Auburn Georgia

The Fifth Quarter: Week 12 Rewind

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

THUMBS UP

War Damn Miracle… and the Mother of All Iron Bowls
For a short period of time, it appeared that the Alabama-Auburn game for all of the SEC West Tostitos would be nothing but a distant memory thanks to the fourth-quarter heroics of Aaron Murray and his Georgia teammates.  And then, the Dawg Gone Miracle went and happened and the Mother of All Iron Bowls was back on.  While there’s still the little matter of Alabama getting past its scrimmage against FCS-level Chattanooga next weekend — after it struggled with Mississippi State this weekend — Nov. 30 is set for an epic in-state showdown: the  7-0 (in SEC play) Tide versus the 6-1 Tigers, with the winner staking its claim to the SEC West and earning a berth in the conference title game the following weekend.  In the 21 years since the SEC went to divisional play, the Iron Bowl has never served as a winner-take-all affair for the SEC West.  Hide the women, children and Udykes, y’all; this one’s gonna be huge.

SEC East clarity
Meanwhile, on the redheaded stepchild side of the SEC, the chase for a spot in the conference championship game is nearly as simple as it is in the West.  With South Carolina’s escape against Florida, the Gamecocks finish league play at 6-2.  Missouri, which was idle this weekend, is at 5-1.  If the Tigers win their last two games on the road against Ole Miss and at home against Texas A&M, Mizzou will face the winner of the Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl the first Saturday in December in Atlanta.  If Mizzou stumbles once either week?  The Gamecocks, based on their Oct. 26 overtime win over the Tigers, will represent the East division in the league title game.  If Mizzou can get past an up-and-down Rebels squad, both the SEC East and West will be decided on the final week of the regular season.  That, I would think, would be kind of cool.

Ed OrgeronOregon for Orgeron
Nov. 7, the bottom dropped out of Oregon’s football world.  Not only did the Ducks lose its stranglehold on a potential spot in the BCS title game, they lost control of their own division with the loss to Stanford.  10 days later, their world’s looking a bit brighter.  Thanks to USC’s stunning upset of Stanford, Oregon now merely needs to take care of business against Arizona and Oregon State the next two weeks and it will claim the Pac-12 North’s spot in the conference title game.  Just who the opposition would be remains to be seen.  Arizona State, at 6-1 in the conference, needs to “simply” beat UCLA (5-2) next weekend on the road to win the South division, regardless of what happens in the regular season finale against Arizona and regardless of what USC (5-2) does in its last two games (ASU 62, USC 41 the day prior to Lane Kiffin‘s firing).  The Sun Devils, though, aren’t the only ones that control its own divisional fate; the Bruins can win the South if they wins their last two (ASU, USC).  Unbelievably, the Trojans also have a (slim) shot at a South crown.  If USC wins its last two, and if ASU loses its last two, the Trojans would be the South’s representative in the Pac-12 title game.  To boil it down: the South will have much more clarity after the ASU-UCLA game next Saturday.  Probably.

Nerd slipper still fits
I’m a sucker for a good Cinderella sports story, especially when it comes to football.  And this season, it doesn’t get any more Cinderella than Duke.  Not only have the Blue Devils become bowl-eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the program’s history, they are in control of the ACC Coastal division thanks to the 48-30 pounding of Miami.  To repeat, Duke, a program that hasn’t won an outright ACC championship since 1962 and last shared one in 1989, is in the driver’s seat to represent the Coastal in the conference championship game.  If Duke is able to go on the road the next two weeks and beat Wake Forest (4-6 overall, 2-5 in ACC) and North Carolina (5-5, 4-3), the Blue Devils will face Florida State for the league title and a BCS berth.  Yes, that’s a blowout waiting to happen, but the fact that Duke is even in the discussion let alone the divisional driver’s seat  makes it one of the best stories of the year.

For all the rushing yards
When you think of Wisconsin football, whether it be under Barry Alvarez or Bret Bielema or Gary Andersen, you think ground game.  As if to drive home that point, the Badgers decided to run the ball right down the throats of Indiana Saturday afternoon.  UW rushed for 323 yards… then came back out for the second half, finishing with a season-high 554 yards that was 10 yards shy of the school’s single-game record and the most by an FBS team this season.  Three different Badger backs ran for over 100 yards: James White, 20-205; Melvin Gordon, 13-146; Corey Clement, 11-108.  This was the third time this season that trio of backs had each gained 100-plus yards in a single game.  A fourth player, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, just missed the 100-yard mark with 86 — and two touchdowns — on just three carries.  The Badgers averaged a staggering 11.1 yards on their fifty carries and, well, you get the point.

