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Rose Bowl champions? Sparty yes! Michigan State holds off Stanford, 24-20

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In a game full of defensive talent, it was only fitting that the deciding play in the Rose Bowl turned out to be a 4th and 1 in the final minutes of the game. The Spartans came up with the big stop as No. 5 Stanford (11-3, 7-2 Pac 12) was down four points with the game on the line. With defenders leaping over a pile at the Stanford 34-yard line, No. 4 Michigan State  (13-1, 8-0 Big Ten) stuffed fullback Ryan Hewitt for no gain, allowing the Spartans offense to run out the clock for the fourth Rose Bowl championship in program history. Michigan State held on for a 24-20 win in Pasadena.

The game was everything it was expected to be, with defenses coming up with big plays, but in this one the Michigan State offense took control of the game. Michigan State rolled up 400 yards of offense and went on a 17-0 run to come from behind and carry all of the momentum in the second half. Michigan State dug an early 10-0 hole, but Connor Cook never gave in and passed for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Stanford’s defense. Cook’s fourth quarter pass to Tony Lippett from 25 yards proved to be the game winner. At the time it broke a 17-17 tie, so the game was placed in the hands of the Spartans defense, a comfortable feeling for Michigan State for sure.

Stanford looked to catch Michigan State off guard when a field goal attempt seemed to fall apart and the Cardinal completed a roll out pass for a first down, but the officials threw a flag for an illegal formation with an ineligible receiver down field amid the confusion on the play. Rather than seizing momentum and having a chance to tie things up, Stanford settled for a 39-yard field goal by Jordan Williamson to cut Michigan State’s lead to 24-20.

The Cardinal then forced the Spartans to go three-and-out with just over three minutes to play. With one last chance, the Cardinal were stopped on a fourth down with one yard to go to keep the game alive. With no timeouts, there was nothing Stanford could do but watch as Michigan State allowed the seconds to tick all the way down to triple zeros.

The win for Michigan State is just the second by a Big Ten team since 2000. Ohio State defeated Oregon in the 2010 game. The Big Ten may have suffered a 1-2 mark earlier in the day against SEC opponents, but the conference has a chance to end the bowl season on a high note if Ohio State can take down Clemson in the Orange Bowl. A pair of BCS bowl victories would help to overshadow a losing bowl season regardless of what happens. Michigan State has now also proven to be worthy of playing on the big stage, but will they be able to keep this momentum going in 2014 as the College Football Playoff era is christened?

Michigan State will enter the 2014 season as the outright defending Big Ten champions for the first time since 1988. They will do so in a new division as well. With the additions of Maryland and Rutgers next year the Big Ten is re-organizing the division line-up. Michigan State will be in the Big Ten’s East division, along with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers. The Spartans will geta  rematch with the Buckeyes on November 8, 2014 and also travel to Oregon in mid-September. Michigan State will also renew their end-of-the-year series with Penn State. Like Stanford, Michigan State will have three offensive linemen moving on but the significant players on the offense will be in tact at the skill positions. The defense will have six senior starters to replace but the Spartans should continue being tough on defense. The good news is Mark Dantonio and his staff will be getting a nice pay upgrade, so the Spartans will have some continuity working for them.

Stanford will have some changes to work through when the Cardinal move in to 2014. The offensive line will have at least three starters to replace in addition to running back Tyler Gaffney and fullback Ryan Hewitt. The defense will also be looking for new leadership after losing a good handful of players to graduation, including linebacker Shayne Skov. The backbone of Stanford’s success the last few years has been a punishing ground game and a stiff defense (yeah, Andrew Luck was a nice asset as well), so look for David Shaw to continue with that typical formula as the Pac 12 North continues to catch up. The Pac 12 North may still be Stanford’s or Oregon’s to lose in 2014, but Washington adding Chris Petersen as a head coach should lead to the Huskies improving as well. The Cardinal will get USC at home next season but will take to the road to play Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and Washington in addition to a non-conference match-up in South Bend, Indiana against Notre Dame.

Wake Forest starts 4-0 for first time in a decade

BLOOMINGTON, IN - SEPTEMBER 24: Jessie Bates #3 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons reaches for and makes the interception against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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In 2006, Wake Forest began the season 4-0 en route to an improbable bid to the Orange Bowl.  A decade later, could it be deja vu all over again?

Unbelievably, the answer to that is, well, yeah.  Well, it’s at least technically possible — although glancing at the latest box score that would’ve been the furthest thing from your mind.

In Saturday’s game against Indiana, the Demon Deacons were outgained 611-352 in total offense.  Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow strafed Wake’s defense for 496 yards and three touchdowns.  But then you catch a glimpse of the category that reads “Turnovers.”

The Demon Deacon defense intercepted Lagow a whopping five times.  Not only did the defense return one of those for a touchdown, the offense converted another two picks into 10 points.

The final score?  Wake 33, Indiana 28.

With the win, Wake improved to 4-0 on the season for the first time since that 2006 campaign mentioned in the lede.  Before you go out and bet your house on an ACC Coastal title for the Deacons, however, keep this in mind: Wake still has games left against No. 13 Florida State (10/15), No. 3 Louisville (11/12) and No. 5 Clemson (11/19), with the first two games on the road.

