The eruption you hear is either a Texas A&M celebration or a shift in national championship dominance out of the Southeast.
The Aggies’ 29-24 win over Alabama shocked Tuscaloosa and may prevent an SEC team from playing for the national title -- as long as Kansas State, Notre Dame and Oregon remain undefeated.
But in the process, the SEC earned a new superstar and a team that’s going to be able to hold its own in the league even after 16 years of uneven results in the Big 12. Beyond the impact on the SEC, the Alabama loss reverberated through the national championship race, leaving three undefeated teams competing for BCS title.
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Johnny Manziel has entered Cam Newton/Tim Tebow territory. The Aggies freshman quarterback was a cult figure before Saturday. Now he’s established himself one of the nation’s most electrifying players who seems destined for a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist, either this season or another. In Tuscaloosa against the No. 1 team in the country, Manziel looked nearly as comfortable as he would in a scrimmage in College Station. He finished 24 of 31 for 253 yards and two touchdowns along with 92 rushing yards. If the season ended today, Manziel’s 379.4 yards of total offense per game would be an SEC record, beating out Tim Couch’s 377.4 yards per game for Kentucky in 1998.
Texas A&M is out of the shadow of Texas. The Aggies may not win the SEC West and compete for their first conference title since 1998, but doubts of Texas A&M being able to thrive in its new conference seem ludicrous now. And with Kevin Sumlin’s offense and Manziel’s “wow” factor, the Aggies will be one of the most interesting teams in the conference, especially if they can continue to go toe-to-toe with the powers of the league. Besides defeating Alabama, the Aggies’ only losses this season have come to Florida in the opener and LSU by a combined eight points. Texas is going to have its share of nationally televised games, but it’s worth noting on the same day A&M earned its signature win over Alabama, Texas was defeating Iowa State in a game banished to the Longhorn Network.
The Aggies are more than Manziel. The freshman quarterback is the clear focal point here, but it’s important not to lose sight of the rest the Aggies’ roster. The defense forced three turnovers, including Deshazor Everett’s interception in the end zone to clinch the win. Offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are NFL draft prospects. And receiver Ryan Swope had two key fourth-quarter catches, including a 42-yard reception to set up the Aggies’ final touchdown on the way to 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. Swope is a senior, but leading receiver Mike Evans is a freshman, indicating a bright future for A&M.
MOVING THE CHAINS
Stanford’s all-around game. In a game to remain in contention for the Pac-12 North and a BCS spot, Stanford used a balanced effort and a second-half comeback to defeat Oregon State 27-23. Stepfan Taylor led Stanford’s run game to 163 yards, a season-high for an opponent against Oregon State, and Kevin Hogan was 22 of 29 for 254 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in his first career start. It wasn't the most even game for Stanford, but Stanford turned up the pressure when it mattered. After taking a 14-0 lead, the Cardinal allowed 27 unanswered points before a comeback at the end of the third quarter.
Big Ten comebacks. Falling behind by two touchdowns? No problem for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers spotted Penn State at 14-0 lead, but they came back for the third come-from-behind win in the Big Ten. Nebraska was able to engineer a comeback for the second consecutive week thanks to the run game as Ameer Abdullah and Taylor Martinez both topped 100 rushing yards. And while Nebraska remains the Big Ten Legends frontrunner, Michigan’s not out of it, either. Northwestern's Trevor Siemian spelled injured quarterback Kain Colter to march the Wildcats down the field for a late fourth-quarter lead. After a quick interception from Devin Gardner, starting his second game for Denard Robinson, Michigan struck quickly in the final 27 seconds on its next drive to tie: The Wolverines used a 53-yard circus catch by Roy Roundtree to set up the game-tying field goal in the final two seconds before defeating Northwestern 38-31 in overtime.
David Ash, Texas. In his last two weeks, Ash has looked nothing like the quarterback benched against Kansas. Ash started 15 of 16 against Texas Tech and finished 25 of 31 for 364 yards with two touchdowns in a 33-7 win over Iowa State. And despite Texas being pinned inside its 10-yard line, Ash and the Longhorns opened the game in Darrell Royal’s wishbone formation as promised. The formation was faithful to the legendary Texas coach, but the trick play was a unique twist.
The SEC's title hopes. The Crimson Tide’s loss to Texas A&M means the SEC needs two of the remaining undefeated teams in BCS contention -- Kansas State, Notre Dame or Oregon -- to lose if the league is going to compete its seventh national championship. Although the SEC needs help to reach the BCS title game, a one-loss SEC team, whether Alabama or even Georgia, would seem to be on deck of one of the undefeated teams loses. And teams in this spot moving up is not without recent precedent. Half of BCS title game participants since 2006 were ranked third or lower in the rankings as of the second Sunday in November.
Louisville. The Cardinals have been on the outside looking in among the undefeated contenders. That’s not an issue anymore as Louisville lost 45-26 at Syracuse. The Cardinals haven’t been a dominant team despite the record, but Syracuse success in the passing game and on third down was a surprise. Ryan Nassib passed for 246 yards and three touchdowns, and receiver Alec Lemon finished with 176 yards and two scores. Syracuse converted an astonishing 14 of 19 third downs, including four of its six touchdowns.
Florida. By now, South Carolina has to wonder how it ever lost to Florida, a defeat that cost the Gamecocks a shot at the SEC championship. Louisiana-Lafayette led the Gators 20-13 until the final two minutes in Gainesville before a Quinton Dunbar touchdown catch and a blocked punt for a touchdown in the final seconds. The Gators lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel in the 27-20 win, but Florida still struggled to move the ball on the No. 4 team in the Sun Belt with or without Driskel.