Probe, schmobe
Jameis Winston may or may not be facing some rather serious charges in the next week or two, but, if he’s concerned about the investigation into an alleged sexual assault, he didn’t show it on the field Saturday afternoon.  In the first half of Florida State’s drubbing of Syracuse, the presumptive Heisman front-runner completed 19-of-21 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.  That would be the extent of Winston’s work for the day as the redshirt freshman spent the rest of the game holding the proverbial clipboard as the reserves closed out yet another dominating win.  It was a virtuoso performance in a situation that, given the off-field circumstances, would’ve sent most people most people cowering anywhere but the very public spotlight of a football field.  I don’t know if Winston should or shouldn’t be charged, or is guilty or not guilty.  What I do know is that, for the sake of a young man with such a bright future, I hope he’s not.  Even more so, I hope that, if a crime was indeed committed, the alleged victim gets the justice she deserves — regardless of who the perpetrator may be.

I’m still here
It took approximately a nanosecond after Oregon lost to Stanford two Thursdays ago for Marcus Mariota to be all but eliminated, by the general public at least, from the Heisman race.  Saturday, the quarterback showed exactly why he’s still one of the best football players in the country despite a blemish on his team’s résumé.  Mariota passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a little over three quarters of work in the bounce-back win over Utah.  This season, Mariota has thrown 25 touchdowns and zero interceptions in 285 pass attempts.  He is the only FBS quarterback in the Top 100 in passing efficiency who has yet to throw a pick.  It’s a shame that one subpar game — in which he was playing hurt, no less — has overshadowed what’s been a magnificent season for a player who’s done more than enough to be in the thick of the stiff-armed discussion.

Andre 300Andre Williams
Unbeknownst to some (most?), Andre Williams of Boston College came into today’s game with North Carolina State leading the nation in rushing.  Suffice to say, he did absolutely nothing to hurt that standing.  All the senior did was rush for 339 yards — on “just” 42 carries — in the Eagles’ win over the Wolfpack.  The total is the most ever in ACC history — the FBS record is 409 by TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson — and breaks the school record Williams set a week ago.  His 634 yards the past two weeks is second in FBS history in back-to-back games, surpassed only by Texas’ Ricky Williams‘ 668 in 1998.

You down with OHP? Yes, yes you are Mr. Fan
Every home game, Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer Brian Orr is assigned to protect the blindside, and every other side for that matter, of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops.  Orr is a rather large man who has, based on the size of his biceps, been to many a gun show.  During the Sooners’ win over Iowa State Saturday, an overexuberant fan decided to take to the field and begin celebrating another OU win over the Cyclones a little early.  Showing SEC speed to go along with his size, Orr left his post as Stoops’ protector and, well, did this:

L

Officer Orr, there’s a Vince McMahon on Line 1 for you…

It was also good form on the part of Orr as he avoided being flagged for targeting a defenseless fan.

Myles and Myles of two-way talent
In the week after linebacker Myles Jack ran for 120 yards in UCLA’s win last Saturday, head coach Jim Mora was asked about the true freshman’s role on offense moving forward. “He’s a linebacker,” the Bruins coach said.  We doubted the one-way sincerity at the time; Mora, though, was kind of enough to remove all doubt Friday night.  All Jack did for an encore in the win over Washington was rush for four touchdowns on just 13 carries while adding five tackles on the other side of the ball.  Likening the balance of Jack’s time on offense and defense to “a dance,” Mora called him “an outstanding linebacker”… but at the same time said “we are going to continue to use him” in the backfield.  For his part, Jack prefers to be the hitter instead of the hittee. “I’m still defense all the way,” the linebacker said after the Bruins’ win over the Huskies.  Whatever, just get the talented kid on the field as much as possible.

