Thanksgiving weekend is kind of “the end before the finish” in college football. Because while there will be plenty of high-stakes action during Conference Championship weekend followed by way too many bowl games, the combination of quality and quantity concludes with the last regular season weekend.
For myself, no more “is Virginia Tech on the ACC Network or ACCN+?” or scrambling to search for James Madison (ESPN+ or ESPN3?). Closer to home, the final game at the newly-minted SECU Stadium is the last Saturday I try to figure out the quickest way to College Park from Arlington, Virginia (39 minutes under the city, 39 minutes on the north side of the beltway) to cover Maryland.
The end of the regular season also means no more “why do they have 11 a.m. kickoffs?”. No more 10:30 p.m. Pac-12 kickoffs keeping us up into the wee hours wondering why the Power Five conference that’s often more fun than the other four leagues combined can’t generate a playoff team.
And no more “if you’re tired of the Alabama-Auburn blowout, you can put on Oregon-Oregon State” option. We had one Saturday to celebrate the game in its totality and we were given one more day filled with thrills, chills, and spills.
No. 2 Michigan started the fun by going to Columbus to deal Ohio State their first home loss in the series since 2000, punching its second straight ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game where they will face … Purdue?
Yes, the 8-4 Boilermakers won the West thanks to their come-from-behind win over Indiana. And yes, I was rooting for a four-way tie in the Big Ten West now that Coastal Chaos is officially in our rearview mirror. The ACC Championship Game is now completely devoid of buzz as North Carolina lost its second straight and Clemson’s come-from-ahead loss at home to South Carolina bounces the perennial playoff contenders from contention.
They weren’t the only Tiger to turn tail. LSU saw its playoff hopes fade in the College Station night as Texas A&M played up to its potential for perhaps the first time all season. Saturday evening also saw USC keep its playoff hopes alive as the Trojans topped surging (five straight wins) Notre Dame and may have delivered the case for quarterback Caleb Williams to win the Heisman Trophy.
Maryland (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) snapped a three-game slide by beating Rutgers 37-0. It was the school’s first shutout of a Big Ten opponent since joining the league and represents the completion of a turnaround that started in their hard-fought loss to then No. 2 Ohio State the week before.
“I’m proud of this team, really proud of the way they finished,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “Every part of our program is designed to finish the right way and I thought we did that today playing perhaps our most complete game that we’ve had all season in all three phases.”
Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 342 yards and a touchdown which gives him 50 for his career and sets the school record. He also had multiple runs for first downs and his top target was senior Jeshaun Jones, who made nine catches for 152 yards and the TD. Jones has a potential COVID year pending and Coach Mike Locksley said his No. 1 priority would be to get the wide receiver to return for a bonus year.
Roman Hemby finished his freshman regular season with 70 yards and three touchdowns rushing. But the story of the day was a defense that started the day by holding the Scarlet Knights to three straight three and outs (they’d have six on the day) and limited the Scarlet Knights to 63 yards rushing on 27 carries, 8-22 passing and 1-13 on third down.
Terrapin Troubles: the offense did go 6-18 on third down (and 2-9 in the second half) while a pair of lost fumbles inside the Rutgers’ 30 in the first quarter may have spelled disaster against a better team.
Next: Waiting to hear which bowl they’ll be invited to. CBS has them ticketed to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix while Yahoo! has them making a repeat appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl. Isn’t there a rule against that?
James Madison (8-3, 6-2 Sun Belt), due to 2022 being their “transition year” from FCS, is ineligible for postseason play so their season-ending game with Coastal Carolina served as a de facto bowl game. And it was all JMU in a 47-7 rout of the Chanticleers that ended the season on a high note and brushed the midseason three-game losing streak into the dustbin. Who’s ready for 2023?
Duke Do’s: sixth-year senior quarterback Todd Centeio threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns. He doesn’t have a COVID year of eligibility pending, does he? Devin Ravanel made five catches for 102 yards and two scores (he’s technically a fifth-year senior) while sixth-year senior Percy Agyei-Obese’s 79 yards gave him 3,230 for his career (fifth-best all time in program history). Chris Chukwuneke notched a sack and a fumble recovery while posting six tackles-and the good news is he’s only a redshirt junior.
Next: barring a bowl eligibility miracle JMU next suits up Saturday Sept. 2 against Bucknell. But one can still dream, right?