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Rivalry Week has delivered: An Iron Bowl miracle, Washington’s gutsy call

Think back on a rainy Saturday in Tampa, Florida, way back in September, when Nick Saban had benched his starting QB and Alabama's season appeared lost. We've all learned -- many times over -- not to doubt Saban, never to write off his Crimson Tide teams, but this felt different. This was Alabama at its nadir. And yet, it was also an inflection point.

Think back to a chaotic Saturday in Seattle in mid-October, when Rome Odunze delivered one final, stunning blow in a heavyweight bout between Washington and Oregon. Through the blowouts that preceded it, the Huskies had flexed their muscle, but it was in this back-and-forth slugfest they forged their identity.

This is the beauty of college football's regular season -- the way the seeds are laid in moments big and small, and sometimes hardly noticed at all, and then in this final, dizzying chapter, it all becomes clear.

On Saturday, the QB who emerged from Alabama's listless September delivered a throw that will be remembered in the same breath with the Kick-Six, an Iron Bowl miracle.

On Saturday, Kalen DeBoer, survivor of so many narrow victories in the past two months, made the most brazen decision in Apple Cup history, and the brilliant Odunze delivered magic once more.

At Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn was poised to pull off a miraculous upset and, just a week removed from a blowout loss to New Mexico State, deliver a playoff dagger to Saban's Tide.

A muffed punt gave Alabama the ball back with less than five minutes to play, and Jalen Milroe erased a sack with a 19-yard scramble; but an illegal forward pass and an errant snap threatened to undo it all, setting up a fourth-and-goal from the 31. And then history. During a timeout, Auburn devised a defense in which two players rushed the QB, eight guys crowded the end zone and one guy wandered aimlessly. Milroe took the snap and, after maneuvering through a vacant pocket for long enough that every fan in the stadium had a chance to say their share of Hail Marys, heaved a bomb into the back corner of the end zone where, astonishingly, Isaiah Bond waited to make the game-winning catch.

Afterward, Milroe celebrated by shouting that he wanted the Heisman Trophy. He actually won something better -- a place in Iron Bowl lore forever.

At Husky Stadium, with the clock ticking toward a seemingly inevitable overtime, Washington faced a fourth-and-1 at its own 29. Any reasonable coach would've played it safe and punted. But DeBoer has seen enough of this team to know it is at its best with its back against the wall, that it thrives in those places lesser men fear to tread. And so he sent QB Michael Penix Jr. to the line of scrimmage with "some options," DeBoer said afterward.

Penix surveyed the defense, considered his options and chose to inflict unimaginable pain on Washington State. He took the snap, flipped the ball to Odunze and watched the best player on the field dash 23 yards for a first down. And still, it could've gone haywire. Needing just a field goal to win, Penix tossed two deep balls into heavy coverage, but the Cougars failed to corral either. It was either luck or destiny or both. Washington is like the bus in "Speed" -- incapable of slowing down long enough to realize how dangerous its journey has been.

If there has been a reasonable criticism of the 2023 season, it is that the script has included too few twists, no genuine surprises that upend everything we thought we understood as fact. On Saturday, Alabama and Washington proved the status quo can be entirely shocking too.

Alabama is alive for a championship, just as it has been nearly every other year of Saban's tenure. But this is not the norm. This is, perhaps, the least dynamic Alabama team in more than a decade. But it also has given Tide fans something they've rarely had -- a chance to be the underdog, a chance to be surprised, a chance to feel elated rather than relieved by something unexpected. For so long, there was no mystery in Alabama's game plan. The Tide were simply better than everyone else. This time, Saban has provided genuine magic. It would be foolish to see his latest trick and assume he cannot make Georgia's playoff hopes vanish in the SEC championship game too.

Washington's win might not have convinced any of its doubters, but it did serve notice, once more, that the Huskies will not depart the playoff chase quietly. They are like the last car running in a demolition derby -- battered and dented and smoldering, but still alive. Their past three wins have all come by a touchdown or less, as did games against Arizona, Oregon and Arizona State before that. And yet Washington understands what all great showmen must: The trick is only fun if it doesn't look too easy.

