For the first time since the College Football Playoff began, Alabama will not get an invite, its slim hopes officially ending after a stunning 48-45 loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. But on a Saturday in which the current top four left no doubt, it was still the Crimson Tide who stole the show.
Rivalry Weekend left little drama for Clemson or Ohio State, Georgia or LSU. They all won easily. They'll all advance to conference title games with playoff bids on the line. They'll all be worth our attention some other Saturday.
This week, this was about Alabama and Auburn and a game that will be remembered -- for better and, in Tuscaloosa, for worse -- for generations.
Is that too much to put into one game between two teams -- one way outside the playoff conversation (the Tigers) and one facing flickering CFP hopes (the Tide)? Ultimately, it was a playoff-elimination game for Bama.
On one side stood a legacy QB, a freshman, a guy whose season has been marked with dizzying highs and brutal lows. Bo Nix showed up and delivered one ridiculous ball after another, watching his receivers always find just the right spot to make the grab. There was no margin for error, and yet it all unspooled beautifully.
On the other side was the backup QB, the guy who got the start only because an Alabama legend saw his career end far too soon. Mac Jones threw two pick-sixes in a performance that, by all other standards, was terrific.
It was a game that once again offered controversy. Twice in the past seven versions of this rivalry, officials have posted one second back on the clock. Both times, it cost Alabama. Auburn had no business kicking the field goal to end the first half and would never have gotten the kick off if the timekeeper hadn't forced officials to stop the game and review the clock. And yet, that one second gave Auburn another shot, and the Tigers made it count. It wasn't the drama of Kick Six, but once again, that one second was the difference.
It was a game in which Jaylen Waddle, Alabama's No. 4 receiver, scored four times -- including a TD run that defied all logic -- and settled any debate over who was the fastest player in college football.
It was another moment to ask: How, amid all the success the Tide have enjoyed for more than a decade, does kicking still remain so frustrating?
It was another chance to see Gus Malzahn, again languishing amid rumors about an uncertain future, pull a rabbit from his hat.
It was a game that somehow topped the famed butt fumble by giving the world the butt-ception.
Malzahn says he predicted Alabama's FG miss
Gus Malzahn declares that he's really proud of his Auburn team and knew if the Tigers were within reach in the fourth quarter they had a great chance of winning.
There were 10 lead changes and three ties and three times in which one team answered a score from the other in less than two minutes of action. Every score upped the drama just a little bit more.
It was a chance for us to see grown women fight their way through shrubbery.
This probably seemed like a decent shortcut at the time �� pic.twitter.com/62yabdgKtB
- ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 1, 2019
No, this wasn't a playoff battle. That's for next week. This week, Auburn and Alabama gave us a view into exactly what separates college football from every other sport. This mattered -- more, maybe, than any playoff win might have -- for reasons almost too ephemeral to explain.
Was this the end of the Alabama dynasty? We'll spend an entire offseason asking the question.
Was this a turning point for Malzahn at Auburn? That'll be fodder for the offseason too.
Today, though, it was just the best four hours a Saturday has offered us all year.
Can anyone beat ...
Lawrence notches 3 TD passes as Clemson routs South Carolina
Trevor Lawrence throws for 295 yards and three touchdowns in Clemson's 38-3 victory over South Carolina.
Clemson won its rivalry game against South Carolina in convincing fashion, 38-3. The questions surrounding the Tigers entering the season were all about the defense, which had to replace myriad stars from last year's title team. So, how'd it go? South Carolina finished with 174 yards and nine first downs, and Clemson became the first team in at least 20 years to keep all 12 of its regular-season opponents from eclipsing the 300-yard mark.
Ohio State had little trouble with Michigan. It'd be easy enough to nitpick the 396 yards allowed to a mediocre Michigan offense, but the Wolverines were never close in the second half, and it was just the first time all season the Buckeyes looked human on defense. Meanwhile, the two biggest question marks surrounding Ohio State -- how Justin Fields would fare in a big-time game and whether the run game would succeed against a strong defense -- were answered emphatically. Fields was exceptional, and Ohio State ran for 264 yards behind a stellar performance from J.K. Dobbins.
