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John Raoux/Associated Press
College football’s only real major upset occurred deep in the night Saturday, and boy, it was a biggie as Florida went down to LSU.
The rest of the weekend went pretty much as expected.
It was a weekend where a couple of nice stories in 2020 were exposed (Colorado and Miami), but another pair continued their storybook years (Coastal Carolina and San Jose State). Finally, history was made that spanned gender and nationality.
There may not have been as many exciting upsets as we’re used to, but there were a lot of reasons to love the action that took place in a jam-packed three days of games. There were a lot of cancellations that robbed us of important matchups such as Ohio State-Michigan, Oregon-Washington and others.
But we still got to watch Army-Navy. We still got to experience some important Group of Five showdowns in the Mountain West and WAC, and we saw some miraculous individual performances, too. Then, the massive upset capped everything.
As always, there were winners, and there were losers. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest of the weekend.
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John Locher/Associated Press
With everything San Jose State has been through, the way they responded in the second half of Friday night’s massive matchup against Nevada shouldn’t be surprising.
In a winner-goes-to-the-Mountain-West-Championship-Game heavyweight bout, the Spartans delivered blow after devastating blow after the break, beginning with freshman Shamar Garrett’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open.
They never looked back, rolling to a 30-20 victory after trailing 20-7 at halftime. In the process, they earned their first ever title-game trip behind transfer quarterback Nick Starkel, a resurgent running game and a defense that smothered Wolfpack quarterback Carson Strong.
The Spartans dealt with two COVID-canceled games and can’t even play in their home stadium because of virus restrictions in Santa Clara County. In the past two weeks, what were supposed to be home games were played in Hawaii and Las Vegas.
None of that mattered.
“Incredible,” Spartans coach Brent Brennan told the CBSSports Network crew after his team capped its first spotless season since 1939. “I can’t get over the resiliency of these players, what they’ve been through. Everyday they just get up and come to work. Look how they played for each other, man. What a beautiful thing.”
The second half was picturesque. Heroes abound. The Spartans had just 4 rushing yards at halftime but broke out for 196 afterward, led by Tyler Nevens’ 184 on a 15.3 average.
With Nevada needing a touchdown late in the game and driving, defensive end Cade Hall had back-to-back sacks of Strong and hit him again to force an incompletion on third down in what proved to be a futile comeback. Jay Lenard also forced two Toa Taua second-half fumbles, including one on the 1-yard line.
After the turnover at the 1, the Spartans drove 99 yards in 6:12 to take a 21-20 lead and never looked back. They will take a spotless 6-0 record into the championship game, and Brennan has gone from the hot seat to the coach of one of the hottest teams in the nation.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Football is an emotional game. Tempers, emotions and excitement all flare up, and when you’re dealing with 18-22-year-old kids, you never know what’s going to happen at the worst moments.
Florida star defensive back Marco Wilson endured one of those lapses in judgment at the least opportune time on Saturday night against LSU, and it wound up being a colossal mistake.
After a back-and-forth game with an LSU team that has struggled much of the season, the sixth-ranked Gators got a big defensive stop with 1:51 left, tied at 34-all and with two timeouts. They were going to get the ball back for Heisman hopeful quarterback Kyle Trask to go win it.
But following the stop of Kole Taylor short of the first-down marker, Taylor’s shoe came off. Wilson picked it up and threw it out of celebration, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gave LSU a first down.
Tigers freshman quarterback Max Johnson, making his first career start and looking good doing it, moved LSU into the fringe of field-goal range, and Cade York bombed a school-record 57-yarder with 24 seconds left to take the lead.
Though Trask navigated a terrific handful of throws to get Evan McPherson into range, Florida’s own ace kicker pushed his 51-yard attempt left, and LSU walked away with a shocking victory.
Trask had an off night, throwing two interceptions and getting flagged for a costly intentional grounding penalty that led to a game-tying field goal rather than a go-ahead touchdown on UF’s final scoring drive. He may have lost the Heisman Trophy, too.
