It was the greatest Rivalry Week in the history of college football, headlined by a top three greatest play in college football history. Sports are known for their drama and often their hyperbole, but this time the acclaim fits the situation.
Auburn beat top ranked Alabama with a final second, 109-yard missed field goal return touchdown. (If that’s too much to decipher, scroll down to Auburn for the video link.) It really was unbelievable to watch. As the play unfolded, my jaw got closer and closer to the floor, and that didn’t change the 2nd, 5th or 17th time I watched it. The thing is, it wasn’t limited to that all-time great finish. Ohio State escaped Michigan with their undefeated record intact, Duke is playing for the ACC Championship and Missouri is doing the same in the SEC. The day was full of surprises, and yet our BCS picture somehow gets no clearer.
- Florida State (12-0, 8-0; W 37-7 @ Florida): Another hurdle (undefeated regular season) has been cleared for Jameis Winston and the Seminoles, and it’s full steam ahead to the ACC title game against Duke. Because the Jameis Winston saga won’t reach a verdict until after that game, the surprising Blue Devils are all that stand between college football’s most complete team and a trip to the national championship game.
- Ohio State (12-0, 8-0; W 42-41 @ Michigan): You’d feel like a pretty lucky football fan if you watched the OSU-Michigan game and then were told it wouldn’t be the craziest one of the day. Turns out we were all fortunate on that front. Ohio State, under whatever circumstances, has an uncanny ability to line ’em up and knock ’em down every single week, and they did it in dramatic fashion in the type of game many Ohio State teams of the past would have lost. The Bucks finished their second straight undefeated regular season, but this time the B1G Championship game awaits and possibly, a 4th BCS National Championship appearance.
- Auburn (11-1, 7-1; W 34-28 vs. Alabama): You can’t argue that this is feeling more like a team of destiny each and every week. A game after a miracle win against Georgia, the Tigers somehow topped it, providing maybe the greatest final play in college football or sports history. Gus Malzahn has taken this team from 3-9 and 0-8 in the SEC to a spot in the conference title game for the first time since the 2010 national title season. Auburn is a legitimate national championship threat, but will they get that opportunity?
- Alabama (11-1, 7-1; L 34-28 @ Auburn): It seemed that not even St. Nick prepared for the possibility that the Tide’s ill fated 57-yard field goal might be returned for a game losing touchdown. Alabama has no one to blame but itself for this one. Saban’s team gave up a second half lead, missed four field goals (more than any other FBS team in a game this season), and couldn’t stop the opposing player from taking the ball 109 yards to end the game. The good news: they won a national championship two years ago without going to the SEC Championship, and the possibility isn’t out of the question again.
- Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1; Off): It seems like the Cowboys probably picked a great time for an off week. With the chaos that hit college football Saturday, that newly nabbed spot atop the Big 12 wouldn’t seem too safe if Oklahoma State had actually taken the field this week. This is very simple for the Cowboys. Beat Oklahoma, and the Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl berth belong to the guys from Stillwater.
- Missouri (11-1, 7-1; W 28-21 vs. Texas A&M): I was wrong about the Tigers. All season I’ve felt they were overrated. Sure I’ve been impressed with their turnaround from last year, but I didn’t think they were good enough to lock up the SEC East with a closing stretch against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. They proved me wrong, and now they are playing for the SEC title, have a chance to qualify for the Sugar Bowl (and an outside shot at the national championship), and have proven they belong in the SEC.
- South Carolina (10-2, 6-2; W 31-17 vs. Clemson): So many good things for Gamecocks’ fans to take out of this game. First and foremost, South Carolina beat arch rival Clemson and, even better, they did it for the fifth straight year. Also, QB Connor Shaw finishes without a loss in games he started on his home field. Even with the good news in their game, Missouri took the SEC East, pushing the Gamecocks into likely the Capital One or Outback Bowl.