This latest magic from Alabama and Washington was a necessary end to this regular season, one that tied up so many of the narrative threads from September and October while teasing the best of what's still to come. The playoff, by design, elevates the stakes. But what makes this ridiculous sport so wonderful is the way the best storylines and the most heart-pounding drama blossoms organically over the course of 13 weeks, guaranteed to deliver something entirely ridiculous and unexpected.

And on some distant Saturday in March or April or June, when all that awaits is a lawn to be mowed or engine oil to be changed, when our day is measured by beach traffic or dinner reservations, we'll think back on all that transpired on this Saturday, this final, beautiful, delirious Saturday of college football's 2023 regular season, and our hearts will be full.

Well, maybe not Hugh Freeze's.

Michigan delivers a knockout with far-reaching implications

There will be so many moments from Saturday's latest installment of The Game that warrant reflection and debate, but in a battle between teams whose seasons would be defined by the outcome, the most evocative and most significant stretch of heroics was a long slog of a drive, 12 plays and 56 yards, that ticked seven grueling minutes off the clock and ended with a field goal.

There was nothing sexy about Michigan's final drive. The Wolverines had danced with the devil enough by this point -- gone for it on fourth down three times, had its tailback sling the deep ball, rallied behind an O-line down its best player -- but this was pure, bare-knuckle toughness.

For three-and-a-half quarters, Michigan had toyed with Ohio State. The Wolverines never trailed, but neither could they pull away. They landed haymakers and jabs, but Ohio State kept getting back up off the mat. It might've seemed a valid question to ask whether this meant the teams were evenly matched or whether the Wolverines had simply refused to fully flex their true strength until it mattered. That drive provided an answer.

Ohio State's frustrated fan base will cling to its share of explanations for how its once-dominant program has been so clearly superseded by its rival -- Ryan Day's incompetence, Michigan's alleged cheating, some sort of monkey's paw curse -- but the truth comes down to this: When everything was on the line, the Wolverines were relentless, and the Buckeyes folded.

The field goal at the end of that 12-play drive gave Michigan a six-point lead, which proved enough when Rod Moore picked off Kyle McCord to seal the 30-24 win. J.J. McCarthy was fine -- 148 yards and a touchdown, the third straight game Michigan has won while its QB threw for less than 150 yards -- and Blake Corum once again owned short-yardage situations. The defense was stout, picking off McCord twice, but Ohio State still out-gained the Wolverines in the game. Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State's Heisman contender, caught five balls for 118 yards and a touchdown, and yet Michigan never let him take over the game.

This was, in so many ways, death by a thousand paper cuts for Ohio State -- slow, painful, torturous. All the better for Michigan fans.

This was, if not an emphatic win for the Wolverines, proof that there's no magic formula to beat this team because, even when nothing seemed to work particularly well, everything worked well enough.

This was a game -- the sixth this year -- that Michigan didn't have its head coach on the sideline, and yet Jim Harbaugh's dominance over Ohio State has never felt more certain. Somewhere, deep within the confines of his secret headquarters at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, he must've been fiendishly petting a cat and laughing maniacally as he watched the final seconds tick away.

What comes next is perhaps even more interesting.

Michigan will be eager to move forward. Harbaugh's suspension ended with Moore's INT, and the Wolverines' quest for a national title begins anew with the Big Ten title game.

Ohio State will wallow in this for days or months or generations. Did the officials -- and the replay booth -- get Roman Wilson's touchdown catch right or did they steal an INT from the Buckeyes that might've swung the game? Would things have been different if Day had played as aggressively as Sherrone Moore? The Michigan interim coach was three-for-three on fourth down tries and called a brilliant trick play for Donovan Edwards, who launched a 34-yard completion to Colston Loveland. Day, perhaps with his legacy as a head coach on the line, took few risks, punting on fourth-and-1 near midfield early in the game, then watching the clock wind down for a long (and ultimately fruitless) field goal try to end the half.

