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Record performance by Dwayne Haskins lifts No. 6 Ohio State to Big Ten crown, playoff fate awaits

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Dwayne Haskins showed why he was named the Big Ten’ Offensive Player of the Year with a Big Ten championship game record performance to help No. 6 Ohio State (12-1, 8-1 Big Ten) set aside No. 21 Northwestern (8-5, 8-1 Big Ten), 45-24. Haskins passed for a Big Ten championship game record 499 yards with five touchdowns to lift Ohio State to back-to-back Big Ten championships. A trip to the Rose Bowl likely awaits the Buckeyes as a result.

The final line on Haskins was impressive with 34-of-41 passing for 499 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. It was a performance that showed why Haskins should at least be considered for a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, and the Buckeyes needed Haskins to shine as Northwestern was not going to go away easily in Indianapolis.

Northwestern played close enough to Ohio State to avoid being on the receiving end of an Ohio State team in need of some style points. While Ohio State proved to have too many weapons on both sides of the football, the Wildcats made Ohio State keep pushing longer than Ohio State may have wanted. John Moten ripped off a 77-yard touchdown run early in the game to get Ohio State’s attention and a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter brought Northwestern to within 24-21 before Ohio State started to pull away a bit. A pair of interceptions thrown by Clayton Thorson hurt some chances for Northwestern to pull an upset in the Big Ten title game, as did a lost fumble. Ohio State had a couple of turnovers though to hurt themselves at times, but the defense stood up to make some key stops to stop the bleeding quickly.

In all likelihood, Ohio State’s chances of playing in the College Football Playoff may have been dashed, although the fate of the Buckeyes will be left in the hands of the selection committee on Sunday. With Oklahoma winning the Big 12 championship and chalk holding in the SEC with Alabama (over Georgia) and Clemson (over Pittsburgh), along with Notre Dame sitting at home with a clean 12-0 record, Ohio State is very likely to be left out of the playoff and heading to Pasadena to face Pac-12 champion Washington in the Rose Bowl. Despite the success of Ohio State over the years under Urban Meyer, this will be the first time Meyer has taken Ohio State to the Rose Bowl, and it will be Ohio State’s first Rose Bowl trip since the 2009 season. Ohio State would have played in the Rose Bowl last year but the Rose Bowl was the site of a College Football Playoff semifinal between Oklahoma and Georgia, which forced the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions to square off in the Cotton Bowl instead, with Ohio State defeating USC last season.

Northwestern’s bowl destination is a bit more up in the air as the Big Ten will wait to see if it can squeeze more than two teams into a New Years Six bowl game, although Penn State looks likely to be taking a spot in the Capital One Bowl as the first Big Ten team off the board after Ohio State and Michigan in the New Years Six. That leaves Northwestern as a team that could head to any number of bowl games in the Big Ten lineup. Because there are no slots assigned base don finish, the Big Ten and bowl partners will work to determine where Northwestern will go. As a division champion, Northwestern should still get a relatively decent bowl destination in the Big Ten bowl lineup.

UAB wins Conference USA championship in second season back after being shut down

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The most successful football season in UAB history now has its crowning achievement. A week after losing on the same field in the regular season finale, UAB celebrated a 27-25 victory at Middle Tennessee in the Conference USA championship game. In its second season back after a brief shutdown of the entire football program, UAB is a conference champion.

UAB’s defense came up with the critical fourth down stop at the UAB 46-yard line as a pass from Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill fell incomplete in good coverage. UAB was unable to run out the clock though, so the defense would have had to make one more stop of the Blue Raiders in the final minute of the game. But Middle Tennessee lined up with 12 men on the field on the fourth down before UAB snapped for a punt, and UAB was awarded a free first down. With no more timeouts to use, Middle Tennessee could not stop the clock and UAB ran out the clock.

UAB got a big day from running back Spencer Brown, who rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Tyler Johnston III passed for 140 yards and rushed for 56 yards while accounting for two total touchdowns. UAB really held firm inside the red zone on defense, forcing Middle Tennessee to settle for field goals on each of their first two possessions of the game and doing so once again in the fourth quarter. Success in the red zone for UAB managed to make up for giving up 456 yards of offense, including 362 through the air off the arm of Brent Stockstill.

Enough can not be said about the job Bill Clark has done at UAB. The head coach of the program for one year before the university shut the program down, Clark stuck with the program as it became clear the program would return after a brief hiatus. To take a program that was shut down to a conference championship in a span of four years is absolutely incredible and why Clark should not only be hearing some phone calls from schools in search of a head coach but also should be considered for some coach of the year honors.

