It was truly a great weekend of college football conference title games and below are short recaps of each of them.
Coming into the game, Northern Illinois had won the MAC Championship three out of the last five years. However after multiple injuries to quarterbacks this season including Drew Hare, the Fort Zumwalt West product, who was the teams original starting quarterback and Tommy Fielder would start for the Huskies. After a close first quarter which had Bowling Green leading NIU 7-0, the BGSU Falcons scored two TD’s, taking a 21-0 lead into the half. BGSU’s Matt Johnson tossed his second touchdown of the night, this one coming to Roger Lewis. Northern Illinois stormed back with a Tommy Fielder touchdown pass to Desroy Maxwell. On the following BSGU drive, NIU’s Shawun Lurry picked off Matt Johnson and returned it for a 63 yard touchdown to cut the Falcons lead to 28-14. BGSU would score one more touchdown and that was all she wrote. Bowling Green won 34-14 and improves to 10-3 and Northern Illinois falls to 8-5.
Conference USA Championship
Southern Mississippi University (9-4) was in their first C-USA title game since 2011 and it was Western Kentucky’s (11-2) first appearance in the game ever since the C-USA conference championship game was implemented in 2005. Southern Miss jumped out early and took a 21-7 second quarter lead on Kalan Reed’s pick six off of Brandon Doughty. Western Kentucky would answer the bell though, scoring two unanswered touchdowns and tying the game at 21 with a Brandon Doughty touchdown pass to Taywan Taylor with 11 seconds left in the first half. Southern Miss would strike first in the second half on Ito Smith’s 37 yard TD run but after that, Southern Miss wouldn’t see the endzone again. Western Kentucky went on to score 24 unanswered points to end the game and won 45-28 to win their first ever Conference USA championship game.
American Athletic Conference Championship
In Saturday’s first conference championship game involving ranked teams, #22 Temple (10-3) took on #19 Houston (12-1). The game wasn’t too contested, as Houston nearly blanked Temple’s offense in the first half, only allowing a field goal. Houston struck on two rushing touchdowns in the first half by Javin Webb and Greg Ward Jr. Ward also found paydirt again the second half, scoring on a 10 yard run to put the Cougars up 24-3 with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter. The Owls finally scored a touchdown late in the third quarter on a P.J. Walker touchdown pass to Robby Anderson. Temple was only able to add another field goal in the fourth quarter and Houston hung on for a 24-13 victory. They finish 12-1 on the year with their only loss coming to UConn just a few weeks ago.
With playoff stakes on the line, #2 Alabama took on #18 Florida. Bama found themselves on the board first after blocking a punt and Florida recovered it in their own endzone for a safety. Florida would take a lead in the second half though, on freshman Antonio Callaway’s 85 yard punt return touchdown. Florida would hold that lead until Derrick Henry ran for his first TD of the day to give Bama a 12-7 lead with 2:26 remaining in the first half. Alabama would not relinquish that lead, as later on, Jacob Coker tossed a touchdown to Richard Mullaney midway through the fourth quarter to give the Crimson Tide a 29-7 lead. Florida would score on a Treon Harris touchdown pass to C.J. Worton but it was too late. Florida’s offense struggled all afternoon and the Crimson Tide came out on top 29-15. Alabama (12-1) has essentially clinched a berth in the College Football Playoff (CFP) for the second straight year. Florida falls to (10-3) but will still play in a decent bowl game.
Mountain West Championship
In a game that most who were not San Diego State or Air Force fans were not watching, it was quite a thriller. (8-5) Air Force and (10-3) slugged it out all game. Neither team ever lead by more than a touchdown. Air Force junior running back Jacobi Owens scurried for 156 yards on 17 carries but it was not enough. SDSU kicker Donny Hageman would connect on a 46-yard field goal to give the Aztecs a 27-24 lead with 5:10 remaining and the SDSU defense would hold on, preserving the 27-24 victory. This is San Diego State’s first Mountain West title since the conference started playing the championship game in 2013.
Coming off of a thrilling 31-30 win over Notre Dame, #7 Stanford (11-2) looked to keep up any CFP hopes when they took on #20 USC. After a couple field goals and then a trick play in which Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey threw a touchdown pass to QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford jumped out to a 13-0 second quarter lead. USC was able to add a field goal before the half’s end and trailed 13-3 at the half. USC scored two consecutive touchdowns in the second half to take their first lead at 16-13. However the Trojans were unable to keep up after Stanford recorded two back to back touchdowns of their own on a Kevin Hogan run and Solomon Thomas 34 yard fumble recovery to take a 27-16 lead. USC’s Cody Kessler ran in for a TD to cut Stanford’s lead to five at 27-22. But Christian McCaffrey’s touchdown reception would put the Cardinal up 34-22 and Stanford would end up winning it 41-22. Christian McCaffrey ended the game with 461 all-purpose yards. He set the NCAA all time season season record for most all-purpose yards tonight, breaking Barry Sanders record of 3,250.
Another game with playoff implications, #1 (13-0) Clemson took on #10 North Carolina (11-2) in easily the most anticipated ACC football game in recent memory. North Carolina hung around with Clemson in the first half, keeping the game close. UNC took a 16-14 lead with 3:52 remaining in the first half on Marquise Williams touchdown pass to Ryan Switzer. However Heisman hopeful DeShaun Watson drove the Tigers down the field and connected with Jordan Leggett from one yard out for the score to put Clemson up 21-16 at the half. The second half seemed like it was going to be all Clemson early on. The Tigers found the endzone twice in the third quarter to go up 35-16. UNC would also reach paydirt, scoring on a one yard run from Marquise Williams to cut Clemson’s lead to 35-23. Clemson would score once again on a DeShaun Watson TD run to extend Clemson’s lead to 42-23. UNC made it interesting late, they scored again to make it 42-30. Clemson added a field goal and UNC struck once again but Clemson was able to hang on though, winning 45-37 and they secured their spot in the College Football Playoff.
Big Ten Championship
This was easily the days most anticipated game, at least for most of the nation. This game between #4 Iowa (12-0) and #5 Michigan State (11-1) had obvious playoff implications. Basically it was whoever wins gets into the College Football Playoff. It was a low scoring game but it did not disappoint, especially in the fourth quarter of the game. Coming into the fourth quarter, no touchdowns had been scored by either team. Michigan State led 9-6. But on the first play of the fourth quarter, Iowa QB C.J. Beathard hit Tevaun Smith for an 85 yard touchdown to give the Hawkeye’s a 13-9 lead. Perhaps even better than the play was Gus Johnson’s announcing of the play; “OOOHHHHHHHHH IT’S CAUGHT!!!!!!” But Michigan State’s offense led by Connor Cook, would not just give up. The Spartans offense drove inside Hawkeye territory and were faced with a 4th & 2 from the Iowa five yard line. Connor Cook would keep the ball himself and ran for the first down, just barely getting it. MSU then scored their only touchdown of the day on a one yard L.J. Scott rushing touchdown that had an incredible second effort with 27 seconds remaining. Iowa failed score on their final drive and the Michigan State Spartans won 16-13 and will be headed to the CFP.
PROJECTED FINAL FOUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF TEAMS
- Michigan State