If you don't like it, forget it and start over
Football is, by nature and by rule, a cyclical sport. Rosters are designed to turn over 25 percent every year. Today's fifth-year senior is next year's untested sophomore. Renaissance is always one recruiting class away.
That's the design, anyway. But that isn't what's going on at No. 7 Auburn or at USC. The Tigers and the Trojans play like this is "NCAA Football 14." Don't like the way the season is going? The game turned against you? Click out of it and reboot. Get a fresh screen!
The kings of do-over live in the Loveliest Village on the Plains and in the Coliseum. On Saturday, a continent apart, Auburn and USC defied belief, credulity and the odds to beat rivals that had roughed them up in recent years. Before USC finished off No. 4 Stanford 20-17, T-shirts celebrating "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare," Auburn's 43-38 victory over No. 25 Georgia, already were being sold.
Had the Hail Mary that Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall flung as far as he could fling not been volleyed by two Georgia defensive backs into the juggling hands of Tigers wide receiver Ricardo Louis, this still would have been a memorable season. Auburn still would have reversed field from a 3-9 mark a year ago. The Tigers still can ruin No. 1 Alabama's BCS championship hope in two weeks, always a season-maker.
After blowing a 37-17 lead against its oldest rival, Auburn had fourth-and-18 on its 27-yard line with 25 seconds to play. The Tigers had come so far from last season under first-year coach Gus Malzahn that the sting of this loss still would be soothed by the success of the entire season. These Tigers had brought Auburn back from ridicule and that even worse fate: irrelevance.
Only Auburn didn't lose. Its SEC championship hopes remain alive. This team knows how to come back.
The renaissance at Auburn began last December. At USC, it began last month.
When the Trojans lost at Notre Dame 14-10, their record fell to 4-3 and they had lost eight of their past 13 dating to October 2012. Interim coach Ed Orgeron did his best to repair his team's psyche, then crossed his fingers. NCAA sanctions have reduced the Trojans to 13 defensive players good enough to compete against the Stanfords of the world.
The Trojans entered Saturday's clash with Stanford at the Coliseum on a three-game winning streak. USC led early, then withstood a third quarter in which the Cardinal controlled both lines of scrimmage to tie the game at 17. But in the fourth quarter, when common sense and the rules of endurance dictated that the Trojans would fall to one of their oldest rivals for a fifth consecutive year, USC stayed strong. Stanford made the mistakes.
Look at Trojans kicker Andre Heidari. He came into the game having made only 11 of 18 field goal attempts this season. He missed his third extra point of the year in the first quarter. When the Trojans lined up for Heidari's 47-yard, game-winning attempt with 19 seconds to play, you could feel the tension of the approaching overtime.
But since the Notre Dame game, Heidari had made six of eight field goal attempts. You could have used his winning kick to paint stripes on I-105. Rebooting, indeed.
Since USC's struggles extended into this season, it doesn't have as much blue sky ahead as Auburn. The Tigers are two victories away from the SEC championship. The Trojans need help to win the Pac-12 South. But the fact that this paragraph is even being written explains the eternal optimism of a college football coach. The horizon always promises a new start. Sometimes, the horizon is closer than it appears.
USC win over Stanford shakes up Pac-12
"FIGHT ON!!!!!!" he wrote.
While 93,607 fans packed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night, the Trojans' biggest fans were in Oregon.
A week after the Ducks' Pac-12 title hopes were seemingly dashed, Heidari's kick vaulted them right back into the driver's seat of the Pac-12 North and back on course for the Rose Bowl. Oregon needs to pull off what Washington State did Saturday -- win at Arizona -- then beat Oregon State at home to host its second conference title game in three seasons.
The Ducks played a game Saturday, too, but their eventual rout of Utah served merely as an appetizer for the day's marquee game. Especially in Eugene.
