Winners and Losers from Week 16 of College Football
Not only did championship week crown nine league champions, but four programs also secured a likely spot in the College Football Playoff.
The excitement started Friday night when all three underdogs in conference championship games pulled out a win. Then on Saturday, the favorites took control as Clemson smacked Notre Dame, Ohio State escaped Northwestern, and Oklahoma outlasted Iowa State.
The earlier contests set the stage for Alabama's prime-time clash with Florida and Cincinnati's against Tulsa.
Unlike most weekends, though, simply winning a game left a couple of teams uncomfortable. Notre Dame and Ohio State entered with confidence in a CFP future and might be in the four-team tournament anyway, but that's certainly not assured.
Those shaky performances are the biggest stories of championship week, along with Alabama and Clemson locking up a familiar place in the playoff.
Winner: Ball State Upsetting Buffalo in MAC Title Game
On a Friday full of upsets in conference championships, Ball State provided the first stunner. The Cardinals took advantage of a missed field goal and returned a fumble for a touchdown to take a 35-21 halftime lead against undefeated Buffalo.
After adding a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter, Ball State managed very little on offense. Thanks to the defense, however, the Cardinals stayed in control.
Buffalo only scored once in eight second-half possessions. The Bulls had three turnovers on downs, including a crushing drop that would've extended a drive inside the red zone.
And the 38-28 victory ended a long drought for Ball State.
Not since 1996—the year before the league instituted a championship game—had the Cardinals won a MAC title.
Loser: USC's Offense Falters in Pac-12 Championship
Oregon mustered just 243 yards of offense, but three USC turnovers gave the Ducks the opportunities they needed to earn a 31-24 victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Kedon Slovis tossed two first-half interceptions, which Oregon turned into a pair of touchdowns after needing to cover a combined 41 yards. USC also had a turnover on downs and missed a field goal. Again, that was all in the opening half!
Despite those struggles, the Trojans trailed just 21-14 at the break. They had a great chance to overcome the slow start.
That didn't happen.
USC managed a couple of scoring drives and ultimately had a potential game-tying possession late in the fourth quarter. But as Slovis tried to escape pressure, he lofted a dangerous ball down the sideline rather than throwing it away. Safety Jamal Hill made an incredible toe-tapping catch to seal Oregon's win and trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
In a brief season packed with fourth-quarter escapes, USC's good fortune ran out at the wrong time.
Winner: Bill Clark, UAB Add Another Chapter to Incredible Story
Since reinstating the program in 2017 after a two-year absence, UAB has emerged as one of Conference USA's best teams.
From 2017-19, the Bill Clark-led Blazers posted a 28-13 record with two division titles and a league championship. They won 21 consecutive home games before a loss this season. And on Friday, the underdog bested Marshall to win C-USA again.
Opposite the nation's top-ranked scoring defense, UAB totaled 468 yards—104 more than Marshall had allowed in any game this season. Spencer Brown rushed for 149 yards, and Tyler Johnston III threw for 252 yards and two scores in the 22-13 win. He tossed a game-sealing 71-yard touchdown to Trea Shropshire late in the fourth quarter.
More impressively, though, the Blazers held Marshall without a completion in 10 first-half attempts. They absolutely shut down the Thundering Herd, ceding only 268 yards all game.
UAB had never won a conference title before shutting down the program. Now, in four years, the Blazers have two.
Clark—who should be looked at for power-conference jobs in the near future—has done an incredible job in Birmingham.
Loser: Ohio State's Comfort Level on Selection Day
In all likelihood, the Buckeyes are headed to the College Football Playoff. They've held the No. 4 spot in every CFP ranking and defeated No. 14 Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.
But it was not a convincing display.
Yes, Trey Sermon rushed for a school-record 331 yards, and the defense had three valuable takeaways. And, sure, the Buckeyes being a bit shorthanded didn't help, either.
However, Justin Fields completed just 12 of 27 passes for 114 yards and tossed two interceptions. Even excluding the clock-killing drive at the end, Ohio State consistently faltered in the red zone and clawed out a 22-10 win after trailing 10-6 at halftime.
Ohio State could've quieted any discussion of a drop in the final rankings. Instead, the Buckeyes will enter Selection Day with a nerve-wracking grasp on No. 4 ahead of Texas A&M.
