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What we learned from Week 14 in college football

  • By Chase Goodbread, Dan Greenspan and Mike Huguenin
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John Reed / USA Today Sports
Chris Davis' return of a missed field goal led to the most stunning finish of the college football season.

There were dramatic finishes all over the country as rivalry games dominated Week 14 of college football. Here are some of the things we learned from the weekend's action:

1. Iron Bowl Mania

Nothing like the Iron Bowl to provide the most thrilling finish in college football this season, on a wacky play that sent a sellout Auburn crowd into orbit. Check out the game-winning thrill of Auburn's 34-28 win, and all that came with it.

2. New national-title projection

With Alabama suffering a shocking setback, a shakeup in the BCS standings will follow. Florida State is likely to be ranked first and Ohio State second when the new standings are released Sunday night. Auburn is likely to be in the No. 3 spot.

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3. McCarron comes up short

It appears the three-peat isn't meant to be for Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron or the Crimson Tide. So where does that leave the Crimson Tide senior's career? Considering how well he played in what was the first road loss in his three years as a starter, his legacy is intact.

4. Where had this Michigan offense been?

Michigan's offense had been brutal in Big Ten play -- just 336.3 yards per game, with the average dropping to 267.2 when a 751-yard outing against Indiana is thrown out. So who knew Michigan would treat Ohio State's defense like Indiana's on Saturday? The Wolverines rolled up 603 total yards, including 451 through the air by Devin Gardner. But it wasn't enough as the Buckeyes prevailed 42-41. Michigan scored a TD in the final seconds, then failed on a two-point conversion.

Why did Michigan coach Brady Hoke go for two? "We played the game to win," said Hoke, who presumably didn't think his defense could do anything to stop Ohio State's rushing attack in the extra period.

Michigan senior WR Jeremy Gallon made his last game at The Big House a memorable one, catching nine passes for 175 yards and a TD. That gives him 80 receptions for 1,284 yards and nine TDs. The receptions total is fifth-highest in school history; the yardage total is the second-highest.

5. Clowney off the skid

If you were wondering how many games in a row South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney would go without a sack this season, the answer is eight. He came up with a sack against Clemson Saturday to keep the number from reaching nine. It was just his third sack of the season -- the others came against Georgia and Vanderbilt.

6. Manziel shown up in "Show Me" state

Missouri quarterback James Franklin was the fourth quarterback to beat Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M this season, but arguably only the second to outplay him. With the SEC East title at stake, the Tigers senior looked more like Manziel than Manziel did in a 28-21 win.

7. Michigan State gets 11th victory

Michigan State has played clampdown defense all season, and Saturday was no different as the Spartans (11-1) finished off a perfect Big Ten regular season with a 14-3 win over Minnesota. Michigan State meets Ohio State next week in the Big Ten championship game. Michigan State led the league in total defense, scoring defense, run defense and pass defense, and that shouldn't change after Saturday's game. They had five players with at least seven tackles against the Gophers, led by senior OLB Denicos Allen (5-11, 218), who had 13 tackles, two tackles for loss and a half-sack. Rising star sophomore DE Shilique Calhoun (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) had three tackles for loss and a sack. Stud senior CB Darqueze Dennard (5-11, 197) had nine stops, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Allen, for one, is ready for next week:

8. Carr, Fales exceed the hype

Week 14: Top QB performances
David Fales was on top of his game in his much-anticipated shootout with Derek Carr and had the best QB performance of Week 14. More ...

The battle of top senior quarterbacks delivered Friday afternoon, when Derek Carr of Fresno State and David Fales of San Jose State each threw for more than 500 yards with six touchdown passes apiece in the Spartans' 62-52 win to crush the Bulldogs' BCS aspirations.

With his elite arm talent and underrated mobility in a sturdy 6-foot-3 frame, Carr looked like a viable top-15 draft pick, especially given recent struggles that could keep underclassmen such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley from declaring early.

Fales certainly quieted concerns about his arm strength, making a number of impressive downfield throws to receivers Chandler Jones, Kyle Nunn and Tyler Winston, and he could be the biggest bargain in what could still be a loaded 2014 quarterback crop.

9. Mixed messages for Mariota

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was equal measures brilliant and bad, but he came through with the winning touchdown pass in the final minute for a 36-35 win over Oregon State. Mariota is supremely gifted, but his struggles over the last month of the season after hurting his knee made the case he needs plenty more seasoning as a passer. It looks to be a toss-up whether Mariota stays or goes, and that decision will shape both the 2014 NFL Draft and 2014 college football season.

