Grantland logo

College Football, Week 14: In Which the Devil You Don’t Know Beats the Devil You Do

Chris Davis leads Auburn to victory over Alabama

(Mood music.)

Conference championship games begin four days from now. The schedule narrows and the stakes elevate from here. But we can’t leave this weekend behind. Not just yet.

The last full blast of the regular season, in all its usual home-and-home-jersey-wearing, weird-ass-trophy-presenting, mutual-offsetting-unsportsmanlike-conduct-penalties-awarding glory, is an annual reminder of why college football is the greatest show on earth. The 2013 offering, a sternum-shaking fireworks barrage of action at the highest and lowest levels of the game, offered a daylong master class in taking joy in the unexpected. Arrivistes triumphant, some entirely before their appointed times! Dynasties shearing off into the sea! Winless seasons averted! Gladiators lying prone! The end, at last, of that too-perfect power-conference logjam! Life! The Universe! Everything!


A wholehearted welcome back from the holiday weekend, from our clan to yours. We hope this finds you renewed in the warm embrace of family, and that you and yours did not suffer any injuries that could be classified by a medical professional under the “turkey fryer apocalypse” header. And we hope you’ll understand — and maybe even join us — as we strive to stretch Week 14 out for one more day, just to marinate in it. Just a little while longer.

SEC West Champion: Auburn

No. 4 Auburn 34, no. 1 Alabama 28. Two weeks ago, after the Tigers did this to Georgia, we promised: “You’ll either be lashed with your whole heart to this revival tent, ride-or-dying for the Auburn Family and the particularly potent Plains strain of that je ne sais quoi that every team, to some degree, believes makes its own culture Just Different, Somehow, or you’ll find yourself in possession of an indelible belief in the complete and eternal absence of a benevolent higher power and having faith only in a cold, unfeeling, aggressively random universal order. Both are valid choices.”


Now it’s time to pick a side. That was fast.

Much is made of the annual November cave-ins on undefeated teams, but those collapses never seem all that likely once we’re actually in the thick of November, do they? Here we were, trundling along to another Alabama national title game appearance, seemingly as inevitable as the actual tides, with only the Iron Bowl between Bama and the SEC championship game. The Iron Bowl, and in it an Auburn squad that went 0-8 in league play in 2012, had already lost this year to an LSU team Bama had beaten, and had twice needed last-minute scores, plus the aid of some big-cat-loving college football enthusiast deity manifesting on the physical plane for reasons beyond our understanding, to skate into Week 14 with one loss and a top-five ranking.


And then Bama got run at. And run on. And run through. Auburn amassed 296 rushing yards on the night, which is … nobody runs like that on Bama. Not only in the it-just-isn’t-done-dahling sense, but in the math sense. Cade Foster staged a tribute to Bama’s special teams lapses in the 2011 LSU game, missing his first two field goal attempts and seeing a third blocked. With 10 minutes and change remaining in the game, AJ McCarron attempted to restore order by executing what would’ve been the 2013 Iron Bowl’s signature scoring play, a 99-yard touchdown pass to no. 9 Amari Cooper, who in the process bested Auburn’s no. 9, defensive back Jermaine Whitehead; 9 on 9 for 99, the longest play in program history, was the story of the day … right up until Alabama’s failed fourth-down conversion on the subsequent possession, the blocked Foster field goal on the possession after that, and the scoring pass from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates that tied the game at 28 with less than a minute to go.

Then unlikelihoods piled on unlikelihoods. It took an official review following a T.J. Yeldon run for one second to go back on the clock, allowing Bama to try a 57-yard field goal. It took an out-of-character evening from Foster for Nick Saban to send redshirt freshman kicker Adam Griffith out to attempt the would-be game winner instead. It took Chris Davis pleading his case to Auburn coaches to be used as a return man on special teams; Gus Malzahn had wanted Davis to focus on defense. (Malzahn, afterward: “It was a really good decision.”) The mere notion that Alabama could be undone by its kicking game, the most replicable, PROCESS-able facet of football, and by an athletic feat so unusual it had been accomplished only three times in the entire history of NCAA football? Nova the eagle swooping in and carrying that ball to Pasadena in her talons would’ve gotten better Vegas odds.


