Alabama, Clemson and Washington Roll in Conference Championships – College Football Week 14
Alabama, Clemson and Washington all held serve in their respective conference title games as they gear up for the playoffs. Here are the big takeways from the final season of college football’s regular season.
It’s Still Alabama’s World
For a minute, it looked like No. 15 Florida was going to give top-ranked Alabama a challenge in the SEC championship game. Trailing 33-16 midway through the third quarter, the Gators had second-and-goal at the Alabama one-yard line. But the Crimson Tide defense stuffed Florida twice, drove 98 yards for a touchdown and the rout was on. Following that goal line stand, Alabama went on a 21-0 run while holding the Gators to just seven total yards the rest of the way to secure a 54-16 win and the Tide's third straight SEC title.
Alabama is riding a 25-game winning streak dating back to September of last year and is seeking its fifth national title in nine years. While nothing is ever certain in the wild world of college football, this year’s Alabama team will be heavy favorites over anyone else in the playoff and could go down as one of the all-time greats.
Washington Made a Strong Case
The knock on No. 4 Washington had been a weak strength of schedule and an overall down year in the Pac-12. But the Huskies made a statement with a 41-10 destruction of No. 8 Colorado in the conference title game.
On a night when Heisman candidate Jake Browning had his worst game of the season (9-of-24 for 118 yards), Washington showed it was a complete team, getting a big night from running back Myles Gaskin (159 yards) and the Pac-12’s leading defense, which forced three turnovers—including a pick-six—and held the Buffaloes to just 163 total yards. With the victory, Washington captured its first conference title since 2001, a year in which it also won the national championship. Can lightning strike twice? They’ll have an uphill battle against Alabama, but this will still be a season long remembered by Husky fans.
Deshaun Watson is Back in the Heisman Mix
For much of the season, it was a foregone conclusion that Louisville’s Lamar Jackson would run away with the Heisman Trophy. And while he’s still probably the odds-on favorite, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has made a late push. The junior threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more in the No. 3 Tigers’ ACC championship game win over No. 23 Virginia Tech. He has scored at least three touchdowns in all but two games this year and has racked up seventeen in just his last four.
According to one report, less than ten percent of Heisman votes had already been cast prior to this weekend. As such, voters had plenty of opportunity to watch Watson and other potential candidates on Saturday while Jackson was at home. Was Watson’s performance enough to change voters’ minds? We’ll see. But we can certainly say Jackson’s coronation isn’t the sure thing we assumed just a few weeks ago.
Bedlam Lived Up to the Name
The annual Oklahoma/Oklahoma State rivalry is usually a back-and-forth affair and this year’s tilt was no exception. Early in the game, the No. 10 Cowboys were able to stifle the Oklahoma running game while getting some big plays of their own to take a 17-10 lead late in the second quarter. It had the looks of an upset in the making, particularly when Oklahoma’s star receiver Dede Westbrook was knocked out of the game with an apparent head injury.
But the No. 9 Sooners finally got the running game untracked and responded with 21 unanswered points in a 15-minute span to blow the game open and capture the Big 12 title with a 38-20 victory.
Oklahoma’s “thunder and lightning” running back duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon finished with 338 rushing yards and three touchdowns while Westbrook, a dark horse Heisman candidate, had four catches for 111 yards and a touchdown before his injury. The win gives Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops his tenth conference crown since taking the Sooners’ job in 1999.
Western Michigan Should Be At the Grown Ups’ Table
No. 17 Western Michigan held off a late Ohio rally to secure the MAC championship and a 13-0 season. With the undefeated season, the Broncos could be crashing the party with an invite to a New Years’ Six bowl game, most likely the Cotton Bowl.
Bronco coach P.J. Fleck had been diplomatic all season about his squad’s chances to make one of the nation’s premier bowl games. But he was less subtle in his postgame comments after wrapping up the first undefeated season in the MAC since Marshall went 13-0 in 1999.
If Western Michigan gets a Cotton Bowl invite, they’ll be just the second MAC school in history (Northern Illinois in 2013 being the other) to make one of the Big Six bowl games.