While the Ducks' payoff on Saturday is healthy bounty, it's important not to understate what it meant at USC, where the Trojans ended their longest losing streak to Stanford in the series' 88-year history (four games), kept their own conference title hopes alive and further cemented interim coach Ed Orgeron as a suitable long-term option.
The campus' love affair with Orgeron is in full bloom. When you deliver opportunities to rush the field, that tends to be the case.
Stanford would know, too. A year ago it was Stanford students rushing the field after the Cardinal's win against then-No. 2 USC. Last week, they were back on the grass at Stanford Stadium following the now-less-relevant victory against Oregon.
That jubilation was short-lived.
With the loss to USC, Stanford's run of three straight trips to BCS bowls is in serious jeopardy. A loss to Oregon and a win against USC would have left the Cardinal on track for the Rose Bowl, but flipping those results could leave them on the outside looking in now that the winner of the Pac-12 title game will head to Pasadena. The Big Game figures to be a cakewalk next week against Cal, but the regular-season finale against Notre Dame could still carry some weight as Stanford looks for a BCS at-large berth.
As Oregon cheered for USC this week, the Trojans will do the same next week for rival UCLA. The Bruins, whose only losses this year came on the road to Oregon and Stanford, are set to host Arizona State in a game that could create a three-way tie atop the Pac-12 South with a UCLA win. If that were to happen, USC would be in position to steal the division on the regular season's final day, needing a win against UCLA and an Arizona win over Arizona State.
To read Kyle Bonagura's full story, click here.
Enormous stakes for this year's Iron Bowl
Go ahead and get ready. This will be the most anticipated Iron Bowl that we've seen in 20 years.
After Auburn's unbelievable 43-38 win against Georgia on Saturday, the Tigers will still miraculously control their destiny when Alabama visits the Plains on Nov. 30.
Everybody who predicted that in August, raise your hands. For those two or three true believers, wow, congratulations. Your team is set to play in the most impactful meeting between the nation's most heated rivals since 1994. (I was there at Legion Field that night, and if you try to convince me Frank Sanders was short on that fourth down, I'll fight you.)
Sure, 2010 was huge -- and with the way that game evolved, with Cam Newton's Auburn team rallying for a 28-27 win, it lived up to every bit of the pregame hype. But Auburn and Alabama haven't entered this game with one or no losses since that crazy matchup I mentioned in Birmingham. And I expect every bit of the same buildup and mayhem that preceded that game, in the heyday of what has been an extremely cyclical rivalry ever since.
Back then, this was a fairly common occurrence. The Iron Bowl regularly had mutual national-championship implications in the late 1980s and early '90s. But this rivalry hasn't been in that position in some time, and here we are.
Auburn is off next week. And Alabama might as well be, with FCS opponent Chattanooga visiting Tuscaloosa next weekend. The outcome is incidental, as AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley will be on the sidelines early in the third quarter, while the reserves complete a sure blowout and only add to the buildup for a winner-take-all showdown in Auburn the following Saturday.
When they meet at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 30, the implications are simple. Win and play for the SEC (and maybe the BCS) title. The loser ... well who cares where they go bowling? You win or you lose in this one, and that's all anyone in Atmore and Gordo and Sylacauga will discuss for the next 364 days -- and for a long while after that.
To read David Ching's full story, click here.
Wins reveal soft sides of OSU, Spartans
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Michigan State all but punched its ticket to the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, defeating Nebraska 41-28 in opportunistic and efficient fashion here at Memorial Stadium.
Barring chaos over the next two weeks, the Spartans are set to face Ohio State on Dec. 7. The matchup may well pit MSU at 11-1 and the Buckeyes at 12-0.
Forgive us, though, for wondering, after Saturday, about exactly what we'll see in Indianapolis -- a heavyweight battle worthy of national-title implications or a pillow fight representative of the Big Ten's overall strength?
Both of the league's title contenders showed their soft sides in Week 12.
The third-ranked Buckeyes lost focus as Ilinois, en route to a 20th straight Big Ten loss, played Urban Meyer's team nearly even over the final three quarters in a 60-35 Ohio State win.
