Fortune is strange in college football.
The last time Georgia encountered Nick Marshall, the Bulldogs had dismissed the then-cornerback and two teammates. Marshall went to junior college and reinvented his career as a quarterback before Auburn decided to take another chance on a JUCO signal caller cut loose by an SEC school.
Marshall’s transformation into a top-notch SEC quarterback has been evident for several weeks, but the lucky bounces off the hands of a Georgia defensive back — a member of his former position group, mind you — will set up a winner-take-all Iron Bowl for the SEC West.
On the other side of the country, fortune favored Ed Orgeron in ways also only seen in college football. At Ole Miss in 2007, a failed fourth-and-1 gamble in the fourth quarter of the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State resulted in a loss that ultimately spelled the end for the colorful Orgeron in Oxford.
Six years later, Orgeron only became a head coach again because his boss at USC, Lane Kiffin, had been fired midseason. Orgeron, who was 3-21 in the SEC, reinvented his coaching career with an undefeated start at USC, but, like Marshall, his career came full circle Saturday.
Faced with a fourth-and-2 at Stanford’s 48, Orgeron and USC called for a pass play to the hobbled receiver Marqise Lee. Orgeron’s team, this time, converted, setting up the game-winning field goal attempt that delivered a thrilling win that had become all too rare at USC.
As Auburn’s win set up the most anticipated Iron Bowl since at least the Cam Newton era and probably decades before that, USC’s win changed the national championship race.
Stanford is out of the discussion as the top one-loss team, and Oregon is back in control of the Pac-12 North. Thanks to a coach that a was more or less a cartoon character a month ago.
As we saw yet again in this sport, fortune is strange.
Three and Out: College Football Week 12 Recap
Three Things We Learned from Auburn 43, Georgia 38
This was the play of the year. Marshall’s Miracle. The Prayer on the Plains. Ricardo’s Ricochet. Hail Aubie. Whatever nickname it gets, Ricardo Louis’ 73-yard touchdown catch off the hands of two Georgia defenders will be one of the most memorable plays in Auburn history. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall had thrown 16 passes in the previous three games combined as the Tigers dominated with the ground game. Winning a game on a pass play never seemed likely. But in a year when Auburn went from 3-9 to 10-1, anything his possible.
The Iron Bowl is going to be wild. The state of Alabama has two weeks to contemplate the possibilities of a winner-take-all Iron Bowl for the SEC West with Alabama’s national championship hopes on the line. The win sets up the first Alabama-Auburn game with both teams in the top six since 1994 when No. 4 Alabama defeated No. 6 Auburn 21-14. The two teams haven’t met as top-five opponents since 1971. It’s going to be tough to remember Alabama has a game next week. Sorry, Chattanooga.
Aaron Murray’s career has been heartbreaking. Murray will finish his career as the most productive SEC quarterback in a handful of categories. He’s won his share of games, but he’ll always be tied to this game and other close calls. That’s unfortunate because Murray led a great fourth-quarter performance as the Bulldogs battled from down 20 in the final 9:35 on the road. This season has been marked by a rash of injuries on the Bulldogs' offense that caught up with Georgia in losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, less than a year after an ill-fated final series on the goal line against Alabama in SEC Championship Game. Murray's career will end with records and the Georgia quarterback on the other end of signature moments for other teams.
Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma State 38, Texas 13
Oklahoma State is still a ball-hawking defense. A sign the Cowboys are indeed back to contending for the Big 12 championship is the ball-hawking defense that led the 2011 team. On Saturday, the back end of Oklahoma State’s defense kept Texas quarterback Case McCoy guessing all afternoon. McCoy threw three interceptions, including two picks to Justin Gilbert. A pro prospect at corner, Gilbert returned one of those for a back-breaking 43-yard touchdown.