If the story of the season for LSU has been the offensive fireworks behind Heisman favorite Joe Burrow, the discussion in recent weeks has turned to a defense that hasn't lived up to expectations. So, should Tigers fan be worried? Well, LSU sure looked playoff-ready on Saturday, holding Texas A&M to just 40 first-half yards while building a huge lead.
For Georgia, the No. 4 team and seemingly most vulnerable of the committee's current playoff favorites, looked the part on Saturday, demolishing Georgia Tech. With some of its best offensive weapons hurt, including receiver Lawrence Cager, it was fair to wonder whether an offense that has been iffy all year would turn in a strong performance. The questions were answered as Jake Fromm threw for four touchdowns.
Wrapping up the rivalries
Hurts throws up the X after catching a TD
Oklahoma runs a trick play, which ends with WR Nick Basquine throwing a touchdown to Jalen Hurts, who steals former Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant's TD celebration.
You'll be busy Sunday cleaning your lawn from all those records thrown out the window during Rivalry Week, so let's take a quick look at how it all ended.
Bedlam looked like it might eliminate another playoff contender, but Oklahoma pulled away from Oklahoma State in the second half. Jalen Hurts probably won't win the Heisman, but he certainly added a little flair to his résumé by catching a TD pass, and he became just the second player this year with a passing, rushing and receiving TD in the same game. Still, this was the Kennedy Brooks show, as the Sooners' running back was the anchor of the second-half surge. Oklahoma gets Baylor, which dominated Kansas on Saturday, in next weekend's Big 12 title game. The Sooners will need help, but there's still playoff life in Oklahoma.
The Odell Haggins bandwagon at Florida State came to a screeching halt in a frustrating loss to Florida. Haggins actually having a real chance at the full-time job at FSU feels like a long shot, but whatever direction the Seminoles go in, Saturday's blowout defeat to the Gators proved the next guy has a long way to go. Say what you will about Jimbo Fisher, but he finished his time in Tallahassee with a 14-2 record versus Miami and Florida. Since he left, the Noles are 0-4.
Minnesota's dream season ended with a fizzle as Wisconsin pulled away in the second half with a 38-17 win. The Badgers move on to the Big Ten title game to face Ohio State, but it was still a stellar year for the Golden Gophers, who can add win No. 11 in a bowl game. Seasons like that don't come around often at Minnesota.
Oregon wrapped up a 10-win regular season with a 24-10 decision over Oregon State in the Civil War. It was hardly a dominant performance, but it was enough to keep the Beavers from reaching bowl eligibility.
Lynn Bowden Jr. continues to amaze as Kentucky's QB-by-default, leading the Wildcats to the Commonwealth Cup with 284 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Bowden, a converted wide receiver, has had 99 yards or more on the ground in seven straight games and has blossomed into one of the SEC's most exciting players.
After a dismal start to the season that included losses to Georgia State and BYU, Tennessee topped Vandy 28-10 on Saturday to move to 7-5. It has been a shocking turnaround for a program that looked on the verge of firing Jeremy Pruitt just two months ago. Now the Vols have a chance to get to eight wins for just the third time since 2007.
North Carolina scuffled early against NC State, before running away with a victory thanks to a 28-point third quarter. After winning just five total games in the previous two seasons, Mack Brown has the Tar Heels going to a bowl behind the stellar season from freshman QB Sam Howell, who threw for 401 yards and three TDs in the win.
And, as is the case every year now, the entire country lost when we didn't get to see Texas and Texas A&M play on Rivalry Weekend.
Did you say Utes?
Brant Kuithe scores three TDs as Utah secures spot in Pac-12 championship
Utah TE Brant Kuithe makes two touchdown catches and runs for a third score versus Colorado as the Utes secure a date with Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.
Utah has been the quietest playoff contender, but a 45-15 win over Colorado on Saturday moved the Utes to 11-1 and secured their spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Though Utah hasn't gotten the same attention as the other playoff hopefuls, the Utes might be best positioned to nab the No. 4 spot when the committee makes its final decisions next week. With Georgia and LSU facing off in the SEC title game and ensuring at least one will lose, Utah is riding high and has put together a résumé that warrants some love.
