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Alabama, Oregon rise above the rest

Did we just watch the two best teams in the country Saturday night?

During a season in which no team seems overly dominant, and choosing the four teams for the inaugural College Football Playoff is becoming as arduous as finding good Notre Dame highlights, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon look like the best. The better question might be which order you put them in.

In their final regular-season games, No. 2 Oregon made it look easy while cruising to a 47-19 victory at Oregon State in the Civil War, while No. 1 Alabama made it a little more difficult on itself in a 55-44 win over No. 15 Auburn in the highest-scoring Iron Bowl in history.

Considering the mess that transpired below them this weekend, the Crimson Tide and Ducks have to be happy just to have survived Rivalry Week.

No. 4 Mississippi State and No. 6 Ohio State weren't as fortunate (although the Buckeyes actually won their game), and No. 3 Florida State and No. 7 Baylor had to survive nail-biters.

After Mississippi State lost 31-17 at Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, we knew there wouldn't be two SEC teams in the playoff. And for a while on Saturday night, we were beginning to wonder whether the SEC would be represented at all.

After falling behind 14-3 early in the game, the Tigers intercepted Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims three times and took a 33-21 lead early in the third quarter. But after Sims threw his third pick, Alabama scored touchdowns on each of its next five possessions to blow the game open.

Sims completed 20 of 27 passes for 312 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Receiver Amari Cooper had 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

The Crimson Tide allowed 630 yards of offense but somehow avoided SEC Armageddon for at least another week.

"You've got to give our entire team a lot of credit," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We probably played the worst half of football we've played all season in the first half and played great in the second half. There's really no explanation. We are a better team than we showed in the first half."

But were the Crimson Tide good enough to stay ahead of Oregon? We won't know until the College Football Playoff selection committee releases its new ballot on Tuesday night. Either way, it seems the Crimson Tide and Ducks have to win only once more to earn the top two spots.

Alabama will play No. 17 Missouri in next week's SEC championship game in Atlanta. The Tigers won the SEC East by defeating Arkansas 21-14 on Friday.

Oregon's night was far less dramatic. The Ducks led the Beavers 30-3 at the half and piled up 565 yards of offense before it was over. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was nearly flawless, throwing for 367 yards with six total touchdowns.

Oregon will play No. 11 Arizona in next week's Pac-12 championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Wildcats handed the Ducks their only loss of the season, 31-24 in Eugene, Oregon, on Oct. 2.

"Certainly, our guys know the coulda, woulda, shoulda of that night," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.

Mississippi State has to be left wondering what might have been after losing to rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 before losing 25-20 at Alabama on Nov. 15. Even with one loss, the Bulldogs had a precarious hold on the No. 4 spot on the committee's ballot. But after losing for the second time in three games, they are more than likely going to be left out of the playoff.

"This is as tough as it gets," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "I do not care about the stakes. This game is for bragging rights in the state. It is the most important game we play. So it is obviously a devastating loss."

The Buckeyes are about to find out how costly their 42-28 victory over Michigan was. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, a Heisman Trophy candidate, fractured his right ankle in the fourth quarter and will undergo surgery on Sunday. According to a statement released by the school, he will miss the rest of the season.

Sophomore Cardale Jones of Cleveland will start under center against No. 14 Wisconsin in next week's Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. Jones has played in nine games during his career but only one in which the Buckeyes weren't leading by 21 points.

If Jones doesn't play well against the Badgers, the selection committee might have a difficult decision in whether to put the Buckeyes in the top four without Barrett. It was an all-too-familiar sight for Ohio State, which lost two-time Big Ten offensive MVP Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason.

"[Barrett] is for sure out," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "We've had two quarterbacks go down, and we're going to find out if we earn our coaching stripes and do a good job getting Jones ready to go. ... We've got to go on, and we've got a lot of confidence in the guy that's going to be doing it.

"[But] obviously, we lost a Heisman candidate today."

Stop if you've heard this one before: Florida State looked like it was finally going to lose a game on Saturday. The Seminoles overcame reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston's four interceptions and a couple of special teams gaffes to beat Florida 24-19 in Will Muschamp's final game as the Gators' coach.

FSU plays red-hot Georgia Tech in next week's ACC championship game in Charlotte, North Carolina. The No. 16 Yellow Jackets upset No. 9 Georgia 30-24 in overtime on the road on Saturday.

Baylor also survived a big scare by sacking Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes on a two-point conversion try with 1:42 left in its 48-46 victory. Bears quarterback Bryce Petty left the game with what was called a "mild" concussion, and he's expected to play in next week's regular-season finale against No. 12 Kansas State in Waco, Texas.

"I'm not sure if it was a game or a war, quite honestly," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "A desperate man is a dangerous man, and we were dealing with a desperate man tonight."


Four teams in

1. Oregon: The Ducks looked like the best team in the country this weekend, taking care of business in an easy rout of rival Oregon State in the Civil War. Now, Oregon has to prepare to play Arizona for a second time in the Pac-12 championship game.

2. Alabama: The Crimson Tide looked far from perfect against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but they came back from 12 points behind in the second half to win the SEC West. Alabama will try to win its third SEC title in six seasons when it plays Missouri in the SEC championship game in Atlanta.

3. Florida State: We keep waiting for the Seminoles to rout somebody they're supposed to beat badly, but instead, they keep squeaking out tight victories. Regardless, the Seminoles have won 28 consecutive games, and they're the only FBS team left with an unblemished record.

4. TCU: The College Football Playoff selection committee has been reluctant to move Baylor in front of the Horned Frogs, even though the Bears have a head-to-head victory over them. It's not going to happen after the Bears had to dodge a late two-point conversion to defeat struggling Texas Tech and TCU clobbered Texas 48-10 on the road on Thanksgiving night.