UAB will now play in their second straight bowl game in as many years, and the Blazers will look for the first bowl victory in school history (0-2 all-time in bowl games). An official bowl announcement is pending, although a matchup with Sun Belt champion Appalachian State in the New Orleans Bowl would be a fun matchup.

Appalachian State wins inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game

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For the first time in conference history, the Sun Belt Conference held a conference championship game. That makes Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) the first program in history to win the Sun Belt Conference championship game after topping Louisiana (7-6, 5-3 Sun Belt) on Saturday afternoon. With the win, Appalachian State will head to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl as the conference champion.

Appalachian State’s defense forced two turnovers and added a turnover on downs in the final minutes to help seal the 30-19 victory over the Ragin’ Cajuns. After a tight first half of play, which saw the Mountaineers head to the locker room with a 14-6 advantage on Louisiana, the Mountaineers took care of business in the second half when it counted the most. A 20-16 lead going to the fourth quarter was increased to 27-16 with a Zac Thomas touchdown run of 35 yards. Thomas scored two touchdowns on the ground while having a quiet game through the air. Combined with 111 rushing yards by Darrynton Evans and the ability fo the defense to lock things down in the fourth quarter, there was no question Appalachian State was the best team in the Sun Belt Conference on this day, and this season.

This is the first outright conference championship for Appalachian State since moving up to the FBS ranks in 2014. The Mountaineers earned a share of the conference title each of the last two seasons before the introduction of the conference championship game. It has been a steady climb up the Sun Belt since moving up from the FCS, and now head coach Scott Satterfield has an outright conference championship to celebrate as the latest crowning achievement for the program.

Appalachian State will play in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 15. They will face an opponent from Conference USA, with the likely opponent expected to be either UAB or Middle Tennessee. Louisiana is still eligible to go to a bowl game, but will have to wait and see what bowl game they will be attending.

Appalachian State, Troy share Sun Belt championship

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Because it’s the only league in the FBS without a conference championship game, the Sun Belt will have co-champions in back-to-back seasons.

Heading into Week 14, Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy were all tied atop the conference standings at 6-1 in league play.  Appalachian State was set to host Louisiana in the early game, with the other two first-place teams squaring off in the late game.

Appalachian State ensured quite quickly that there would be no solo champion this season as ASU took the Team Formerly Known as Louisiana-Lafayette to the woodshed in a 63-14 win.  The Mountaineers pounded out the victory mainly on the ground, rushing for 357 yards and five touchdowns.  Quarterback Taylor Lamb did toss four touchdown passes — and ran for one of the five — as part of the title-winning performance.

This marks ASU’s second SBC championship, shared or otherwise, since they joined the conference in 2014.  They did, though, have 18 conference crowns as an FCS power.

In the later game, Troy outscored Arkansas State 25-15 in the second half to come away with a wild 32-25 win.  The most remarkable aspect of the win?  The Trojans were outgained 606-293 on offense.

Despite that, Troy claimed its sixth title in SBC history.  It’s also its first since 2010, which marked the end of its run of five straight championships.

This marks the eighth time since 2001 that there has been SBC co-champions in football.

Boise State bests Fresno State for MWC title, puts dent in Alabama’s playoff résumé

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It’s been a bit, but Boise State is back on top of the Mountain West.

In a back-and-forth, low-scoring game that featured four lead changes, it was Boise that was on the favorable end of the last one as they topped No. 25 Fresno State 17-14 to claim the Mountain West Conference championship.  The Bulldogs held a 14-10 halftime lead, but a scoreless second half was broken up by Ryan Wolpin‘s two-yard touchdown run with 4:42 left in the fourth quarter and proved to be the game-winner for the Broncos.

With the win, Boise State claimed its second win in an MWC championship game that was first played in 2013.  Its first?  A 28-14 win in 2014 over… Fresno State.  It also marks the Broncos’ third title overall as an MWC member.

Fresno State was looking for its first title-game win since the inaugural one.

On a note unrelated to this game in particular but of particular interest nationally: Alabama, which was shut out of the SEC championship game and beat Fresno State earlier this season, needed for Fresno to beat Boise to help ‘Bama with its College Football Playoff résumé.  With Ohio State’s win in the Big Ten championship game, and with Fresno State’s loss… it’s going to make for a very interesting Selection Sunday for the playoff selection committee.