Who’s Hot (and not) in college football entering the bowl season. Clemson and Penn State secure league championships with exciting seven-point wins.
The Ragin’ Cajuns
Louisiana-Lafayette closed the regular season by winning its final three Sun Belt Conference games, capped by Saturday’s third straight over instate rival Louisiana-Monroe, 30-3. The 6-6 Cajuns’ prize for finishing strong under coach Mark Hudspeth? A bonus game later this month that not only gives the team a shot to finish with a winning mark, but also means one fewer 5-7 squad will be participating in this year’s bowl bonanza.
What an effort by the Owls, who shut down the high-scoring Navy offense in Annapolis to capture the school’s first conference title since 1967. The Midshipmen did lose QB Will Worth in the first half, a crushing blow, but Temple was winning by 18 at the time. Owl QB Phillip Walker played through pain, the ground game out-rushed the Mids and unheralded head coach Matt Rhule has now won 10 in back-to-back seasons, which is mighty impressive for a program with a limited history of football success.
Air travel is recommended to get from Kalamazoo to Arlington, Tex. Metaphorically speaking, though, the Broncos have rowed the boat to a perfect season, a first MAC title since 1988 and the top of the Cotton Bowl pecking order. Western Michigan got all it could handle from an Ohio D that’s been quietly stout all year. However, in the end, the Broncos shut the door on the Bobcats’ final drive to add an exclamation point to the best season in program history.
The Sooners’ hopes of returning to the playoffs essentially ended in Week 3. And yet, their heart and motivation for winning the Big 12 never did. And for battling back from a 1-2 start to win nine in a row, including Bedlam on Saturday, Bob Stoops and his kids deserve a ton of credit. Oklahoma improved throughout the season, including on defense and along the O-line, which were September stumbling blocks. Stoops has remarkably won 10 conference titles over 18 years, and now has a shot to win the Sugar Bowl for the second time in the last four seasons.
The Washington D
The Huskies took care of business in Santa Clara Friday, hammering Colorado, 41-10, to win the Pac-12 for the first time since 2000 and answer playoff critics. The game ball belongs to Pete Kwiatkowski’s entire D, which picked off three Sefo Liufau passes and yielded just nine first downs and 163 total yards. S Taylor Rapp spruced up his Freshman All-American resume with two interceptions and a pick-six, and U-Dub proved it can win when QB Jake Browning has an off night, an important development as the start of the postseason looms.
The Tide dispatched another resounding statement to the other three playoff teams—if you plan to keep Alabama from back-to-back national titles, you better be prepared to be perfect. Bama was supposed to beat overmatched Florida in the SEC Championship Game. However, it embarrassed the East Division champ, producing an offensive, defensive and special teams touchdown … in the first 18 minutes of a 54-16 obliteration. It was the most points allowed by the Gators since the Fiesta Bowl loss to unbeaten Nebraska 21 years ago.
Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions
Penn State’s magical regular season added a miraculous exclamation point in Indianapolis. The Lions, dismissed after losing early to Pitt and Michigan, have now won nine in a row. But nothing compared to Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game, which the Badgers led, 28-7, before McSorley took command. The fiery sophomore threw four touchdown passes on a secondary that had allowed eight all season long. And the Penn State D surrendered just three second-half points to complete the biggest comeback ever in a Power Five conference championship game.