold had his moments behind center and flashed several reasons why NFL front office types are so enamored with him, hitting some nice touch passes over the middle and scrambling for numerous big plays outside of the pocket. The numbers weren’t quite up to his season standards with 264 yards through the air and no touchdowns but the redshirt sophomore did find the end zone on a scramble.

That he scored on the ground probably wasn’t too surprising given that UCLA is the worst rushing defense in the country but every yard had to be earned in the chippy rivalry game between the two schools 15 miles from each other. Running back Ronald Jones didn’t see as many carries as you would expect down the stretch but managed 122 yards and two scores to keep the chains moving on a pretty consistent basis.

The best play for the cardinal and gold might have actually come on special teams, as Michael Pittman used a little misdirection on a punt return to scoot 72 yards nearly untouched for a touchdown and the game’s first points.

As good as USC was at times on the night, they didn’t runaway with the win like many expected for a team on the fringes of playoff contention. A lot of that had to do with Rosen, who again kept his side in things with a 421 yard outing with three touchdowns and a pick — numbers that could have been even better if not for a few plays here or there. That aerial attack helped open things up for a normally dormant ground game, with Soso Jamabo rushing for 62 yards and Bolo Olorunfunmi adding another 56.

It wasn’t enough to bring the Victory Bell back to Westwood however, as the annual trophy will remain just south of downtown for the eighth time in the past decade. The Bruins still have a shot at going to a bowl game if they can beat fellow in-state rival Cal next weekend but their margin for error to reach the postseason is still incredibly slim given how improved the Bears are this year.

The Trojans meanwhile, finally get some well deserved rest after capping off an 8-1 campaign in conference play and a perfect record in the division. After a week of rest — the first of the year since they had no bye week — they’ll head to the Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium for a rematch with either Stanford or Washington State. The team remains way outside looking in with regards to the College Football Playoff chase at the moment but after a third straight win over their crosstown rival, that probably is the furthest thing on their minds as another picture perfect night in Los Angeles comes to a close.

Bryce Love (mostly) quiet as No. 22 Stanford retains control of the Axe

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Baker Mayfield‘s antics in Lawrence provided Stanford’s Bryce Love a sliver of an opportunity to climb back inside the minds of Heisman voters.

Unfortunately for him, Love’s injured ankle didn’t allow him to take advantage of that opportunity.

Love struggled for much of the night, posting a quiet (by his standards) night of 14 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown, as No. 22 Stanford topped California 17-14 in Palo Alto. His final carry of the night came with 14:16 left in the fourth quarter.

That’s not to say Love was totally quiet, though. Love broke free for a 57-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, giving Stanford a 17-6 lead at the time.

With Love hobbled, Stanford handed the keys of the offense over to quarterback K.J. Costello and backup running back Cameron Scarlett. Costello hit 17-of-26 passes for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His touchdown, a 17-yarder to Kaden Smith, broke a 3-3 tie with 8:17 left in the first half and put Stanford up for good.

Scarlett carried 14 times for 61 yards, which doesn’t seem like much until you realize he toted the ball on 11 consecutive plays, which allowed the Cardinal to expire all of Cal’s timeouts and kill the final 7:25 remaining in a 3-point game.

Cal had chances to win the game, though. Matt Anderson had a 47-yard field goal doink off the upright in the second quarter, and Ross Bowers drove Cal into Stanford territory at the midway point of the fourth quarter before he was intercepted by Stanford’s Ben Edwards. Bowers finished the night hitting 20-of-29 passes for 182 yards, and Patrick Laird led all runners with 20 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown.

The win gives Stanford eight straight wins in The Big Game, the longest winning streak by either side in a rivalry that dates back to 1892.

The win means Stanford (8-3, 7-2 Pac-12) can clinch the Pac-12 North if No. 14 Washington State beats No. 18 Washington in the Apple Cup on Saturday on Saturday. (Stanford completed Pac-12 play early in order to host No. 8 Notre Dame.) Cal (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) must win at UCLA on Friday to reach a bowl game in head coach Justin Wilcox‘s first season.

WVU QB Will Grier reportedly out several weeks with broken finger

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If you saw it live, or even on replay, you could sense this was coming.

In the first quarter of Saturday’s loss to Texas, Will Grier dove toward the left pylon in an attempt to get West Virginia on the scoreboard.  What was initially thought to be a touchdown was instead determined to be a fumble out of the end zone resulting in a touchback, giving the ball back to UT.  That was the least-distressing development on the play as, somehow, Grier got up from a dive with a finger on his right (throwing) hand pointing in a direction God never intended.

Asa result of that gruesome injury, Grier has been ruled out for several weeks, ESPN.com reported.  The same website is also reporting that Grier flew to Charlotte after the game and is expected to have surgery in that city Sunday.

A WVU official told CFT that a determination on Grier’s availability for a bowl game will likely be determined by when the game is played, meaning an official decision isn’t expected until next weekend at the earliest.

Grier, who has one more season of eligibility remaining, came into Week 12 second in the country in touchdown passes with 34.  With the Florida transfer sidelined for the foreseeable future, sophomore Chris Chugunov will get the start against fourth-ranked Oklahoma in the regular-season finale next Saturday.

After replacing Grier, Chugunov completed 14-of-26 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in the 28-14 loss.

QB Justin Herbert returns to lineup for Oregon as Ducks bottle up Khalil Tate and Arizona

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Oregon has been listless offensively the past few weeks without starting quarterback Justin Herbert but his return to the lineup injected plenty of life into Willie Taggart’s team in a 48-28 win over Arizona that also made the Ducks bowl eligible at the same time.

Herbert’s numbers were not flashy or spectacular given the offense he plays in but they were a huge boost given how poorly backups played in his absence after breaking his collarbone early in the year. He finished the night with just 235 yards through the air (along with an interception) and a touchdown pass while also making an impact with his wheels, surprising nearly everybody in Autzen Stadium with a 40 yard scramble for a touchdown in the first quarter.

As nice as it was to have the signal-caller back, his teammate Royce Freeman did most of the heavy lifting as he no longer faced a loaded box full of defenders. The senior made his first trip to the end zone since September (coinciding with Herbert’s injury) to move past LaMichael James as Oregon’s all-time leader in total touchdowns. He also passed TCU legend LaDainian Tomlinson for 10th on the FBS career rushing yards list early in the game and managed to end the night with 134 on the ground and a total of four scores. Backup Tony Brooks-James added another 124 yards as the Ducks’ rushing attack was humming like days of old.

Perhaps the more eye-opening aspect of the victory was the UO defense though. The bottled up dynamic Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate better than just about any Pac-12 defense has this year and held him to only 32 yards rushing. Forcing the dual-threat star to become a passer was the game plan and the Ducks executed it at a high level, limiting him to 159 yards passing with a score and a pair of interceptions.

Running back Nick Wilson rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns but it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats, whose most notable play was probably a pick-six by Dane Cruikshank that was negated by a taunting penalty in the first half as he finger-waged his way to the end zone. The offense later punched it in but it was emblematic of a frustrating night for Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff.

Both teams have gone through their up’s and down’s this season and while it looked as though Arizona was on the upswing entering Saturday night, perhaps it’s Oregon who can claim the same thanks to their starting quarterback looking healthy and as back in business.