Championship weekend. The final week of the season, excluding Army-Navy. Week 14 delivered excitement and exasperation as BCS bowl berths were determined. Here’s the best and worst of what the regular season finale had to offer.
Best Win of The Week, Week 14: Alabama 32, Georgia 28 in Atlanta
This wasn’t just the best game of the week, it was the best game of the season and arguably one of the best in recent memory. The SEC Championship was the heavyweight fight we all wanted, a back and forth affair that featured a little bit of everything. There was spectacular defense. There were passes that threaded the needle. There was an unstoppable rushing attack. There were plenty of points, and even a bit of controversy thrown in for good measure. The matchup was thrilling from the opening kick to the final whistle, and the outcome wasn’t certain until the clock hit triple zero.
In fairness to Alabama, the game wasn’t quite as close as the score made it appear. To dispense with the controversy first, it should be noted that a blown call led to a Georgia touchdown and a 21-10 lead that should never have been. On third down at the UGA 32, the Dawgs committed pass interference, an infraction that should have set up the Tide at the 17 with a fresh set of downs. But the officials claimed that the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage, nullifying the penalty. Replays showed that the ball didn’t change course in the air; it wasn’t touched and the flag should have been enforced. It’s hard to imagine that Alabama wouldn’t have gotten at least a field goal, and with the way the drive had been unfolding, a touchdown was likely. It should have been 14-13 Georgia at worst, and 17-13 Alabama at best.
That didn’t happen. Because a long field goal attempt resulted in a blocked kick that was returned for a Bulldog touchdown.
Now Georgia did earn those seven points. Blocks aren’t easy to come by and the Tide have no excuses for allowing one at such a critical juncture. But the fact remains that the play never should have happened.
That miscure by the officials aside, the contest was downright awesome to behold. Georgia had the upper hand early, moving the ball effectively and stopping ‘Bama when it counted to stay out in front of the nation’s number two team. UGA held leads of 7-0, 14-10, and 21-10 thanks in part to a pair of ‘Bama turnovers that killed two drives. But trailing by 11, Nick Saban made a tactical decision to change his gameplan.
And it worked. Big time.
Georgia couldn’t stop Alabama’s rushing attack as Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon combined for a whopping 334 yards on 45 carries. Much of the credit goes to Alabama’s monstrous offensive line, which acted as a road grade all night long. The strength of UGA’s defense, a talented pass rush, was taken out of the equation as Alabama eschewed the passing game. After all, why throw it when you’re tearing off better than seven yard a run?
And it’s not that the Tide couldn’t throw the ball. For the most part, they just didn’t need to. When that need finally arose, quarterback A.J. McCarron found freshman wideout Amari Cooper for a 45-yard touchdown pass that set the final score of 32-28. The ball was beautifully thrown, although the speedster Cooper actually had to slow down and wait for its arrival. After so many punishing runs, a successful deep ball was inevitable and Georgia was victimized by near-perfect execution. But while that toss may have won the game on the scoreboard, it wasn’t the most important moment.
The play of the game came earlier on in the drive. With roughly four minutes left on the clock, it was unclear how many more chances Alabama would get. The battered Georgia defense dug deep and stifled a first down rush and second down pass, setting up a third and five at midfield. The Tide were caught in a bind, because if they couldn’t convert, UGA would be in position to run the clock down into dangerous territory, and going for it on fourth down from around the 50 yardline would be a huge gamble. Fortunately for ‘Bama, it wouldn’t be necessary.
T.J. Yeldon took the handoff and was met almost immediately by a swarm of Georgia defenders. But instead of going down, Yeldon kept his legs churning. His eyes were locked on the sidelines, searching for the line to gain. He knew exactly how far he needed to get, and an almost superhuman effort got him there. That first down set up everything that followed, and without it, the Tide might well have been relegated to second place in the conference.
Now, they’ll play for another National Championship.
Honorable Mention: Kansas State 42, Texas 24 21 in Manhattan
The Wildcats started slow and trailed at halftime before erupting for 35 second half points and securing the Big 12 title. It was an important performance for Collin Klein, who hand’t looked right since suffering a concussion against Oklahoma State earlier in the year.
Worst Win of the Week: Florida State 21, Georgia Tech 15 in Charlotte
This Georgia Tech team is really not very good. No offense to Paul Johnson or his players, but 2012 was a season of adjustment in Atlanta, and the Yellow jackets suffered bad losses to Virginia Tech, BYU, and Middle Tennessee. They were blown out of the stadium by Georgia, 42-10. There’s simply no way that Florida State should have permitted GT to be competitive.
Early on, this one looked like another rout in progress as the Seminoles took leads of 14-0 and 21-3. At halftime it was 21-6, and FSU looked comfortable. Surely the ACC’s (supposed) best team would handle its business and cakewalk into the Orange Bowl.
Except it didn’t. Instead, it very nearly lost. FSU needed a late interception to seal the six-point win; had Georgia Tech not suffered that giveaway we might have a seen a 7-6 program in a BCS bowl.
The Seminoles were shut out in the second half. Their possessions ended punt, fumble, punt, fumble, interception, end of game. It was as atrocious an offensive showing as the team had all year, and it came against a Georgia Tech squad that struggled defensively all season long. How is it possible, with the level of raw talent on this FSU team, that such things can happen?
It’s not as though this is the first time Florida State has disappointed. The loss to NC State featured the same kind of ineffectiveness, and the win over Virginia Tech required late-game theatrics just as this title win did. The ‘Noles may be ACC Champions, but they didn’t obtain that label in an impressive way. Nor does it mean very much, given the overall strength of the conference.
