Orange Bowl

BCS frame intact amid busy weekend

 
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By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Sure, the first Saturday of the final month of college football's regular season wasn't as mundane as anticipated.

No. 4 Stanford, which seemed to take control of the Pac-12 race with its victory over Oregon last week, lost to USC 20-17 on Saturday night.

No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State didn't look invincible, and No. 5 Baylor had to rally from a double-digit deficit.

And No. 7 Auburn had to survive on the mother of all miracles.

But after an action-packed Saturday, we're still right where we started, with two-time defending national champion Alabama and No. 2 Florida State on a collision course to play in the final Vizio BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6.

The Crimson Tide slogged through perhaps their most unimpressive outing of the season, winning 20-7 at Mississippi State on Saturday night. Alabama allowed only 197 yards of offense but committed four turnovers, including two interceptions by quarterback AJ McCarron.

Florida State blocked out the controversy surrounding star quarterback Jameis Winston and routed Syracuse 59-3 at Doak Campbell Stadium. Winston, who is under investigation for his role in an alleged sexual assault nearly a year ago, sure didn't seem distracted. He completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards with two touchdowns.

If either Alabama or FSU slips in the final three weeks of the regular season, Ohio State and Baylor are now poised as a potential replacement. The Buckeyes gained 591 yards of offense, while allowing 420 yards, in a 60-35 rout of lowly Illinois. At least the Buckeyes never trailed on Saturday. The Bears had to rally from a 20-7 deficit to Texas Tech in the first quarter before piling up 675 yards of offense in a 63-34 rout at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Stanford was the big loser on Saturday. The Cardinal looked like the best one-loss team in the country -- until the Trojans knocked them off at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. USC, which fired coach Lane Kiffin after only five games, is now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, who looks more and more like the Trojans' coach of the future. Stanford was all but knocked out of the BCS championship race and now trails the Ducks by one game in the loss column of the Pac-12 North standings.

Alabama's trip to a third consecutive BCS national championship game might not be a foregone conclusion. For the first time in the history of the storied Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide and Tigers will play for a berth in the SEC championship game -- and potentially a spot in the BCS national championship -- when they play at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Nov. 30.

Auburn's turnaround season survived Saturday on an improbable miracle, a 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis, which was deflected off the hands of a Bulldogs defender no less, on fourth-and-18 with 25 seconds left in its 43-38 victory over Georgia.

For a while on Saturday, it seemed the upstart Tigers had squandered their chances of playing for an SEC championship after blowing a 20-point lead against Georgia in the fourth quarter. The No. 25 Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in less than eight minutes, pulling ahead 38-37 on quarterback Aaron Murray's 5-yard touchdown run with 1:49 to go.

Facing fourth-and-18 at Auburn's 27-yard line, quarterback Nick Marshall, a former UGA defensive back, threw a Hail Mary down the middle of the field. UGA defensive backs Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews converged on the underthrown pass, but Harvey-Clemons tipped the ball into the air. Louis caught the ball in stride and ran into the end zone with only 25 seconds to play for one of the most improbable victories in Auburn history.

Call it the Inaccurate Reception.

"It was one of those memorable moments that we'll remember for a long time," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "I told our team that I think we're in the midst of something special here."

Now, the Iron Bowl figures to be extra special in two weeks. Auburn has an open date before hosting the Crimson Tide in its regular-season finale; Alabama plays FCS foe Chattanooga in Tuscaloosa next Saturday.

"I'm going to enjoy this one tonight," Malzahn said. "That one aged me. I've lost some years off my life. I'll go to church in the morning, and, after church, I will flip the switch."

We can't wait.

 

 

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