Yet this season, to this Auburn team’s credit, it was consistent and capable. The Tigers (9-3, 5-3 SEC) rallied past Oregon in their opener, got a late interception to close out Mississippi and fended off a late rally by Texas A&M. They took care of what they should have and came up short in their biggest games — by 11 at Florida, by a field goal at LSU, by a touchdown against Georgia.
But Saturday in the Iron Bowl they did enough of everything. They returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns. Bo Nix threw for a score and rushed for another. They averaged 5.3 yards per carry against Alabama’s defense.
And, most importantly, they let the Crimson Tide melt down on their own.
It was Alabama that doinked a 30-yard field goal off the left upright late in the game. It was the Crimson Tide that had 12 men on the field to gift Auburn the game-clinching first down with about a minute to play.
Alabama (10-2, 6-2) finished with a ghastly 13 penalties for 96 yards, and the Crimson Tide will not factor heavily in the committee’s deliberations next week. That, in itself, is a blessing. The Tide would have been hard to fully figure out.
After all, it wouldn’t have been a terribly accomplished Alabama team at 11-1. It lost to LSU. It beat just four teams that have qualified for the postseason (Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas A&M). Oh, and it lost starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a broken hip in mid-November.
That uncertainty was down the list of the Crimson Tide’s problems Saturday. Yes, Mac Jones threw those two interceptions Auburn was only too happy to turn into 14 points. But he also accounted for 335 yards and four touchdowns — three of them to Jaylen Waddle — on a day Alabama’s offense probably did enough to win.
Except it wasn’t enough, and Auburn had enough answers to pull a bit of a surprise — and relieve the selection committee of what could have turned out to be its toughest call.
Oklahoma. The Sooners rolled into the Big 12 title game with a 34-16 defeat of Oklahoma State. Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) remains in contention to land a playoff berth but will need to beat Baylor next weekend to have a chance to be selected for one of the semifinal spots. Other things that would help the Sooners enormously: Losses by Georgia and Utah in their respective conference title games.
Utah. The Utes (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) smothered Colorado, 45-15, to remain in the playoff conversation. Utah allowed just 217 total yards and rattled off 31 consecutive points in the second and third quarters to cruise to a Pac-12 South-sealing victory. If Utah can upend Oregon on Friday, it will have a chance to join 2014 Oregon and 2016 Washington as the Pac-12’s only playoff teams to date.
Wisconsin. The Badgers (10-2, 7-2) are off to the Big Ten title game after scoring touchdowns in their first four second-half possessions at Minnesota on the way to a 38-17 victory. Jack Coan threw for two scores and Jonathan Taylor ran for two more as Wisconsin reclaimed Paul Bunyan’s Axe in classic Big Ten weather: sleet, snow and general late November misery for someone sitting still outside.
Ohio State. Blasted Michigan. Again. The Buckeyes wrapped up a 12-0 regular season with a 56-27 triumph as Justin Fields threw for four touchdowns and J.K. Dobbins rushed for four scores. Win the Big Ten title game next week, and Ohio State will be one of the top two seeds in the playoff. Lose, and there’s still probably a path for the Buckeyes to make it into the semifinals in Coach Ryan Day’s first season.
Louisiana State. Think the Tigers were a little tired of hearing about their defensive vulnerability? LSU capped its 12-0 regular season by thrashing Texas A&M 50-7, holding the Aggies to 169 yards and a meaningless garbage-time touchdown. Texas A&M averaged a meager 2.8 yards per play, while the Tigers scored touchdowns on their first four drives. LSU should feel good about its playoff chances even if it loses to Georgia next week in the SEC title game.
Georgia. The Bulldogs (11-1) pummeled Georgia Tech, 52-7, to remain in playoff contention heading into the SEC title game. What’s more, Coach Kirby Smart told reporters afterward that running back D’Andre Swift, who left the game with a bruised shoulder, is expected to be fine for next week’s matchup against LSU. Getting a blowout win and emerging largely unscathed was the best Georgia could have hoped for this week.
Baylor. If the Bears were going to have any chance at a playoff berth, they needed to impress against Kansas and then upend Oklahoma next week in the Big 12 title game. A 61-6 drubbing of the Jayhawks qualifies as impressive enough. Baylor (11-1, 8-1) is still a long shot to earn a semifinal berth, but it did what it needed to while closing out the regular season.