Collin Klein, Kansas State. The Wildcats’ defense won the day against TCU, shutting out the Horned Frogs for three quarters in 23-10 win. Klein wasn’t dominant, but he finished 12 of 21 for 145 yards with 50 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He had a 34-yard touchdown run, but otherwise this game won’t be prominently featured in his Heisman reel. It was, however, a good sign to see him return from last week’s injury against Oklahoma State.
A.J. McCarron, Alabama. McCarron’s bid for postseason awards dipped with his ineffectiveness in the second half against LSU and then rose with a miraculous game-winning drive. After his first two interceptions of the season -- the last on the goal line denying Alabama a go-ahead touchdown -- McCarron may have trouble cracking the Heisman field again.
Kenjon Barner, Oregon. The Ducks running back suffered a wrist injury early in the 59-17 win over Cal. He returned to rush for 65 yards on 20 carries, but the Ducks put more on the shoulders of freshman Marcus Mariota, who passed for 377 yards and six touchdowns.
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25. Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon set the national record for touchdowns by a freshman with five (four rushing, one receiving) against Texas State. Dixon’s record broke that of Marshall Faulk of San Diego State in 1991. Meanwhile, Bulldogs quarterback Colby Cameron set a national record with 380 passes without an interception. Russell Wilson, then at NC State, had the previous record of 379.
366. Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey set a Pac-12 rushing record with 366 yards against Colorado. Carey broke the record belonging to Washington State’s Rueben Mayes, who rushed for 357 yards against Oregon in 1984. Beyond the numbers for the game, Carey didn’t amass his record cheaply: He averaged 14.6 yards per carry.
38.Tennessee became the first SEC team to give up 38 points in six consecutive games after a 51-48 loss to Missouri in four overtimes. What’s most remarkable, Missouri had only 64 yards of offense in the first half before scoring 44 points in the second half and overtime.
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Blake Bell’s wheels. Oklahoma’s backup quarterback is the epitome of a short-yardage specialist with 22 rushing touchdowns on 85 carries entering Saturday. That didn’t change against Baylor, but Bell converted a third and 1 for a 55-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. That one run raised his career yards per carry average from 2.1 to 3.4. Oklahoma defeated Baylor 42-34.
West Virginia’s supersub. At some point, the new rule requiring players who lose their helmets on a play to leave the game for the next play was bound to have an impact. It did for West Virginia. Geno Smith lost his helmet on a sack on third and 8 in the first quarter. Backup quarterback Paul Millard entered the game to throw a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth down. West Virginia still lost 55-34.
UCLA’s short kickoff. After a UCLA touchdown, Washington State picked up a pair of personal foul penalties, setting up a UCLA kickoff from the Washington State 35-yard line. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the UCLA kickoff (with a 44-14 Bruins lead in the third quarter, an onside kick was unnecessary at the time) was returned to the 10 yards to the Washington State 15. Washington State also had two field goals and two punts blocked by UCLA in the 44-36 loss.
THREE MULTI-PURPOSE PLAYERS
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington. Washington. Seferian-Jenkins may win the Mackey Award for the nation’s top tight end, but the Huskies asked him to pull double duty on defense Saturday. Seferian-Jenkins played defensive end periodically in the 34-15 win over Utah. He also caught seven passes for 99 yards.
Duke Johnson, Miami. The Hurricanes freshman had done many things for Miami this season -- 555 rushing yards, 200 receiving yards, a kickoff return for a touchdown. Against Virginia, he added a passing touchdown. Johnson finished with 150 rushing yards, a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and the eight-yard touchdown pass against Virginia, but it wasn’t enough in a 41-40 loss to the Cavaliers.
Marqise Lee, USC. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said Lee might play a little defense this week, which was true. Lee’s not going to be the next Troy Polumalu or Ronnie Lott, but he played one play at safety in the first quarter the 38-17 win over Arizona State. On a fourth-and-1, the Sun Devils were eventually called for a delay of game, leading to a punt.
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THIRD-STRING QUARTERBACKS HOLDING THEIR OWN
Curt Phillips, Wisconsin. First-string quarterback Joel Stave is out for the year, and the Badgers’ offense stalls with Danny O’Brien, who began the season as the starter. This week, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema turned to Phillips, but the Badgers put the weight of the offense on Montee Ball and James White. Wisconsin rushed for 564 yards (not a typo) in a 62-14 win over Indiana to clinch the Big Ten Leaders division. Phillips was 4 of 7 for 41 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 68.
Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State. Facing the West Virginia defense is a nice-confidence builder for a quarterback in his first career start. The junior Chelf, the oldest of the Cowboys’ three starting quarterbacks this season, completed 22 of 31 passes for 292 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in the 55-34 win over the Mountaineers. West Virginia has allowed at least 39 points in six consecutive games, including four losses.
Philip Nelson, Minnesota. The Gophers have been starting their prized freshman Nelson for four games, but he’s done just enough to help Minnesota become bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. Donnell Kirkwood, with 152 rushing yards and two touchdowns, was the key player in the 17-3 win over Illinois, but Nelson limited mistakes, finishing 9 of 15 for 78 yards while rushing for 24. The freshman had passed for at least 140 yards and a touchdown in his previous three starts.
By David Fox