The conventional wisdom suggests the SEC champion will go on to play in the College Football Playoff, with the expectation of the SEC champion being either an undefeated Alabama or one-loss SEC champ. Following a season-ending 38-7 victory on Saturday against Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4 ACC), No. 7 Georgia (11-1, 7-1 SEC) did their part to make sure they remain in playoff contention with those qualifications in play.
The rushing combo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb may not have had a blockbuster day on the ground, but it was more than effective with a combined 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Michel’s touchdown run was especially smooth in the third quarter to put Georgia up 24-7.
Jake Fromm had a role in the blowout too, of course. Fromm completed 12 of his 16 pass attempts for 224 yards and two touchdowns, and he even picked up some rushing yards for good measure. Georgia doubled the offensive production of Georgia Tech in the game and prevented Georgia Tech from taking away time on the clock with long scoring drives.
Georgia will now take on either Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship Game next week in Atlanta. The opponent from the SEC West will be determined today in The Iron Bowl with Auburn hosting the No. 1 Crimson Tide. Auburn thrashed Georgia just a few weeks ago, but Georgia and Alabama have not played each other this season. Regardless of the opponent, the stakes will be high as it is universally accepted the SEC champion will be one of the four teams selected to play in the College Football Playoff. The only team that can potentially suffer a loss in the title game and still stand a decent shot of being included in the playoff without a mass chaos scenario in play appears to be Alabama, and even that is not a guarantee depending on the variables in play.
Georgia has not won the SEC championship since 2005, when the Bulldogs topped No. 3 LSU by a score of 34-14. Georgia is 0-2 in the conference title game since then, with back-to-back losses to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Win or lose, Georgia is guaranteed to be going bowling. Georgia Tech will now have to wait and see if any bowl vacancies still need to be filled. At 5-6, Georgia Tech is not eligible for the postseason (Georgia Tech only played 11 games after having a game against UCF scrapped due to a hurricane early in the season. The Yellow Jackets could ask for a waiver but otherwise would have to be standing in line to fill any leftover bowl spots that may be available. And those vacancies may not be there this season.
Middle Tennessee State entered the Camellia Bowl 121st in the country in turnover margin and had lost the battle in nine of their 12 games this season. Arkansas State was only a little bit better in the same category, ranking 81st in turnover margin in 2017. Predictably those kinds of statistics came into play on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl as the two sides played a bit of hot potato — six giveaways — before MTSU hung on for a 35-30 win to cap off the first day of bowl season in college football.
Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill had a game that could have been a nightmare for a veteran quarterback but ended up being alright thanks to his defense continually picking him on a night where chunk plays were hard to come by. The signal-caller threw the first of his three interceptions on the night on the first drive of the game but bounced back over the final three quarters, throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. That kind of performance, which included several big throws in the second half, helped secure the first bowl victory of his career and give him the rare distinction of being able to win a postseason game with his father Rick as head coach.
It wasn’t all about the Stockstill combo for MTSU however as their run game produced a pair of touchdowns behind tailbacks Terelle West and Tavares Thomas, and the team’s defense had one of their best outings of the season to limit the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense to well below all their season averages. Linebacker Darius Harris led the way when his unit was on the field, flying from sideline-to-sideline and racking up 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a two pass break ups. His running mate at linebacker, D.J. Sanders, was equally productive with seven tackles and a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown just before halftime.
The Red Wolves did what they could to threaten to make things interesting down the stretch but never could get over the hill. The team ran a fake punt to open fourth quarter, resulting in a 21 yard strike from the punter to gunner Chris Murray along the sidelines and appeared to seize momentum after a subsequent touchdown to Warren Wand. However the defense failed to get a stop and then Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen (337 yards, 3TD, 1 INT) threw a fourth down pass out of the end zone to all but seal a rather lackluster loss for a team that had won six of the last eight coming into the bowl.
Arkansas State also came up a bit short in the record books on the defensive side of the ball as well. In addition to allowing 35 points to MTSU, conference player of the year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones failed to record a sack and thus couldn’t break the NCAA career record (held by former Arizona State and current Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs) of 44 career sacks after entering the game just shy of the mark with 43.5. While the pass rusher did manage to sack Stockstill in the game, the play was negated by a penalty to keep him from taking over on the all-time list.
The victory pushed Middle Tennessee over the .500 mark for the fifth time in six seasons and likely meant a little bit more to the program given how many key injuries the team suffered over the course of 2017 before capturing their first bowl win in eight years. Arkansas State did their best to prevent that from happening as they dropped to 7-5 on the season after a rather bizarre Camellia Bowl that had a little bit of everything.
