Sun Belt Conference

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.

No. 8 Ohio State awaits CFP fate after toppling No. 4 Wisconsin to take B1G title

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It wasn’t 59-0, but it might be just enough to do the job. On the same stage that Ohio State used a Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin to launch an 11th hour run to the College Football Playoff and an eventual national championship three years ago, No. 8 Ohio State hopes to do the same after taking down undefeated No. 4 Wisconsin 27-21 to win the Big Ten title.

J.T. Barrett famously did not play in the 2014 rout, but the fifth-year senior created his own legend by leading the Buckeyes to the win six days after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to lead the Buckeyes with 211 passing yards, 60 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.

The win pushes Ohio State to 11-2 on the season and gives the Buckeyes two wins over top-10 foes, bolstering the Buckeyes’ case as they look to edge 11-1 and fifth-ranked Alabama to reach their third Playoff in four seasons — all of which would come under controversial circumstances. The 2014 blowout of Wisconsin — with Hall of Fame Badgers coach Barry Alvarez serving on the selection committee — allowed Ohio State to pass both TCU and Baylor on Selection Sunday. A year ago, Ohio State became the first non-conference champion to reach the Playoff, beating out a 2-loss Penn State team that both won the head-to-head matchup over the Buckeyes and and claimed the Big Ten championship.

And now Ohio State looks to become both the first 2-loss team and the first team to suffer a blowout loss to reach the 4-team field.

Trailing 21-10 at the half, Wisconsin pulled within one score with a 46-yard Rafael Gaglianone field goal to open the third quarter, but Ohio State answered with a 27-yard Sean Nuernberger boot. 

The score remained at 24-13 when Barrett tossed his second interception of the night, which Leon Jacobs grabbed and returned to the Wisconsin 48-yard line. Given the short field, Wisconsin’s offense charged to its first offensive touchdown of the night, a 1-yard Chris James plunge that literally ripped the Lucas Oil Stadium turf in two.

After a 15-minute delay in which grounds workers repaired the field, Alex Hornibrook found Troy Fumagalli for a 2-point conversion to pull the Badgers within 24-21 with 12:39 remaining. 

Ohio State’s next possession consumed 7:19 of the clock over a 15-play march, extended by a 4th-and-1 conversion by Barrett, but stalled at the Wisconsin 3. A 20-yard Nuernberger field goal did not put Wisconsin away, but did force the Badgers to score a touchdown to win instead of needing a field goal to tie.

Wisconsin moved only 19 yards on the ensuing possession, as Paul Chryst bet on his defense by electing to punt on a 4th-and-3 from his own 38 with 3:20 to play and a full compliment of timeouts. That gamble paid off when Barrett threw behind a wide open J.K. Dobbins on 3rd-and-5, giving Wisconsin the ball back at its own 30 with 2:59 to go.

Wisconsin moved the ball as far as the Ohio State 43, but a called holding penalty and a missed pass interference flag pushed the Badgers back to a 1st-and-20 and the drive could not recover. Hornibrook fired three straight incomplete passes and was intercepted on fourth down by Damon Webb to allow Ohio State to seal the win.

A Wisconsin turnover started the scoring. The Badgers moved into the Ohio State red zone on their first possession, but Hornibrook’s lob near the end zone was intercepted by Denzel Ward at the 4-yard line. The Buckeyes needed only four plays to traverse the 96 yards ahead of them, the last 84 coming on a Barrett pass to Terry McLaurin to open the scoring.

Barrett then gifted Wisconsin a touchdown with a 9-yard pick-six to Wisconsin’s Andrew Van Ginkel. He quickly erased that score, though, completing a 4-play, 75-yard drive with a 57-yard snatch-and-dash to Parris Campbell, giving Ohio State a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

After three straight three-and-outs, Ohio State again put together another blitzkrieg drive, this time moving 82 yards in three plays, 77 of which came on a Dobbins run. Barrett pushed the lead to 21-7 with a 1-yard plunge one play later.