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The win was certainly something short of redemption for Harbaugh, who has been suspended twice this season and still faces an ongoing NCAA investigation, but none of that matters in the eyes of Michigan fans, who've now won three straight vs. the Buckeyes after having dropped 15 of the prior 16. If Harbaugh had been caught using the transfer portal to run a Ponzi scheme, it wouldn't have mattered. He's built a monster that has eaten the hopes and dreams of those fools down south, and that is all that counts.

The loss further solidifies Day's place in the rivalry's land of broken toys. Day's career is astonishing in its successes -- a 56-7 record, with every loss coming against a ranked foe -- but defined by three straight failures in the only game that really matters. He is college football's Salieri, brilliant in his own right, but destined to forever be remembered as the foil to his more remarkable rival.

In each of the past two years, the elation of Michigan's win over its bitter rival was enough to sustain the program after losses in the College Football Playoff semifinal. This year, amid so much off-field chaos surrounding Harbaugh, there must be a demand to follow The Game with something more. Michigan will be the story of the playoff this year -- either as Harbaugh's self-described redemption story, America's team waving off all the metaphorical slings and arrows or as the villains who couldn't finish the job, even with the deck stacked in their favor.

The past two years, Ohio State could fall back on the idea that it had lost but was, perhaps, not truly all that far behind. But if two's a coincidence, three's a trend, and it's impossible not to wonder what lengths a place like Ohio State will go to in hopes of shifting that trend before next November.

But before all those scripts are written, there is this: The Game, once more, lived up to the hype. It was a perfect cap to a season in which the status quo has rarely shifted more than a few centimeters and a reminder that, for all the often ugly narrative threads sewn away from the field, the magic always comes from the work done on it.

Noles stay undefeated

It would be fair to say Florida State proved Saturday that there is far more to this Seminoles team than Jordan Travis. Trey Benson ran for three touchdowns. Jared Verse played havoc with Florida's O-line. Tate Rodemaker was far from dazzling, but he avoided any catastrophic mistakes. In all, the 24-15 win over the Gators suggested FSU warrants its place in the playoff pecking order.

It would also be fair to say Florida did everything possible to hand Florida State the win.

The Gators blew a 12-0 lead by allowing TD drives to Florida State on the Noles' last drive of the first half and first drive of the second half. They missed two field goals. They extended FSU's game-clinching touchdown drive twice with penalties. They had a player ejected for spitting. In the fourth quarter, Florida had no plays that gained more than 1 yard, they gave up 50 yards in penalties, and QB Max Brown was sacked four times and threw an interception. If Billy Napier showed up to the postgame press conference wearing a Darth Vader mask, it wouldn't have been much worse.

On the other hand, there was Mike Norvell's Noles, who never flinched in their first effort without Travis at the helm. Even when Rodemaker went down after a targeting penalty on Florida, the Noles kept their cool behind third-stringer Brock Glenn. Florida State outscored Florida 17-3 in the second half and outgained the Gators 139-48.

Every day before practice, Norvell sprints down the field of FSU's indoor practice facility. He runs 100 yards, usually racing a few of his players. He's in his 40s now, and he said the hamstrings aren't what they used to be. But the point of the race for him isn't to make it 100 yards as fast as he can, but rather to make it 100 yards no matter how he feels.

Whether Florida State can win a national championship without its star QB is a valid question, even after a 12-0 start. But what Norvell and the Noles proved against Florida is the same thing Norvell proves every day before practice -- that the race ultimately goes to the guy who keeps running.

Iowa: An appreciation

Before the season, OC Brian Ferentz was tasked with a simple enough goal: Score 25 points per game. Not even just on offense. If his defense chipped in a few touchdowns, that was fine, too. How low was this bar? Entering Saturday, 79 teams averaged 25 points or better (or 86 if we're rounding up decimals).

But Iowa didn't sniff that mark. After Friday's 13-10 win over Nebraska, the Hawkeyes are averaging exactly 18 points per game -- a full touchdown shy of the number that would've saved Ferentz's job.

