College football heats up in final stretch

Many college football pundits had fears coming into this season, which is the first of the four-team playoff era. But after week 12’s games and with only a few match-ups remaining, it is clear that college football is the same beast it has always been: unpredictable, heartbreaking and always exciting. The weekend spelled disaster for some teams while others crashed the college football scene. Some players saw their hopes dashed while other saw their names go up in flashing lights. This weekend’s action was a perfect microcosm for the nature of college football: immense excitement that cannot even be harnessed by a new playoff system.

Going into the weekend, Oregon’s redshirt, junior quarterback Marcus Mariota, was a clear favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. But after junior Melvin Gordon’s record-breaking performance Saturday, the competition for college football’s best individual award is a two-man race. Gordon, who plays running back for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, broke LaDainian Tomilson’s 1999 record for most rushing yards in a FBS game with 408. But where Tomilson set the record versus an unintimidating University of Texas at El Paso team, Gordon broke the record in an upset of the 16th ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Badger passed Tomilson’s record on the last play of the third quarter, as Gordon sprinted for a 26 yard touchdown run. The stat line no one will remember from the junior’s outstanding performance was his two fumble losses. Turnovers that would usually spell doom for a team were afterthoughts in this case. Both Oregon and Wisconsin could play three more games before the Heisman Trophy ceremony, providing both Gordon and Mariota ample opportunities to continue distinguishing themselves.

Where Gordon’s weekend thrust him forward in the Heisman conversation, junior running back Todd Gurley’s weekend ultimately scratched his name from the watch list. The Georgia Bulldog football team lost their star running back to an ACL tear in the team’s convincing win over Southeastern Conference Championship (SEC) foe Auburn. After missing four games from a suspension, Gurley entered the game and made an impact, scoring for the Bulldogs and running for a total of 138 yards on 29 carriers before becoming injured in the fourth quarter. The injury is particularly tragic if speculation that Gurley intentionally became suspended in order to protect his body and maintain his high NFL contract value is in fact true. Georgia will miss their star junior but will be able to move forward with the quick freshman Nick Chubb, who has excelled in opportunities opened by Gurley’s absences. And Georgia will need Chubb to contribute if they plan on beating 22nd ranked Georgia Tech in their last regular season game. The door to the SEC is still open, and with a Missouri loss, Georgia could play in the championship taking place in Atlanta.

In addition to Georgia’s victory over Auburn, nine other top 25 teams were upset in this recent volatile weekend. Few teams lost more than Mississippi State (MSU) in their 25-20 loss to the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Not only did Mississippi State lose their undefeated record, but the teams they beat earlier in the season also suffered upset losses. After this weekend, it is a tough position to argue that MSU deserves a spot in the top 4 College Football Playoff; the team’s win portfolio took a major hit as Louisiana State, Auburn and Texas A&M all lost. For Mississippi State, the evil empire of Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide struck again, and with it, MSU’s clean road to the college football playoff has been blocked.

In fact, it seems that almost everyone in the SEC lost this weekend except for the Crimson Tide. After an overtime loss to South Carolina, the University of Florida went so far as to ask their head football coach, Will Muschamp, not to return for next season. Muschamp has led the Florida Gators to a 5-4 record this season, which is respectable, but insignificant compared to the championships Florida’s former coach, Urban Meyer, had won for the university. Florida has extremely high standards set for their team, a fact Muschamp acknowledged as he commented on his dismissal, “I was given every opportunity to get it done here and I simply didn’t win enough games that is the bottom line.” For Muschamp, this truly is the bottom line, but the Florida Gators, his team for the rest of the season, do have an opportunity to play the best team in the country. The Gators will take on Florida State in both teams’ last regular season game. An upset, though unimaginable, would end Muschamp’s career at Florida on a high note.

The West Coast had its share of upsets, including unranked Oregon State defeating the previously number six ranked Arizona State Sun Devils. The Oregon State Beavers attacked on both sides of the ball in their 35-27 upset over the Sun Devils, as senior QB Sean Mannion threw for 251 yards and 2 touchdowns. On defense, senior Michael Doctor returned an interception to the Sun Devils’ end zone for a pick 6. With the upset, ASU will fall out of the top 10 and will leave the South Section seed to the Pac 12 Championship up for grabs between UCLA, USC, Arizona and themselves. While Arizona State got ambushed in Corvallis, OR, the Arizona Wildcats snatched victory from the hands of defeat as they slipped past Washington, 26-24. Up by one point with less than 90 seconds remaining, the University of Washington Huskies fumbled the ball away, which was a mistake that would prove costly as Arizona kicked a winning field goal.

With most teams only having two or three games left on their schedule, the season is in its final stretch. Nothing is set in stone and the top four playoff picture is still hazy. The new playoff format has led to one of the most exciting and volatile regular seasons in recent memory, but like the teams in contention, I am keeping my gaze ahead because the only thing that matters is the playoffs to come.

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