Winners and Losers from Week 15 of College Football

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIDecember 7, 2013

Winners and Losers from Week 15 of College Football

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    Auburn running back Tre Mason emerged as the hero of Championship Week, charging his way to more than 300 rushing yards to lead the Tigers to an SEC Championship win over Missouri.

    Then Auburn's weekend went from excellent to astronomical, as it moved into the national title game after Ohio State's loss to Michigan State.

    While MSU locked down a Rose Bowl bid with its Big Ten title win, Baylor claimed a Fiesta Bowl berth and its first ever Big 12 title with a triumph over Texas and a loss by Oklahoma State. 

    On the West Coast, Stanford dominated Arizona State to seal up a defensive showdown with the Spartans in the "Granddaddy of Them All."

    Meanwhile, Northern Illinois failed to attain its second straight BCS berth, falling Friday to Bowling Green in the MAC title game.

    Click on for a full breakdown of the aftermath of a wild Week 15.

Winner: UCF

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    It was 24 degrees at kickoff in Dallas as Central Florida took on SMU Saturday, with a win giving UCF the outright American Athletic Conference title.

    Going into coldest game in school history, the Knights already knew their BCS fate. Louisville outlasted Cincinnati in an overtime thriller Thursday night, sewing up a BCS bid for UCF.

    Playing for the full claim of the AAC crown, UCF suffered from a frigid start, as it trailed 10-3 at halftime.

    However, the Knights turned it up in the third quarter enough to squeak out the 17-13 victory. Quarterback Blake Bortles led the way with 273 total yards and two rushing touchdowns.

    In the locker room after the win, UCF head coach George O'Leary told his team what the incredible season means to the program, courtesy of Andy Seeley from UCFKnights.com:

    Congratulations, you are the champions. It’s a great win for the fanbase and everybody, especially the ones who have been with us so long and waiting for something like this. They have the champions now and a BCS Bowl team.

    The Knights, winners of eight straight, are now headed for their first ever BCS berth and the first for the AAC.

Loser: Northern Illinois

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    One win would've not only given Northern Illinois its third straight Mid-American Conference championship, but it also would've sent the Huskies to a BCS bowl.

    In one of the biggest games in school history, NIU choked, falling 47-27 to Bowling Green.

    Quarterback Jordan Lynch paced the NIU offense yet again, accounting for 345 total yards and three touchdowns, but the Heisman Trophy hopeful also threw two costly interceptions.

    His effort wasn't enough to keep up with BGSU quarterback Matt Johnson. The redshirt sophomore finished 21-of-27 passing for 393 yards, tossing five touchdowns to five different receivers.

    As NIU head coach Rod Carey detailed afterward, the Huskies simply weren't able to recover from a poor first half that left them trailing 31-13 at the break, per NIUHuskies.com:

    We didn't play a good half of football. Give them all the credit in the world.  They made plays and we didn't.  We didn't have enough execution.  We dug ourselves too big a hole in the first half and in the second we have an opportunity to get it to a one-score game and couldn't do it.

    A win would've had Northern Illinois playing its bowl in 2014. Now it might be playing on the first weekend of the bowl season.

Winner: Rice

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    The Conference USA Championship looked like it would be a matchup between the explosive Marshall offense and a staunch Rice defense.

    Instead, Rice provided both the offense and the defense.

    The Owls jumped out to a 21-3 lead and stayed in control from start to finish in their 41-24 win to take the C-USA title.

    Rice outgained Marshall 487-371 behind an overall balanced effort and a 109-yard, two-touchdown effort by running back Charles Ross.

    With the loss, Marshall will now be headed to the Military Bowl, as the school announced on its official website. 

    As the C-USA champion, the Owls are Memphis-bound for the Liberty Bowl, which they are absolutely stoked about.

Loser: Oklahoma State

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    Oklahoma State was less than a minute away from earning a Big 12 title and clinching the conference's BCS berth, but it couldn't hold on against its bitter rival.

    Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell found receiver Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with just 19 seconds remaining for the game-winning touchdown. The Bell-Saunders connection gave OU a 27-24 lead and the Sooners added a defensive touchdown late to sink the Cowboys 33-24.

    With the loss, OSU's BCS and Big 12 title hopes were crushed. Cowboys running back Desmond Roland tallied a game-high 144 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, but it wasn't enough to send his squad to the BCS.

    The Cowboys made a remarkable turnaround after falling to West Virginia to open their Big 12 slate. Looking at the body of work by his players, OSU head coach Mike Gundy remained upbeat with what his team was able to do during the regular season, per OKState.com:

    I'm very proud of our players for what they've done up to this point. I told them that in the locker room. I'm certainly not disappointed in them; I'm just disappointed for them because they've been a really good group for us. They've been fun to coach and be around and just to see how they've developed as a team. Unfortunately, we just came up a little bit short today.

