And just like that, the regular season of college football has come and gone.
The final weekend had a lot to offer, although a couple of “O” teams – Ohio State and Oklahoma – may not agree.
Let’s explore how the conference championship games for next week came to be, and what to expect after that.
In the Big 10, Iowa locked up a spot in the conference championship game by beating Nebraska, 28-21 on Friday. Well, technically the spot wasn’t locked up until the following day, when Wisconsin surrendered it by losing to Minnesota. Iowa faces the winner of the Ohio State – Michigan game, a game that the Buckeyes won the previous five times during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as the Wolverine head coach by an average score of 44-25. The final score of 42-27 didn’t come as a surprise; what did come as a surprise is that Michigan came out on top. If Michigan wins the conference championship, they’ll be in the playoffs. However, if Iowa wins, the Big 10 will be sitting on the sidelines.
In the Big 12, Baylor will play for the conference championship after beating Texas Tech, 27-24. Their opponent will be Oklahoma State, survivor of their annual Bedlam game against instate rival Oklahoma, 37-33. The Cowboys fumbled a punt in the second half that the Sooners turned into a quick touchdown that led to a seemingly insurmountable nine-point lead for Oklahoma. Ironically, the Sooners would return the favor later – fumbling a punt at virtually the same spot on the field, that the Cowboys converted into a quick touchdown – that would lead to an ultimately insurmountable four-point Oklahoma State lead. If the Cowboys win the Big 12, there’s a chance they will be in the playoffs. If Baylor wins, the Big 12 could be the second major conference watching at home.
In the ACC and the Pac 12 conferences, Wake Forest will play Pittsburgh and Oregon will look to avenge its earlier loss to Utah, respectively. Regardless of the victors, they won’t be in the playoffs – so let’s continue.
Cinderella Cincinnati, now 12-0 and poised for a spot in the playoffs, will meet 11-1 Houston in the AAC championship. Should the Bearcats win, they’re in. With a loss, they’re out – and don’t be surprised if the Cougars pull the upset; the last time they lost was in their opening game of the season – three months ago.
Time out: as recently as last week, it was highly likely that there would be two teams from the state of Ohio in the playoffs: Cincinnati and Ohio State. Now, if the Buckeye State is represented in the playoffs, it will be by the Bearcats – not the Buckeyes.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame is still hanging around at 11-1 after taking care of Stanford, 45-14. Should Cincinnati lose the AAC championship game, the Fighting Irish will lay claim to the Bearcats’ spot in the playoffs – despite their loss to the Bearcats earlier in the season.
In the SEC, Georgia closed out a perfect 12-0 season with a 45-0 shutout over instate rival Georgia Tech, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicates. The Bulldogs appeared to relax after they became bored – early in the second quarter – by which point the game was already out of hand. Incidentally, the Yellow Jackets gave up more points in their last two games (100) than the Bulldogs gave up the entire season (83). Meanwhile, Georgia’s conference championship game opponent, Alabama, had a close call in the Iron Bowl, surviving a scare from instate rival Auburn before prevailing in the fourth overtime period, 24-22. The Crimson Tide, a team that appears to be getting worse every week for the past month or so, didn’t score until there was less than nine minutes left in the game. As for Auburn, they had the game firmly in hand until they shot themselves in the foot, the details of which I won’t get into here because it’s too painful to talk about – and I’m not even a Tigers fan.
Know this: If Alabama wins, there will be two SEC teams in the playoffs. If Georgia wins, the Crimson Tide will be joining Oklahoma and Ohio State sitting in front of their television sets.
In the race for the Heisman, Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud continues to register big numbers: 34 for 49 for 394 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Only this week, his team lost – opening the door for his counterpart at Alabama.
Bryce Young, whose statistics for the game didn’t match up to Stroud’s, may have had his Heisman-winning moment on his 97-yard/71-second touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that sent the game into overtime. Sprinkle in the fact that Alabama won the game, finished the season with a record of 11-1, and will play for the conference championship, the Heisman looks like it will be going to a Crimson Tide quarterback for the first time (fourth overall).
Finally, the Big Three of Florida football – Florida (6-6), Florida State (5-7), and Miami (7-5) – posted a composite record this season of 18-18. It’s hard to understand how these three teams, with 11 National Championships between them, couldn’t collectively play better than .500 ball. For the sake of comparison, the Big Two of Oklahoma football – Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – posted a composite record of 21-3. Something is definitely wrong with football in the Sunshine State.
As for myself, the biggest Gators fan I know, this season has been particularly painful. After beating instate rival Florida State in their finale, 24-21, the Gators appear headed for a bowl game – perhaps to face Miami. If Florida can keep the penalties to a minimum, stop throwing the ball like it was up for grabs, and make a couple of tackles along the way, they might just win.
However, despite what happens, if someone wants to write a memoir about the penalty-plagued nightmare that is the 2021 football season of the Florida Gators, I have the perfect title for it:
Scott Ludwig lives, runs, and writes in Senoia. His latest book, SOUTHERN COMFORT is his second collection of 101 columns. His first, SOUTHERN CHARM, and all of his other books can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be reached at email@example.com