If you’re a Wake fan, though, it’s fun to dream — especially when your team’s six-game losing streak to close out the 2015 season is factored in.

Auburn leads at halftime in must-win game against LSU

BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 19:  A general view of play between the Auburn Tigers and the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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In a must-win game for both head coaches, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn went to the locker room at halftime up 9-7 on LSU’s Les Miles in a game as prodding and slow as the score would indicate.

The Tigers were unable to find the end zone despite breaking open some big plays and had to rely on three Daniel Carlson field goals to hold the lead after two quarters. Quarterback Sean White only had three incompletions among his 14 passes (for 144 yards) but looked as though he was starting to get in a rhythm against LSU’s tough defensive front.

Speaking of that defense, the Baton Rouge-based Tigers came up big just before halftime by stopping Kerryon Johnson on both third- and fourth-and-goal from the one yard line.

LSU averaged over seven yards a rush on offense but simply didn’t have the ball much, running just 24 snaps in the first half. Quarterback Danny Etling had 23 yards passing on six completions but did end up escaping pressure and shot-putting the ball to Foster Moreau for the game’s only touchdown.

Leonard Fournette added 64 yards on a robust 9.1 yards per carry.

The close score means both teams figure to be a little tight in what many are already labeling the Buyout Bowl given rumors about both head coaches being on the hot seat.

No. 14 Tennessee scores 38 straight to snap losing streak to No. 19 Florida

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 24: Evan Berry #29 of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts after a fumble recovery against the Florida Gators in the first quarter at Neyland Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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No. 14 Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) brought an end to an 11-game losing streak to No. 19 Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) in resounding fashion Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. Down 21-0 in the first half, Tennessee roared back with 38 straight points en route to a wild 38-28 victory in a key SEC East battle.

The phrase “tale of two halves” gets thrown around a lot, sometimes more than necessary, but there was simply no way to describe what just happened in a checkered-out Neyland Stadium. The Vols looked lost and sloppy in the first half of the game, shooting themselves in the feet twice inside the Florida 10-yard line with nothing to show for it. But the second half was a reversal of fortune, as the Vols defense started getting off the field quickly and the offense started clicking. Joshua Dobbs shrugged off an awful first half and came back to lead the charge with four touchdown passes in the second half, and one more on the ground just for good measure. Dobbs was Tennessee’s second-leading rusher (behind Jalen Hurd) on top of passing for over 300 yards against the Gators.

Tennessee took the lead on a play that appeared to be eerily similar to a key play from a year ago. Dobbs found a wide-open Jauan Jennings down the right side of the field for an easy touchdown. The score gave the Vols the lead. It was a long passing play last season that saw Florida take the lead on the Vols when it appeared a victory was in hand for Tennessee.

The Vols tacked on more to put the game in he win column, of course. The defense picked off a pass from Austin Appleby on Florida’s first play of the ensuing drive and that was quickly turned into a touchdown. Florida then had to punt after three plays on the next drive, and the Vols scored four plays later. The momentum had swung back to Tennessee and never returned to the Gators’ sideline, even after a 16-play touchdown drive. Nothing was stopping Tennessee at this point, as Florida’s frustration boiled over so much, Brandon Powell was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch.

Trying to figure out what this means for Tennessee going forward is a bit of a tricky proposition. That is because you just don’t really know which Tennessee was closer to the real Tennessee. The SEC East is most definitely their’s to take this year, with a head-to-head tiebreaker with Florida in the fold and Georgia looking abysmal on the road earlier in the day in a blowout loss at Ole Miss. Tennessee will get a chance to seize complete control of the division next week when they head to Athens to take on those Georgia Bulldogs. A win there and the SEC East crown should be pretty easy to claim, although the Vols still have a road trip to Texas A&M and a home game against Alabama  after that Georgia game, so there is no easy path to the SEC East just yet.

And with a challenging schedule ahead of them in conference play the next few weeks, Florida is not out of the picture just yet. The Gators get no easy games with LSU and Arkansas in cross-division play, but a game at Vanderbilt next week offers a chance to bounce back before hosting LSU and Missouri and then taking on Georgia in Jacksonville. Florida can remain in the hunt, but the margin for error has been reduced as a result of this one.

Notre Dame stumbles to 1-3 start as Duke adds to defensive woes

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Jela Duncan #25 of the Duke Blue Devils rushes for a touchdown during the first half of a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 24, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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In the eyes of many, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was, or at least should be, on the hot seat entering the Duke game.  Exiting the Week 4 game, that bandwagon is likely overloaded.

The day started out well enough for the Irish as they held a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter.  However, against a Blue Devils offense that came into the game 94th nationally in scoring (25.3 points per game), the Irish defense had no answers as Duke scored 38 points over the next three and a half quarters to stun the Domers 38-35 in South Bend.

The Irish held a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter as well before the defense gave up a 64-yard touchdown pass to knot the score at 35-all. The defense then allowed a back-breaking 10-play drive that resulted in what turned out to be a game-winning field goal with 1:24 remaining.

Notre Dame, which began the season ranked in the Top 10, has now tumbled to 1-3 on the year.  In each of those three losses, the Irish have given up at least 36 points.

Whether head coach Brian Kelly pulls the trigger on an in-season move with VanGorder remains to be seen.  Based on the early returns, one could hardly blame him if he did.