We all expected Rivalry Week in College Football to be a roller coaster as always, but what we got Saturday was Christmas on the last day in November. My oh my, what a day it was.
Auburn and Bama, Michigan and Ohio State, UCLA vs. USC, and Johnny Manziel vs. Mizzou. Saturday was one of those days you felt good about yourself sitting on the couch and watching 12 hours of football. Here’s a recap on what was the epitome of why we will always, no matter how many sanctions on schools and playoff controversies there will be, love College Football.
UCLA vs. USC
Changing of the tide in LA? Ed Orgeron, interim coach at USC, has done a legendary job of taking over a program flooded with internal problems, and making USC what USC is, The main event on the West Coast. With its huge upset against Stanford in Prime time last Saturday, they and their loving coach had all the momentum going into a battle against crosstown rivals in UCLA. Yet the Bruins have been a roller coaster themselves this year. Their epic comeback against Nebraska early in the year and freshman phenom two-way player Myles Jack has given UCLA’s football program the spark it has needed for so long now. Last night, the Bruins showed who owned LA this season with a dominating performance against the Trojans with a 35-14 victory. Even more impressive is that it makes it two years running UCLA has beaten USC by double-digits and this year they did it on the road. While there is a long way to go before the Bruins can call LA their town, gold and baby blue certainly isn’t an afterthought anymore.
Texas A&M vs. Missouri
The Aggies of A&M have suffered some heart breaks and setbacks this season, they could have easily won two or three games that didn’t go their way and left them out of any BCS picture. Yet all along they had their knight in shining armor who no matter the record or score was always a pleasure to watch. Manziel may be headed to the show next season, but Aggie fans will be forever in debt to Mr. Football for putting them back on the map. And while Manziel has put up even better numbers this year than his Heisman year, A&M’s defense has been atrocious, it just wasn’t their year. Meanwhile for Missouri, a Cinderella season that was derailed by an overtime loss to South Carolina has quickly turned into one again as they defeated A&M en route to the SEC championship game. And while it is a long shot that they get a shot at the title game, a win next week puts them in a BCS bowl. Many write off the Tigers as not a legit contender, but not many teams have had to deal with the adversity the Tigers went through. Starting QB James Franklin went down in the midst of the SEC dog days of their schedule and had to rely on freshman QB Maty Mauk. They overcame. Saturday night after being down at half, they overcame, once again. The Tigers were picked by no one to win the (SEC) East, yet here they are. This team deserves to be No.5 in the country, they have the talent, the will, and the charisma that makes up for an SEC champion. The stage is set for Mizzou, black and yellow takes the Georgia Dome next Saturday with a magical season on the line.
Ohio State vs. Michigan
“The Game” this year had everything. Drama, controversy, big time plays, Heisman candidates and even ejections. What an ending it was in the Big House. Ohio State were heavy favorites with an undefeated season on the line going into Ann Arbor. Michigan was having a disaster of a year that had promise in the preseason. But hey, that’s why we play the game. Michigan QB Devin Gardner has received plenty of criticism for his play during the year. But Saturday, if he isn’t considered a hero, then I don’t know what is.
Playing on a bum ankle among other injured body parts, he continued to drive Michigan’s offense up and down the field, making throws on third and long to keep the drive alive, or creating something with his legs, or what is left of them. Down a touchdown, Gardner took Michigan down the field for a score and Brady Hoke and his team decided to go for two. Having been in numerous situations like this at the end of a game to go for the win or settle for overtime, being a former player, you have this certain confidence that no matter what, nothing is going to stop you between those two yards and the end zone and every single time the coach decides to go for two, the players are the reason why. So I applaud Michigan coach Brady Hoke for saying “Hey, you know what, I trust you guys to get it done.” Unfortunately the storybook ending everyone wanted to see didn’t happen with Gardner throwing a pick on the 2-point conversion.
But I truly believe that Brady Hoke went to bed last night thinking it was a good idea, no matter what he says to the media, because trust between a coach and player in high pressure situations like that is something many don’t get a chance to experience. Regardless, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde were both unreal and the reason why Ohio State is one game away from another National Championship appearance.
Roll Tide vs. War Eagle
Easily the most hyped game of the year, it didn’t disappoint. #1 vs. #4, the rivalry, the entire state of Alabama revolves around this one day every year. The stage was set.
Auburn’s performance was simply inspiring. Here is a team that went 0-8 in the SEC last year two years removed from being crowned the king of college football. A week earlier it seemed they had given up a game within reach to Georgia after QB Andy Murray led the Bulldogs all the way back to go ahead with little time left. But then the prayer at Jordan-Hare they called it, as Nick Marshall completed a tipped pass by two Georgia defenders to Ricardo Louis for 73 yards and for the game winner, Auburn went nuts, they had a date with Bama, a meaningful one too. The Tigers came out guns blazin’ taking an early lead and the home crowd on their side, but the Crimson Tide took control the game one drive at a time going up 21-7 until Auburn responded to make 21-14 before the half. Then Auburn again tied it up and the belief turned into a reality, they could actually beat Bama. But the Tide responded with a 99-yard Touchdown Pass from AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper and it seemed that Bama had control, except they didn’t. Up 28-21 on Auburn’s 13 yard line, 4th and 1 and Saban goes for it because his Senior kicker Cade Foster was having a rough day, Auburn stuffed All-American T.J. Yeldon and the Tigers were in business. Nick Marshall’s brilliance cannot be overlooked in this game. The Tigers QB rolled to his left acting if he was going to run the ball, but then he saw an open receiver in Sammie Coates behind two Bama defenders that were rushing after Marshall, thinking he was going to run. Marshall in a split second switched the ball from his left hand to his right and lofted an acrobatic pass to Coates who walked into the end zone from 39 yards out. At this point, people including myself, thought this was the best game in the last 5 years and it wasn’t even over. Then lightning struck twice at Jordan-Hare.
Bama started their drive with 25 seconds left when Yeldon scampered to the Auburn 38 yard line with 1 second left. Bama had victory within a kickers reach. From 57 yards out at the college level, is a prayer to be honest and has the same odds as a completing a Hail Mary, something Nick Saban was obviously deciding between at the time. Auburn decided to put a returner back just in case it was short. The returner was Chris Davis, a name you will hear every time the Iron Bowl will be brought up. The kick was on-line, but a yard short. Davis and Auburn had a shot. The kicking team always has a responsibility to cover in situations like this, but this was for the Iron Bowl and the BCS title game, everyone was watching the kick for Alabama. Davis sprinted left to the 40 yard line, people got on their feet, is this really happening? He broke a tackle and almost in slow motion tip-toed up the Auburn sideline and just like that, he was gone. Bedlam. He was escorted into the end zone by two of his teammates. Auburn wins 34-28 and book their trip to the SEC championship game.
The return that shook the country, in just another ridiculous ending to a College Football game that reminds us why we love this game so much.