10. MRI blues

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger injured his knee in a 31-27 win over Arkansas on Friday and has been scheduled for an MRI. As for the severity of the injury, LSU coach Les Miles said this regarding his availability for a bowl appearance: "I certainly would think so." No doubt, Mettenberger's draft stock would benefit from a healthy bowl appearance and, subsequently, a healthy series of workouts.

11. Locking him down

Texas A&M may lose Johnny Manziel and/or Mike Evans to the NFL next season, but it appears nobody is taking the Aggies' coach. Kevin Sumlin has given a handshake agreement for a six-year contract extension, giving Texas A&M at least some stability on its staff, if not among its star personnel, as it looks to fill a new venue next season. Manziel and Evans are considering declaring early entry for the NFL draft and forgoing two years of eligibility each.

12. Matthews on his game

Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews lit up Wake Forest for 11 grabs in his last regular-season college game, and one of them couldn't have been bigger. The Commodores senior shattered the SEC record books this season and is now just putting distance between himself and previous record holders.

13. The Blind Side

Two of the most talented left tackles in the college game, Alabama junior Cyrus Kouandjio and Auburn sophomore Greg Robinson, both put on impressive performances in an epic Iron Bowl clash. See how Kouandjio fared here, and check out a close look at Robinson's day here.

14. Hundley, Lee hold off on draft discussion

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and USC wide receiver Marqise Lee are two of the most intriguing underclassmen in college football at their respective positions, but each delayed any possible draft declaration until after the postseason.

Hundley still needs seasoning, but his improved pocket presence against an outstanding Trojans front seven bodes well for his future. Lee needs to get healthy, but has demonstrated plenty of growth on and off the field in a junior season wrought with obstacles.

Stay or go, both Hundley and Lee have bright futures ahead of them.

15. "O" no?

USC looked drained during its dismal 35-14 loss to its crosstown rival UCLA, showing none of the passion or effective game planning that propelled the team to six straight conference wins under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

It might also reflect the waning passion among fans and power brokers for Orgeron to take over the Trojans on a permanent basis. Losing to both Notre Dame and the Bruins negates much of the appeal Orgeron established, hitting its peak with the upset win over Stanford.

But does USC have a better candidate available? Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is off the board after agreeing to a contract extension. The powerful presence of Vanderbilt’s James Franklin would seem to be a fine fit for media-savvy Los Angeles, but might not have the cachet to keep a whole host of underclassmen from bolting for the draft.

A USC win would have made an Orgeron hire all but certain. Now USC’s leader when it returns to the Coliseum next fall is anything but certain.

16. Pac-12 ground games shine in primetime

Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney did what he does best, racking up a lot of yards on a lot of carries in a 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey did what he does best, add another 100 rushing yard performance to his ledger for the 15th consecutive game in the Territorial Cup loss to rival Arizona State.

But Sun Devils running back D.J. Foster -- previously known as an adept pass-catcher out of the backfield and at slot receiver -- came through with 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns in relief of the injured Marion Grice, offering a hint of what the sophomore might do best.

The question for Arizona State is whether Foster can keep up that production against a much-more ferocious Cardinal front, while its own defense tries to hold Gaffney in check next Saturday in the Pac-12 championship game.

17. Reilly resolute in Utah finale

Utah defensive end/outside linebacker Trevor Reilly was not able to get Utah back to a bowl game this season, but he came through with a huge performance to end his college career a winner. Reilly had 14 tackles, one tackle for loss and a game-saving interception in a 24-17 win over Colorado.

The versatile Reilly deserves a spot on the All-Pac-12 first team, though the numbers crunch with the likes of Trent Murphy of Stanford, USC's Devon Kennard, and the UCLA duo of Anthony Barr and Myles Jack could squeeze him out. Even if individual honors elude Reilly (6-5, 255) this season, NFL scouts will appreciate his versatility after posting 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.

18. Whitley surges

Nobody can say Mississippi State safety Nickoe Whitley isn't doing all he can to be noticed by NFL scouts as he closes his college career. Case in point: Thursday's Egg Bowl.