It wasn’t only Wilson’s mistake that cost Florida the game. An atrocious defense and Trask’s off night hurt. But playing for your College Football Playoff lives, mental mistakes like that are unacceptable and downright dumb. It cannot happen, and it’s a lack of discipline that led to it.
That was the worst, most costly penalty you’ll ever see given the moment and the circumstances surrounding it.
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L.G. Patterson/Associated Press
Men and women alike love college football, and the reach is growing to all corners of the world season by season, too.
In a year that has been so difficult for everybody, a couple of majestic milestone moments over the weekend may wind up being looked at years down the road as high points of an otherwise-bizarre season.
A mid-afternoon game between underachieving rivals Tennessee and Vanderbilt included a cool moment when, after Vanderbilt’s first touchdown, Sarah Fuller trotted onto the field for the extra point and split the uprights with a never-doubter.
After leading her Commodores women’s soccer team to a conference championship, now-fired VU coach Derek Mason called Fuller and asked her to kick for the team. After becoming the first woman to kick off for a Power Five team a couple weeks ago, she became the first one to score a point on Saturday.
For the record, she didn’t come out for Vandy’s field-goal attempt, but that doesn’t take anything away from Fuller, who is getting the chance to be the team’s short-range kicker. She made another extra point late in the 35-17 loss.
But Fuller’s feat wasn’t the only first for the weekend; it was the second such similar milestone.
On Friday night with Arizona State ahead of rival Arizona 63-7 late in the game, walk-on redshirt junior running back Jackson He scored the game’s final touchdown. He is believed to be the first ever Chinese-born FBS college football player, and now he’s the first one to score a touchdown.
You can see video of perhaps the game’s most redeeming highlight here.
It’s easy for college football sometimes to be about the superstars and the top teams, but when things like Fuller’s and He’s accomplishments come to fruition, it’s major news because it marks opportunities for everybody. When they get the chance and thrive, it’s even cooler.
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The temperature in Atlanta on Thursday was a balmy 69, and the chilliest it ever got was 40 degrees. It never approached that low during the Georgia Tech-Pittsburgh game.
But after the Panthers finished off the Yellow Jackets 34-20, things got downright frigid during the postgame handshake.
As Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi reached out to shake hands with Geoff Collins, the Yellow Jackets’ coach committed to a quick grab then snapped his hand away quickly. It also looked like the Collins said something, but we still don’t know what it was.
“I don’t even remember what I said, to be honest with you,” Collins told reporters, according to Yahoo Sports’ Nick Bromberg.
There were personal foul penalties, tons of other flags thrown during the game and plenty of general chippiness between the two teams. In total, there were 146 penalty yards.
Led by Vincent Davis’ 247 rushing yards, the Panthers torched Tech for 317 on the ground in a dominant performance that wound up evening Pitt’s conference record at 5-5 and their season record to 6-5. They later declined a bowl invitation, so their season is over.
In Collins’ second year trying to rebuild Georgia Tech, they had some flashes, but there was very little buzz in a 3-7 record. Tech is still very young, so it makes plenty of mistakes. Apparently, their coach is pretty immature himself.
To his credit, Narduzzi had a good sense of humor about it. After the game, he took to Twitter and quipped: “Cold showers in Georgia again!!” with a handshake emoji.
Collins’ temper also led to a classic ESPN GameDay sign, “Geoff Collins is an angry elf.”
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
The USC Trojans continue to be the least-respected quality team in the country.
You can quibble about how they win and how imperfect they are, but here’s the bottom line: They win. And they did it again Saturday night against rival UCLA, erasing an 18-point deficit twice to pull off yet another improbable win.
For the third time in five games this season, the Trojans won in the game’s final minute. They allowed a go-ahead field goal by the Bruins, but when Kedon Slovis got the ball back, he proved he’s in the upper tier of the nation’s signal-callers.
