1. The tenures of LSU coach Ed Orgeron and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher will always be intertwined. Fisher is the coach LSU fans lusted for, as he’d served as a successful assistant to both Nick Saban and Les Miles there and had multiple flirtations to become head coach. Instead, Fisher got the Texas A&M job, which means starting this season Orgeron’s tenure will be forever judged through the prism of his success against Fisher.
After seven overtimes in a game that tied for the longest in college football history, the newest coaching rivalry in the SEC West is off to a historic start. No. 22 Texas A&M defeated No. 7 LSU, 74-72, on the final of its 111 plays of the night, a two-point conversion pass from Kellen Mond to Kendrick Rogers. (Fittingly, three different penalties extended that final play and forced Mond to throw it from about six yards out.) The 146 points set a new FBS record for total points in a game.
“This is what we play football for, these big games like this,” Mond said in his postgame television interview. “When we come out with a win, it’s an amazing feeling.”
The madness began only after Texas A&M tied the game with no time remaining in regulation on a 19-yard pass from Mond to Quartney Davis. This came after officials put an extra second on the clock after LSU thought it had won, as the Tigers doused coach Ed Orgeron with Gatorade before officials ruled there was time remaining. Orgeron was irate after the game that the officials added a second. He told reporters in his press conference: “I just feel bad for those young men. That second shouldn’t have been put on the clock.”
Orgeron spent the overtimes with his hair a mess of sticky Gatorade and his shirt soaked. But that’s when the fun really began, as an overlooked game stashed in the oblivion of the SEC Network turned into the buzz of college football as one improbable overtime led to the next. The teams combined for 1,017 total yards and Texas A&M outscored LSU in overtime, 43-41.
The numbers are silly, as Mond threw six touchdown passes and LSU’s Joe Burrow ran for three and threw three more. Rogers finished with two touchdown catches, including a circus catch in the end zone where he hauled in the ball lying on his back.
The victory clinches second place in the SEC West for Texas A&M, as the Aggies finish 8-4 overall and 5-3 in conference in Jimbo Fisher’s first season. LSU finishes 9-3 and 5-3 in the SEC, losing the tiebreaker to Texas A&M.
“My expectations are to be at the stop,” Fisher told ESPN in the postgame interview. “This is a heck of a conference. That’s a starting point. We have to get better and move on.”
Winning one of the most thrilling games in college football history is a good building block for Fisher.
2. Georgia will be Alabama’s toughest opponent to date.
The Bulldogs steamrolled Georgia Tech and stand to be the prime playoff beneficiary of the Michigan loss — at least for a week. Expect Georgia to move up to No. 4 heading into its game against the Crimson Tide for the Southeastern Conference championship.
And expect Georgia to give the Tide a battle. Nobody has come closer than 24 points to ‘Bama, but that could well change in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. The ‘Dogs have the skill and the will, and perhaps most importantly the confidence after what happened last year.
Mercedes-Benz is the same site as their thrilling national title showdown last year, won by Alabama 26-23 in overtime — the game that launched the Tua Tagovailoa legend. Since then the Tide has been a runaway train, and Georgia has been a work in progress. Yet since losing by 20 points at LSU, the Bulldogs have won five straight by an average margin of 23.2 points.
Much like last year, when Georgia was pounded at Auburn, the ‘Dogs learned from defeat and came back stronger. The biggest thing they learned was to embrace smashmouth offense.
Georgia was running it 61 percent of the time through its first seven games. In the last five, that percentage is up to 69. With another stable of quality backs, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has taken some of the load off quarterback Jake Fromm by having him throw less.
That’s a prototypical Nick Saban sort of offense, which makes sense because Kirby Smart is a Saban disciple. This year Alabama has juiced up its passing game, of course, but the best way to beat Saban may still be to put a Saban-like team on the field against him.
3. Oklahoma’s defense does not belong anywhere near the playoff, even if its offense has dragged it into prime contention.
The Sooners have a spectacular offense, with dynamic playmakers at every skill position and a powerful line. But the defensive side of the ball is so bad that it would leave Oklahoma susceptible to a playoff semifinal blowout. If Lincoln Riley’s team is the No. 4 seed and Alabama is No. 1, the Crimson Tide could realistically score on every single possession against the nation’s No. 108 defense.