THUMBS DOWN

Sack Mack back in vogue
Judging by my emails and the reaction on Twitter, all of the goodwill Mack Brown had gained over the past few weeks is gone.  Evaporated.  Vanished.  The 25-point loss to Oklahoma State, at home and after the Longhorns had just reentered the rankings no less, snapped UT’s six-game winning streak and wrested control of the Big 12 out of their hands.  After fading to the background, and fair or not, the calls for UT and its new athletic director to make a change at head coach will return and will be as loud as ever.  And, yes, that means the tiresome Saban-to-UT speculation will be an ever-present reminder to Brown and everyone else that many, many people want that change.  Whether those who actually hold the power to make such a thing happen agree, however, remains to be seen.

Will MuschampBowl-less in Gainesville
No, it’s not official but it might as well be.  Thanks to the five-point loss to South Carolina, 4-6 Florida will now have to beat Georgia Southern next week and… No. 2 Florida State the following week to become bowl-eligible.  In other words, the Gators won’t be bowl-eligible in 2013.  When the final gun sounds on the loss to the Seminoles, the Gators will have been shut out of the postseason for the first time since 1990, the first season with Steve Spurrier as head coach.  While they were 9-2 that season, they were ineligible for a bowl due to NCAA sanctions.  The last time UF played its way to a bowl-less season?  The 6-5 1986 squad.  Athletic director Jeremy Foley issued an unequivocal, no-gray-area-here declaration of public support for Will Muschamp earlier in the week.  We’ll take the straight-shooting Foley at his word.  When it comes to the offensive assistants on Muschamp’s staff?  Don’t buy any green bananas.  And do month-to-month leases, if possible.

Singing the Big Offensive Blues
Yes, Michigan was able to end its two-game skid, but all is most decidedly not right in the Land of Big Blue.  In the three-overtime win over conference-winless Northwestern, the Wolverines managed just three field goals in regulation.  The offense barely cracked 300 yards the first four quarters despite not committing a turnover and being penalized just once the entire game — and doing it against a defense that was 80th in the country in total defense at 417.9 yards per game coming in.  On ESPN‘s College GameDay show, former Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard called out Al Borges, challenging the fourth-highest paid offensive coordinator to earn his salary.  It’s highly unlikely Brady Hoke would do something as drastic as make a change at coordinator in the offseason.  Whether he should, though, is another matter entirely.

Seat as hot as a burning couch
If it wasn’t before, the honeymoon in Morgantown is officially over.  West Virginia became Kansas’ first Big 12 victim in three years, suffering an embarrassing 12-point loss to a team that had won twice in 2013 coming in.  The loss dropped the Mountaineers to 4-7 on the season and officially knocked them out of bowl contention.  In two-plus seasons at WVU, Holgorsen is 21-16 overall and 6-11 in Big 12 play.  While this sobering stat is unrelated to the latest miserable loss, it bears repeating: in 37 games under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has lost nine of them by 21-plus points.  In 126 games under Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, which spanned a 10-year period, the Mountaineers were beaten by 21 or more points a total of eight times.  In other words, the Mountaineers simply aren’t competitive on a consistent basis under Holgorsen.  With the move from the Big East to the more competitive Big 12, that’s a coaching death waiting to happen.  And, based on the people in my area, there are plenty of fans eager to line up and pull the plug.

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

— No. 1 Alabama 20, Mississippi State 7: As best as I can recall, this is the first time since I began doing this feature four years ago that the top-ranked team in the country has appeared in this category.  Four turnovers on the road, however, will do that to a team.  While it’s highly unlikely that enough voters would flip based solely on this performance, there’s a very good likelihood that Florida State will pick up quite a few first-place poll votes and chip into the Tide’s commanding rankings lead.

— No. 11 South Carolina 19, Florida 14: With all of the injuries the Gators have incurred this season, I have no clue how they did it.  Baling wire and duct tape were involved, I assume.  Regardless, the Gamecocks, which finished off the SEC portion of its slate with the win, remain within shouting distance of first-place Missouri.  And will be the biggest Ole Miss/Texas A&M fans the next two weeks.

— No. 15 UCF 39, Temple 36:   It took a miraculous touchdown catch — and that catch was the dictionary definition of an athletic miracle — and a field goal with no time on the clock, but the Knights were able to finally subdue the one-win Owls, maintaining a firm stranglehold on their AAC lead and continuing to close in on the first-ever BCS berth in the program’s history.