And here in Lincoln, No. 16 Michigan State, for all the buzz over its top-ranked defense, looked ordinary against Nebraska's MASH unit of an offense. The Huskers averaged 5.7 yards per rush and outgained MSU 392-361.
Nebraska committed five turnovers, including three inside its own 25-yard line.
Credit Michigan State for taking what was there, but the Huskers were plenty generous, handing two of their four fumbles to MSU without so much as taking a hit. And Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw his lone interception straight to safety Kurtis Drummond, ending Nebraska's second possession of the afternoon just like its first -- with an unforced error on the third play.
"You're not always going to get opportunities to get the ball like we did today," Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough said. "We know that, but hey, if they're there, we're going to take them.
"We're not going to apologize for it either way."
To read Mitch Sherman's full story, click here.
Cowboys prove they're ready for Baylor
AUSTIN, Texas -- Mike Gundy didn't own up to it, but his Oklahoma State players couldn't hide the truth.
Gundy did some dancing on Saturday night. He busted out his famous moves in the locker room after the Cowboys' 38-13 victory at No. 24 Texas.
It didn't take long for the video find its way to the Internet and not surprisingly, it looks similar to the one from after his 2011 win at Texas A&M.
"He only has one dance," linebacker Shaun Lewis said. "So, I mean, it's good to see him do it."
Gundy had plenty to celebrate. Oklahoma State went on the road and whipped a Longhorns team that was 6-0 in the Big 12 by 25 points, on a day when OSU's conference titles hopes would be dead with a loss.
And that win sets up a whale of a game in Stillwater, Okla., next weekend between the Cowboys, winners of six in a row, and a 9-0 Baylor team that routed Texas Tech 63-34 and should move to No. 4 in the BCS standings following Stanford's loss.
And even though the Bears were dominant as usual, the question must now be raised after what we witnessed Saturday: Can Oklahoma State win the Big 12?
"I certainly think we've got as good chance as anybody," Gundy said. "We're in playoff football right now. You've got to win the next one to get to the next one.
"If you'd have asked me that six weeks ago and I would've said we had as good a chance as anybody, you guys probably would've got up and walked out. And justifiably so."
Why even Gundy marvels at about his team's turnaround is the fact that, as he puts it, a college football team only gets two real, full practices each week. In the days following the Pokes' 30-21 loss at West Virginia, his staff recognized that hurdle. You can't change a season in one week.
All you can do with eight practices in one month is commit to gradual, daily improvement. OSU scraped out close wins over Kansas State and TCU. A solution to its offensive woes emerged in the duo of Clint Chelf and Desmond Roland.
And that Cowboys defense just keeps getting better. This unit, led by defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, knew the formula for attacking Texas. Put extra help in the box. Slow down a Johnathan Gray-less run game. Dare Case McCoy to beat you through the air. Get the edge early and raise the pressure.
"That's what we wanted to do when we were coming out of the locker room," cornerback Justin Gilbert said. "We said 'Let's shut them up early and let's play together.'"
The result: The Longhorns scored a season-low 13 points. McCoy threw three interceptions, two to Gilbert. Texas ran for 21 yards on seven carries in the third quarter while trying to rally.
"Coach Spencer came up with a great plan," said linebacker Caleb Lavey, who snagged McCoy's second interception.
But we knew Texas was offensively flawed. Is Oklahoma State ready for the Baylor juggernaut?
To read Max Olson's full story, click here.
Week 12 Takeaways: Baylor's title picture
The Baylor Bears fell behind by two scores early to Texas Tech. No worries. The Bears roared back to put up 63 in another rout, improving to 9-0 and setting up a de facto Big 12 title game next week at Oklahoma State.
But that's the conference picture. How does Baylor view itself in the BCS race?
That's where we start this week's Takeaways. Also: What are the best one-loss and most underrated teams in the country? How would we view Florida State without its Heisman contender? Plus, Ed Orgeron, Oregon and Duke.