Saturday's win was the 10th time in 12 games Utah has held its opposition to 17 points or fewer, while Tyler Huntley has put together a terrific season, with 16 passing touchdowns to just two picks. It's not a sexy stat line, but nothing about Utah screams for attention.
Still, the Utes' one loss to Southern California doesn't look quite so bad anymore, and if they could top Oregon next week combined with a Georgia loss, we might end up with a Pac-12 team in the playoff after all.
Burrow sets SEC records, leads LSU past Texas A&M
QB Joe Burrow throws for 352 yards and three touchdowns in LSU's win over Texas A&M while also setting the SEC record for passing yards in a season and tying the league's TD mark.
It's a two-man race, and Justin Fields is doing nothing to let Joe Burrow pull away with it. In other words, it looks a whole lot like 2018, when the award eventually came down to Championship Weekend.
1. Burrow, LSU
Just another 300-yard, three-TD game for the LSU QB, his eighth of the year and ninth in a Tigers uniform. LSU produced exactly three such games from QBs in the past decade before Burrow's arrival.
2. Fields, Ohio State
He had three TD passes against Michigan, which moves him into third place in Big Ten history in a season. His 47 total TDs through 12 games is ahead of Baker Mayfield's 2017 pace and just one behind Kyler Murray's total through 12 games last year.
3. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
It wasn't his best game, but it was a win, and Hurts added another three touchdowns to his résumé -- one passing, one rushing and one receiving.
4. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Deshaun Watson can talk to Clemson's current QB about losing the Heisman in September. But since Oct. 1, Lawrence is completing 74% of his throws with 25 touchdowns and just three turnovers, along with a passer rating that essentially matches Burrow's stats.
5. Chase Young, Ohio State
He had two QB hurries, but no sacks and no tackles against Michigan. Given that he also sat out two games, and the Heisman rarely cares much for defenders, Young's shot at the award is probably over. Still, he deserves an invite for the award weekend.
You hate to see it
The season's best team will be decided in a little more than a month, but we can officially put a capper on the year's biggest disappointments. So, let's rank 'em, from moderate disappointment (say, not getting free refills on your coffee) to massive depression (like being a Bengals fan).
5. Texas A&M
Sure, the Aggies had a tough schedule, so it was clear that getting to 10 wins would be a challenge. But A&M went 0-5 versus ranked foes this year, and it trailed by double digits in the fourth quarter of every one of those tilts. They finished the regular season 7-5, and the Aggies' best win was against Mississippi State. Probably not what they're paying Jimbo Fisher $75 million for.
4. Michigan State
The Spartans will go bowling only after a comeback win versus dreadful Maryland. They opened the year No. 18 in the preseason poll but suffered losses to Arizona State and Illinois, as well as rival Michigan and top-10 Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
How did this team end up 7-5? Jacob Eason might still be a first-round pick, and the defense was, at times, terrific. Washington had a lead on 66% of its offensive drives this year, which should've translated to a shot at a Pac-12 title. Instead, a dominant win in the Apple Cup on Friday will be the season's highlight.
To be sure, everyone is pleased with where Texas is at, and progress is being made. That's what we're told anyway. But remember when the season started and the Longhorns were No. 10 in the poll and everyone just knew that TEXAS IS BACK! Well, five losses later, the 2019 campaign doesn't look so great. And had it not been for last-second field goals against Kansas and K-State, things might've been even worse.
Scott Frost was supposed to be the savior. Last year's late-season surge was supposed to be a sneak preview of big things to come. This was a Cornhuskers team on the verge of something special. Nope. Nebraska will miss a bowl for the third season in a row after falling to Iowa on Friday. Bo Pelini was fired after a nine-win season. Nebraska has won more than six just once since then.
Dishonorable mentions: Syracuse, Northwestern, Washington State, Stanford, Missouri.
Let's go bowling
BC's Dillon breaks through Pitt defense for 61-yard TD
Boston College's AJ Dillon breaks through a tackle and runs up the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown.
Saturday opened with two bowl spots still needing to be filled, and it ended with more bowl-eligible teams than were required for the postseason.
In Pittsburgh, Boston College kept its season alive behind another stellar day from AJ Dillon, who finished with 178 yards on the ground in what figures to be his penultimate college game. He'll have one shot left to break the ACC record for career rushing yards. He'll need 221 rushing yards in his final game to get it done -- a total he has reached three times in his career, including twice this year.