— No. 19 Louisville 20, Houston 13: Trailing the Cougars by three at halftime, the Cardinals put 10 points on the board in the third quarter while holding the potent UH offense to no points in the second half to win its third straight game after losing its first game of the season.

— No. 21 Arizona State 30, Oregon State 17: The Sun Devils led the reeling Beavers 20-10 entering the fourth quarter before finally putting OSU away for good with an interception return for a touchdown with just over five minutes left.  With 10 games in the books, ASU’s year essentially comes down to a one-game season: next Saturday against UCLA, with the opportunity to clinch the Pac-12 South on the line.

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

1. Florida State — Yep, I finally pulled the trigger.  Here’s what you need to know about the Seminoles: the past six games against teams that are currently a combined 34-26, FSU has outscored those opponents 322-51.  From my vantage point in this corner of my mom’s basement, the ‘Noles are simply the best and most talented team in the game. (Last week: No. 2)
Next up: vs. Idaho

2. Alabama — Dropping the Tide was something I had been considering for the past three weeks, based solely on how FSU was playing.  Alabama’s sloppy 13-point win over Mississippi State added to how FSU continues to play allowed me to justify such a move in my own head. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. Chattanooga

3. Ohio State — When the polls come out this later this morning/early this afternoon, it would serve as a major shock if Baylor didn’t leapfrog the Buckeyes in all three of the major polls, including the two that are part of the BCS standings.  I won’t do that here, although watching the Buckeyes muddle through what should’ve been a game-long cakewalk against a really bad Illinois team had me at least considering it. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. Indiana

4. Baylor — The Bears’ idea of a close game is spotting its opponents the first 14 points, then outscoring them 63-20 the rest of the way to turn an upset alert into a blowout.  BU will likely face its stiffest of the season this weekend as they travel to Stillwater.  Maybe then we can all get a handle on just how good this team really is. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: at No. 12 Oklahoma State

5. Missouri — Yes, you could’ve made the case for Auburn or Oregon or Clemson or Michigan State or Oklahoma State here, but the quality of the Tigers’ lone loss trumps every other team’s.  Auburn lost by double digits to three-loss LSU.  Oregon was dropped rather handily and easily by a Stanford team that’s lost to 4-6 Utah and USC, which fired its head coach before the first month of the season was in the books.  Clemson was taken to the woodshed by FSU.  Michigan State lost to a Notre Dame squad that’s currently unranked.  Oklahoma State lost to West Virginia, which lost in Week 12 to a Kansas team that hadn’t won a Big 12 games in three years.  Mizzou’s lone loss came in overtime to a ranked South Carolina and after it had taken a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter before getting Connor Shaw‘d. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: at Ole Miss

(Dropped out: No. 5 Stanford)

HE SAID IT
“This team has the ‘It’ factor. That’s just the bottom line. … I told them a minute ago that I think we’re in the midst of something special.” — Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, following the miraculous win over Georgia.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“I think most teams would have folded or found a reason to quit but they didn’t do that. … I talked about being disciplined on and off the field. If your goal is to live a disciplined life, you’ll probably have a blessed life.” — Mark Richt, when asked what he said to his Georgia players following the heartbreaking loss to Auburn.

HELMET OF THE DAY
This may not be the most “hip” helmet in an era where the Oregons and Baylors of the college football world look to one-up each other on a seemingly weekly basis, but it’s certainly the most meaningful.  For its game against Ohio State Saturday, the Illinois players wore an understated tribute on their heads: a silhouette of the state of Illinois with 10 stars arranged in the shape of an “I” inside of it.  Those 10 stars represent the 10 football players who made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country in the armed forces, giving their lives in combat for our freedom.

Illini Tribute Helmet

Illini Combat Heroes

Well done, Illini.  Well done.

SAY WHAT?
As embarrassing as the loss was for West Virginia, it was an even bigger relief for Kansas.  The Jayhawks’ 31-19 win over the Mountaineers snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak that was the longest negative league streak among AQ schools.  Prior to Saturday afternoon, KU’s last conference win came on Nov. 6, 2010 against Colorado.  You had to go all the way back to Oct. 10, 2009 (Iowa State) for the Jayhawks’ last win over a current member of the conference.  Since playing in the Orange Bowl following the 2007 season and prior to the WVU win, KU had gone 6-42 in Big 12 play, with four of those wins coming in 2008.