Winners: Oklahoma, Oregon and Clemson

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    Oklahoma's win didn't give it a share of the Big 12 title, but the Sooners could have moved into contention for a BCS at-large bid.

    It'll depend on the BCS standings, but if they move into the top 14 (from their current ranking of No. 17), they'll make a very enticing pick for a bowl committee.

    Regardless of what happens to OU in the postseason, head coach Bob Stoops expressed how proud he is that his team was able to overcome numerous injuries over the course of the season, per OKState.com:

    You're without your best linebacker, he's gone. You're without your best defensive lineman, he's gone. We played a game or two without Aaron Colvin, he's out there banged up with a bad turf toe. You're missing Adam Shead and Tyrus Thompson, two of your starting offensive lineman, and so on. Trevor goes down and I'm probably missing somebody with all of the injuries we had, it's just how it is. Other guys have stepped up and kept competing and playing well and I'm proud of them for that.

    Overall, the weekend couldn't have gone much better for at-large hopefuls.

    NIU's loss left one extra spot open and OSU's defeat sent Baylor out of the at-large picture and in the BCS with the Big 12's automatic bid.

    Again, this will all depend on the final BCS rankings and the choices of the individual bowls, but the BCS prospects for Oklahoma, Clemson and Oregon improved exponentially.

Winner: Baylor

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    Oklahoma State's loss to Oklahoma made the Baylor-Texas afternoon matchup the de facto Big 12 title game.

    The Bears spent much of the season as the league favorite, but their loss to OSU left them gasping for air in the BCS race.

    However, the Cowboys' loss gave them an injection of oxygen, which they used to topple Texas 30-10 and claim their first Big 12 title in school history.

    On an unusually chilly day in Waco, the Bears started slow but came to life in the second half, where they outscored the Longhorns 27-7. Quarterback Bryce Petty amassed 311 total yards and tossed two touchdown passes.

    David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest tweeted about how emotional Baylor head coach Art Briles was after the game: 

    Art Briles has the mic. His voice hasn't cracked, but he's got tears running down his face. "Were going to a BCS bowl game!" he yelled.

    As the outright Big 12 champion, Baylor will be headed to the Fiesta Bowl—the first BCS bid in program history.

Winner: Stanford

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    Going into Sun Devil Stadium, Stanford had to earn its second straight Pac-12 Championship the hard way.

    But right from the opening kick in Tempe, the Cardinal showed that they are undoubtedly the conference's best team.

    ASU was no match for Stanford, falling 38-14 while being outgained 517-311. The Sun Devils were without star running back Marion Grice, which, without question, hurt their offense. But given the way the Cardinal dominated, Grice’s presence wouldn’t have changed much.

    The staunch Stanford front led the way once again, as running back Tyler Gaffney tallied 133 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.

    After the decisive win, Stanford head coach David Shaw talked about the mature business-like mentality that contributed to this win and an overall successful season for the Cardinal, per GoStanford.com:

    We stayed aggressive. We stayed aggressive the whole time. The bottom line is if the team
    tries to stop the run, we have to make big plays in the passing game. That’s what I love
    about being in the Pac-12.

    But that’s the mentality of these players. So when things get tough or when people say they shouldn’t do it or can’t do it, they don’t care. They put their heads down and they keep working.

    Stanford never trailed en route to the Pac-12 title and will now head to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl—its fourth consecutive BCS bowl berth.

Winners: Jameis Winston and Florida State

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    Florida State is going to the national title game, and barring a major surprise, quarterback Jameis Winston will be in New York hoisting the Heisman Trophy next weekend.

    While many other BCS and national title hopefuls struggled through Championship Week, FSU left no doubt as to why it is the favorite to claim the crystal football with a dominating 45-7 win over Duke.

    With the sexual assault allegations behind him, Winston showed why he is the overwhelming favorite to take the Heisman. The redshirt freshman wasn't perfect, throwing two interceptions, but he persevered to post some strong numbers. The Bessemer, Ala., native finished 19-of-32 through the air with 389 total yards and four total touchdowns.

    While Winston and FSU hoisted the ACC title on Saturday, they still have a few trophies in their sights: the Heisman for Winston and the Coaches' Trophy for the team.

    While Queen's "We Are The Champions" was playing after the game, head coach Jimbo Fisher proclaimed, "We're not champs yet," per Steve Reed, the Associated Press.

    Now the only undefeated team remaining in college football, Fisher has reason to aim high.

Loser: Missouri and BCS Rules

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    Missouri played an excellent offensive game in the SEC championship, amassing 534 total yards.

    While that output would've normally resulted in a blowout in the Tigers' favor, this time, it wasn't even enough to keep up with the Auburn offense.

