Conference Championship Weekend came and went, ending the BCS era with a couple of upsets, some shattered records and—almost poetically—the least controversial BCS National Championship matchup in recent memory.
Michigan State's upset of Ohio State and Auburn's win over Missouri made the Tigers an easy choice to face Florida State in Pasadena for the national title. There was no need for lobbying on Sunday morning: Championship Saturday did its job the night before.
Auburn has been called a "Team of Destiny" all season, and the way things shook out so perfectly on Saturday did nothing to quell that belief. But at the end of the day, it's the players, not some sort of predetermined fate, who decide the outcome of each play, drive, half, game and season.
'Twas the stars, not the "Stars," who determined the course of the weekend.
MVP: WR Kelvin Benjamin
Quarterback Jameis Winston would have been the easy choice, since he's the biggest name in college football and likely played well enough to secure a Heisman Trophy against Duke.
But how about a little love for Benjamin, Winston's favorite target, who looked unguardable in Charlotte just as he has all season. After a scoreless first quarter, he went up and snagged a Winston pass over double coverage (above) to put the Seminoles up 7-0, starting the barrage of points that was soon to come.
When it was all said and done, the 6'5'' Benjamin finished with five catches, 119 yards and two touchdowns—a ho-hum night statistically for one of the best receivers in college football. He is the man who truly turned this game on its head.
MVP: QB Bryce Petty
Petty struggled—along with every offensive player, on both sides of the ball—adjusting to the frigid cold during the first two quarters. But he came out of halftime on fire, and the precision he flashed in the last two quarters would ultimately mark the difference in this game.
Despite the Arctic conditions, Petty finished with a highly efficient stat line, completing 21-of-37 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. After entering the locker room tied at three, he led the Bears to 27 points in the second half, including 17 in the third quarter.
By the time this game kicked off, both teams knew that Oklahoma had beaten Oklahoma State, making this the de facto Big 12 title game. Petty didn't shy away from the big stage once that pressure was added, which seems to bode well for the Fiesta Bowl.
MVP: CB Darqueze Dennard
Dennard became a brief punchline on Twitter during the game, after Fox aired a graphic that listed him as a Heisman Trophy contender. That type of praise is admittedly unrealistic, but after the incredible game Dennard had, it became hard to poke fun at his expense.
It started early. Devin Smith had a step on him streaking down the field and Braxton Miller launched a nice throw deep, but Dennard stepped in and broke up a sure-fire touchdown at the last second, sticking his hand in perfectly (above) and making a clean play.
He continued locking up receivers and breaking up passes throughout the game, and he also played a big role in run support on the edge. Dennard might not be a Heisman contender, but he proved on Saturday why he's a finalist—if not the outright favorite—for the Thorpe Award.
MVP: RB Charles Ross
Rice executed a picture-perfect gameplan against Marshall, taking the fight to the Thundering Herd from the opening whistle and refusing to relent for the next 60 minutes.
This award could have gone to a number of different players, but Ross stood out among the pack, rushing for 109 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries. He was the spearhead of an Owls ground attack that went for 250 yards on the day, controlling the clock down the stretch and frustrating Marshall on both sides of the ball.
The best way to beat an offense like Marshall's is to keep it off the field, to match it stride for stride with one's own methodical offensive prowess. Ross was the key to doing so on Saturday, though the 41-24 win was a consummate team effort.
MVP: QB Matt Johnson
For perhaps the first time in his storied career, Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch was the lesser quarterback against a team from the MAC, getting out-dueled in every conceivable way by Johnson on Friday night.
The Falcons' signal-caller had a career game, completing 21-of-27 passes for 393 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. NIU is far from a defensive powerhouse, but it's also far from a slouch on that side of the football, holding teams to roughly 411 yards per game entering Friday.
Numbers like these were not easy to come by, especially for a young quarterback coming off an 11-for-26 passing performance in his previous game. The big-game poise Johnson showed as a sophomore makes the future look bright in Bowling Green.
MVP: WR Isaiah Burse
Derek Carr was good-not-great against the stingy Utah State defense, but Burse, his season-long safety blanket, was great-not-good.
The speedy wide receiver finished with 17—repeat: 17—receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown on the day, consistently finding holes in the Aggies defense and punishing it for playing lax coverage.
Late in the third quarter, Burse's 20-yard catch on 4th-and-10 set up the Bulldogs' final score of the game, giving them a 24-7 lead that would prove insurmountable. Davante Adams gets (and deserves) most of the plaudits on this receiving corps, but Burse is every bit as valuable.
MVP: RB Tyler Gaffney
Gaffney set the tone early and often in this one, taking the second play from scrimmage 69 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. The Cardinal vowed to out-physical Arizona State—just as they did earlier this season—and behind Gaffney's hard-nosed running, they were able to do so with relative ease.
By the end of the first half, Gaffney already had over 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and Stanford already had a 14-point lead. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he was the first Stanford back to score three touchdowns in the first half since 2008, when Toby Gerhart did so against Washington State.
Stanford is the Pac-12 Champion right now because it's the most physical team in the conference, if not the country. No player personifies that quite like Gaffney, and no player was more responsible for the dominating win on Saturday.
MVP: RB Tre Mason
This was by far the easiest call on the list, though I guess head coach Gus Malzahn and the entire offensive line deserve equal consideration. Still, though the play calls were perfect and the holes were like canyons, Mason was the one plowing forward.
Auburn's bell-cow running back carried the ball 46 times, rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns on the afternoon. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he broke the SEC Championship Game record for rushing yards, rushing attempts, yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards.
Malzahn likened Mason to a warrior after the game, and that seems like an apt assessment. His power and will could not be matched on Saturday, and he helped carry Auburn—quite literally—into the BCS National Championship Game.