First, Slovis found Tyler Vaughns with a beautiful 35-yard strike to the UCLA 8-yard line following Gary Bryant Jr.’s 56-yard kickoff return. That set up a perfect Slovis-to-Amon-Ra St. Brown fade for the go-ahead touchdown in an eventual 43-38 win.
In less than a minute, the Trojans went from facing an upset loss and more questions about coach Clay Helton’s job security to retaining a spotless record ahead of the Pac-12 championship game.
Arguably, the Trojans belong in the College Football Playoff conversation. Why, if there’s so much discussion about an undefeated Big Ten champion (Ohio State) with an abbreviated schedule getting in the Final Four, would the same consideration not be extended to an undefeated Pac-12 champion?
Yes, there’s still more work to be done before USC can grumble, but the Trojans are taking care of business on the field. They’ve got a stable full of talented playmakers on offense, and they proved they can overcome a terrific performance like Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s and pull through with a win.
Also, the Trojans sprinkled in 100 rushing yards and leaned on more balance in the win over the Bruins. You may scoff at how they win, but they’re 5-0 and look like the best team in the conference.
There’s no reason why they and the Cincinnati Bearcats shouldn’t be getting as much playoff love as Texas A&M.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
After Mel Tucker stunning Colorado by bolting Boulder after one year for the Michigan State job, what the Buffaloes have done so far in 2020 has been impressive and extremely satisfying under first-year head coach Karl Dorrell.
But an undefeated 4-0 start came to a screeching halt in snowy conditions Saturday as Utah overcame a slow start to run away with a 38-21 win.
The setback effectively ended Colorado’s Cinderella chances to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship game. USC had the advantage going into Saturday and will now get the bid for the division.
The Buffaloes have found a superstar in freshman running back Jarek Broussard, but the Utes loaded the box against him on Saturday and held him to 80 yards on 14 carries.
Quarterback Sam Noyer played perhaps his best game moving the ball downfield with 258 passing yards and a couple of touchdowns, but he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, and CU struggled to sustain drives.
Broussard may have the headlines, but the best freshman performer on the field in the big Utah win was its first-year running back Ty Jordan, whose 66-yard scoring scamper with 4:46 left expanded the lead to a couple of touchdowns and capped his 147-yard day.
A Colorado defense that had been the team strength throughout this abbreviated season let down the Buffs in a big way.
The bad news is there won’t be any conference championship game excitement to help Dorrell kick-start his program following Tuker’s betrayal, but this is a massive first step for a program that has been trying to find its way for a long time.
Colorado could have won plenty of perception points with a win, but the optics of 2020 are still strong for the Buffaloes.
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Vasha Hunt/Associated Press
For much of Saturday afternoon’s game against Troy, No. 13-ranked Coastal Carolina was in control.
Then, all of a sudden, the Chanticleers weren’t.
After Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson went down with an injury, backup Jacob Free threw an interception before leading the Trojans on two consecutive touchdown drives to give them a 38-35 lead with 1:20 remaining in the game.
That was too much time for Grayson McCall and the Chanticleers, who drove 75 yards in five plays in a drive that took just 45 seconds off the clock. McCall hit Jaivon Heiligh on a 23-yard scoring strike to keep coach Jamey Chadwell’s magical undefeated season going.
It was redemption for McCall, who threw an ill-advised interception that led to Troy’s go-ahead touchdown. The way the redshirt freshman signal-caller’s season has gone, it was poetic that he returned and made the game-sealing play.
The final score was 42-38, but you could feel the breeze off the sigh of relief all the way from Troy, Alabama, to Conway, South Carolina. This was a classic sandwich game between BYU and the conference title game, but Coastal survived.
Believe it or not, the Chanticleers have a legitimate chance to make a New Year’s Six bowl game after being picked dead-last in their Sun Belt division. This is a team that has beaten Louisiana and Appalachian State and stunned BYU in Conway last week.