TRUE STORY
Oklahoma’s 48-10 win over Iowa State was the 157th of Bob Stoops‘ career with the Sooners, tying Barry Switzer for the most wins in school history.  In 15 seasons, Stoops has gone 156-39 (.796); Switzer went 157-29-4 (.837) in 15 seasons.  In those 15 seasons under Switzer, the Sooners collected three national championships and won or shared 12 Big 8 titles.  In his 16 seasons, Stoops has laid claim to one BCS title and eight won or shared Big 12 championships.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— The number of undefeated teams remained static from a week ago: Alabama, Florida State, Northern Illinois and Ohio State at 10-0, Baylor and Fresno State at 9-0.  The same held true on the other side of the won-loss ledger, with Georgia State, Hawaii, Miami of Ohio and Southern Miss at 0-10, and UConn at 0-9.  It should be noted that the Rainbow Warriors took San Diego State to overtime before remaining winless.

— While Andre Williams was impressive in rushing for 339 yards, he wasn’t the top ground performer in college football this weekend.  Not even close, actually.  D-III running back Cartel Brooks rushed for 465 yards, setting an all-division NCAA record in the process.  That record had been 455 yards… and was set just three weeks ago by D-III Western Connecticut’s Octavias McKoy.

Kapri Bibbs— Coming off a 312-yard, four-touchdown performance last weekend, Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs ran for 291 yards and a program-record six touchdowns in the win over New Mexico.

Carlos Hyde ran for a career-high 246 yards and score five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) as Ohio State remained unbeaten on the season with a win over Illinois.

— The day of the running back continues as Kansas’ James Sims‘ 211 yards and three touchdowns helped the Jayhawks snap their lengthy Big 12 skid.

AJ McCarron set one Alabama record and tied another in the win over Mississippi State.  The senior now has 8,146 yards of total offense in his career, surpassing John Parker Wilson‘s 8,099 yards from 2005-08.  The win was also the 35th of his career, tying him with Jay Barker (1991-94) in that category.

— Cincinnati’s Brendon Kay threw for a career-best 405 yards and four TDs in the Bearcats’ 52-17 thumping of Rutgers.

Allen Robinson now has 78 catches on the season, breaking the Penn State record of 77 he set in 2012.

— Texas Tech began the 2013 season by winning its first seven games.  The last four games, all losses, the Red Raiders have been outscored 202-124.

— Alabama streak of seven straight wins by at least 21 points was snapped Saturday night.  The SEC record for consecutive wins by 21-plus points still belongs to Florida alone, which won eight straight such games in 2008.

James Franklin— Vanderbilt is bowl-eligible for the third straight season, the first time that’s happened in the football program’s history.

— Ole Miss totaled a school-record 751 yards of offense (382 passing, 369 rushing) as the Rebels waylaid Troy 51-21.

— In Clemson’s 55-31 throttling of Georgia Tech Thursday night, Tajh Boyd completed 20 of his 26 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns.  The senior also added a rushing touchdown.  Boyd now has 97 career touchdown passes, breaking the mark of 95 previously held by North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers.

— For the fourth time in his career, Marshall’s Rakeem Cato passed for more than 400 yards (456) in a single game as the Herd got past Tulsa Thursday night, 45-34, to remain tied atop the Conference USA East standings with East Carolina.  The junior passed for 400 yards-plus three times in the first five games last season.

Jordan Lynch passed for 345 yards, ran for 123 more, tossed two touchdown passes and scored two on the ground as Northern Illinois remained unbeaten with their 48-27 win over Ball State Wednesday night.  It was the first time this season and third time in his career he’s passed for 300-plus and rushed for 100-plus in the same game, with one of those being a 400/100 game.

— Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata also passed for a career high 497 yards in the Bulls’ 51-41 loss to Toledo Tuesday night.  The sophomore’s previous career-high was 285 yards in a win over Western Michigan last November.

—  A dozen different Yellow Jackets were credited with at least one rushing attempt in the loss to Clemson, the seventh time in 10 contests this season run-heavy Georgia Tech has used double-digit ball carriers in a single game.

