For all the complaints of losing the tradition of rivalry week, the Thanksgiving holiday was a turn back the clocks kind of weekend.
Notre Dame wrapped up a chance to play for its first national title since 1988. And elsewhere, Ohio State and Michigan re-energized their rivalry with a Woody and Bo-type matchup with Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke on the sidelines.
Speaking of Ohio State, even the old tradition of split national titles remains alive with the Buckeyes still in contention for the Associated Press championship.
Although Florida and Oregon stated championship cases in their games of the season, the Notre Dame win ensured either Alabama or Georgia, who meet in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, will play for the BCS title.
Here's a look at the key developments from a busy weekend of college football.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 13 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
THREE STORYLINES FOR THE BIG PICTURE
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
Notre Dame’s long wait is over. Remember when Notre Dame couldn’t hire the right coach? Or couldn’t win a bowl game? The Irish are out of those depths after defeating USC 22-13 to cap their first undefeated regular season since 1988. As usual, Notre Dame won’t be without its detractors: A series of coaching blunders from Lane Kiffin aided the Irish late in the win in Los Angeles. The Notre Dame offense ranks 75th in points per game and 48th in yards per game. And the Notre Dame resume includes two signature wins (Oklahoma and Stanford, the latter aided by a disputed goal line call) and two close calls with lackluster BYU and Pittsburgh. But the Irish are playing for a title, a prospect that seemed foreign for most of the last 15 years.
The SEC justified itself to some degree. Notre Dame’s win ended any bid for two SEC teams to play for the national title, so the dissection of SEC schedules won’t be a major topic of discussion. The league still acquitted itself in the final week of the regular season. Before Saturday, SEC teams lacked high-profile non-conference wins, chief among them Alabama over Michigan and Kentucky over Kent State. In the final Saturday of the regular season, four SEC teams swept the ACC on Saturday including two wins over ranked teams on the road (Florida over Florida State 37-26, South Carolina over Clemson 27-17) and two routs (Georgia over Georgia Tech 42-10, Vanderbilt over Wake Forest 55-21). The SEC non-conference schedules may have been lacking this season, but SEC teams at least flexed their muscles in the final week of the season.
Conference championship games are a mixed bag. This is generally the case each season due to a lackluster division here and there. Only one conference championship game will have national title implications (Alabama-Georgia in the SEC) and only one other will be between two teams undefeated in league play (Kent State-Northern Illinois in the MAC). Otherwise, the conference championship games are a dud. The ACC participants lost by a combined score on 79-36 to their SEC rivals. Big Ten Leaders winner Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) sealed the division and then promptly lost back-to-back games to ineligible Ohio State and Penn State. And the Pac-12 title game will feature two ranked teams, who played just a week earlier with Stanford defeating UCLA 35-17.
MOVING THE CHAINS
Notre Dame on the goal line. The Irish had two impressive goal line stands in the 22-13 win over USC that preserved the Notre Dame’s bid for the national title. The defense was excellent, but USC coach Lane Kiffin was happy to oblige with questionable play calling. First, USC advanced all the way to the Notre Dame 2 but had to settle for a field goal early in the fourth quarter. The situation was more dire after a 53-yard catch from Marqise Lee set up USC at the. A USC penalty, questionable clock management and four runs in seven plays sealed the Notre Dame win.
Florida’s mental and physical fortitude. Where to start with the Gators’ 37-26 win over Florida State? Florida didn’t hesitate to lean early on quarterback Jeff Driskel, who missed the Gators’ last game due to an ankle injury. Yet running back Mike Gillislee was the rock late in the game, rushing for the 37-yard go-ahead touchdown. He ran for 140 yards until freshman backup Matt Jones stepped in for an injured Gillislee (ribs) late in the fourth quarter.
Ohio State’s defense without John Simon. The absence of the Buckeyes’ best defensive player, tackle John Simon, could have been devastating against Michigan. Without him, though, Ohio State’s defense had one of its best days of the season. The Buckeyes front seven sacked Devin Gardner four times and forced three fumbles. Michigan led by one at halftime, but Ohio State held the Wolverines to 60 total yards and minus-four rushing in the second half.
Florida State’s offense. The Seminoles did something no one else did all season against Florida by scoring more than 20 points against the Gators. True, Florida State hit that mark by scoring a meaningless touchdown as time expired, but the Noles also scored 20 consecutive points late in the second quarter and into the third. But Florida State still managed to walk away with a bruised ego. The Seminoles’ amassed a season-low 300 yards and turned the ball over five times. EJ Manuel threw three interceptions, lost one fumble and was sacked four times.