All of that nearly came crashing down on Saturday in a game that was probably very easy to overlook. Instead of anything the Chants did wrong, however, it was really about how much improved Chip Lindsey’s program has gotten over the course of the season.
Still, this is Coastal’s season, and the Chants ensured they were going to do their part on the field to get a shot at the conference title game and perhaps cap this incredible season by playing on New Year’s Day.
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Gerry Broome/Associated Press
North Carolina senior Michael Carter is going to have plenty of competition for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top running back.
Iowa State’s Breece Hall has enjoyed a breakout season for the best team in the Big 12, Alabama’s Najee Harris has 22 touchdowns and has been a workhorse all year. Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams has been a revelation, too.
But Carter competes every day at practice with teammate Javonte Williams, and he may be just as much in the conversation for the award as his teammate. Can they just split it already?
After a 62-26 rout of No. 10 Miami on Saturday, the Hurricanes probably would agree. They have been pretty stout on defense all year, but they had no answer for any of the 17th-ranked Tar Heels’ offensive weapons. The biggest issue was in stopping Carter and Williams.
They never did.
Carter ran 24 times for 308 yards and he scored two touchdowns on a 12.8 average. Williams added 23 carries for 236 yards and scored three times. He, too, averaged more than 10 yards per carry. Both running backs went over 1,000 yards on the season against the ‘Canes.
It probably felt to Miami that they had that many in Saturday’s win. The 544 combined rushing yards set an NCAA record for most rushing yards by a set of teammates in a single game in FBS history. The previous record was 504 yards set by MiQuale Lewis and Cory Sykes for Ball State.
This performance doesn’t diminish the surge forward Miami took this year, but it certainly was a disappointing finish. For the Heels, they continue to build toward big things, and though quarterback Sam Howell got the headlines all season, the running back duo carried the team all year and again on Saturday.
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Michael Woods/Associated Press
When true freshman Jase McClellan broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run to make No. 1-ranked Alabama’s final score a 52-3 thumping of Arkansas, the dark reality for the rest of college football became clear: The Crimson Tide have players you’ve never heard of who are better than many teams’ starters.
For nearly an entire quarter, the Razorbacks played Alabama to a 3-all tie, and they looked good doing it. Then, reality set in.
Used to, coach Nick Saban and Co. stockpiled so much defensive talent, opponents couldn’t score. The paradigm shift in the game has moved the needle largely toward offense, and the Tide have evolved with it. Now, there’s nobody in the game that can match Alabama’s talent on that side of the ball.
They’ve got three bonafide Heisman Trophy contenders, and all three of them clicked again Saturday. Quarterback Mac Jones completed all but five of his 29 passes for 208 yards but didn’t muster a scoring pass because they didn’t need it.
While the game’s best receiver, DeVonta Smith, had just three catches for 22 yards, he had a magnificent punt return for a touchdown that showed just how he can affect the game in so many ways. He is the best player in the college game in 2021.
Then there’s under-appreciated running back Najee Harris, who likely will leave Tuscaloosa as Alabama’s all-time leading rusher and moved to third on the school’s all-time rushing list and tied Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram with 42 career rushing scores with his two against the Hogs.
But backup Brian Robinson Jr. had three touchdowns, McClellan led the team with 95 rushing yards, and with Smith taking a box score break in the receiving department, John Metchie III continued his breakout party after Jaylen Waddle’s season-ending injury with five catches for 72 yards and a score.
Right now, the Tide clearly look like the nation’s best team, and it’s because they’ve only elevated the explosiveness despite losing Tua Tagaovaila, Henry Ruggs II and Jerry Jeudy. What they’ve done offensively this year is remarkable.
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L.G. Patterson/Associated Press
Georgia’s quarterback situation has been an issue for much of the season that cost an excellent Bulldogs team a chance to compete for a national title.
From Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman electing to sit out the season to D’Wan Mathis’ ineffective start and eventual decision to leave the program to walk-on Stetson Bennett’s lack of consistency, nothing worked.
Enter JT Daniels.
Everybody was wondering what was behind the USC transfer and former 5-star prospect not playing in Athens sooner. Was his injured knee still not 100 percent? Did coach Kirby Smart just have an affinity for Bennett? Since they plugged him in three games ago, UGA has been a different offense.
That was much the case again in Saturday’s crucial 49-14 win over No. 25 Missouri. After the teams were tied at 14-all late in the first half, Daniels and the Dawgs turned it up, scoring 35 unanswered points to dominate a hot Mizzou team.
Daniels threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, and, most importantly the entire offense just looked different with him under center. George Pickens and Jermaine Burton are able to showcase their immense receiving talent, and UGA even threw to talented freshman tight end Darnell Washington.
With the passing game keeping defenses honest, the rushing attack has continued to improve. Against the Tigers on Saturday, four different UGA running backs scored touchdowns, Zamir White led the team with 126 yards, and freshman Daijun Edwards added 103.
It’s too late for the Dawgs to compete for the SEC title after losing to rival Florida, but the 2020 offense has at least found a direction with Daniels in, and the quarterback has resurrected his career after injuries led to him losing the Trojans job to Kedon Slovis and his eventual transfer.
Now, it’s going to be interesting to see if Daniels is back for ’21 or if he parlays this into being a higher NFL draft pick.
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Our generation almost had our version of “The Band is on the field! The Band is on the field!”
Western Michigan screwed it up.
Would it have been on as big of a stage as California-Stanford? Not even close. But still, the game between Western Michigan and Ball State was for a spot in the MAC championship game on Saturday, and it was almost an all-timer. It was still a great game.
But with Ball State leading 30-27 in the closing seconds, the Broncos tried one last hurrah. After a remarkable 13 laterals, the ball carrier fumbled and appeared to be down. Both teams rushed the field, and the Cardinals were celebrating. The problem was the play wasn’t dead.
Receiver Skyy Moore picked up the ball and raced for the end zone with no time on the clock for what looked like a remarkable 34-30 crazy comeback win. Unfortunately for the Broncos (and for all of us who love pandemonium), one of those laterals was ruled to be a forward pass.
It was, but that doesn’t change the hilarity of the finale and the fact that it would have gone down as one of the greatest endings ever.
Instead, Ball State won the game despite all the absurdity and completes one of the best comeback stories of any coach this year besides San Jose State’s Brent Brennan. The Cardinals had struggled throughout Mike Neu’s entire tenure, but they have been stout this season.
Beating Western Michigan is the culmination of that, and the Cardinals will take on Buffalo in the title game. The ending won’t be anywhere near as exciting as this one.
As much as everybody loves MACtion, this finish eclipsed the normal mayhem that has become commonplace in that league by a long shot.
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
If you want to watch beautiful football, don’t DVR Northwestern.
As expected, Saturday’s final tune-up before taking on Ohio State in next week’s Big Ten Championship Game was a throwback to the old fashioned style that has characterized Pat Fitzgerald’s time at his alma mater.
First and foremost, the Wildcats defense was stifling. The frigid weather, swirling winds and sputtering rain acted as a trio of extra defenders, but they didn’t need them. Illinois mustered just 262 total yards and converted 3-of-12 third downs in a 28-10 loss that wasn’t even that close.
While transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey’s 82 passing yards were pedestrian, he took care of the ball and let the defense do the rest.
When Northwestern needed to move the ball, it relied on the sturdy, consistent duo of running backs Evan Hull and Cam Porter, who rushed for 149 and 142 yards, respectively, and three combined touchdowns. That’s exactly how they’ve built their 6-1 record, and they aren’t going to change.