Clint Chelf has transformed the offense. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy hasn’t handled quarterback conundrums with the most deft touch with the media over the years, but it’s tough to argue he’s made the wrong decisions. Clint Chelf started the opener for Oklahoma State before he was pulled for J.W. Walsh early in the opener. Walsh handled the job for a bit, then struggled, and Gundy gave it back to Chelf against TCU on Oct. 19. Chelf, declared off limits to the media weeks ago due to constant questions about the quarterback derby, looks like he won’t give up the job for the rest of the senior year. In Chelf, Oklahoma State finally has the dual threat it needs — previously Walsh had been labeled the “runner” and Chelf the “passer.” Against Texas, Chelf completed 16 of 22 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while leading the Pokes in rushing (95 yards, two touchdowns). And he did this without his top receiver, Josh Stewart.
Texas’ found something it couldn’t rebound from. The Longhorns came back from two embarrassing losses to BYU and Ole Miss, questions about Mack Brown’s job status and injuries to linebacker Jordan Hicks and quarterback David Ash. Two injuries, though, caught up to the Longhorns this week. The middle of the field was open for Chelf in the run game, thanks in part to the absence of defensive tackle Chris Whaley. And the Texas run game without Johnathan Gray was pedestrian. Texas rushed for 151 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per carry against the Cowboys.
Moving the Chains
Baylor’s depth. Before the last two weeks, Levi Norwood and Shock Linwood were featured players in Baylor’s mop-up efforts in the second half. Now, they are indispensible in Baylor's Big 12 title bid. Norwood entered the game with 19 catches this season, though he did star on punt returns. He did both as Baylor easily erased an early two-touchdown deficit in the 63-34 win over Texas Tech. Linwood, taking a bigger role due to the absence of Tevin Reese, caught seven passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns while adding a punt return for a score. With Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin out for a second game, Linwood rushed for 187 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
Cody Kessler and Marqise Lee, USC. The Trojans offense has been growing to this moment at Stanford, but the transformation from the team that lost to Washington State early in the season remains stark. Then, the passing game was inept, and defending Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee was all but invisible. On Saturday, USC coach Ed Orgeron put the game in their hands, even though Lee was hobbled when he was kicked in the shin earlier in the game. The Stanford run defense was dominant as usual, holding the Trojans to 23 yards on the ground, so it had to come down to the passing game. Kessler was 25 of 37 for 288 yards with a touchdown, including the key fourth-down pass to Lee that set up the game-winning field goal.
Duke’s miracle season. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving and Duke controls its own fate for the ACC championship game. The Blue Devils defeated Miami for the first time since 1976 with a 48-30 victory that went back-and-forth until the final quarter. David Cutcliffe’s incredible turnaround at Duke is well-established, but here are a few more notables: Duke has won eight games for only the 14th time in school history. And with road trips to Wake Forest and North Carolina to round out the season, Duke could win 10 games during the regular season. The Blue Devils have never won more than nine games in school history. The only coach to win nine games at Duke was Wallace Wade in the 30s and 40s.
Ohio State. No, it might not be fair to be critical of a team that won 60-35, but Urban Meyer has been careful to show us how dominant the Buckeyes can be in routs of Penn State and Purdue. It's time to highlight an Ohio State team that was far from perfect. A better team than Illinois on Saturday may have been able to take advantage of Ohio State’s miscues. Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller opened the game with a 70-yard touchdown run as Ohio State scored the first 28 points. Illinois narrowed the lead to two touchdowns in the third quarter. Ohio State built another big lead, but Illinois again narrowed the game to a two-score game with 8:49 to go. The game turned into a rout, but Ohio State was happy to leave the door open.
Related: Illinois coach Tim Beckman exchanges words with offensive coordinator
Nebraska’s turnovers. The Cornhuskers crawled back in the second quarter against Michigan State, narrowing a 20-7 halftime deficit to 27-21 entering the fourth. The undoing for Nebraska wasn’t its defense, for once. Instead, it was five turnovers (four fumbles and an interception) as Michigan State never gave the ball away in a 41-28 win that kept the Spartans in control of the Big 12 Legends.