1. What is Baylor's place in the BCS title picture?
With each passing season -- or maybe week in some cases -- the nation is learning about Baylor as a program. Inside the walls of the football building, though, the feel is not the one of a fairy tale.
"It's not like we're running around here wide-eyed," said coach Art Briles, whose team has now won 13 consecutive games. "We've worked toward this for six years."
Briles said that Tuesday, the day before Baylor added three years to his contract, which is designed to keep him in Waco for another decade. Stanford's loss to USC on Saturday night will almost certainly push the Bears to fourth in the new BCS standings, behind only Alabama, FSU and Ohio State. That's the company they now keep. Baylor is three wins and one wild Saturday of upheaval away from playing for a national championship.
To read Travis Haney's full story, click here .
Three weekend observations
1. USC began the 2003 season at Auburn with an untested sophomore quarterback. Matt Leinart led the Trojans to a 23-0 victory, the first step on their three-year run at the top of the sport. On Saturday night, moments after Auburn's Hail Mary victory over Georgia, Leinart, his playing days over, led the Trojans out of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel and onto the field, where they upset No. 4 Stanford 20-17. It may not be the start of a three-year run, but Leinart helped make USC look like USC again.
2. Lost in the delirium over the Trojans' victory is the fact that they remain alive in the Pac-12 South race. But USC needs a lot of help. The Trojans, at 5-2 in the conference, are tied with UCLA and a game behind Arizona State, which beat USC 62-41. The Sun Devils would have to lose at UCLA and to Arizona for the Trojans to have a chance. And, of course, USC would have to win at Colorado and beat UCLA. Arizona State and UCLA control their destinies.
3. Congrats to Kansas, which won a Big 12 game for the first time since the Eisenhower administration. Oh wait, it's been only three years ... it just seemed that long. Kudos to the Jayhawks, but the 31-19 victory over West Virginia also illustrates how difficult the Mountaineers have it playing in a conference far, far away. After two seasons, West Virginia has played at every Big 12 venue. It has won three road games by a total of 13 points. It has lost six road games by an average of 22 points.
Week 12 Impact Performances
GameDay crew final thoughts
I don't know that I necessarily believe in the whole team of destiny, but if you did, you'd have to say Auburn might be it. Auburn has won several games right at the end -- particularly early in the season -- none more improbable than the win over Georgia. To win championships, you have to have some breaks like that. The Tigers got a break and made the play against the Bulldogs. They were the better team for most of the game, let it get away and then found a way to win it. Sometimes that destiny thing has some merit.
One of the things that I've really been a believer of in college football is that a lot of the games are about matchups. For whatever reason, Oregon doesn't match up well with Stanford. Stanford vexes and frustrates the Ducks. However, USC does match up well with the Cardinal. Because of that, the Trojans were able to keep the game close and find a way to win it.
While I don't believe that Ed Orgeron will become the permanent coach at USC, I will say that he has done a splendid job. He has improved from a guy who made a reputation for ripping his shirt off while he was at Ole Miss into a great leader at USC. I have all the respect in the world for what he has done. Whatever his future holds -- whether it's head coach at USC, assistant at USC or head coach somewhere else -- I think he's going to be very successful from this point forward. He has done a spectacular job with the Trojans.
Helmet stickers go to ...
Tremendous game between Auburn and Georgia. I thought the fourth quarter was outstanding. Auburn was up big before Georgia rebounded to come back. The Bulldogs showed a lot of heart, particularly Aaron Murray, who led his team back to take the lead. A miraculous play by the offense and Nick Marshall of Auburn preserved that victory. It did a great job of running the football, more than 320 yards again, which is why the Tigers are No. 1 in the SEC in rushing.
Alabama was sloppy, like it usually is after playing LSU, but the Tide found a way to win. It's one of those games where, after a big one against LSU, you knew they were going to find a way to win even though they turned the ball over. AJ McCarron wasn't really what we've seen this year, throwing two interceptions, but the Tide found a way to win despite turning the ball over four times.