Winner: Role Reversal for Oklahoma's Defense
In the last half-decade, Oklahoma won five straight Big 12 titles because of its ability to break a scoreboard. While the offense is still respectable, the defense won this league championship.
Oklahoma harassed and pressured Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy all game, notching six hurries, three sacks and three interceptions. Each of those turnovers came on Oklahoma's side of the field, including Tre Brown's clutch pick in the closing minutes.
"We've created more opportunities and we have taken advantage of them," OU coach Lincoln Riley told reporters afterward. "And it's been obviously a difference-maker for our team."
The Sooners ended with five tackles for loss and held Breece Hall—the nation's leading rusher—to a season-low 79 yards.
Oklahoma is poised to finish the season with a top-25 defense for the first time in seven years.
Loser: Notre Dame's Disaster in Charlotte
Six weeks ago, Notre Dame upended a short-handed Clemson with a thrilling 47-40 win in double overtime. And through 15 minutes of the ACC Championship Game, the teams appeared headed for, at worst, a reasonably tight finish.
Well, uh, that didn't happen.
Early missed opportunities haunted the Irish, who failed to control the line of scrimmage in a 34-10 beatdown. It was a dramatic change from the first meeting, when Notre Dame piled up 208 rushing yards and allowed just 34. Saturday, though, the Irish surrendered 219 yards on the ground while mustering only 83, even excluding sacks.
Speaking of sacks, Clemson notched six of those. The six-time reigning ACC champions dominated.
Also, the defense had no answers for Trevor Lawrence, who missed the previous clash due to COVID-19. He threw for 322 yards, scampered for 90 and totaled three scores. Travis Etienne rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown, too.
Clemson is guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff, but Notre Dame will be hoping to stay in front of Texas A&M.
Winner: San Jose State Completes the Dream Season
San Jose State hadn't won an outright conference title since 1990 in the Big West. And even though the Spartans entered the Mountain West Championship Game undefeated, they were the underdog in the showdown with perennial power Boise State.
Underdogs no more, however. And the drought is over.
Nick Starkel—previously the quarterback at Texas A&M and Arkansas—threw for 453 yards and three touchdowns. The standout receiving duo of Tre Walker and Bailey Gather combined for 12 catches, 235 yards and a score in the 34-20 victory.
And while the offense played well, the defense thrived. San Jose State allowed just 224 yards of offense and four conversions on Boise State's 17 third- or fourth-down plays.
The 7-0 Spartans have a chance to finish in the AP Top 25 for only the second time in program history.
Winner: Star-Studded Alabama Offense
Alabama's Heisman-contending trio lived up its billing in a 52-46 victory over Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
Mac Jones completed 33 of 43 passes for 418 yards and five touchdowns, hitting DeVonta Smith for 15 receptions, 184 yards and two scores. Najee Harris scampered for 178 yards and two touchdowns and brought in five passes for 67 yards and three scores.
You know what? Can all three win the Heisman?
Kyle Trask and the Florida offense made it interesting, overcoming a 28-10 deficit and climbing as close as 45-38 and 52-46. However, the Crimson Tide responded with Jones hitting Smith for their second touchdown and practically running out the clock, respectively.
As the Gators showed, this Alabama defense can be beaten through the air. The Tide aren't necessarily a runaway favorite in the College Football Playoff.
But good luck keeping up with Jones, Harris and Smith—one of whom will be a Heisman winner next time Alabama takes the field.
Winner: Cincinnati's Undefeated Season
Cincinnati capped a perfect season with a 27-24 victory over No. 23 Tulsa, and that deserves a celebration.
Dual-threat quarterback Desmond Ridder accounted for 352 yards and two scores, while Jerome Ford ripped off a 42-yard touchdown in the win. Alec Pierce's 146 receiving yards paced the Bearcats, who clipped Tulsa on a 34-yard Cole Smith field goal as time expired.
Cincinnati improved to 9-0, ending alongside Alabama, Ohio State, San Jose State and Coastal Carolina as the nation's only unbeaten teams this season.
Unfortunately—yet still worthy of applause—the Bearcats will end 2020 with a trip to a New Year’s Six Bowl. They absolutely merited a larger place in the CFP conversation.
It doesn't mean Cincinnati would’ve won a game in the playoff. It doesn't mean Cincinnati absolutely should be in, either. But it's a shame such a strong team isn't even in the discussion.