For the first time in school history, Oklahoma has given up 40 or more points in four straight games. West Virginia scored 56 Friday night, which is 14 more than the Mountaineers’ season average. Kansas scored 40, 16 more than its average. Oklahoma State (47) and Texas Tech (46) both were a touchdown above their averages.
The fact that it has won all four of those games is a testament to Kyler Murray and Co. But it’s also a condemnation of the defense played in the Big 12, where receivers run free and tackles are missed with numbing regularity.
Lincoln Riley made a move to fix the defensive problems after the October loss to Texas, firing coordinator Mike Stoops. But turning over a suspect unit to Ruffin McNeill hasn’t changed anything — in fact, it has appeared to get worse in recent weeks.
Despite that, Oklahoma could well end up in a beauty contest with Ohio State for a bid. Then it could be a question of a Big Ten champion with a glaring loss and a Big 12 champion with a glaring weakness.
4. Central Florida cannot catch a playoff break.
Just when the Knights vault a blueblood (Ohio State) in the CFP rankings and finally battle their way into the selection committee’s Top 10, they lose the heartbeat of their two-season run — junior quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a gruesome leg injury during UCF’s victory over rival South Florida on Friday. Milton ran the ball on a zone read and was hit low, with the result a lower right leg bent at an unnatural angle. Both teams spilled onto the field in a show of support as Milton was splinted and carted off.
“It was heartbreaking,” UCF running back Greg McRae told the Orlando Sentinel.
Milton had surgery on the knee Friday night in Tampa General Hospital, according to multiple reports, but there have been no updates on the exact nature of the injury. Specifics are not necessary to know that his season is over.
The injury shouldn’t cost Milton in terms of Heisman Trophy consideration. He’s put up numbers in 9½ games that will stand up: more than 2,600 yards passing, more than 300 yards rushing, 34 total touchdowns a top-15 national ranking in pass efficiency — and, as was the case last year, zero losses.
But it seems logical and likely that UCF’s hard-earned playoff gains will be wiped out by this devastating twist of fate. It’s impossible to view the Knights the same way without Milton, who has produced 79 touchdowns the past two seasons running and throwing, most of any FBS player.
The Knights did go on to score 28 more points against USF after Milton was injured, but the passing game was less accurate (backup Darriel Mack Jr. completed only 36 percent of his throws) and less vertical (Mack averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt, compared to Milton’s 8.6).
The selection committee will be tasked with evaluating a team based on the personnel it would take into the playoff, not based on what it was previously. That means UCF will be appraised as a new, Milton-less entity in the American Athletic Conference championship game next week against Memphis. Should the Knights win the game (far from a given, since they only beat the Tigers by a point in the regular season with Milton), it’s hard to see them winning a beauty contest with teams it hasn’t been able to pass thus far.
The tougher task for the committee might be ranking a no-Milton UCF in relation to the other leading non-Power Five candidate for a New Year’s Six bowl game — which is Boise State of the Mountain West Conference, after the Broncos held on to beat the Aggies 33-24 late Saturday night. It would be a doubly painful blow if the loss of Milton costs the Knights an elite bowl bid as well as any shot at the playoff.
5. We have reached play-or-don’t-play decision time for top players on bowl-bound teams, and nobody’s will be more scrutinized than Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert’s decision.
Herbert is considered by many to be the top NFL QB prospect eligible for the 2019 draft. The junior is big (6-foot-6), has a powerful arm and good athleticism. He also did not return to the Ducks’ wipeout of Oregon State on Friday after being sacked in the first half and landing on his throwing shoulder. Herbert also went through concussion protocol a few weeks ago but didn’t miss Oregon’s next game.
Ducks coach Mario Cristobal was asked postgame whether Herbert would play in a bowl game and responded, “I don’t see why not.” Herbert might see why not. At 8-4 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-12, Oregon is far removed from playoff discussion and is not Rose Bowl-bound. If Herman decides to put his name in the draft, he might have played his last game in a neon Ducks uniform.