It's been easy to joke about Iowa this season, starting with the famed Drive for 325 through this latest ridiculous stretch of games in which the Hawkeyes have won five of six despite scoring more than two touchdowns in a game just once.

The forecasters in Las Vegas have turned Iowa's point totals into college football's best limbo contest, including a record-low 24.5-point total against Nebraska, and Iowa has delivered the under again and again and again. In all, six of the lowest totals on record have come from Iowa games in the past two years.

Iowa's offense is so mind-bogglingly inept, it's impossible to write it off as mere incompetence. It must be part of a bigger plan.

And so it is that Iowa is 10-2. Iowa is but a dubious fair catch call away from being 11-1. Iowa will play for a Big Ten title and, at this point, is anyone really doubting the Hawkeyes can achieve the impossible?

There is a valuable lesson for all of us in what Iowa has achieved in the past 12 games.

While the rest of the nation scoffed, Iowa fans rejoiced, finding true joy in the most mundane moments of the game.

While bettors giggled over yet another seemingly impossible under wager, Iowa lined the pockets of everyone who believed.

While the rest of the Big Ten West -- a collection of drifters, cast-offs and Nebraska -- wasted weeks plotting a game plan that would result in points, Iowa set its entire focus a formula to actually win games by executing the college football equivalent of the iTunes user agreement, just waiting for an opponent to get bored with the minutia and click "Accept." Not since Muhammad Ali has anyone executed the rope-a-dope so perfectly.

Just consider Friday's game, where Iowa stole another victory by picking off a Chubba Purdy pass late before drilling a field goal for the win. The outcome seemingly hung in the balance for the entirety of the second half, the advantage swinging from drive to drive, and yet we all knew where this would end.

Iowa thrives on the brink of disaster.

Nebraska, on the other hand, slinks from every opportunity, a perpetual loser in a game of chicken, swerving off the road and into a ditch at the first sense of danger.

Iowa has 13 wins over the past two years in games in which its offense failed to score more than two touchdowns.

Nebraska has 30 losses since 2018 in one-possession games.

At some point, repetition can no longer be explained away by luck or coincidence. At some point, we must admit Iowa has figured out the secret to the universe, identified the glitch in the matrix, gone to a crossroad in the middle of endless corn fields and sold its soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to punt its way into a 10-win season.

Soon enough, Brian Ferentz will be gone, and the Hawkeyes will risk going from sublime to dull. Indeed, it took Iowa for us all to learn just how thin the margin between those two points can be. Perhaps the next playcaller will discover mystical offenses never before seen in Iowa City, like the RPO or tempo or the forward pass. But will he serve so perfectly as the yin to DC Phil Parker's yang? Who is Superman without Lex Luthor?

So let us all bask in the glory of this Iowa team just a little longer. We may never see its kind again.

After all, what Iowa has given college football fans -- or, perhaps, the world -- in 2023 is something special: A lesson that there is more than one way to win, that joy is best found in its simplest forms and that every punt is simply another chance to believe, against all evidence and common sense, that the next drive will be better.

Rivalry Week rewind

Checking in on some other big rivalry matchups in Week 13 ...

The Governor's Cup

Louisville took a 17-7 lead early in the second half, and then the wheels came off. Kentucky returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown then scored 10 points off back-to-back Louisville fumbles to take a 31-24 lead.

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Kentucky goes 100 yards to the house for a kick-return TD

Kentucky's Barion Brown puts the jets on for a 100-yard kick return in the third quarter.

Louisville then turned the ball over on downs, only to have Kentucky return the favor with a Devin Leary interception that set up a game-tying touchdown.

As it turned out, Ray Davis ensured the worst of outcomes for the No. 10 Cards. He opened the ensuing drive with a 15-yard run and capped it with a 37-yarder for a touchdown. Jack Plummer's final pass was picked off, and Kentucky topped Louisville for the fifth straight year -- nixing the Cardinals' slim playoff hopes.

The Territorial Cup

If we had a 12-team playoff this year, the most interesting team in the country might be Arizona. The Wildcats have won six straight after Saturday's 59-23 thrashing of Arizona State.