Hugh Freeze became the first coach to go from a press box hospital bed to bowl eligibility, as Liberty topped New Mexico State for its fifth FBS win. Due to two victories over FCS teams, the Flames needed Saturday's seventh victory to become bowl eligible.
Michigan State flirted with blowing its bowl chance, but the Spartans rallied back in the fourth quarter to defeat Maryland, giving the Big Ten nine teams eligible for bowl bids.
Big bets and bad beats
Notre Dame closed as a 17.5-point favorite at Stanford, but after falling behind 17-7 early, a cover seemed unlikely. Instead, the Fighting Irish fought back and led 38-17, only to blow the cover late on a 9-yard TD run by Stanford. After a quick three-and-out for the Irish, Stanford got the ball back down 14 with one minute to play. But Notre Dame answered the prayers of Irish backers with a strip sack of Stanford QB Davis Mills, recovering the fumble in the end zone to secure a 45-24 win and a ridiculous backdoor cover.
Air Force was a 13-point favorite against Wyoming, but the game was a close one throughout. Air Force got the ball with 2:23 to play, leading 13-6. Wyoming used its last timeout after a first-down run for no gain. Air Force simply needed a first down, then could kneel to run out the clock. Instead, Donald Hammond tossed to Benjamin Waters, who dashed to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown. Final score: Air Force 20, Wyoming 6. It marked the third straight week of bad beats in an Air Force game. On Nov. 16, a 99-yard pick-six helped the Falcons to a cover; while last week, New Mexico scored with 1:57 to go to cover by two in a blowout loss.
Here's a score you don't see every day: Syracuse beat Wake Forest by 9 ... in overtime! The Orange blew a late lead, kicked a field goal in OT, then stole a ball from Wake receiver Kendall Hinton and returned it for a TD. It all added up to a bad beat for bettors of the under, which stood at 67.5 at kickoff. The two teams had combined for just 57 with 44 seconds left in the game, but Syracuse couldn't keep Wake from moving into field goal range to tie it. The Orange's defense was equally unkind to under bettors in overtime, as Trill Williams grabbed the ball out of Hinton's hands and returned it 94 yards for six points and an over.
If you had the over in the Iron Bowl, it was a relaxing evening for you. The kickoff total was 50 -- a number the two teams hit before halftime. In the end, the 48-45 Auburn win proved to be the highest-scoring Iron Bowl in history.
Connecticut ended its run in the American with a bang -- at least if you were backing Temple. The Huskies booted a 40-yard field goal early in the second quarter to go up 17-7, a rather impressive mark for a team that entered as a 27-point underdog. So, could UConn hold on to win its final game before going independent? Of course not. But surely the Huskies would nab the cover, right? Ah, no. Temple scored the game's final 42 points, including a four-play, 43-yard TD drive with 2:13 to play that covered the spread by five. But while UConn backers lost some cash, take solace that Randy Edsall received a sizable bonus for not allowing 50 straight points.
Under-the-radar play of the week:
Purdue gets lucky deflection for big gain in OT
Aidan O'Connell throws a dart to Brycen Hopkins, and the ball bounces off his knee into Jackson Anthrop's hands downfield.
Great finishes often require a little luck -- or in Purdue's case, a whole lot of it. Trailing 38-31 in overtime and facing a third-and-14, Purdue QB Aidan O'Connell launched a laser at Brycen Hopkins, who couldn't corral the pass but saw the ball bounce high into the air and into the waiting arms of Jackson Anthrop -- turning a potential disaster into a 23-yard gain for a first down. Purdue scored on the drive to send it to a second OT but eventually fell 44-41.
Under-the-radar game of the week:
It's Rivalry Week at the FBS level, but the FCS has already started its postseason tournament, and it opened with some fireworks for Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions trailed 31-14 at the half but tied the game during a dominant third quarter. Villanova pulled back ahead twice in the final frame; the scoring plays included a 50-yard TD pass with 4:36 to play, but the Wildcats missed the PAT. That left the door open for Southeast Louisiana to win 45-44 on a seven-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with an 8-yard TD pass with 2:56 remaining.