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January 18, 2020
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Auburn’s upset of Alabama in Iron Bowl leads a wild Week 14

Auburn's upset of Alabama in Iron Bowl leads a wild Week 14
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For the first time since the College Football Playoff began, Alabama will not get an invite, its slim hopes officially ended 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 that 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 only got the start 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 last 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 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.

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Mac Jones throws the ball behind Najee Harris’ back and Zakoby McClain comes up with the interception to score a 100-yard touchdown.

It was the highest-scoring Iron Bowl in history, and every score upped the drama just a little bit more. 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.

It was a chance for us to see grown women fight their way through shrubbery.

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 …

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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 or not 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 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 Saturday, demolishing Georgia Tech. With some of its best offensive weapons hurt, including receiver Lawrence Cager, it was fair to wonder whether or not 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

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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 resume 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. They’ll 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 shot 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 vs. 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 Gophers, who can add win No. 11 in a bowl game. Seasons like that don’t come around often at Minnesota.

Oregon wrapped a 10-win regular season with a 24-10 win 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’s 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 win thanks to a 28-point third quarter. After winning just five total games in the previous two seasons, Mack Brown has the 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?

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Utah TE Brant Kiuthe catches two touchdowns and runs for his third vs. Colorado as the Utes secure a date with Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship.

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.

While 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 resume that warrants some love.

Saturday’s win was the 10th time in 12 games Utah has held its opposition to 17 points or less, 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 USC 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.

Heisman Five

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LSU QB Joe Burrow tosses 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 SEC 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, where 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 last 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 resume — 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 getting to 10 wins would be a challenge. But A&M went 0-5 vs. ranked foes this year, and trailed by double digits in the fourth quarter of every one of them. They finished the regular season 7-5, and the Aggies’ best win was Mississippi State. Probably not what they’re paying Jimbo Fisher $75 million for.



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