College Football, Week 15: The Kingdom, the Power, and the Personal Pizza

We’ve never been able to have terribly productive conversations with readers who begin diatribes with “THE MEDIA …” due in some part to the fondness those folks have for claiming NARRATIVE MANIPULATION. There are a couple of problems with this: namely, that the level of coordination it would require to execute whatever sinister plot you’re convinced we’ve hatched against your team and only your team borders on the superhuman; also, that we would like to think our personal narrative manipulations occur right out in the open and consist of story lines for which no one would ever think to pay.

Then there are the times when we find ourselves in thrall to story lines already fully formed, to narratives asserting themselves with such force that there’s nothing to do but sit back and take notes. We’ve been hollering for a couple of weeks now about the importance of the conference championship races and what a shame it is that they get glossed over en route to the big-money bowl announcements. About how the most beautiful thing about this game is found in its deeply weird regionalism, but the matchups between the best teams of those regions don’t get their due affection. We’re not alone.

Week 15’s response to serving as the opening act for Sunday night’s BCS selection show — if you can call Week 15 a sentient being, and why not, since we already called it the season’s “vestigial tail” — was a full-throated tantrum for attention, featuring all of the following: one would-be BCS buster getting tossed from the Cinderella carriage by a conference rival; one repeat quelling of a desert uprising; one cannibalization of a power conference; one league title for a team named for both a food and a bird; one team that lost all of its conference games in 2012 securing a bid for the national title game; the mere presence of Duke football in a conference championship game; bowl eligibility for a program created in 2009, achieved at the expense of the Sun Belt champ; a Heisman candidate in a wrestling belt; a two-year winning streak snapped less than half a game short of a BCS title bid; and this:

We know that no. 1 Florida State and new no. 2 Auburn will play for the national championship on January 6. We’ll get to that, but Week 15 sways quietly in the background for no person, no thing, no institution. Here’s how it happened, in rough chronological order, and what happens next.

(Click here for the full 2013-14 bowl schedule.)

Thursday Night

What Happened: No. 19 Louisville 31, Cincinnati 24 (OT). Teddy Bridgewater reminded us that he can do things like this:

Also, we learned that Silverberry Mouhon has a brother named Kevin.

What Happens Now: The Cardinals were already out of the American race following a head-to-head loss to Central Florida, but the Bearcats came within an overtime period, one score in Dallas, and some luck in the polls of swiping the conference’s BCS bid. (We’re trying to make this sound compelling; stay with us.) Louisville’s victory rendered the outcome of UCF’s frosty Saturday playdate at SMU purposeless, and good thing: The Knights managed just a four-point victory, but should find the climes of the Fiesta Bowl more to their liking.

Louisville will face Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, while Cincinnati goes Belkcatting in Charlotte again.

Friday Night

What Happened: Bowling Green 47, no. 14 Northern Illinois 27. Jordan Lynch ran for 126 yards, breaking his own single-season quarterback rushing record in the third quarter. He passed for 219 more, accounted for three touchdowns … and threw two interceptions, suffering his first conference loss as a starter. NIU’s defense, which was nothing to write home about all year anyway, got its doors blown clean off by Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson, who threw five touchdown passes, and Travis Greene, who recorded 156 offensive yards and two scores. Falcons receivers Ronnie Moore and Alex Bayer both turned in triple-digit performances.

What Happens Now: That BCS chestnut, “Every Game Matters,” is strictly enforced for non-AQ teams. The Falcons will return to Detroit for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, facing Pitt. Meanwhile, while a win would’ve put the Huskies into a second consecutive BCS bowl game, this loss lands them in the Poinsettia, versus Utah State, in what’s actually one of the better matchups of the postseason. Diesel’s high-fives are somber this day.

Saturday Afternoon, Early

What Happened: Rice 41, Marshall 24. The Owls, who last won an outright league title in 1957 in the Southwest Conference, secured their first Conference USA championship with this win. Rice established its first lead within five minutes, put up a multi-possession buffer with this beauty of a touchdown from Taylor McHargue to Jordan Taylor, and never let the Herd come within one score of retaking the game. And if you’ve read this far, you deserve to know that Rice University is not actually named after the food, but after a Massachusetts-born businessman who was chloroformed to death by his valet!

What Happens Now: December bowl games for both participants, and plenty of alliteration: Rice to the Liberty against Mississippi State, and Marshall to the Military versus Maryland.

What Happened: No. 17 Oklahoma 33, no. 6 Oklahoma State 24. Oklahoma State was favored by multiple scores and projected to earn a Fiesta Bowl berth; instead, Bedlam got all bedlam-y. Oklahoma fielded three quarterbacks, attempting series with both Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson after Trevor Knight left the game with a shoulder injury. Four quarterbacks if you count holder Grant Bothun:

Here are all the ways Oklahoma scored during this game: 64-yard punt return, 21-yard field goal, that above touchdown catch from kicker Michael Hunnicutt, a 39-yard field goal, an actual 7-yard touchdown pass from Bell with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and a 3-yard fumble return as time expired. Right, and there was an earthquake.

What Happens Now: How many games have been held up as The De Facto Big 12 Conference Championship Game? But no, for real this time: As soon as Bedlam went final, both Oklahoma teams had two conference losses, and the league race shifted to the one game featuring the only remaining one-loss teams around; it just happened to kick off in the very next flight of games. As for the Sooner State squads: Oklahoma sneaked into the BCS as an at-large and will face Alabama in the Sugar Bowl; the Pokes will head to the Cotton to face Missouri. (Can you wait to hear Bob Stoops’s latest feelings re: conference supremacy? You cannot! “Coach Saban, your thoughts?”)