Middle Tennessee State started off the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night in about the worst way possible with a pair of first quarter interceptions but leaned heavily on their stout defense to manage their way to a 21-10 lead over Arkansas State at halftime in a somewhat low-scoring affair few could have seen coming between these high-scoring offenses.
Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill tossed an interception on the team’s opening drive of the game but managed to bounce back and throw for 80 yards and a touchdown after another slow start for the veteran signal-caller. Luckily the team’s defense pitched a goal line stand after his first pick and proved to be similarly stout after his second to keep the team in things after such a rough start against the Sun Belt power.
Mistakes proved to be costly for the Red Wolves throughout the night on both sides of the ball as a roughing the punter ruined a potential stop early and led to MTSU tailback Terelle West running right off his left guard for a 45 yard touchdown and a quick lead for the Conference USA squad who wasn’t doing much to move the ball outside of that big play.
The wildest sequence of the bowl season (so far) happened in the closing minutes of the first quarter however, leaving fans, officials and coaches all confused at what exactly just happened. Stockstill appeared to find a receiver over the middle and on the door step of the end zone but ASU’s Justin Clifton had other ideas — stripping the ball and appearing to run it back (with help) for a touchdown. The call went through a lengthy review process that wound up giving Clifton an interception and his offense the ball back at their 18 yard line instead but they ended up punting it away for 61 yards to cap off a truly bizarre few minutes.
Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had some decent numbers (151 yards passing, one rushing TD) but things just weren’t clicking for what had been the Sun Belt’s most prolific offense during the regular season. The signal-caller fumbled shortly before halftime, which allowed D.J. Sanders to rumble 54 yards with a fumble recovery touchdown that extended MTSU’s lead. The Red Wolves did manage to mount a scoring drive on the next possession to get right back in the game but they’ll need to show more down the stretch if they want to reach the eight win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.
It’s had a few strange moments but the conclusion to the first Saturday of the bowl season is shaping up rather nicely down in Montgomery, Alabama. However both sides in this one will be sure to focus on correcting a bunch of mistakes after that somewhat whacky first half.
The Streak lives. Barely.
Marshall (8-5) came into Saturday’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl having won five straight bowl games. Exiting Albuquerque, Marshall will head back to Huntington armed with a six-game postseason winning streak as they escaped with a 31-28 win over Colorado State (7-6).
The first half was all about the passing of quarterback Chase Litton. The second half was all about the running game — with a little Litton sprinkled in as well.
Up 21-14 at halftime, Tyler King outran the CSU defense to score on a 90-yard touchdown run very early in the third quarter to give MU a 28-14 lead that had the feeling of putting the game out of reach. King finished the win with 106 yards rushing, one of two Thundering Herd running backs to top the 100-yard mark as Keion Davis chipped in with a team-high 141 yards. Davis himself scored on a 68-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give the Herd its halftime lead.
After throwing for 177 in the first half, Litton finished with 262 through the air. Tyre Brady, who caught six passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, was named the Player of the Game.
Entering the fourth quarter, MU held what walked, talked and looked like an extremely comfortable 31-14 lead. CSU, however, cut the lead to 31-28 midway through the quarter on a pair of Nick Stevens touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). Getting the ball back with just over six minutes remaining and pinned back on their own 16-yard line, the Rams, who caught a break when a fumble recovered by the Herd was negated by defensive holding, couldn’t reach midfield on their last drive as their hopes for a come-from-behind win were extinguished after turning the ball over on downs.
(That Michael Gallup catch to briefly extend that last drive, though. Wow.)
While Marshall extended its winning streak — Doc Holliday is 5-0 as head coach — Colorado State extended a skein in the opposite direction as the Rams have now lost four bowl games in a row.
If everyone is being honest with themselves, and aside from the opposing fans, this is the matchup we were all looking for.
Friday night, No. 2 North Dakota State (13-1) routed No. 6 Sam Houston State (12-2) 55-13 to claim one spot in the 2017 FCS championship game. One day later, top seed James Madison (14-0) easily took care of business against No. 5 South Dakota State (11-3), claiming the other spot with a methodical 51-16 semifinal woodshedding.
The top two seeds in this years tournament will now square off Jan. 6 in Frisco, Tex., for the 2017 FCS championship.
James Madison is the reigning national champion, claiming the school’s second-ever title with a 28-14 win over Youngstown State last season. North Dakota State, meanwhile, will be looking to get back to the trophy mountaintop after they won a record five straight championships from 2011-15.
The Bison will likely be shorthanded for that contest, however, as their two starting cornerbacks — Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush — suffered knee injuries in the semifinal win while their second-leading rusher, Ty Brooks, suffered a shoulder injury. Despite the game being nearly three weeks away, all three are expected to be sidelined for the contest.