The 2016 college football season continued to be full of thrills as it heads toward conference championship week and, ultimately, the selection of four teams for the season ending playoff. Week 13, or “Rivalry Week”, brought with it high profile matchups between top teams as well as grudge matches for in-state superiority.
Bitter rivals Michigan and Ohio State kicked off the college football Saturday at noon in the 112th edition of “The Game”. The game pitted the #2 Buckeyes and the #3 Wolverines playing in front of over 100,000 fans in Columbus, Ohio. The game was dominated by the Michigan defense, as the Ohio State offense was unable to gain any traction. However, two interceptions by Michigan QB Wilson Speight, including one returned for a touchdown by DB Malik Hooker, brought the Buckeyes to within three points trailing 17-14. Kicker Tyler Durbin made up for two previous misses making a 23 yard field goal as time expired to tie the game. The teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime with Michigan converting on fourth down for the tying score. Michigan kicked a field goal with their opportunity in the second overtime. Ohio State then struck for a touchdown on a 15 yard rush by all-purpose star Curtis Samuel winning by a score of 30-27. The Buckeyes retain bragging rights over their northern neighbors for the fifth consecutive year.
The unquestioned number one team in the land, the Alabama Crimson Tide headed into the week with a spotless 11-0 record. Their recent nemesis, the Auburn Tigers faced the tall task of defeating the Tide on the road in the Iron Bowl. Alabama’s historically dominant defense coached by Nick Saban had overwhelmed teams all season, and Saturday was no different. The Tide rolled over Auburn 30-12 racking up 501 yards to the Tigers’ 182. After Auburn closed to within 10-9, Alabama scored the next 17 points. QB Jalen Hurts struggled in his first ever Iron Bowl, but the collective strength of the team smoothed over his nervous play. The Crimson Tide now will face the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship on Saturday and will be heavily favored to win.
The current number three team in the country, the Clemson Tigers, took care of business against Palmetto State rival South Carolina winning 56-7. The Tigers could not afford to slip up after their upset loss to Pittsburgh two weeks prior. There was never a doubt in the outcome as Clemson roared out to a 42-0 lead over the Gamecocks. Junior quarterback Deshaun Watson tossed six touchdowns aiding his quest to win the Heisman Trophy. Key stalwarts Watson, running back Wayne Gallman, wide receiver Mike Williams, and linebacker Ben Boulware all played their final game in Death Valley and leave school with a perfect record in this rivalry game. The Tigers will face the Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC title game Saturday.
The Washington Huskies staked their claim to the all-important fourth spot in the rankings with a convincing win over rival Washington St. in the Apple Cup. Each team entered the game with matching 7-1 records in the Pac-12 North Division so the game was extremely meaningful. Behind a brilliant performance from QB Jake Browning, the Huskies rolled out to a 28-3 lead. With timely defensive stops, the Huskies ultimately vanquished their rivals 45-17. Browning’s sterling performance led to speculation that he was now a contender in the Heisman race. Washington now must play the streaking Colorado Buffaloes in the Pac-12 championship on Friday. With a win, the team will hope to remain in the fourth spot in the committee’s rankings.
Looking forward to this week’s slate of marquee games, teams outside of the playoff rankings have one final chance to impress the committee. The current #6 and #7 teams Penn St. and Wisconsin will play for the Big Ten title, with Penn St. having an especially strong argument for playoff inclusion with a win, as they own a head to head win over #2 Ohio St. #9 Oklahoma and #10 Oklahoma St. play in their rivalry game, “Bedlam”, with each holding an outside chance for playoff entry. The playoff committee will face difficult choices after the season concludes, and controversy and drama are sure to be present.