Arizona's success coincided with the emergence of QB Noah Fifita, who put on a show against the Sun Devils, throwing for 527 yards and five touchdowns in the win.

Fifita's stat line since taking over the offense: 73% completions, 306 pass yards per game, 23 touchdowns and five picks.

The Commonwealth Cup

Virginia Tech became bowl eligible by demolishing Virginia 55-17. Kyron Drones threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Da'Quan Felton.

On one hand, it was some comeuppance for Virginia freshman QB, Anthony Colandrea, who promised a win over the Hokies earlier in the week.

On the other hand, Virginia did get the last laugh.

Chancellor's Spurs game

Texas Tech lamented losing this rivalry when Texas moves to the SEC. Texas was surprised to find out this was a rivalry game.

In any case, the Red Raiders may be glad Texas is leaving after the Longhorns delivered a dominant 57-7 win Friday. Arch Manning made his debut in mop-up time, completing 2-of-5 throws. Quinn Ewers threw for 196 yards and a touchdown.

Jimbo Fisher's Nephew's Knuckle Sandwich Trophy

We're not sure if there's an actual nickname for the LSU-Texas A&M rivalry, but we like to think it honors Fisher's nephew, who picked a fight after a seven-overtime loss to the Tigers in 2018.

This time, it was just Jayden Daniels throwing haymakers. The Heisman hopeful threw for four touchdowns and totaled 355 total yards.

On the upside, Fisher's nephew is still in line for a $12 million buyout from the A&M administration.

North Carolina-NC State rivalry

NC State opened the season 4-3, and fans were ready to move on to basketball. Instead, Dave Doeren's Wolfpack rallied to win their final five games, finishing the regular season 9-3 after beating North Carolina 39-20 Saturday.

Brennan Armstrong, who was benched midway through the season, threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns in the win, while freshman receiver Kevin Concepcion had seven catches for 131 yards and 11 rushes for 55 more.

Afterward, Doeren cracked a small smile, then immediately chastised himself for the brash display of happiness.

Farmageddon

Abu Sama III finished with 287 yards and three touchdowns in Iowa State's 42-35 win in the snow.

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Abu Sama III breaks free for his third big TD of the night

Iowa State RB Abu Sama III takes the handoff and bursts 60 yards to the house for his third rushing touchdown of the game.

Rocco Becht threw for three touchdowns, Jaylin Noel had 160 yards receiving and two TDs, and Beau Freyler finished with 15 tackles for the Cyclones, too.

The good news for Kansas State fans, however, is there's plenty of time for snow angels on Sunday.

Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate

Before the season, Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key lamented his school's lack of competitiveness in its rivalry with Georgia.

"What pisses me off is to look at lists of the 10 or 20 best rivalries in the country," Key said, "and, not to have [Georgia-Georgia Tech] on there, that's bulls---. But at the present time, they're probably right."

Well, the Yellow Jackets didn't win Saturday, but they did make it a competitive game, and perhaps that's a good step back toward relevance.

Instead, it was Kendall Milton who stole the headlines, racking up 156 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

Under-the-radar play of the week

Oklahoma had no problem demolishing TCU 69-45 behind 436 yards and four touchdowns from Dillon Gabriel, 12 catches from Drake Stoops and 130 yards and three scores on the ground from Gavin Sawchuk. Indeed, all went splendidly after the game started.

Before kickoff though? That was a bigger issue for the Sooners, who somehow managed to flub the entrance, trampling their head coach in the process.

Given that Venables spent 10 years running down the hill at Clemson (learning from the Usain Bolt of college football in Dabo Swinney), it's hard to fathom how he could allow this to happen.

Of course, Venables was just as frustrated, as he explained after Friday's win.

"I was thinking, 'You've got to be f'ing kidding me. This is really happening now,'" Venables said. "I was pissed. Not at anybody. Just pissed."

In fairness though, this is also the exact response Venables gives when he orders a Coke and the server asks if Pepsi is OK.