So anyway, an appeal: Save the bitter BCS recriminations for tomorrow, or a week from. There’s an ironclad case for calling this the greatest final play in the sport’s history. You got to see it happen. Take the time to savor that, to marvel at it now and irritate future generations with it later. There’s one more round of games to go before the BCS politicking begins in earnest, and so very much to relish from the weekend that was. The offseason looms just over the horizon, and it is long, dark, and stupid. For now, let the games themselves be enough for us.

SEC East Champion: Missouri

No. 5 Missouri 28, no. 21 Texas A&M 21. We assume we’ve seen the last of regular-season Johnny Football, and we’re sorry for it. We’ll treasure the time we had with him, revile forever the pearl-clutching forces that made him out to be some sort of dastardly supervillain, and regret for a good long while the injuries that robbed an eager audience of seeing him in full and monstrous form for swaths of this season. But we can’t hold any grudges against Missouri, for whom it is impossible not to be happy. Two years ago, Mizzou running back Henry Josey’s knee basically exploded, and Saturday night he ran his team into the SEC championship game:


Well past the 1,000-yard mark in 2011 before suffering that ridiculously complicated knee injury against Texas, Josey sat out all of 2012, underwent multiple surgeries, and now has 951 yards and 13 touchdowns on 153 carries in 2013. Tiger, tiger, burning bright.

SEC Miscellany

Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 34 (2OT). In the least probable of situations, at the close of a season fraught with indignities, the Georgia Bulldogs’ bowl of petunias reversed course and exited the gravitational pull of Magrathea:


Entering the game without the services of senior quarterback Aaron Murray, the 39th or so offensive skill player to be felled by injury in service for Georgia this season, the Dawgs hung in with Todd Gurley and backup quarterback/tire-swing enthusiast Hutson Mason before finally, impossibly, ending another rivalry game on another deflected pass. This one didn’t stab the Bulldogs in their collective heart.

No. 10 South Carolina 31, no. 6 Clemson 17. That’s five in a row for the Gamecocks over the Tigers, but three seasons in a row in which Carolina has to stay home while a team it beat plays for the SEC title. This was a particularly undignified outing for Clemson, featuring six turnovers, including three on its final three possessions. Requisite Steve Spurrier heart-blessing: “They’re a good team, but continue to not play very well when they play us for some reason.”

… OK, one more, because it’s our last chance for Spurrier quotes until bowl selections: “We know we’re sort of blessed. We’re not that great of a team, but the guys hang in there and just keep on playing.” Live forever, HBC.

No. 17 LSU 31, Arkansas 27. Jarvis Landry has topped this, and he did so with this. Meanwhile, AIRBHG’s quarterback-loathing cousin continued its rampage through the SEC ranks, but Zach Mettenberger’s freshman backup, Anthony Jennings, led a 99-yard fourth-quarter drive that culminated in a 49-yard scoring pass to Travin Dural to prevent the Razorbacks from recording a single SEC win in 2013. Les Miles, after: “You guys got your money’s worth, didn’t you? Course, they paid you guys to come. You and me both!” Live forever, Hat.

Mississippi State 17, Ole Miss 10 (OT). On Thursday night, you might have been forgiven for thinking this was the wackiest sequence of events you’d see in Week 14.

Tennessee 27, Kentucky 14. Not much of note here, but as long as we’re collecting wildly implausible paths of motion for footballs: watch this.

Big Ten Leaders Champion: Ohio State

No. 3 Ohio State 42, Michigan 41. Charles P. Pierce was on the scene in Ann Arbor, and will be along later in the day with his tale of The Game, but in the meantime, have a couple takeaways from an utterly delightful rivalry tilt:

1. Marcus Hall is a hero. Let this be an example to all fighty ejected players: If you’re gonna go, go con gusto:

2. So is Devin Gardner. 59½ minutes of stellar game play can’t be undone by one picked pass.

3. Brady Hoke made the right call. You can (and maybe should) question the play call on the failed two-point conversion at the end, but the decision to try in the first place was an admirable one. With everything respectively on the line for the Buckeyes and Wolverines, that’s a good call when it works and still a good decision when it doesn’t.