The Big 12’s imports. Texas A&M and Missouri have been major success stories in the SEC. Their replacements in the Big 12 have not. West Virginia and TCU went 0-for-the state of Kansas on Saturday, with both ending bowl streaks. The Mountaineers will miss the postseason for the first time since 2001 thanks to an embarrassing loss to Kansas, and TCU lost 33-31 to Kansas State to miss a bowl for the first time since 2004. Both teams have dealt with injuries and key losses, but identical 6-11 records in the Big 12 probably aren’t what they had in mind. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was particularly frank:
Jameis Winston, Florida State. The investigation surrounding a sexual assault complaint against Winston will continue to cast a shadow over the quarterback. On the field, though, Winston had a rebound game of sorts, completing his first 10 passes in the 59-3 rout of Syracuse. Winston completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards and was interception-free for the first time in five games.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon. The performance Saturday says Mariota’s knee is still an issue. The Ducks quarterback carried only four times for 11 yards against Utah, but he rebounded from the loss to Stanford with a standout passing day. Mariota completed 19 of 26 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Despite the injury, Mariota is maintaining a ludicrous 25-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ration. Helping his case is the possibility of getting into the Pac-12 championship game thanks to the Stanford loss.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. When the Huskies faced Ball State on Thursday, Northern Illinois hadn’t faced a bowl-bound team since the opener against Iowa. Lynch answered the call in a marquee game against another MAC contender by completing 26 of 32 passes for 345 yards with two touchdowns and rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Lynch led two unanswered scoring drives to give NIU a 48-27 win. Lynch has completed 80 percent of his passes with 14 total touchdowns in his last three games.
It Can’t Get Much Worse, Right?
Colorado 41, Cal 24
FAU 41, Southern Miss 7
Memphis 23, USF 10
Three Close Calls
Alabama 20, Mississippi State 7
Louisville 20, Houston 13
South Carolina 19, Florida 14
QB Recruits Who Can’t Arrive Soon Enough
David Blough, Purdue
William Crest, West Virginia
Will Grier, Florida
Three Angry Coaches
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Will Muschamp, Florida
Mark Richt, Georgia
Best Games Next Week
Arizona State at UCLA
Texas A&M at LSU
Baylor at Oklahoma State
2 of 18.
Michigan’s third-down performance in a win over Northwestern. In another sign of all the things that could go wrong for Northwestern this season, Michigan was 2 of 18 on third down and was stopped from the 4 on a fourth-down attempt against the Wildcats. The Wolverines still managed to beat Northwestern 27-19 in triple overtime for the Wildcats’ sixth consecutive loss.
Wisconsin rushing yards against Indiana the last two seasons. The most lopsided series in the Big Ten in recent years? Why not Wisconsin-Indiana. The Badgers rushed for 554 yards in a 51-3 win over Indiana on Saturday, giving the Badgers 1,118 rushing yards against the Hoosiers in the last two meetings. Four different Badgers have had a combined five 100-yard games against Indiana the last two years.
Nebraska’s rushing average the last three years against Michigan State. For whatever reason, Michigan State’s stifling run defense hasn’t been able to corral Nebraska since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten. Michigan State allowed 182 rushing yards to Nebraska on Saturday, nearly twice as much as the season-high against the Spartans all year. Nebraska is the only opponent in the last 15 games to top 100 yards rushing against the Spartans, and the Cornhuskers have done it twice.
Buried on the Depth Chart
Cincinnati in AAC contention.