Another potential first-round pick, Missouri QB Drew Lock, performed in front of the watchful eyes of Denver Broncos general manager and president John Elway on Friday. Lock is a senior so he’s definitely going to be drafted, and he was asked postgame whether he plans on participating in the 8-4 Tigers’ bowl game. Lock said he’s definitely playing in the bowl and hadn’t ever considered sitting out.
6. Wisconsin solidified its stranglehold on the country’s most disappointing team, getting blown out at home by Minnesota, 37-15, to put a bow of embarrassment on its free fall. The Badgers entered the season as the preseason No. 4 team in the AP Poll, picked ahead of Ohio State and Michigan. They finish 7-5 with a loss to BYU and their first loss to the Gophers since 2003.
Junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook came off missing two games to concussion protocol and showed why the Badgers should be in the market for a graduate transfer. He threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on a sack, which led to 24 points for the Gophers. He finished the year with 11 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes, magnifying the need for an upgrade at a position that Wisconsin has failed to adequately fill since Russell Wilson left campus in 2012. Hornibrook had moments in 2017, but had significant dips in completion percentage (62 percent to 58 percent) and yards per attempt (8.3 to 7.8) this season.
Florida State is a closer runner-up to Wisconsin in terms of the caliber of disappointment. But Willie Taggart’s debut season at FSU set the bar so low early on with losses to Virginia Tech and Syracuse that managing to win five games was somehow seen as an accomplishment. FSU finished No. 119 nationally in penalties, an immediate area that needs to be cleaned up. This is the first year FSU won’t go to a bowl in 36 seasons.
7. Saturday was a bubble day for a slew of borderline bowl teams. And it proved a joyous one for the cadre of teams that upped the number of bowl-eligible teams to at least 81 after TCU beat Oklahoma State late Saturday to get its sixth win. This means three teams will be squeezed from bowls despite reaching eligibility, as The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel reports there’s 81 teams for 78 bowl slots. (Virginia Tech can make that 82 if it beats Marshall next week.)
Joining the ranks of the bowl-eligible teams this week were Baylor, Purdue, Tulane, Wake Forest, Wyoming, Southern Miss, Minnesota, Vanderbilt and Miami (OH). Few places celebrated as much as Baylor, a program that coach Matt Rhule has helped piece back together in the wake of a searing sexual assault scandal.
“Not many programs have had to climb out from underneath the cloud that our team has been under,” Rhule told Yahoo Sports on Saturday night. “After improving to 6-6 from 1-11 last year, we’re en route to putting the program back on solid footing both on and off the field. I’m excited for our players, they stood their ground and got us back bowl eligible. Their legacy at Baylor won’t be soon forgotten.”
8. We should know in the next 48 hours how swiftly this season’s coaching carousel will spin. The glaring potential openings in the Power Five that need to be addressed are at USC, North Carolina, Kansas State and Texas Tech. We should also know the answer to what Jeff Brohm decides, as there should be clarity on him potentially taking the Louisville job in the next few days. (Brohm remains the favorite at Louisville, but him leaving is far from an iron-clad certainty.)
A quick review of the jobs on the board:
USC – Trojans athletic director Lynn Swann told reporters in Los Angeles that he’ll have a decision soon on Clay Helton in the wake of USC’s loss to Notre Dame.
UNC – UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham told the Raleigh News & Observer that “no decision” has been made about the future of Larry Fedora. Not paying a buyout of nearly $12 million is the best argument to keep Fedora after a 2-9 season that ended with empty seats and a postgame fight. Ugly day in Chapel Hill.
Texas Tech – Expect a decision to be made in the next 48 hours. AD Kirby Hocutt would have to eat about $6 million total to fire Kliff Kingsbury and his staff. Kingsbury is popular with the fan base, but there’s a feeling of stagnancy with mediocre defenses and tepid recruiting.
Kansas State – The Wildcats aren’t bowl eligible. The overwhelming administrative feel at Kansas State is that the school wants to move on from 79-year-old Bill Snyder. Never one for self-awareness, Snyder has kept his intentions closely guarded. Look for some difficult conversations to happen this week.
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