Saturday Afternoon, Later

What Happened: No. 9 Baylor 30, no. 25 Texas 10. The Big 12 does not stage a conference championship game, but as if crafted by an unseen and determinedly melodramatic hand, the league race came down to the last regular-season game, which took place right alongside everybody else’s Actual Conference Championship Games. Bryce Petty, still operating without top target Tevin Reese, threw for 287 yards, his third 200-yard game of the season. That isn’t great, because all of Petty’s other games were 300- or 400-yarders, because Baylor. But Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk combined for 180 rushing yards in their second game back from missing multiple weeks with injuries, and Bears corner K.J. Morton, who’d previously intercepted one pass all year, picked off Case McCoy twice. Texas squandered further scoring chances with a failed fourth-down conversion, a fumble, and a missed field goal.

What Happens Now: The Big 12, which began eating its own tail with Baylor’s loss to OSU in Week 13, has now eaten enough segments of its body to circle back to the Bears, where … it stopped eating? (We’re not biologists.) Like Rice, Baylor hadn’t won an outright conference title since the days of the Southwest Conference; the Bears’ last solo crown came in 1980. For their troubles, the Bears get to spend New Year’s Day playing in the Fiesta Bowl. For the Longhorns, it’s Mack Brown Decision Party time:

What Happened: No. 3 Auburn 59, no. 5 Missouri 42. Three months ago, Auburn went neck and neck with Washington State at home for most of Gus Malzahn’s first game as head coach. Three weeks after that, the Tigers sustained what would be their only loss of the season, in Baton Rouge. Three weeks ago, we thought we’d seen it all on the Plains. Last week, we started to develop real concerns regarding the existence of a seen-it-all ceiling. Saturday night, a team that went winless in conference play in 2012 played its way into the national title game on the back of a 304-yard rushing performance from Tre Mason. We are about out of adjectives for Auburn.

What Happens Now: The most riotously entertaining season in recent SEC history draws, perhaps mercifully, to a close. Mock turtleneck sales spike. And thanks to the events of the Big Ten championship later Saturday night, a grateful nation was spared from any more discussion of What It Means To Be A One-Loss SEC Team when it came to ranking programs for postseason consideration. The Tigers of the East make up the other half of what should be a rollicking Cotton Bowl; the Tigers of the West make their first trip to Pasadena.

As Long As We’re Talking About Cats: Lookit!

Saturday Night

What Happened: No. 7 Stanford 38, no. 11 Arizona State 14. About that suspicion that the Cardinal–Sun Devils rematch in the Pac-12 championship would look really, really different from their September meeting, a 42-28 Stanford win: It did! In that Kevin Hogan completed 12 passes for 277 yards rather than 11 for 151! And that Tyler Gaffney improved upon his 18-carry, 87-yard, two-score outing with a 22-rush, 133-yard, three-score performance! Here he is on Stanford’s second offensive play, which worked out really well for him:

What Happens Now: Gaffney watched Stanford’s last Rose Bowl appearance in street clothes; he’ll get to start this one. The Cardinal get Michigan State in the 100th edition of the Granddaddy. Arizona State falls to the Holiday Bowl versus Texas Tech.

What Happened: No. 1 Florida State 45, no. 20 Duke 7. Florida State Florida-Stated all over the place following an uneven first quarter, the Noles’ first scoreless first period since 2012. Jameis Winston stayed in the game quite a long time by 2013 Florida State standards, and he broke a few records. A whole bunch of receivers on both sides got walloped in their torsos. Kelvin Benjamin gave piggyback rides to overmatched defenders. Karlos Williams comported himself a bit more rudely.

What Happens Now: One sure thing heading into Week 15 stayed a sure thing heading out: Florida State will play for the national title.

Saturday Night, Slightly Later

What Happened: No. 10 Michigan State 34, no. 2 Ohio State 24. Win, and they were in, just as soon as they finished fighting this implacable serpent. And say this for the Buckeyes: Down 17-0 midway through the second quarter to the country’s best defense, with a two-year winning streak and an invitation to the national title game at stake, Ohio State fought back, on both sides of the ball — and it worked. For a while, it worked. That 17-0 MSU start turned into a 24-17 OSU lead — until Michigan State scored 17 unanswered to win 34-24. On the bingo card you surely had plotted out for this game, did “Ohio State fields two 100-yard rushers, and loses” rate a spot? What about “Michigan State throws for 300 yards”? Anybody?

What Happens Now: Those Midwesterners, ever polite, have cut short so much postseason hollering. Urban Meyer will be hailed as an SEC sleeper agent on message boards. Michigan State partisans will lie awake, perhaps, pondering the existential nature of pass interference penalties. Their consolation prize, in Pasadena, is a grand one. Their matchup, versus Stanford, is one of the year’s best. The Buckeyes are bound for a warmer destination and an Orange Bowl meeting with Clemson, and if the band is looking for halftime inspiration, we offer this modest suggestion.

And really, this is going to haunt us forever:

Saturday Night, After That

What Happened: No. 23 Fresno State 24, Utah State 17. With all possible respect to Utah State and the fabulous job first-year head coach Matt Wells has done despite losing his star quarterback for half the season, Derek Carr turning in another 400-plus-yard passing performance in his last game in Fresno was a welcome and deserved sight.

What Happens Now: Fresno to the Las Vegas Bowl, Utah State to the Poinsettia, and Carr into your hearts, forever:

And to all a good night.

Filed Under: College Football

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Holly Anderson is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ HollyAnderson