The Bearcats quietly remain in contention for the American’s BCS bid after demolishing Rutgers 56-17 to move to 5-1 in the league. The Bearcats’ passing game is peaking at the right time as three Cincinnati passers combined to pass for 507 yards and six touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights. Cincinnati finishes the season against Houston and Louisville and does not face UCF this season. The Bearcats would have loved to watch UCF lose to Temple on Saturday, but Cincinnati should kick itself for losing by 6 to lowly USF on Oct. 5. In the event of a two-way tie between UCF and Cincinnati, the highest-ranked team in the BCS would get the automatic bid. That assumes a Bearcats win over Louisville in the season finale.
On balance, the season will be a disappointment for North Carolina after the Tar Heels started 1-5. Still, North Carolina is alive for the postseason after defeating Pittsburgh 34-27 for its fourth consecutive win. The game-winning touchdown came in unorthodox fashion as Ryan Switzer returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown — his second of the game — with 4:46 to go. The Tar Heels will get to six wins if they can beat either Old Dominion or Duke.
The Cougars picked up their third Pac-12 road win of the season with a 24-17 victory over Arizona on Saturday, putting Wazzu one win away from bowl eligibility. This season has become, more or less, what a handful of preseason pickers (including Athlon) thought 2012 would be for Mike Leach at Washington State. On Saturday, Arizona was sloppy with two fumbles and two missed field goals, but Washington State finally looked like a competent team on both sides of the ball. The Cougars will need to beat either Utah at home or Washington on the road to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2002.
Three Reasons for Fans to Go Bonkers
Kansas’ long wait for a Big 12 win.
After a 31-19 win over West Virginia, Kansas students stormed the field. For many, it was the first time they had seen the Jayhawks beat a Big 12 team. The win ended Kansas’ 27-game losing streak to Big 12 teams and was the first KU win over a team in the current Big 12 lineup since Oct. 10, 2009 against Iowa State. The Jayhawks have watched early leads and competitive games slip away this year, but this one wasn’t even close. Kansas led by 10 at halftime, rushed for 315 yards and led by as much as 24 until the final five minutes.
Maryland in a bowl game.
Terrapins coach Randy Edsall jumped around on the field after quarterback C.J. Brown ran in a touchdown in overtime, reveling with good reason. Maryland’s 27-24 win over Virginia Tech makes the Terrapins bowl eligible for the first time during a star-crossed tenure under Edsall. The Terps went 2-10 in his first season and had so many quarterback injuries last year that a linebacker finished the year at the position. The issues continued this year when the productive receiving duo of Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were lost for the season in the same game against Wake Forest against Oct. 19. Maryland probably hoped to be more of a factor in the ACC this season, but an eight-win regular season isn’t out of the question with remaining games against Boston College at home and NC State on the road.
This Catch from UCF.
The Knights, who remain in the lead for the American’s automatic BCS bid, really had no business having to fight for a win over a one-win Temple team. But that’s the way it ended up as Temple took a 36-29 lead with 2:04 left. Blake Bortles completed this miracle 30-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Worton to tie the game with 1:06 remaining. After Temple’s quick three-and-out, UCF got the ball back and completed a 64-yard pass play to set up the 24-yard field goal to win 39-36.
Three Big-Time Runners
Andre Williams, Boston College. Williams’ season has been under-the-radar for anyone outside of ACC territory. That should change. Williams rushed for 339 yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries in the 38-21 win over NC State on Saturday, giving him an ACC-record 1,810 rushing yards this season. With three regular season games and a bowl to play, Williams is going to shatter the previous ACC record held by Virginia’s Thomas Jones (1,798 yards in 1999).
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State. Hyde rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries against Illinois, becoming the fifth tailback to top 200 yards against the Illini defense. Hyde joins Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Penn State’s Bill Belton, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Washington’s Bishop Sankey. That list includes 200-yard backs in three consecutive games.
Dominique Brown, Louisville. Teddy Bridgewater didn’t have an overwhelming performance, so it was up to a former Louisville quarterback to carry the day against Houston. Now a running back, Brown rushed for a career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a huge third quarter. The effort kept Louisville among the one-loss ranks with a 20-13 win over Houston.