    AU tallied 677 total yards behind a gargantuan performance from running back Tre Mason and took the SEC title with a 59-42 win.

    Quarterback James Franklin threw for more than 300 yards with three touchdowns, hitting Dorial Green-Beckham six times for 144 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, running back Henry Josey added 123 yards off just nine carries despite being maliciously shoved out of bounds and into a cart parked along the stadium wall.

    While Mizzou put up an admirable fight, it'll now be left out of the BCS picture completely thanks to the rule that limits each conference to just two bowl bids. The Tigers could challenge any team in the country, but will not play in the most prestigious group of bowls. 

     

Winner: Tre Mason

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    On the air after Auburn's SEC championship win, running back Tre Mason told CBS' Tracy Wolfson: "I told myself I had to have the biggest game of my life today."

    Not only did he have the biggest game of his life, but he had one of the best efforts in SEC Championship Game history.

    The junior's record-breaking performance included 304 rushing yards on 46 carries with four touchdowns.

    Missouri had no answer for Mason and the Auburn rushing attack, and the boys from The Plains locked up the SEC title and a BCS berth with a 59-42 victory.

    After Mason's big game on the big stage, only one question remains: Will he gain some legitimate Heisman consideration for the effort?

Winner: Auburn

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    The Auburn Tigers didn't win a single game in SEC play last season—now they're conference champions.

    Auburn quickly dispelled worries of an Iron Bowl hangover, as it had no trouble scoring from the opening bell in Atlanta.

    After four quarters, it had amassed nearly 700 total yards in a 59-42 win over Missouri to take the league title and lock down a BCS berth.

    Aside from Tre Mason's mammoth day, quarterback Nick Marshall added 233 total yards and two touchdowns. 

    On air after the game, AU head coach Gus Malzahn (who should be a shoo-in for Coach of the Year) lobbied for his team's spot in the national title game.

    "We just won the best league in the country," Malzahn said. "When you play this schedule, you deserve it."

    But just a few hours after Auburn's SEC win, Michigan State took care of the unknown and knocked Ohio State out of the national title picture, which will slide the Tigers into the national title game.

    Auburn has improved every week and now will have a chance to overcome an early loss to LSU and extend the SEC's national title streak.

Loser: Ohio State

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    Ohio State felt unappreciated all season, and for good reason.

    The Buckeyes began the 2013 campaign at No. 2 and did exactly what they were supposed to do: win every game. Still, seemingly every week, they were passed by another team from another conference in the race for a national title berth.

    Finally, OSU made it back to No. 2 after Alabama fell to Auburn. But once the Buckeyes were granted a shot to earn their spot in the national title game, they choked, falling in the Big Ten title game to Michigan State, 34-24.

    The offense, paced by Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, was solid, but its defense failed to stop a Spartan attack that ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten in yards per game going into the contest.

    OSU gave up several big plays and was ripped for more than 300 passing yards by MSU quarterback Connor Cook, an Ohio native.

    Ohio State had legitimate gripes all season long, but now it has nothing to complain about, as it squandered its golden opportunity.

Winner: Michigan State

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    In Week 2, Michigan State took part in one of the ugliest games of the entire college football season. The Spartans topped South Florida 21-6 in a frightful contest where both squads combined to finish 18-of-50 (36 percent) passing.

    At that point, MSU looked nothing like a BCS-worthy team. But the Spartans improved. They always had a strong defense, but their offense became more polished with every passing week.

    That process culminated with 438 total yards, including 304 passing from quarterback Connor Cook, in a 34-24 Big Ten title game victory over national title hopeful Ohio State.

    Now, the team that once had one of college football's most inept offenses will head to Pasadena for the Tournament of Roses.

    The Spartans will make an outstanding matchup with Pac-12 champion Stanford. Like MSU, the Cardinal are also a defensive-minded squad with a surprisingly powerful offense.

Winner: Fresno State

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    Fresno State would’ve been going BCS bowling if it had handled its business last week against San Jose State.

    While that was out of the question this week, the Bulldogs still had a shot at one of their chief goals of the 2013 campaign: the Mountain West Championship.

    Fresno hosted Utah State for the MWC title and was challenged as it has been time and time again this season.

    And just as they did against foes like Rutgers, Boise State and San Diego State, the 'Dogs came out on top against the Aggies, claiming the MWC crown with a 24-17 win.

    Quarterback Derek Carr led the way per usual with more than 400 passing yards and three touchdowns. Even despite Carr’s best efforts, Fresno still had to halt a fourth-quarter rally by USU and pull down a late interception to seal the victory. But where the defense failed last week, it prevailed this time around.

    While Fresno’s BCS hopes were erased, an 11-1 finish and a conference title will leave plenty for the 'Dogs to be proud of.