Stanford's loss was a big surprise. I rave about the job that Ed Orgeron has done at USC every week. The Trojans are 5-1 under Orgeron, and the only loss was on the road at Notre Dame, when they missed two field goals and lost by four, so they could easily be undefeated under his watch. He should definitely be considered for the full-time job if they win their next two games, particularly beating archrival UCLA in a couple of weeks. This was a hard-fought game for Stanford, but you can't turn the ball over like that, particularly on the road.
How about Art Briles and Baylor? That's a team that goes down 14-0 against Texas Tech and fights back to put up 60 points again. The Bears do it each and every week, which is very impressive.
There's going to be a lot of pressure on Mack Brown after losing to Oklahoma State at home. But the Cowboys have very quietly lost only one game this season, and nobody is even talking about it.
Have to talk about Duke. David Cutcliffe has done an outstanding job there, winning eight games, including six in a row, and beating Miami. The Blue Devils beat Virginia Tech, too. They're for real. The team has bought in, and hes done a terrific job.. He talked about the expectations entering the year being bigger than just going to a bowl game; they expected big things, and they're on track to do it.
Helmet stickers go to ...
Every week is crazier than all get-out. That finish at Auburn; that doesn't happen every year, let alone every week.
I think Duke's win is great for the ACC, but I don't see anybody coming close to Florida State.
Baylor is obviously for real.
I'm really looking forward to the Iron Bowl. It brings back the days when Shug Jordan and Bear Bryant were there and both teams were very good.
South Carolina has an excellent chance to represent the East in the SEC championship. I don't believe that Missouri can beat both Ole Miss and Texas A&M, and if it loses one of them, that puts the Gamecocks in the championship.
I still think Ohio State isn't going to lose to anybody. It is too good a football team.
In the Pac-12, Southern Cal beating Stanford, you just can't play that physical brand of football every week without the playmakers. That's why I thought the Trojans had an excellent chance to win. It's going to be interesting with UCLA playing Arizona State and then USC. It will be interesting to see how Stanford, with all its seniors, responds, since it doesn't have much to play for now.
Helmet stickers go to ...
What we learned in Week 12
Click below to see what our reporters learned in each conference after the 12th weekend.
Florida State rolled through its ACC schedule unscathed, capped by a 56-point win over Syracuse on Saturday. The Noles could possibly meet Duke -- yes, Duke -- in the ACC championship after the real-deal Blue Devils took down No. 23 Miami for the first time since 1976. ACC
Oklahoma State had a distinct plan for knocking down the Longhorns, who were previously unbeaten in the Big 12, and the Cowboys executed that plan to perfection. Now OSU will start preparing for Baylor, which spotted Texas Tech a 20-7 lead before turning on the jets. Big 12
It wasn't Michigan State's best performance of the season, but the Spartans came through the trip to Nebraska with a win and have themselves primed for that probable showdown with Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. If OSU can make it through Indiana and Michigan, which gutted out a win over Northwestern to regain a little momentum, it will have only the Spartans keeping it from its second perfect season in a row. Big Ten
Oregon is back in Rose Bowl position after USC knocked off No. 4 Stanford. The win gave interim coach Ed Orgeron a signature victory and might just make him the leading candidate to take over full time. The Trojans meet crosstown rival UCLA in two weeks, and new star tailback Myles Jack may have something to say about USC's newfound confidence. Pac-12
People will be talking about that Georgia-Auburn game for a long time, that's for sure. But with the way Alabama played at Mississippi State -- which was not its best -- the Iron Bowl matchup two weeks down the road is the next big can't-wait game. In the East, South Carolina held up its end of the bargain by taking out Florida and now will have to wait to see how Missouri finishes to decide which team will head to the league championship. SEC
Helmet stickers for Week 12
Every week our reporters will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.