Marshall 75 HelmetIN CLOSING…
Say what you want about the negative headlines some college football players make for off-field escapades, but the vast majority of young men at this level of the game are good folk and quality people.  Case in point: the Marshall Thundering Herd.  Thursday night, Marshall debuted helmets that featured the number “75” on the left side, with that number honoring the 75 souls lost in the tragic plane crash on Nov. 14, 1970.  The plan was for the special helmet to be a one-shot deal.  However, the school announced via a press release Saturday that a decision has been made to wear the helmets for the remainder of the season… because the players requested that the tribute continue. “Remembering those 75 people isn’t about one day; it’s about a mentality here,” head coach Doc Holliday said.  More than anything, those Herd players showed that the memories of those who perished in that tragedy will not fade away with the passing of time.  And that the word “respect” still means something.

No. 3 Clemson punches playoff ticket with ACC championship win over Virginia Tech

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 03:  The Clemson Tigers take the field during the ACC Championship against the Virginia Tech Hokies on December 3, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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For the second straight season, Clemson can say they punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff with yet another close ACC championship game victory.

The third-ranked Tigers jumped out to a big lead, led throughout and ultimately prevailed over Virginia Tech in a 42-35 win that was a tad closer than the final score indicated.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson continued his stellar play down the stretch this season, throwing for 288 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The signal-caller added another two scores on the ground to go with his team-high 85 yards rushing as well on a night where he made some clutch throws down the stretch to keep the team in front of a stingy Bud Foster defense.

Tailback Wayne Gallman also found the end zone in Orlando but was still relatively limited with just 59 yards on 17 carries.

The Hokies did make sure Clemson sweated out things by threatening in the second and third quarters. Quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 264 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t get any help from Virginia Tech’s normally reliable ground game and threw an interception with 71 seconds left to end a comeback. Evans also led the team in rushing and scored twice while running back Travon McMillian did the same but managed to do so on only 37 yards rushing.

With a second straight ACC title in the bag for Dabo Swinney and company, the only question left for Clemson is where will they stand on Sunday afternoon and what semifinal site they will head to. Alabama appears locked into the No. 1 seed in the Peach Bowl but could the close result against Virginia Tech — combined with Washington’s emphatic win in the Pac-12 title game — force a national title game rematch in Atlanta?

That’s probably not on the minds of the Tigers on Saturday night as they rightfully celebrate yet another league championship and look like a dangerous team to face at the end of the month.

No. 7 Penn State completes comeback for the ages to claim B1G title

Penn State's Saquon Barkley (26) makes an 18-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin's T.J. Watt (42) during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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On Sept. 24, Penn State was 2-2 on the season, 0-1 in Big Ten play after a 49-10 undressing by Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their Big Ten title hopes were left for dead. As we know, they managed to rally and win the Big Ten East.

And then, with 5:15 left in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions trailed 28-7 and their chances of actually winning the game were again left for dead.

But the Cardiac Cats rallied. Again. The seventh-ranked Lions closed the game on a 31-3 run to race past No. 6 Wisconsin for a 38-31 Big Ten Championship victory.

Of course, this win means much more than that. At 11-2 on the season, winners of nine in a row and winners of college football’s best conference, the question now becomes whether the College Football Playoff selection committee chooses the Lions over 11-1 Ohio State or Pac-12 champion Washington on Sunday.

But first, the comeback.

Penn State simply could not get out of its own way — or get Wisconsin out of its way… or get in Wisconsin’s way, for that matter — over the game’s first 25 minutes. The Badgers opened by forcing two three-and-outs and launching two long touchdown drives to grab a 14-0 lead a dozen minutes into the game. After a McSorley touchdown pass put Penn State on the board, the Nittany Lions allowed an errant snap to be returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

James Franklin elected to go for a fourth-and-short in his own territory on the ensuing possession and was rebuffed. Wisconsin again capitalized on the mistake to grab a 28-7 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first half. Penn State again failed on a fourth-and-short near midfield on the next possession, but this time the Badgers failed to cash in. And that proved costly.

Because that failure to land the death blow allowed Penn State’s Cardiac Cats persona to awaken.

The Lions’ comeback started when McSorley hit Saeed Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds left in the half to pull within  a more manageable 28-14 deficit at the break.

After Wisconsin missed a field goal to open the second half, McSorley answered by finding Blacknall for a 70-yard scoring strike on the very next play. Then Penn State tied the game on its next touch as Saquon Barkley punched in a 1-yard score at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter.

