For some, it's the end of the season, while for others, it's the start of a new one. This may be the appropriate way to describe this time of the year.
With the college football playoffs looming and bowl season coming ahead, for two particular teams, there was much more at stake than winning their conference title; their playoff hopes also hung in the balance.
As the playoff expansion is set to take place in 2024, one can only imagine what the level of importance these games will eventually have. Until then, these games give a team bragging rights to be called the best team in their conference.
With all this said, let us summarize the results from this weekend
BIG TEN Championship - Michigan Beats Purdue, 43-22
What needs to be acknowledged is the courage of Purdue quarterback Aidan O'Connell. Four days prior to this game, his older brother, Sean O'Connell, passed away suddenly. Despite the speculation that he would not play, O'Connell found the strength and faith to face one of the toughest teams in college football. All that needs to be said is that O'Connell and his boilermakers fought valiantly, but they were no match for the mighty Wolverines.
As for Michigan, they should be taken seriously. If there is any team that can dethrone Georgia, it would be this one, as their defense and ground offense are as potent as they have ever been. The question is pending, what happens if Ohio State is given a new lease on the College Football Playoffs? Well, this could be a reality if the committee permits it.
ACC Championship - Clemson beats North Carolina, 39-10
This was a game that featured two quarterbacks on two completely different ends of the spectrum. North Carolina freshman Drake Maye was coming off a stellar season that saw him throw for over 3,000 yards and a completion percentage of 67.7. On the other side, Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei had a season filled with peaks and valleys.
Unfortunately for him, in this game, it did not get any better. After two drives, Uiagalelei was benched in favor of backup Cade Klubnik, whose impact on the Tigers offense was instant, as he led them to tie the game.
From that point on, the Tigers took control on both sides of the ball, as the defense accounted for four sacks, three turnovers, and a touchdown by cornerback Nate Wiggins, who had a stellar game. The biggest takeaway of the game is how much better the Tigers looked overall with Klubnik. This team showed their true potential, which should bode well for next season. As for the Tar Heels, Maye is a young, talented quarterback who should be on everyone's Heisman radar next season.
PAC 12 Championship - Utah beats USC, 47-24
It was the classic matchup of finesse versus toughness. In the beginning, it seemed that finesse reigned supreme, as the USC offense, led by star quarterback Caleb Williams, gave the Utah defense all sorts of problems. Then in the second quarter, Utah's defense fought back, and eventually their quarterback, Cam Rising, willed the offense; by halftime, both teams were tied 17-17.
On the Utes' second offensive series of the second half, somehow they were able to take a 3rd-and-19 on the second offensive series and transform it into a touchdown to take the lead. When you add the fact that Williams' mobility was hindered due to an injury in the third quarter, you knew that the stars were aligned for the Trojans to lose.
One thing we did learn is that their loss gives hope for both Ohio State and perhaps Alabama to take over their playoff spot. As for the Utes, they continue to win big games. They are one of the major reasons why the playoff expansion is needed, as teams like this could potentially make big moves.
Big 12 Championship - Kansas State beats TCU, 31-28
The TCU Horned Frogs came into this game undefeated against a Kansas State team that was starting their backup quarterback, Will Howard, who posted a 4-1 record since taking over as the Wildcats' starting quarterback in late October. The Wildcats had the Horned Frogs on the ropes as Howard connected with receiver RJ Garcia II for a touchdown to give them a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter. As they have done all season, the Horned Frogs would battle back as running back Kendre Miller's touchdown would cut the lead to three.
With momentum on their side, quarterback Max Duggan throws a pass that is intercepted by Wildcats cornerback Julius Brents, thwarting the Horned Frogs' chances of taking the lead early in the fourth quarter. Following the interception, Wildcats running back Deuce Vaughn would respond with a 44-yard touchdown, extending their lead to 28-17.
This game, however, was all about Duggan's heroics. When things seemed bleak, Duggan refused to lose and carried the Horned Frogs on his back. He rushed for over 100 yards in this game, including the touchdown that cut the lead to just two points before their successful 2-point conversion. With nothing settled in regulation, this championship game would be decided by the Wildcats defense in overtime with a successful goaline stance against the Horned Frogs offense.
In the end, the Wildcats would win the Big 12 title with a field goal, and all of Duggan's hard work would be in vain. How this loss will affect their standings in the playoff picture remains to be seen.
SEC Championship - Georgia beats LSU, 50-30
In a game that had no playoff implications, the Georgia Bulldogs had one notable incentive: to redeem themselves from their embarrassing loss in this game a year ago to Alabama. For LSU, this was a chance to put the icing on Brian Kelly's successful first season as the Tigers' head coach.
The Bulldogs would strike first following a blocked field goal attempt, which defensive back Christopher Smith would take 96 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers would respond with a 53-yard catch-and-run by receiver Kayshon Boutte to tie the game. The Bulldogs would retake the lead with a touchdown drive that would be finished by tight end Brock Bowers. Following a Bulldogs' interception, quarterback Stetson Bennett would find receiver Ladd McConkey down the middle for a 22-yard touchdown, expanding the lead to 21-7. By the time the second quarter was over, the Bulldogs had tied the SEC Championship record for points scored in a half (35).
The rest of the game was essentially a formality. It was clear that the Tigers did not have the depth to hang with the Bulldogs. Even with the touchdowns they scored afterwards, they simply could not stop them from scoring.
Even with this loss, LSU has a bright future with their quarterback, Garrett Nussmeier, an athletic defense, and Kelly as their head coach. As for Georgia, no one should be surprised if they repeat as national champions.
QB Aidan O'Connell - Purdue
QB Max Duggan - TCU
QB Stetson Bennett - Georgia
RB Tyjae Spears - Tulane
QB Frank Harris - UTSA
QB Michael Pratt - Tulane
WR Rajae' Johnson - Troy
QB Cam Rising - Utah
WR Money Parks - Utah
QB Diego Pavia - New Mexico State
RB Kevorian Barnes - UTSA
QB Cade Klubnik - Clemson
RB Deuce Vaughn - Kansas State
WR Quentin Johnston - TCU
LB Mohamoud Diabate - Utah
CB Nate Wiggins - Clemson
LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr. - Clemson
DL Jalen Carter - Georgia
LB Harold Perkins Jr. - LSU
LB Jaylen Harrell - Michigan
DB Gabe Reid - Utah
CB Julius Brents - Kansas State
LB Robert Beal Jr. - Georgia
LB Dee Winters - Kansas State
LB Eric Gentry - USC
DL Dylan Horton - TCU
DE Connor O'Toole - Utah
DL Tom Trieb - North Texas