Next four in contention

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes defeated Michigan in their regular-season finale, but they suffered a potentially devastating loss, as Barrett was lost for the rest of the season with a fractured ankle. Jones, the backup quarterback, had better be pretty good against Wisconsin in next week's Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis if OSU wants to make the playoff.

2. Baylor: After nearly blowing a 25-point lead, the Bears didn't put away Texas Tech until they sacked quarterback Patrick Mahomes on a two-point conversion try with 1:42 left. Baylor's defense gave up 712 yards of offense, including 609 passing.

3. Arizona: The Wildcats won the Pac-12 South after they defeated rival Arizona State 42-35 and Stanford upset No. 8 UCLA 31-10 on Friday. Arizona would need some help in reaching the playoff, but upsetting Oregon for the second time this season would make for a compelling case.

4. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs' playoff hopes were all but dashed with their loss at Ole Miss on Saturday. Mississippi State might have had a chance to make the playoff by finishing the regular season with an 11-1 record, but now its best hopes might be playing in a New Year's Day bowl game.

Heisman Trophy candidates

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Mariota probably went a long way in winning the Heisman Trophy with a dominant performance against rival Oregon State on Saturday night. He accounted for six touchdowns (four passing) and finished 19-for-25 for 367 yards.

2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: Gordon helped Wisconsin clinch the Big Ten West title by beating Minnesota 34-24. He ran for 151 yards with one touchdown and passed Ron Dayne for the most single-season rushing yards in Big Ten history. Gordon is now fourth on the FBS single-season rushing list.

3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: There's a pretty simple formula to finding the Tide's best offense, and it involves targeting Cooper. His two third-quarter touchdowns turned the momentum in Alabama's favor. He finished with 13 catches for 224 yards -- tying his own school record -- and three touchdowns.

4. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: Barrett's remarkable freshman season deserved a better finish than the season-ending ankle injury he suffered in the Buckeyes' win over Michigan. Barrett completed 13 of 21 passes for 176 yards with one touchdown while running 15 times for 89 yards with two scores.

By the numbers

1. 4-0: ACC's record against the SEC on Saturday. Georgia Tech beat Georgia 30-24 in overtime; Clemson routed South Carolina 35-17; Louisville held off Kentucky 44-40; and FSU beat the Gators 24-19. It's the first time since 2000 that Georgia Tech, FSU and Clemson defeated their SEC rivals in the same season.

2. 45: Touchdowns this season for Barrett, breaking former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees' Big Ten single-season record of 42 set in 1998. Barrett had 34 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing before leaving the Michigan game with a leg injury.

3. 2,036: Rushing yards for Indiana's Tevin Coleman this season, becoming the first Indiana player and 18th FBS player in history to surpass the 2,000-yard mark. Coleman ran 29 times for 130 yards in the Hoosiers' 23-16 win over Purdue in what might have been his final college game.

4. 14: Interceptions this season for Louisville's Gerod Holliman, which ties the FBS record set by Washington's Al Worley in 1968. The total is one shy of the NCAA all-division record, held by a pair of Division III players: Ben Matthews of Bethel University in 2000, and Mark Dorner of Juniata College in 1987.

Best quotes

1. "We have to remember where we are after today's loss. It's a red-letter day for our football players and coaches alike. Two years ago, we were playing for a national championship. Today we got our butts beat, and it wasn't as close as the score." -- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, after the Fighting Irish lost to USC 49-14, their fourth defeat in a row.

2. "Now we're back, we've got six wins under our belt and I don't think anybody in here thought we'd win six." -- Illinois coach Tim Beckman, after the Illini beat Northwestern 47-33 to become bowl eligible.

3. "I'll fight someone with three children and a nice house over someone living in their car." -- Baylor coach Art Briles, after the Bears narrowly escaped Texas Tech's upset bid 48-46.

4. "There's no sugarcoating it -- it stinks, man. You're going to remember that the rest of your life." -- Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason, after his interception in overtime sealed Georgia Tech's upset victory.

Best plays

1. Georgia Tech's Harrison Butker made a career-long 53-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to tie the score at 30, and then the Yellow Jackets won in overtime to end a five-game losing streak against the Bulldogs.

2. Auburn used a little trickeration, with quarterback Nick Marshall throwing deep for Sammie Coates on a flea-flicker to set up a late field goal to take a 26-21 lead over Alabama at the half in the Iron Bowl.

3. Down 9-0 to Florida at home, Florida State's Terrance Smith intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 94 yards for a touchdown.

4. Clemson's Artavis Scott had some fancy footwork -- sidestepping the final 8 yards into the end zone -- for a 70-yard touchdown catch from Deshaun Watson in the Tigers' victory over South Carolina.

Worst plays

1. What were you thinking, Gerald Willis? The Florida defensive lineman picked up a personal foul for hitting Winston on the sideline after he ran out of bounds -- and Willis wasn't even in the game! Coach Will Muschamp sent him to the locker room early.

2. Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman is definitely supposed to be better than this. Oakman, an All-American candidate, appeared to knee Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the face after his helmet came off during a first-half sack.

3. While diving for the pylon, Georgia freshman Sony Michel fumbled into the end zone for a touchback in the second quarter against the Yellow Jackets. Bulldogs freshman Nick Chubb fumbled at the Tech 1 in the first quarter.

4. This wasn't the start Auburn wanted in the Iron Bowl. On the Tigers' first play from scrimmage, Roc Thomas dropped a screen pass and didn't realize it was a lateral. Alabama recovered the fumble to set up its first touchdown.

Tweets of the day

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