- Baylor (10-1, 7-1; W 41-38 @ TCU): The Bears’ offense showed up after taking last week off on the biggest stage, but that defense (or lack thereof) remained at TCU in the Horned Frogs de facto bowl game. Baylor, even if it wasn’t at its best Saturday, still has a shot at the Big 12 championship. A win against Texas plus an Oklahoma State loss against Oklahoma gives Baylor its first league title and BCS appearance.
- Michigan State (11-1, 8-0; W 14-3 vs. Minnesota): Kudos to Michigan State for winning their entire Big Ten slate for the first time in more than 50 years. Also, that ridiculous defense keeps chugging along. Should the Spartans really feel that great about their chances against Ohio State though? The Buckeyes’ biggest weakness is defense. Even so, I think Michigan State’s offense is even worse. Beat Ohio State, though, and it’s a trip to the Rose Bowl.
- Stanford (10-2, 7-2; W 27-20 vs. Notre Dame): The Cardinal went with what got them there to finish their regular season in winning fashion. Tyler Gaffney rushed 33 times for 189 yards and a score, and Stanford led for all but the first ten minutes against Notre Dame. David Shaw’s team heads to the Pac 12 Championship next week with a Rose Bowl spot on the line against (likely) Michigan State. If you like physical football, keep an eye out for that one.
- Clemson (10-2, 7-1; L 31-17 @ South Carolina): With a likely Orange Bowl berth open, Clemson might still get to a BCS game because of that ACC tie in, but they sure didn’t earn one Saturday at South Carolina. Tajh Boyd ended his impressive career with an 0-4 record against his biggest rival, and he didn’t do himself any favors in the process. Boyd finished with one touchdown against three turnovers, and Clemson ends its regular season with a loss for the fourth straight season.
- Arizona State (10-2, 8-1; W 58-21 vs. Arizona): Mostly in the silence of the east coast’s bedtime hours, the Sun Devils have put together a very impressive season, winning the Pac 12 South and posing a serious threat to Stanford for the conference’s spot in the Rose Bowl. There could have been concerns about how Arizona State would do against rival Arizona this week. They’d already locked up their title game berth, and the Wildcats were riding high off a blowout of Oregon. Instead, the Devils took it to them, gaining state supremacy for another year and continuing to climb the poll.
- Oregon (10-2, 7-2; W 36-35 vs. Oregon State): Just like the Ohio State-Michigan game, you can’t put too much stock in margin of victory when two bitter rivals are playing each other. My biggest problem with the Ducks is it seems like once the national title hopes went out the window they didn’t care nearly as much about what was going on. They were blown out last week against a mediocre Arizona team, and nearly lost to a struggling rival. Some decent bowl will be happy to get them, but I hope Oregon decides to show up.
- Northern Illinois (12-0, 8-0; W 33-14 vs. Western Michigan): The regular season is gone, and Bowling Green in the MAC Championship remains for the Huskies. Jordan Lynch was outstanding once again in the finale against Western Michigan. He broke his own FBS quarterback record with 321 rushing yards on 27 carries, averaging nearly 12 yards per carry. The way things are shaking out, NIU is in line for a second straight BCS appearance if they get through the conference title game unscathed.
- Wisconsin (9-3, 7-2; L 31-24 vs. Penn State): It’s pretty inexplicable how Wisconsin, still holding out hope for a BCS at-large, could lose the regular season finale at home to a mediocre Penn State team. This is a Penn State team that Ohio State absolutely embarrassed. Not a good effort whatsoever from the Badgers, and because of that, they’ll probably be headed to either the Capital One or Outback Bowl.
- LSU (9-3, 5-3; W 31-27 vs. Arkansas): The hangover was real for the Tigers after dominating Texas A&M a week ago, but LSU managed to escape with a season finale win against three-win Arkansas. It was a disappointing season on the bayou where they’ve come to expect national championship type efforts, but I’m sure a quality bowl will still come calling for the Tigers.
