Originally Published: November 28, 2010

Unexpected results result in more of the expected

By Andrea Adelson
ESPN.com

After the improbable comebacks, the down-to-the-wire finishes, the missed field goals, and the utter Bedlam of Week 13, we have the best snapshot yet of how this wild college football season could end.

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Craig Mitchelldyer/US PresswireOregon blitzed Arizona in the second half to remain unbeaten ahead of the Ducks' Civil War showdown with Oregon State.

Of course, it looks about the same as it did at this time last week -- Auburn and Oregon are in position to play in Glendale, Ariz., for the BCS national championship. But for a stretch on Friday, that matchup seemed very much in doubt.

Indeed, Friday proved to be one of the most unexpected days of the season. We start in Tuscaloosa, where defending national champion Alabama delivered one blow after another to a flat and uninspired Auburn team early on in the super-revved-up Iron Bowl.

When Alabama jumped out to a 24-0 lead midway through the second quarter, you had the sense the Tigers' championship hopes were about to die. Boise and Fort Worth rejoiced, believing the door had been opened for the Broncos or Horned Frogs to make history and slip into the national title game.

We should have known better. We should have known a team that has thrived on second-half comebacks, a team with the best player in the country on its side, would not let its dream end at the hands of its bitter rival -- a rival that had failed to put together a complete game in 2010. So the comeback began. Cam Newton did it with his arm this time, and Alabama helped the cause, fumbling twice on the way to scoring opportunities.

Auburn posted the largest comeback in school history and won 28-27. As the stunning turn of events unfolded, perhaps you started thinking this was a team of destiny. A shaky defense turned into a stone wall. An inept offense made all the plays when it needed to. One more hurdle remains -- South Carolina and the SEC championship game in Atlanta on Saturday. The Gamecocks gave Auburn all it could handle earlier this season, but as they did against Alabama, the Tigers tightened up late and won.

Oregon has been prone to getting off to slow starts, too, and that is what happened in its Friday night game against Arizona. The Ducks trailed 19-14 at halftime, opening up another glimmer of hope for the non-AQs. But the Ducks, like the Tigers, have been a second-half team this season. So Oregon did what it always does and opened up a blitzkrieg of offense on the befuddled Wildcats, outscoring them 20-3 in the third quarter en route to a 48-29 win. One more hurdle remains: rival Oregon State in the Civil War on Saturday.

After Auburn and Oregon survived, you figured that was it for drama. Of the three undefeated teams playing on Friday, those two seemed the likeliest to slip going into their games. Few figured No. 4 Boise State would have much trouble, let alone fall to No. 19 Nevada on a cold night in Reno.

The Broncos had won 24 straight after all, and had the easiest schedule of anybody in the country -- or so the critics yammered. But anybody who knows anything about the WAC knows this: Nevada has played exceptionally well this season, and the Wolf Pack have played the Broncos close every year since 2007. When Boise State jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead, the rout appeared on, and television sets across the East Coast were switched off.

But anybody who slept on this game slept on perhaps the best game of the season. Nevada slowly started to make its comeback, the way it did in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In all three of those games, Boise State had a double-digit lead that was whittled away in the second half. Only this time, Nevada actually pulled the upset, 34-31 in overtime.

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Cary Edmondson/US PresswireTwo missed field goals doomed Boise State in a loss to Nevada, ending the Broncos' hopes for a place in the national championship game.

How? If you blame Kyle Brotzman for missing two chip-shot field goals, your blame would be misplaced. This one falls squarely on the shoulders of the offensive and defensive lines, which got pushed around in the second half and ultimately cost Boise State. The pistol offense started firing, and Kellen Moore got harassed enough to get off rhythm. After Brotzman pushed his 26-yarder wide that would have won it in regulation, you got the sense this would be Nevada's night. And it was.

That loss opened the door for TCU and Stanford. The Horned Frogs took care of New Mexico 66-17 on Saturday, even without an injured Andy Dalton, and are in position for the Rose Bowl at worst and the BCS national title game at best. Meanwhile, Stanford is poised to move up to No. 4 in the BCS standings thanks to the Boise State and LSU losses. That would guarantee the Cardinal an at-large berth into the BCS.

Meanwhile, Bedlam delivered bedlam to the Big 12 South after Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State 47-41. The true madness happened in the fourth quarter, when the teams put up a combined 40 points, including four touchdowns in the final four minutes of the game. Landry Jones was just a little better than Brandon Weeden, and now it's the Sooners poised to play Nebraska in the conference title game. The BCS standings later tonight will reveal the fates of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, locked in a three-way tie at 6-2.

Connecticut also emerged as the unlikely Big East favorite, while Florida State pummeled in-state rival Florida and got the help it needed from Maryland to move into the ACC title game against Virginia Tech. There was plenty of the unexpected in the ACC -- Miami lost to South Florida 23-20 in overtime, ultimately costing coach Randy Shannon his job.

So while the unexpected ruled this weekend, we are left with the expected this morning: Auburn and Oregon, championship contenders.

When it comes to survival, Auburn is fittest

By Chris Low
ESPN.com

It took the greatest comeback in Auburn history for the Tigers to stay alive in the national championship chase.