Now the Seminoles draw an Orange Bowl opponent who offers them no real upside. Few people will be particularly impressed if FSU beats Northern Illinois. The Florida States of the world should be beating MAC teams. On the other hand, if FSU were to lose, it would be a crushing defeat. Now the Seminoles did nothing to create this unappealing matchup, but in a way, they do deserve it. After backing into the BCS with a weak effort, NIU might be all they can handle.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Boise State 27, Nevada 21 in Reno
Boise’s chance to bust the BCS was probably eliminated thanks to NIU’s victory, but if the Broncos didn’t do themselves a service by scraping by Nevada. A convincing win might have kept them in the conversation.
Upset of the Week: Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31 in Indianapolis
What a pathetic showing by the Cornhuskers. There’s no way to spin, sugarcoat, or explain this one. It started ugly, it continued to be ugly, and it ended ugly. Wisconsin came in as a five-loss team, enduring a bad season that included four conference defeats. The Badgers beat exactly zero good Big Ten teams, falling to Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State, and Ohio State. The best team they beat all year? The Utah State Aggies, and that was barely a victory. Sure, Wisconsin had, in general, kept things close and wasn’t getting blown out. But this was not, is not, a particular good team.
Nebraska had had some struggles of its own, particularly in week 13 against Iowa. The ‘Huskers didn’t head to the Big Ten Championship brimming with confidence, but they had already topped the Badgers once and were favored by three to do so again. If they had played well and lost a hard fought game, that wouldn’t have been so surprising. Instead, they were mauled to the point where head coach Bo Pelini publicly apologized to fans afterward.
Wisconsin racked up 640 yards from scrimmage, including 539 on the ground. Two running backs eclipsed the 200-yard mark; Melivin Gordon (216) and Montee Ball (202) were all but unstoppable. James White added 109 more rush yards as the Badgers did their best impression of a Big 12 offense. The Nebraska defense was a revolving door, surrendering a ridiculous nine plays of 20 or more yards. The Badgers had rushes of 68, 60, 57, 56, 46, 24, and 21.
Things went wrong from the start for the ‘Huskers. After Wisconsin scored on its opening possession, QB Taylor Martinez threw an interception in his own territory, and the pick-6 made it 14-0 with just a few minutes elapsed. But the sad part is that Nebraska could have come back and made a game of it. The next ‘Husker drive yielded one of the best plays in college football this year, a crazy 76-yard scramble by Martinez that trimmed the lead to 14-7. A Wisconsin three-and-out and a Nebraska field goal made it 14-10, and for a brief moment this game looked like it might settle down into a typical Big Ten matchup.
Instead, the Cornhusker offense shut down completely, and the defnese barely showed up. It was 35-10 at halftime, and the second half wasn’t much better. The result is an 8-5 Wisconsin team in the Rose Bowl.
Honorable Mention: Louisville 20, Rutgers 17 in Pisacataway
This isn’t much of an upset, but week 14 featured a limited schedule with results that, for the most part, went as expected. Now a lousy Louisville team heads to the Sugar Bowl to face Florida. Teddy Bridgewater needs to have the game of his life, to say the least.
Blowout of the Week: Arkansas State 45, Middle Tennessee 0 Jonesboro
MTSU scaled Georgia Tech earlier in the year and had put together a very good season. While ASU was the better team, this should have been a much closer game. Unfortunately for the Red Wolves, the victory probably contributed to Gus Malzahn’s departure; his single-season tenure in Jonesboro is over and he’s back at Auburn.
AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…
Strobl: Jordan Lynch, QB- Northern Illinois
It’s the NIU Huskies, not the Kent State Golden Flashes, who will be crashing the BCS party. Whether or not you like their selection, there’s no doubt that Jordan Lynch got them there. One of the most prolific players in the nation amassed 372 total yards on Friday, accounting for four touchdowns in NIU’s 44-37 overtime victory. Lynch was the driving force behind NIU’s success throughout the season and finished third in the country in total offense behind Baylor’s Nick Florence and the Heisman winner to be Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M. Not bad company there.
John Mitchell: Eddie Lacy/ T.J. Yeldon, RBs- Alabama
I couldn’t possibly choose between the two, and I came very close to splitting up my game ball among Alabama’s offensive line. The performances of Cyrus Kouandjio, Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Anthony Steen, and D.J. Fluker should not go unnoticed as they dominated the Georgia defensive front to allow running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon to lead the Crimson Tide to an SEC Championship Game record of 350 yards. Lacy carried the ball 20 times for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns, while his freshman understudy Yeldon carried the rock 25 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. It was Yeldon who got the carries in crunch time, and converted a key third and five in the fourth quarter with Alabama trailing by three that set up AJ McCarron’s game winning touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. Alabama slammed the ball down Georgia’s throats in the second half. Georgia knew Alabama was running it, but just couldn’t stop it as Lacy and Yeldon led Alabama to the SEC Championship and earned a trip to Miami to face off with Notre Dame.
Zach Bigalke: Melvin Gordon, RB- Wisconsin
On a day when the Badgers racked up more rushing yardage than Nebraska’s defense had ever before conceded to run away with the Big Ten title 70-31, the leading rusher was neither senior dynamo Montee Ball or bruising junior James White. In Indianapolis, Bret Bielema fully unleashed freshman sensation Melvin Gordon. In just nine carries, Gordon piled up 216 yards and scored the Badgers’ first touchdown on a 56-yard scamper. While Ball and White got the majority of the touchdowns, Gordon’s speed and vision defined Wisconsin’s title performance.