4. Watch the ground. Two absolutely beastly rushing defenses await Ohio State’s stunning running game, in the form of Michigan State in Indianapolis on Saturday and potentially Florida State a month or so after that.

Big Ten Legends Champion: Michigan State

No. 11 Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3. The first annual Honeycrisp Trophy has been claimed! Thought exercise: Is it really so wrong, as an impartial observer, to pull for Ohio State in the B1G championship game to see both what happens when the Buckeyes’ running backs meet Florida State’s defense and whether Mark Dantonio can be photographed clenching a rose between his teeth?

Big Ten Miscellany

Penn State 31, no. 15 Wisconsin 24. Ryan Keiser’s end zone interception of Joel Stave’s final pass attempt saved the game for the Nittany Lions, but Christian Hackenberg’s blazing 339-yard, four-touchdown performance made it a game in the first place. See: this My God, A Freshman moment:


Iowa 38, Nebraska 17. Just another Friday morning in college football: Jake Rudock throws this jaw-dropper and then gets rolled up on; Bo Pelini throws this hat-dropper and then has some thoughts. We were with him on the cussing thing, but maybe this was not the best career move, unless he just really wants out of Lincoln, in which case, good show. Also, whoever’s writing his apologies is really good at it. Also also:

ACC Atlantic Division Champion: Florida State

No. 2 Florida State 37, Florida 7. It took a little while for this one to kick into gear, but if you have a Kelvin Benjamin, you can pretty much just get him the ball and count on him dragging six or seven guys into the end zone with him whenever you want, and Florida State has a Kelvin Benjamin, as evidenced by Saturday’s stat line: nine catches, 212 yards, three touchdowns.


ACC Coastal Division Champion: Duke (DUKE)

No. 24 Duke 27, North Carolina 25. Duke’s campaign to make us feel football feelings continues, and the Blue Devils are keen to entertain. Saturday’s contest featured this nifty touchdown catch, a 99-yard kickoff return for a score, and a game-winning field goal kick, which we hasten to point out DUKE DID BETTER THAN ALABAMA, PAAAOWL. At this point, it seems only fair to pit the Blue Devils against the Crimson Tide in a bowl game and see where the night takes us, right?

ACC Miscellany

Syracuse 34, Boston College 31. Postseason hardware hopeful Andre Williams managed just 29 yards on nine carries, including this touchdown, before being knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. He’ll reportedly be back and packing away positive yardage by the time BC’s bowl rolls around.

Pac-12 South Champion: Arizona State

No. 12 Arizona State 58, Arizona 21. With the division title already secured, the Sun Devils were playing Saturday for home-field advantage versus Stanford in the conference championship game, and succeeded emphatically with the help of an outstanding game from D.J. Foster, four Wildcat turnovers, and this Todd Graham Wildcat-slaying face:


Next week’s offensive outing may not be such a sunny stroll, however, given the continued absence of Marion Grice and the presence of Stanford’s defense on the other side of the ball.

Pac-12 North Champion: Stanford

No. 8 Stanford 27, no. 25 Notre Dame 20. One more matchup to look forward to: ASU’s rushing defense versus That Guy Tyler Gaffney, who turned in his eighth triple-digit rushing day in 12 games with a 33-carry, 189-yard performance.

Pac-12 Miscellany

No. 22 UCLA 35, no. 23 USC 14. Here is your final Myles Jack highlight before the bowls. And no matter what happens with USC’s coaching search, this will be a thing to remember:


As will this.

No. 13 Oregon 36, Oregon State 35. Here’s another one that feels like it happened a million years ago already. Takeaway memories: A fantastic combination of home-and-home uniforms, and Josh Huff’s three-score performance, which included a game-winning, last-minute touchdown catch.