- UCF (10-1, 7-0; W 23-20 vs. USF): No offense to a good Knights team, but it’s a good thing South Carolina beat UCF because now we don’t have to listen to any national title talk surrounding this team. Have they been impressive at times? Absolutely. They’ve also won by a combined 13 points against three-win Memphis, two-win Temple and two-win USF. UCF is extremely inconsistent, and yet a win against five-win SMU is all that stands between them and a BCS game.
- Louisville (10-1, 6-1; Off): It was a good time for the Cardinals to get a week off. Louisville closes the regular season next week against Cincinnati with both teams entering with a single conference loss. If UCF loses, the winner of this game likely will take the BCS berth for the AAC through the two-way tie. It would be a big way to end the season for Teddy Bridgewater and Co. after disappearing from the radar after losing to the Knights.
- Duke (10-2, 6-2; W 27-25 @ North Carolina): The Duke Blue Devils are 10-2 and playing for the ACC Championship next week. It needed to be typed out in plain text in order for it to be believed. David Cutcliffe has done an incredible job with the Blue Devils, and he very well could be the national Coach of the Year. If they beat Florida State in the conference championship, college football might just end.
- UCLA (9-3, 6-3; W 35-14 @ USC): I’ll admit it when I’m wrong, and this week I was completely wrong about the Bruins. I’ve been down on them most of the season and thought USC would blow their doors off. In fact, it was just the opposite. UCLA finished a respectable 9-3, and the Bruins gained a little momentum before their pre-bowl game holiday break.
- Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2; Off): Talk about build up to play one of your biggest rivals. Leading into the Bedlam game both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State got the week off, allowing them to study each other ad nauseum. In the past I’d give that advantage to Bob Stoops and the Sooners, but I’m not so sure anymore. They aren’t trying to prove me wrong, though. It’s the Cowboys they want to teach a lesson.
- Texas (8-3, 7-1; W 41-16 vs. Texas Tech): The Longhorns aren’t done yet. With a win over Baylor and an Oklahoma State loss, it’s Texas winning the Big 12 and taking the conference’s final BCS berth. Mack Brown’s team stepped up in a big way this week, decimating a fading Texas Tech team in what could be Brown’s final home game.
- Cincinnati (9-2, 5-1; Off): Just like Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, both Cincinnati and Louisville were off this week before their big showdown to end the regular season a week from now. Cincinnati has been lightly regarded for most of the season, but the Bearcats have a legitimate shot at their third BCS bowl. The way UCF is playing, it wouldn’t be a shock for them to lose to SMU, and UC beating Louisville isn’t such a stretch either.
- Fresno State (10-1, 7-1; L 62-52 @ San Jose State): The way the Bulldogs unconvincingly made their way through the MWC schedule made it seem they’d be vulnerable for a loss at some point, and San Jose State made it happen in the regular season finale. That kills any hope Fresno State had for a BCS at-large berth and means it’ll be another mid-level bowl game for a very good, but not great group.
- Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4; L 28-21 @ Missouri): Texas A&M’s 2nd season in the SEC, a disappointment. Johnny Manziel’s Heisman defense, a disappointment. It started in the offseason with all of the negative news around the Aggies, and it seemed like Lady Luck had no interest in playing a positive role for this team in 2013. Of course, even if she wanted to, she likely couldn’t overcome that awful defense.
Others in consideration: Notre Dame (8-4; L 27-20 @ Stanford); USC (8-4, 5-3; L 35-14 vs. UCLA); Minnesota (8-4, 4-4; L 14-3 @ Michigan State); Miami (9-3, 5-3; W 41-31 @ Pitt); Georgia (8-4, 5-3; W 41-34 2OT @ Georgia Tech); Ball State (10-2, 7-1; W 55-21 vs. Miami); BYU (8-4; W 28-23 @ Nevada); Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3; W 16-6 @ Virginia)