They rallied from a 24-0 deficit on Friday to stun Alabama 28-27 and stay unbeaten, snapping the Crimson Tide's 20-game home winning streak at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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AP Photo/Dave MartinNick Fairley and Auburn stymied Alabama in the second half to secure a historic Iron Bowl win.

There's something to be said for simply surviving this time of year, and you can bet that Auburn enters its SEC championship game showdown with South Carolina on Saturday with its eyes wide open.

"We didn't play our best and still found a way to win the game," Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said.

In other words, there won't be any false sense of invincibility for the Tigers (12-0, 8-0 SEC) when they arrive in Atlanta next weekend. Rather, playing such a close game and surviving on the road against Alabama may have been the perfect way for the Tigers to go into their rematch with the Gamecocks.

"We've had to fight for everything we've gotten," Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. "That's the way it's been for us all year, and we don't expect that to change."

The Tigers' players know how difficult it was the first time to beat South Carolina, which led 20-7 at one point in the first half.

The Gamecocks (9-3, 5-3) found out in the fourth quarter, though, what everybody else has who's faced the Tigers this season. That's what they call winning time.

Auburn has outscored opponents 114-45 this season after the third quarter, which includes the overtime win over Clemson.

"We made a promise to each other that we're going to finish everything we do," Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley said. "We plan on keeping that promise."

Three's company atop the Big Ten

By Adam Rittenberg
ESPN.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A year from now, there will be no debate.

Beginning in 2011, the Big Ten will thankfully dispose of its Little League-ish co-champs title and crown a definitive king in a league championship game. Until then, we're stuck with this: a three-way tie atop the league.

Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all finished the regular season with identical records (11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten). Since Ohio State and Michigan State didn't play, the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth goes to the team ranked highest in the final BCS standings.

Judging by the roses hanging from the mouths of the Wisconsin Badgers late Saturday afternoon, it's pretty clear which team that will be.

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AP Photo/Morry GashDespite a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings, Wisconsin was the team left feeling rosiest.

But which is the Big Ten's best team? The debate is far from over.

Wisconsin is the league's hottest team, having won its final seven regular-season games, including the final four by a combined score of 235-84. Ohio State still can call itself the league's most talented team, boasting elite recruits on both sides of the ball. Michigan State might be the league's most accomplished team, with a 1-0 record among the league leaders and seven wins against bowl-eligible squads, more than both Wisconsin and Ohio State.

But each squad can make a case to be the league's best.

"We are the best team in the Big Ten," Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle said.

Not surprisingly, Rolle isn't the only one who feels this way in central Ohio.

"I would say us," Buckeyes safety Jermale Hines said. "Am I supposed to say somebody else? I feel we're the best in the Big Ten, hands down."

Informed of the Buckeyes' sentiments later Saturday, Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi laughed.

"I guess that's Ohio State for you," said Carimi, whose Badgers beat the Buckeyes 31-18 on Oct. 16. "If Ohio State thinks that, then whatever. I'd only play with my team."

Michigan State has been somewhat forgotten in the debate, and most project the Spartans to miss a BCS bowl. But Spartans coach Mark Dantonio isn't about to back down after his team won a record 11 games.

"We're the only football team that's beaten Wisconsin, and I might add that we did it convincingly," Dantonio said after Michigan State's win at Penn State. "I'll say it twice: we did it convincingly. They're up there at six or seven [in the BCS standings], and we should be right there with them."

All three teams feel deserving of BCS berths, but only two will be rewarded. Wisconsin certainly knows the feeling after being shut out of the BCS bowls despite an 11-1 record in 2006.

Not that the Badgers are taking pity on Michigan State.

"The cards just didn't fall for us that year, kind of it's not going to fall for Michigan State this year," Carimi said. "But I'm a Badger, not a Spartan, so I honestly don't feel for them."

Tough talk at the top.

ACC wakes up to dream title game

By Heather Dinich
ESPN.com

In a matchup-sensitive championship game, the ACC got the best possible result this year in Florida State and Virginia Tech -- two ranked teams that have ended their seasons on winning streaks and will bring brand-name, national recognition to a game that desperately needs it.

Last year's game between Clemson and Georgia Tech in Tampa was entertaining and refreshing after back-to-back games between Virginia Tech and Boston College, but the location of the game and the success of FSU and Virginia Tech should provide the ACC with an even bigger boost this year. Hokies fans are sure to make the trip to Charlotte, N.C., in droves, and more than 55,000 tickets were sold before FSU was even assured of the Atlantic Division title.

While an Atlantic Division title would have been significant for NC State's program and coach Tom O'Brien, the Wolfpack wouldn't have brought the national attention that Florida State will, especially considering the rapid success the Seminoles have seen under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher.

Florida State is coming off a three-game winning streak, but no win was bigger than Saturday's 31-7 dismantling of the rival Gators. The Seminoles snapped a six-game losing streak to Florida, giving Florida State wins over Miami and Florida for the first time since 1999. Virginia Tech has won 10 straight games and enters the championship as the first team to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000.

Both teams have championship history against each other, as Florida State won its 12th ACC title in 2005, beating Virginia Tech 27-22 in the inaugural championship game. And Florida State beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl in 1999 en route to the national title.

Both programs will bring history and tradition to Charlotte, and that's exactly what the title game needs to establish its own.

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