Michigan limiting Denard Robinson. Although Michigan quarterback-turned-running back Denard Robinson rushed for 122 yards (whereas the rest of the Wolverines lost 14 yards rushing), Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges kept the senior on the sideline for most of the third quarter. Michigan never trailed by more than six points, but Robinson was a no-show for most of the Wolverines’ final three possessions, the final two ending on a fumble and an interception.
Big East leaders. Louisville started the season 9-0, and Rutgers started 7-0. A winner-take-all game between the Cardinals and Scarlet Knights to end the season could have been a banner game for the beleaguered conference. The final game of the season Thursday may end with the winner heading to a BCS game, but Saturday’s losses diminished the luster on the final key game of the season. Rutgers loafed to 207 total yards in a 27-6 loss to Pittsburgh. Louisville lost 23-20 in triple overtime to Connecticut despite outgaining the Huskies by 160 yards. Both Pitt and UConn started Saturday with one Big East win each. A Rutgers win over Louisville next week would clinch a BCS spot, while a Rutgers loss would set up a tiebreaker with as many as four teams tied for the Big East title.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame. Against USC, Te’o finished with five tackles and his seventh interception of the season, and the Trojans rushed for only 95 yards. Though Te’o did not have an interception when the season began, his seven interceptions this season is second nationally.
EJ Manuel, Florida State. Manuel was a fringe contender to start the day, but throwing three interceptions at home all but eliminates him.
Kenjon Barner, Oregon. Oregon State held Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Washington’s Bishop Sankey all below their season averages this year. The Beavers can’t say the same about Barner. After failing to crack 70 yards the last two games, Barner rushed for 198 and two touchdowns despite missing time with an injury in the 48-24 win.
79.Career touchdowns for Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, setting an NCAA record. It’s been an up-and-down season for Ball, and the final game played out the same way. Ball set the record, but the Badgers lost 24-21 to Penn State in overtime. Ball’s 79 career touchdowns broke Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice’s record for 78 touchdowns from 1996-99.
4,600. Yards of total offense for Johnny Manziel. With 439 total yards in a 59-29 rout of Missouri, the Texas A&M redshirt freshman broke Auburn quarterback Cam Newton’s SEC record for total offense (4,377). Moreover, Manziel broke the record in two fewer games than the Tigers’ Heisman winner. In a late push for the Heisman, Manziel has had 10 total touchdowns in the last two weeks since the win over Alabama. Those 10 touchdowns, however, have come against Sam Houston State and Missouri.
0. First-quarter touchdowns allowed by Notre Dame this season. The Irish allowed nine points in the first quarter this season, all field goals. This comes with an asterisk, though, as USC’s first play of the second quarter was an 11-yard touchdown pass. Max Wittek’s TD capped a 75-yard drive, the longest scoring drive of the season against Notre Dame.
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Sam Ficken, Penn State. Fairly or unfairly, Penn State replacement kicker Sam Ficken was the goat of the Nittany Lions’ 17-16 loss to Virginia in the second week of the season. Ficken missed four field goals and an extra point in that game, but he became a fan favorite with a 37-yard go-ahead field goal in overtime against Wisconsin. The Badgers failed to score on their possession in overtime for a 24-21 Penn State win. Ficken’s final field goal was his third of three attempts in the game, giving him 10 consecutive made field goals to end the season.
Jerry Kill’s absence. The Gophers coach had his second game day impacted by a seizure and third since he was hired at Minnesota. Against Michigan State, Kill suffered a seizure in the locker room at halftime and did not return to the game, a 26-10 loss to the Spartans. He did not go to the hospital and was reported to be resting comfortably. Kill previously suffered a seizure after the Northwestern game earlier this season and another last year on the field in a game against New Mexico State. Longtime assistant Tracy Claeys led the team in the second half against Michigan State. Claeys had played a similar role during absences by Kill at previous stops.
SMU ends Tulsa’s perfect conference season. In one of the day’s biggest upsets, SMU denied Tulsa’s bid to finish undefeated in conference play with a 35-27 win. SMU, which became bowl eligible, led by as much as 29, but Tulsa scored three unanswered touchdowns. The Mustangs stopped Tulsa’s Jordan James on at the goal line on a disputed play to preserve the win. The Golden Hurricane’s loss left only four teams undefeated in conference games (Kent State, Northern Illinois, Ohio State and Utah State). Tulsa will still play for the Conference USA title Saturday against UCF.
THREE SURREAL SCENES
Tressel’s return. Ohio State honored the 10th anniversary of the Buckeyes’ last national title with a ceremony after the first quarter against Michigan. The celebration included Jim Tressel, who resigned amid the NCAA violations that cost the Buckeyes a chance to play for the Big Ten and BCS titles this season. Former players lifted Tressel on their shoulders as the Ohio Stadium crowd cheered, an odd scene under the circumstances, Without the Tressel mess in 2009-10, Ohio State would be eligible for the postseason -- but then again, if Tressel were not fired, Ohio State would not have hired Urban Meyer. Another note on the reunion: Maurice Clarett, the star freshman running back of the 2002 team, was expected to attend but was nowhere to be found during the ceremony.