Needing a score to stay in the game, Wisconsin drove to the Ohio State 37, but Chryst elected to punt on a 4th-and-3 instead of going for it or kicking a 54-yard field goal. The decision immediately worked out, though, when Van Ginkel forced a Mike Weber fumble at the Ohio State 11, leading to a 28-yard Gaglianone with 3:42 left in the half. 

Nuernberger’s 43-yard field goal on the final play of the half was blocked.

No. 1 Clemson is ticketed back to College Football Playoff after throttling No. 7 Miami in ACC title game

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Nebraska, USC and Alabama have all successfully defended a national championship in the past 25 years and after Saturday night it appears Clemson will at least have a shot at adding their name to the list. The Tigers looked every bit the part of the No. 1 team in the country as they cruised to an easy 38-3 victory in the ACC Championship Game to spoil No. 7 Miami’s first trip to Charlotte in every way imaginable.

As you might expect in a game involving the Hurricanes’ famous ‘Turnover Chain,’ giveaways played a huge role in the outcome of this one — just not how Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wanted. While Miami did recover a muffed punt on the second series of the game, the team wound up turning it over three times on offense and giving away 14 points off them. Two in the third quarter loomed particularly large as a fumble at midfield and an interception off a tipped pass wound up slamming the door on any potential comeback and turned a three-score lead into a full on rout.

Of course, it helps to have a team that looks to be peaking at the right time to take advantage of another monster performance from the Clemson defense. Quarterback Kelly Bryant started the game off with 15 straight completions in another masterful outing behind center, finishing the game with 252 yards and a touchdown pass through the air while adding another score on the ground. He was so good that backups Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper played most of the fourth quarter in his place and made the somewhat lackluster ground game not matter as tailbacks Tavien Feaster, Travis Etienne and Adam Choice all were held under 25 yards rushing — but did manage to score a touchdown a piece.

The stellar effort by the defending ACC champs was not matched by Miami in their initial trip to the conference title game since joining the league. Quarterback Malik Rosier had another sub-par night throwing the ball and managed only 110 yards and tossed two interceptions. While the passing game was hampered by numerous injuries to the team’s best receivers, the defense on the other side also had a lot to do with things and kept the run game in check too (104 yards total).

The victory marked the third straight ACC title for Dabo Swinney and all but assuredly gave his team the No. 1 seed when the College Football Playoff rankings are announced on Sunday — which would result in a trip to the Sugar Bowl for just the second time in school history. Given that Saturday night’s game in Charlotte was a blowout almost from the opening kickoff, the debate has already begun in earnest to figure out who the Selection Committee will pick to face the Tigers.

Whether it’s a rematch with either Ohio State or Alabama (or a chance against undefeated Wisconsin) is a question for another day however, as Clemson won’t really care who lines up against them in a few weeks. The Tigers remain in the hunt to capture back-to-back national titles after another romp in Charlotte and look primed to do continue this remarkable run they’re on when they spend New Years in New Orleans next month.

New Mexico State going bowling for first time in nearly six decades

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Well, we think they are going bowling, probably

New Mexico State needed a Week 14 win over South Alabama to get to six wins and become bowl-eligible; after a little bit of a dicey fourth quarter, the Aggies did just that as they escaped with a 22-17 win over the Jaguars.

NMSU entered the fourth quarter with a 13-7 lead, then stretched it to 16-7 very early in the period.  A Cole Garvin 17-yard touchdown pass brought USA to within two points at 16-14, then the Jaguars took their first lead since the first quarter on a 27-yard Gavin Patterson field goal.

However, a nine-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Rogers, who finished with 451 yards passing, with 32 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winning score.

NMSU, in its last season as a member of the Sun Belt, will now likely go to a bowl game for the first time since the 1960 season.  While there was some concern last month that financial considerations could potentially make them turn down a postseason bid, it’s likely that they will receive an Arizona Bowl invitation Sunday afternoon and make that a moot point.