Is there any way they can do enough to beat an explosive Ohio State offense that is going to be the beneficiary of the conference changing its rules to allow the Buckeyes in the title game? There’s little doubt they’ll be double-digit underdogs, but they’ll make things as difficult on OSU as possible.
Ask Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters, who completed just three of his 14 passing attempts. Isaiah Williams didn’t do a whole lot better, and the Fighting Illini’s leading rusher had just 70 yards.
Yes, the competition is going to skyrocket next weekend, but very little will change about Northwestern’s approach, at least going into the week. It’s going to be extremely ugly if Fitzgerald can help it, and that’s the way they want it. Fitzgerald also believes his team is playing the rightful opponent.
“If I had a vote, I’d vote [Ohio State] No. 2 [in the country],” he said, according to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg. “I think they’re a complete football team, all three phases…I’m sure we’re going to be underdogs by like 70.”
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
For 14 seasons from 2002-15, the Navy Midshipmen owned the biggest rivalry in all of college football.
The tables have turned.
With Saturday’s masterful defensive performance in a thick fog at West Point, New York, the Army Black Knights seized a 15-0 victory and have now won four of the past five meetings. The Midshipmen did win 31-7 a year ago, but they struggled to put anything together offensively on Saturday.
It was like the forward pass never was invented in the game. This never was going to be an arm race, anyway, but there were just two completed passes in the entire game, in part because of a fog that made it difficult to see the crowd with the television cameras.
Army needed just one pass (a 28-yard completion) to win. Quarterback Tyhier Tyler was the game’s biggest offensive star, though, leading the Knights in rushing with 96 yards and a touchdown despite just a 3.7 average.
Nothing was easy for either team, which combined for 279 total yards for the entire game. Army had just 162 in the victory, and the teams combined to convert just 5 of 25 third downs all day.
This was the first time since 1969 that Army held Navy scoreless. The Cadets are now 8-2 on the season, and coach Jeff Monken has worked wonders with the program throughout this season and his tenure there.
He and Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo have been good friends for years, but Monken had to love getting the last word in after Niumatalolo’s dig on ESPN’s College GameDay earlier Saturday where he said, “Kirk Herbstreit said [they’ve] all been close games, but I guess he forgot about last year.”
This one didn’t wind up being close, either.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
It took 56 seconds to set the tone. It took the rest of Friday night to set Arizona State records.
When the desert dust settled on a 70-7 Sun Devils destruction of rival Arizona in the Territorial Cup, coach Herm Edwards’ team had its first win of the season, and Kevin Sumlin was left searching for answers. The Wildcats haven’t proven they have any this year.
According to CBSSports Network, the two touchdowns Arizona State scored in the first 56 seconds marked the first time in 25 years a Power 5 program hit paydirt twice in the game’s opening minute.
D.J. Taylor opened the game with a 100-yard kickoff return, and DeaMontre Trayanum added a rushing score following an Arizona fumble. The Wildcats were in a 14-0 hole almost before they left the locker room.
The Sun Devils scored pretty much at will any way they wanted to afterward. The defense was a typical Edwards-coached unit that played better than it had all year, but the real story was how they produced points drive after Wildcat-crippling drive.
By the end of the games, walk-ons were scoring touchdowns. The onslaught led to a gaudy number that is rarely seen. Arizona hasn’t allowed 70 points since 1949, and the Sun Devils haven’t scored that many since ’69, per ESPN.
In other words, it was a wacky night that turned into an embarrassment for Sumlin’s team all over the field. The Sun Devils ultimately stuck a pitchfork in Sumlin’s Arizona coaching tenure as he was relieved of his duties earlier today, according to The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach.
Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels had struggled in his first two games but accounted for three scores, and the Sun Devils had seven rushing scores in the win.
Everything went right for Edwards’ young team, and after disappointing losses to open the season against USC and UCLA that occurred because of last-minute touchdown drives allowed, the Sun Devils looked like the promising young team many expected before the season started.