Wisconsin re-gained the lead with a 23-yard Andrew Endicott chip shot, but only after Bart Houston missed what would have been a walk-in touchdown to tight end Troy Fumagalli on 2nd-and-8 from the 10-yard line.

Given the opportunity to take the lead, Penn State took full advantage, marching 81 yards in only four plays as Barkley hauled in an 18-yard wheel route from McSorley.

McSorley finished the game hitting 22-of-31 passes for 384 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions — against a defense that came in allowing eight touchdowns while swiping 21 interceptions. Compared to Houston’s numbers — 16-of-21 for 174 yards — quarterback play proved to be the difference in the game. McSorley’s play allowed Penn State to win a game in which it was out-rushed 241-51.

Wisconsin punted on its next touch, and Penn State missed its chance to deliver a knockout punch, instead settling for a 24-yard Tyler Davis field goal with 5:14 to play in the game.

Wisconsin would need a touchdown to force overtime, while Penn State would need a stop to complete its 21-point comeback. The Badgers moved to the Penn State 24, but, facing a 4th-and-1, Corey Clement was stuffed for no gain.

Penn State expired the final 58 seconds and secured the largest comeback ever in a Power 5 conference championship game.

Arkansas State, Appalachian State end up as SBC co-champs

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Two of the 10 FBS conferences don’t have championship games to determine a league champion.  The Big 12, which will go to a title game format next season, crowned an undisputed champion earlier today.  The other game-less league, on the other hand, will have more than one official champ.

Arkansas State had the opportunity to potentially win the Sun Belt Conference outright, but lost in Week 13 to drop to 6-1 in conference play.  Appalachian State won the same weekend to finish the season at 7-1 and claim at least a share of league title.

ASU and Troy, both 6-1 entering Week 14, needed a win to claim its share.

Troy failed miserably, falling 28-24 on the road to a Georgia Southern team that entered the game 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the SBC.  ASU, though, passed its final regular season test, putting 20 fourth-quarter points on the scoreboard in getting past Texas State in a 36-14 win in San Marcos.

The Red Wolves have now won five SBC titles the past six years, with three of those (2011, 2012, 2015) being undisputed.  They’re also the first team since Troy was in the midst of a five-year run from 2006-10 to win back-to-back championships.

As for App State, this is the Mountaineers’ first FBS league championship since moving to the SBC from the FCS for the 2014 season.

The three teams at the top of the SBC will play in some combination of the New Orleans/Dollar General/Camellia Bowls.  Arkansas State will be playing in its sixth straight bowl game, while Appalachian State will be in its second in a row in just its third season at this level.  Troy, meanwhile, will be making its first postseason appearance since winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2010.

San Diego State runs past Wyoming for second straight Mountain West title

San Diego State's Donnel Humphrey runs for a touchdown during the first half against Wyoming in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Laramie, Wyo. (AP Photo/Michael Smith)
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They say revenge is a dish best served cold. San Diego State checked off both boxes on Saturday night.

The Aztecs captured their second straight Mountain West championship and avenged an earlier loss with a 27-24 win over Wyoming in freezing conditions up in Laramie.

The San Diego State ground game was clicking all night long in a game where it was difficult to get much of anything through the air. Star tailback Donnel Pumphrey finished with 110 yards and a touchdown, passing former Texas great Ricky Williams to become the second leading rusher in FBS history late in the third quarter. The senior trails only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne by 108 yards on the all-time list with a chance to top his mark later this month in what will likely be a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Pumphrey’s backup Rashaad Penny wasn’t too shabby either, picking up a team-high 117 yards on the ground and finding the end zone twice. It was a good thing both players were humming in the backfield as quarterback Christian Chapman managed only 85 yards on six completions.

The SDSU defense also came to play in one of their best performances in a while. They picked off Wyoming’s Josh Allen twice, recovered a fumble late in the second half and bottled up the prolific runner Brian Hill to the tune of just 93 yards.

The Cowboys made a run to close the gap to just a field goal in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite get over the hump for their second win in as many weeks over the Aztecs for a first ever Mountain West title.

Instead it was Rocky Long’s San Diego State squad that could lay claim to being the best in the conference this season for the second year in a row.