Two of the results from college football Week 12 tweaked and reshuffled TheSportsNotebook’s BCS bowl projections, but the biggest result was the one that had no impact in the end, and it was Auburn’s stunning 43-38 win over Georgia.
By now, most of you have probably seen the highlights of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s stunning 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis on 4th-and-12 with 25 seconds to play–a ball that should have been easily intercepted or batted down by two Georgia defenders, but instead came bouncing in the air and into Louis’ waiting arms. If you didn’t see the entire game, the miracle finish will obscure what should have been a more decisive Auburn victory.
Auburn’s offensive line dominated the flow of play, as the team generated 323 yards of rush offense, led by Tre Mason’s 115. The problem is that Auburn repeatedly bogged down in the red zone and took three points rather than seven. It was early in the fourth quarter when they kicked their third field goal of the game to go up 37-17 that I had an odd suspicion they might be in trouble.
And trouble is exactly what they got. Aaron Murray, the Georgia quarterback who’s been derided for an inability to win big games, led three consecutive drives for touchdowns. On the last one, it was fourth-and-goal at the five, and this quarterback–called out for a lack of toughness by doughnut-eating armchair quarterbacks everywhere–went barreling into a whipsaw of Auburn defenders and got the ball across the goal line to seal what should have been a 38-37 win. Then the 4th-and-12 shocker came and cost Murray his just due.
I should call out the Tiger defense a little more–no matter how good the opposing offense is, you can’t give three straight drives for touchdowns with all the money on the table. But I can’t get past the fact that Georgia’s offense is filled with players who will be in the NFL someday, and it’s defense is filled with players who will play ball in Europe. When you can run the ball like Auburn can, you need to finish drives in the red zone, and the lead should have been at least 41-17 when the rally started.
But in the end, Auburn won, and in doing so dramatically affected the fate of schools throughout the SEC and in the BCS National Championship hunt. Auburn now trails only Oregon among the ranks of one-loss teams, and should the Tigers beat Alabama, I’m sure Auburn would be the top one-loss team in the country.
The race for what will surely be a major bowl bid from the SEC (no conference can have more than two teams) was also affected. If Auburn would have lost this game, and then lost to Alabama, the Tigers would be out of the Sugar Bowl slot that TheSportsNotebook has been projecting them to for several weeks.
Texas A&M now needs to hope Auburn loses to ‘Bama, and the Aggies still have the not-so-small project of beating LSU and Missouri themselves to get to 10-2 and make a Johnny Manziel-to-New Orleans scenario realistic.
South Carolina is a serious player for the SEC East title (a Georgia win would have killed the Gamecocks in the tiebreaker scenarios including both teams and Missouri), but on the flip side, South Carolina’s hopes for a possible at-large bid to the BCS were damaged. It continues to be likely that the SEC’s second team will come out of the West.
Bringing this back full circle to the national championship discussion, what does the Auburn win mean for Baylor and Ohio State. Let’s say the Tigers beat Alabama. Does a one-loss Auburn deserve a title shot over and above the two unbeaten teams waiting in the wings? Remember, this also presumes Auburn beats Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game.
Given the SEC track record, not just in national championship games, but up and down the bowl ladder, I would have a hard time taking an Ohio State-Florida State title game seriously, with a one-loss SEC team on the sidelines. This conference has earned the right to be knocked out by somebody else, not just by losses within the league.
Two other games from Saturday weren’t as dramatic or far-reaching, but they had an effect the Auburn-Georgia game didn’t, and it was to reshuffle the current BCS bowl projections…
USC 20 Stanford 17: Stanford dominated the ground game, with Tyler Gaffney going for 157 yards and if the Cardinal had won, he might have moved up in a Heisman discussion that’s been thrown for a loop by the Jameis Winston sexual assault charges. But Stanford got a field goal blocked, and Kevin Hogan threw one of his two interceptions down in the red zone, enabling USC to ultimately drive for a game-winning field goal.
The win gives Oregon the clear path to the Pac-12 North title .In spite of their head-to-head loss to Stanford, the Cardinal also lost to Utah, so the Ducks now control the first tiebreaker–that one called the W-L record. I’ve still got Stanford, ranked #9 in the BCS, picking up an at-large spot so long as they beat Cal and Notre Dame. Basically, Oregon and Stanford just flip spots as conference champ and at-large selection.
Oklahoma State 38 Texas 13: I wasn’t ready to buy in on the Cowboys until they played well against a good opponent, and hammering the Longhorns in Austin qualifies. Okie State picked off Case McCoy three times, ran the ball well and this game was a rout from the outset. We’re now set up for an Oklahoma State-Baylor battle for the Big 12 championship.
The Cowboys’ impressive showing has convinced me that regardless of what happens in that game, they’ll at least beat Oklahoma in the season finale, and that will put them in the runner-up slot. So long as Okie State–currently ranked #10–can hold off #19 Wisconsin in the rankings, an at-large spot should go to the Big 12.
BCS BOWL PROJECTIONS
ACC: Florida State
Big 12: Baylor
Big Ten: Ohio State
American Athletic (old Big East): Central Florida
At-Larges (4): Auburn, Clemson, Stanford, Oklahoma State
Note that I still don’t have Fresno State or Northern Illinois qualifying, but so long as one of those teams goes undefeated, they would be ranked high enough to gain an automatic spot. I’m still not ready to commit to either running the table.
BCS National Championship: Alabama-Florida State
Orange: Clemson-Oklahoma State
Fiesta: Baylor-Central Florida
Rose: Ohio State-Oregon