19. Southern Miss snaps long losing streak

Southern Miss snapped a 21-game losing streak, hammering UAB 62-27 in the final game of the season for both. Nick Mullens threw five TD passes and rushed for another score for Southern Miss, which trailed by eight at halftime. Southern Miss won 12 games in 2011, but coach Larry Fedora then left for North Carolina. Southern Miss was 0-12 last season under Ellis Johnson -- the worst one-season reversal in NCAA history -- and Johnson was fired (he now is defensive coordinator at Auburn). New coach Todd Monken had been offensive coordinator for two seasons at Oklahoma State, but oversaw 11 consecutive losses before the Golden Eagles won Saturday. UAB finished 2-10.

20. Indiana's offense has huge day

Nothing was at stake during the Indiana-Purdue game except pride -- and the Old Oaken Bucket, of course. The game didn't have much (any?) defense, but it did have a lot of yards and a lot of points. Indiana won 56-36, and the Hoosiers had three players rush for at least 100 yards: QB Tre Roberson ran for 154, TB Stephen Houston had 120 and TB D'Angelo Roberts had 113. Roberson also threw for 273 yards and six touchdowns. Purdue QB Danny Etling threw for 485 yards and four TDs. The teams combined for 1,208 yards and -- get this - - 63 first downs (IU had 42 of 'em, three shy of the FBS record set by Texas Tech in 2003). IU was 16 of 18 on third-down conversions. Incredibly, there also were six punts.

21. Penn State passing attack befuddles Wisconsin

Penn State (7-5) closed out its season with its most impressive win of the season, a 31-24 upset of host Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions were led to the win by true freshman QB Christian Hackenberg, who picked apart Wisconsin's secondary to the tune of 339 yards and four TDs. Hackenberg has All-American potential and may already be the best pure passer in the Big Ten. He'll have the best group of tight ends in the Big Ten next season, but he may need to find a new go-to receiver, as junior Allen Robinson appears headed to the NFL. Still, Hackenberg is an excellent building block and should be a huge selling point on the recruiting trail to prep wide receivers.

22. Buffalo's Mack ties NCAA record

Buffalo senior OLB Khalil Mack tied the NCAA career mark for tackles for loss Friday in a 24-7 loss to Bowling Green. Mack (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) had 2.5 tackles for loss, giving him 75 for his career; that ties the record held by former Western Michigan DE Jason Babin. Mack already holds the NCAA career record for forced fumbles with 16.

Week 14: Top QB performances
David Fales was on top of his game in his much-anticipated shootout with Derek Carr and had the best QB performance of Week 14. More ...

23. Bortles rallies UCF to victory

UCF junior QB Blake Bortles led his fourth fourth-quarter rally of the season Friday night to help the 19th-ranked Knights escape with a 23-20 victory over USF. Bortles threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman with 4:50 left in the game to provide the winning points and keep the Knights (10-1) on track for the first BCS appearance in school history. Bortles also led fourth-quarter comebacks against Memphis, Louisville and Temple.

24. Yellow Jackets' Attaochu has 4 sacks

Georgia Tech blew a 20-point lead for just the second time in school history in falling 41-34 to Georgia in two overtimes; coincidentally, Tech also blew a 20-point lead against Georgia in 1960. Yellow Jackets senior DE Jeremiah Attaochu made his presence felt with four sacks, giving him 12 for the season and 31 for his career, which ties former Tech DE Greg Gathers for the school's career mark. It's also tied for fifth-most in ACC history. Attaochu should get a chance to break the record in a bowl game.

25. Baylor defense outdoes TCU counterpart

Gary Patterson has long been known for his outstanding defenses at TCU, and star cornerback Jason Verrett turned in a performance worthy of that pedigree in holding Baylor wide receiver Antwan Goodley to one reception.

But it was the Bears' defense that came through in the 41-38 win, forcing four turnovers that resulted in 28 points -- two of the scores came on interceptions returned for touchdowns. Solid senior linebacker Eddie Lackey had six tackles, one sack, and a 54-yard pick six to pick up the slack for the sluggish offense and keep Baylor in the Big 12 title race.

26. Grass not greener for West Virginia RB Sims

Charles Sims closed his lone season as a Mountaineer by rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns, but WVU wasted a 17-point lead and lost to Iowa State, 52-44 in triple overtime, to finish off an ugly 4-8 season.

Sims certainly showcased his value as a complete back this season, racking up 1,095 rushing yards, 401 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns, but left a Houston program that finished the regular season with eight wins to try and boost his draft stock.

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