Jamale Carothers. From playing in junior varsity games in August to setting a single-game school record for touchdowns by a running back on the final day of November, it’s been quite a whirlwind for the Navy sophomore fullback.
Carothers rushed for 188 yards and five touchdowns as Navy (10-2, 7-1 American) handled Houston, 56-41. Only four other Midshipmen — all quarterbacks — have run for five or more scores in a game: Keenan Reynolds (three times), Zach Abey, Craig Candeto and Ricky Dobbs. Carothers didn’t even get his first carry until the fifth game of the season. In seven contests since, he has 76 carries for 637 yards and 13 touchdowns..
Indiana. The Hoosiers outlasted Purdue, 44-41 in double overtime, not only reclaiming the Old Oaken Bucket after a two-year hiatus but also earning their first eight-win season since 1993. If Indiana (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) wins its bowl game, it will have its first nine-win season since reaching the Rose Bowl in 1967.
Lynn Bowden Jr. Kentucky’s third starting quarterback of the season began the year as a receiver, and a darned good one at that. Bowden had 30 catches for 348 yards and a touchdown in September.
Since then, he’s taken snaps for the Wildcats. Maybe he hasn’t passed a bunch, but he surpassed 1,000 yards rushing on the season with a brilliant 22-carry, 284-yard, four-touchdown outing in a 45-13 rout of Louisville. Kentucky (7-5) is 5-2 with Bowden at quarterback, with the lone losses against Georgia and Tennessee.
Memphis. It was a fine Friday for the Tigers (11-1, 7-1 AAC), who upended Cincinnati, 34-24, to set up a rematch with the Bearcats back at the Liberty Bowl next week. From Chris Claybrooks’s 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game to Antonio Gibson’s game-sealing 29-yard touchdown run with 3:16 left, the Tigers never trailed while knocking Navy out of contention for the AAC championship.
Memphis claimed the West Division for the third year in a row. This time, an undefeated Central Florida bunch won’t await in the league title game, and a berth in the Cotton Bowl as the Group of Five’s representative in the New Year’s Six series could await.
Boise State. Like Memphis, the Broncos (11-1, 8-0 Mountain West) remain in the mix for a place in the Cotton Bowl. Jaylon Henderson threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 triumph at Colorado State. Boise State will play host to Hawaii in the MWC title game next weekend.
Bryce Perkins threw for 311 yards, rushed for 164 yards and accounted for two touchdowns as Virginia (9-3, 6-2) claimed the ACC’s Coastal Division for the first time since the league adopted a title game in 2005. Perkins became the first Cavalier quarterback to lead a victory over the Hokies (8-4, 5-3) since Matt Schaub.
Keith Duncan. The Iowa kicker sealed the Hawkeyes’ 27-24 victory at Nebraska with a 48-yard goal with a second to play. Then he celebrated with a kiss (and a finger wag).
Here’s guessing neither he nor the Cornhuskers will soon forget that finish.
Central Michigan. The Chippewas entered the day needing to defeat Toledo to reach their first Mid-American Conference title game since 2009. They didn’t need much time to remove any doubt, blasting the Rockets, 49-7, to seal the MAC West and set up a matchup with Miami (Ohio) for the league championship.
Former Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns for Central Michigan (8-4, 6-2), which a year ago went 1-11 overall and was winless in conference play.
Jaret Patterson. The Buffalo sophomore piled up 298 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries in the Bulls’ 49-7 rout of Bowling Green. His day began with an 81-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage and ended with a school record in rushing yards and a MAC record in rushing touchdowns.
Both figures were also season highs in the FBS this year. The last FBS player to run for six touchdowns was Temple’s Ryquell Armstead (Nov. 10, 2018, against Houston), while no one had rushed for 298 yards in a game since Nov. 17, 2018, when Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (321 against Purdue) and Maryland’s Anthony McFarland (298 against Ohio State) did so.
Minnesota. It’s hard to peg a 10-win Golden Gopher team as a loser, but considering how November began for P.J. Fleck’s bunch, the thud over the last few weeks is tough to ignore.