Washington 27, Washington State 17. The nation’s fiercest clash of dueling helmet-style philosophies saw Bishop Sankey break Corey Dillon’s UW single-season rushing record.

Big 12 Champion: TBD

Even without a conference championship game, the Big 12 race has come down to Week 15 like every other power league’s. Oklahoma State, 7-1 in conference play and idle in Week 14, is tied with Baylor and Texas atop the conference standings, but holds the head-to-head advantage over both. Beat Oklahoma next week, and the Cowboys take the Big 12. Lose, and the league crown goes to the winner of Bears-Longhorns.

No. 9 Baylor 41, TCU 38. A Baylor-TCU game called by Joe Tessitore that goes bonkers? Where’ve we seen that before? The Bears might’ve found themselves on the business end of an upset bid, as the Horned Frogs did in 2011, had it not been for four TCU turnovers at deadly inopportune moments. Bonus bonkers-ness: collegiate buttfumble!

Texas 41, Texas Tech 16. By the numbers:

43: length of pass completed by Jaxon Shipley, Texas wide receiver and noted roommate of Case McCoy (like their brothers before them, and their fathers before them, all the way back into infinity).

24: years since a graduating class of Longhorns didn’t win at least a share of a league or division title during their careers.

51: length of touchdown run by Texas Tech’s punter.

6: ensuing touchdowns scored by actual offensive players on both sides.

9: sacks of a Texas Tech quarterback by Texas.

0: times this play worked.

AAC Champion: TBD

Central Florida leads the American with a 7-0 league record, and can only be caught at this point by Cincinnati if the Knights lose to SMU next week, and the Bearcats upset Louisville, and then somehow pass UCF in the BCS standings. If you ever wanted to see a team that provided one win to a 2-9 team get to a BCS bowl, well, we won’t judge your perversions, and there’s your convoluted rooting interest for Week 15.

No. 19 Central Florida 23, South Florida 20. In an attempt to play less football than idle Cincinnati, the Knights almost handed that two-win team its third. UCF committed five turnovers and trailed the Bulls for most of the fourth quarter before Blake Bortles’s 52-yard scoring pass.

Profiles in Profiteroles

No. 14 Northern Illinois 33, Western Michigan 14. This was almost a week ago now, but as a maybe-needed refresher: The last regular-season #MACtion game of the year saw NIU round out a perfect year in a spitting snowstorm with a rousing sendoff for Jordan Lynch and Huskies mascot Diesel.


NIU remains ahead of AAC front-runner UCF in the latest BCS standings; all that remains for the Huskies to do is win the conference championship game on Friday — against Bowling Green, whose defense is no joke — and maintain that lead over an AQ team.

San Jose State 62, no. 16 Fresno State 52. It was bound to happen sooner or later, except it never did in all the other potential shootouts Fresno encountered this season: The Bulldogs’ defense was worse than the Bulldogs’ offense. That Derek Carr–David Fales quarterbacking duel could have gone on forever and never dropped off in entertainment value.


The Bulldogs do still claim the MWC West title and will host Utah State for the conference championship.

Utah State 35, Wyoming 7. The Aggies take the Mountain Division with a first-year head coach and mostly without the services of Chuckie Keeton, while Dave Christensen is heading down that dusty trail. We’ll always have Military Appreciation Night.

Marshall 59, East Carolina 28. The Herd make a thunderous case for CUSA East supremacy but will be trekking to Rice for the conference championship game because of reasons.

Louisiana-Monroe 31, Louisiana 28. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ perfect Sun Belt record took a hit, but get ready for a repeat performance of one of the best postseason tailgating opportunities in the country.

Southern Miss 62, UAB 27. In the first half, we were afraid to look directly at the box score for fear of scaring off the Golden Eagles’ first victory in a couple dozen tries. A 35-0 run in the second half put this worry — and the game — well out of reach.

Hawaii 49, Army 42. In the very last game of the night, with their very last chance to secure a win in 2013, the Warriors outrushed Army, which ain’t easy, and to all a good night.

Once More, With Feeling

AUBURN WINS. on Twitpic