ULM's victory formation. Leading by a touchdown, the Warhawks hoped to work the clock by taking a knee in the final minute and a half against FIU, but in a rare miscue in the victory formation, quarterback Kolton Browning fumbled. FIU scored on a 58-yard Hail Mary to send the game to overtime. Lucky for ULM coach Todd Berry, whose players gave him the Gatorade bath prior to the fumble, the Warhawks won 23-17 in overtime.
Tim Beckman trucked by an official. This is the kind of season it’s been for the first-year coach at Illinois. Beckman was called for his second sideline interference penalty of the game when an official knocked over the Illini coach after an interception of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Beckman was penalized 16 yards to set up a Northwestern touchdown two plays later. The Wildcats’ 50-14 win was the ninth consecutive loss of the season for Illinois.
What will AP voters do with Ohio State? The Buckeyes finished the season as one of only two undefeated teams and could finish the year as the only undefeated team. If Notre Dame loses in the BCS title game, the question is if Ohio State will contend for No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll. Ohio State defeated both Big Ten title game participants -- Nebraska 63-38 and Wisconsin 21-14 in overtime. But Ohio State’s best non-conference foe was Conference USA East winner UCF. The last undefeated team to face a bowl ban was 1993 Auburn, which finished the season ranked fourth by the AP.
What will Texas do with its quarterbacks? Texas appears it will finish the season where it started, with questions at quarterback. In Thursday’s 20-13 loss to TCU, starter David Ash was 10 of 21 for 104 yards with three turnovers. Backup Case McCoy wasn’t much better, completing 11 of 17 passes for 110 yards and an interception. Neither completed a pass of 20 yards or more. Previously this season against Kansas, Texas replaced Ash mid-game for McCoy but went back to Ash as the starter the following week.
What should Southern Miss do with Ellis Johnson? With a 42-24 loss to Memphis, Southern Miss completed an astounding fall from Conference USA champions at 12-2 to a winless season at 0-12. Johnson is a first-year coach, but where the Golden Eagles go from here will be interesting. Southern Miss did not have a losing season from 1994-2011.
THREE SEC MILESTONES
Vanderbilt’s eight wins. The Commodores’ 55-21 win over Wake Forest clinched an 8-4 season, the best since Vanderbilt had the same record in 1982. The ‘Dores finished the season on a six-game winning streak, its longest since 1955. If Vanderbilt wins its bowl game, the Commodores will have their first nine-win season since 1915.
Alabama’s Iron Bowl rout. With a 49-0 win over Auburn, the Crimson Tide didn’t set the record for the most lopsided Iron Bowl, though it was possible. Alabama took a knee at Auburn’s 5 in the final seconds, ensuring Alabama’s 55-0 win in 1948 remained the record in the series. Auburn wrapped up its first 0-8 SEC season and its first nine-loss season since going 0-10 in 1950.
Ole Miss’ Egg Bowl win. The Rebels won the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State for the first time since 2008, but the short drought wasn’t the most notable number. Ole Miss defeated Mississippi State 41-24 just a year after losing 31-3 to the Bulldogs.
THREE GOOD SEASONS YOU MISSED
THREE INEXPLICABLE FINAL SCORES
BEST GAMES NEXT WEEK
THREE WILD FINISHES IN RIVALRY GAMES
Oklahoma 51, Oklahoma State 48 (OT). The Bedlam rivalry used to be known for how one-sided it was -- Oklahoma went 45-3-1 from 1946-94. Saturday’s game was contested possession by possession. Landry Jones passed for 500 yards for the second consecutive game, but Brennan Clay bounced off defenders for an 18-yard run in overtime to settle the Sooners’ win. Oklahoma hadn’t led for the entire game before the Clay run.
Washington State 31, Washington 28 (OT). Washington State scored the final 21 points, but the biggest play of the game may have been one that didn’t make an impact on a scoreboard. Wazzu ended an eight-game losing streak thanks in part to 277-pound nose tackle Kalafitoni Pole’s interception in overtime. The return to the Washington 5-yard line was all but negated due to overtime rules, but Wazzu responded a 27-yard field goal on the ensuing possession to defeat its rival.
Arizona State 41, Arizona 34. Few coaches have been as criticized as Todd Graham, who snuck out of Pittsburgh after one season to coach Arizona State. The Sun Devils don’t mind, though. Arizona State scored 24 points in the fourth quarter Friday to defeat Arizona 41-34. Both programs are 7-5 overall, but Arizona State finished with a winning record in Pac-12 play.