Minnesota (10-2, 7-2) missed out on its first Big Ten title game thanks to a 38-17 loss to Wisconsin, a defeat that came two weeks after falling to Iowa. After a 9-0 start, there has to be some disappointment in the Twin Cities, though that is a measure of how far the Gophers have come over the last couple of seasons.
Michigan. The Wolverines (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) are no closer to beating Ohio State than the day Jim Harbaugh took over. Not only did the 56-27 loss match the margin of defeat in Harbaugh’s first game against the Buckeyes (a 42-13 loss in 2015), it was also the eighth Ohio State win in a row, 15th in 16 years and 17th in 19.
5-7 teams with bowl dreams. When Michigan State finished off its 19-16 victory over Maryland, it raised the number of bowl-eligible teams to 78 (North Carolina would later bump the number to 79). With that, there will be no need for the 39-game bowl system to resort to sub-.500 teams to fill out the field … at least this year, anyway.
Nebraska. The Cornhuskers’ 27-24 loss to Iowa left them at 5-7, their third consecutive losing season. Nebraska had just three losing seasons between 1962 and 2016.
It also marks the third year in a row Nebraska will not play in a bowl game. The Cornhuskers had endured just two such seasons between 1969 and 2016.
And to think that running up on the Pelini Line (four losses a year) was a concern in Lincoln just five years ago.
Cincinnati. While the Bearcats’ Cotton Bowl hopes weren’t completely extinguished by their 34-24 loss at Memphis, they will need to bounce back and win their return trip to face the Tigers and probably get some help from Hawaii in the Mountain West title game to have any sort of chance to claim the Group of Five’s spot in the New Year’s Six structure.
Texas Christian. A 20-17 loss to West Virginia provided a fitting end to the Horned Frogs’ close-but-not-quite season. TCU (5-7, 3-6 Big 12) went 1-6 in one-possession games, including four losses by seven points or less this month.
Heisman watch (entering Saturday)
Ranking the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy by factoring historical voting trends (in favor of quarterbacks, players on top-five teams, against receivers and defensive players) as much as on-field performance. Statistics entering Saturday’s games.
1. QB Joe Burrow, LSU (4,014 yards, 41 TDs, 6 INTs passing; 239 yards, 3 TDs rushing). If the Tigers win the next two weeks (against Texas A&M and Georgia) and Burrow plays remotely well, it certainly looks like it’ll be his award. (Last week: 1)
2. QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (3,184 yards, 30 TDs, 6 INTs passing; 1,156 yards, 17 TDs rushing). Hurts had his worst passing day of the season in the Sooners’ final home game, but piled up his most rushing yards since the season opener. (LW: 2)
3. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State (2,352 yards, 33 TDs, 1 INT passing; 445 yards, 10 TDs rushing). Not as prolific as Burrow or Hurts, but he’s done everything the Buckeyes have needed to stay on track for a Big Ten title and a playoff berth. (LW: 3)
4. DE Chase Young, Ohio State (38 tackles, 19.5 tackles for losses, 16.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles): The odds-on favorite to land defensive player of the year honors made up for lost time after sitting out the Buckeyes’ blowout victories over Maryland and Rutgers. Young had nine tackles (four for losses), three sacks and two forced fumbles as Ohio State stopped Penn State and clinched the Big Ten East. (Last week: Not ranked)
5. RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (1,685 yards, 18 TDs rushing; 20 receptions for 162 yards and 4 TDs). The Badger bruiser is having a November to remember, collecting his third consecutive 200-yard day last week against Purdue. Over his last three games, Taylor has 84 carries for 676 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll get another chance to make an impression Saturday at Minnesota. (LW: 6)
6. RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (1,832 yards, 20 TDs rushing; 18 receptions for 170 yards). Had his best day as a receiver (seven catches for 88 yards) last week against West Virginia while posting his 10th 100-yard day of the season. He’ll have his biggest spotlight of the year Saturday when the Cowboys play host to Oklahoma. (LW: 5)
7. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon (2,966 yards, 30 TDs, 5 INTs passing). The Ducks’ senior signal caller had 304 yards and two touchdowns passing in a crushing loss at Arizona State, but also had season highs in interceptions (two) and incompletions (16). (LW: 4)