Under-the-radar game of the week

Ollie Gordon II ran for 166 yards and five touchdowns in Oklahoma State's 40-34 double-OT win over BYU, which still didn't guarantee him the best highlight of the game. That belongs to Tyler Batty, who we hope was wearing proper protection when he made this hurdle attempt.

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Tyler Batty's hurdle attempt goes wrong on fake punt

Tyler Batty catches the pass from BYU's punter and gives the Cougars a first down.

Still, it was a huge win for the Pokes, who've been something of a rollercoaster all year.

A quick recap of Oklahoma State's season:

Struggled to beat Central Arkansas and Arizona State.Blown out by South Alabama.Lost to Iowa State.Reeled off five straight wins including a shocker against Oklahoma.Blown out by UCF.Erase a 23-9 deficit to beat Houston by 13.Erase a 24-6 deficit to BYU to win 40-34 in double overtime to secure a berth in the Big 12 title game.

All of this ensures the Cowboys will either end Texas' playoff hopes next week or lose by so much they're banished to what remains of the Pac-12.

So long, Pac-12

The end came, as was foretold by the prophets (or at least Larry Scott), with Cal becoming bowl eligible, UCLA tripping over its own shoe-strings, and three-quarters of the country long since asleep.

Cal beat UCLA 33-7 to cap Week 13 and put a final bow on the Pac-12's existence.

UCLA moves on to the Big Ten, where its offensive ineptitude will be welcomed with open arms.

Cal moves on to the ACC, where its academics and mediocrity will burnish that league's well-established reputation.

We'd say the Golden Bears should turn off the lights on their way out, but honestly, Oregon State has to pick up the electric bill anyway, and there's virtually no chance Cal was getting its security deposit back regardless.

Ultimately, the league's demise recalls the words of the great poet, Brian Flanagan, in the movie "Cocktail." Everything ends badly. Otherwise, it wouldn't end.

Cue Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" or Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It." Your choice.

Fin.

Bowl bound

After Eastern Michigan and Utah State locked up their sixth wins earlier in the week, Saturday's slate kicked off with 13 bowl spots still needing to be filled, lest the nation be subject to the horrors of a transitioning FBS school like James Madison or Jacksonville State playing in a postseason game.

Syracuse locked up one of those spots with an interception on fourth-and-goal from the 3 with two minutes to play.

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Syracuse D comes up with huge 4th-and-goal stop

Wake Forest's Jason Simmons Jr. breaks up Michael Kern's pass attempt to get a big fourth and goal stop at the two minute mark.

The win gets Syracuse a bowl game despite the firing of coach Dino Babers after last week's loss to Georgia Tech. It was joined by Virginia Tech, which walloped rival Virginia, in getting to 6-6, giving the ACC 11 bowl-eligible teams.

Meanwhile, Rice finished the regular season with two more wins than JT Daniels had schools played for, getting victory No. 6 with a 24-21 decision over FAU.

It marks the first time in a decade that Rice has gotten to six wins, and we believe its postseason game will be called a poké bowl.

No one had a wilder path to bowl eligibility on Saturday than Old Dominion, which trailed Georgia State by 10 with less than two minutes to play. But ODU finished a long drive with a field goal to pull to within seven, and as Georgia State worked to run out the clock, a high snap resulted in a safety with 1:17 to go. Down by five points, ODU connected on a 43-yard completion then found the end zone as time expired four plays later. Final score: ODU 25, Georgia State 24.

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Old Dominion becomes bowl-eligible after incredible comeback

Down seven and without the ball with under two minutes remaining, Old Dominion uses a safety and a TD on the final play to beat Georgia State and become bowl-eligible.

Kudos to USF coach Alex Golesh, who has the Bulls bowl eligible after beating the sleeves off of Charlotte, 48-14. The six wins through 12 games under Golesh are more than USF had in its past 39 games under three coaches prior to his arrival.

Northern Illinois, Marshall, Louisiana and UCF also locked up bowl eligibility with easy wins on Saturday.

Cal's victory and Colorado State's late-night defeat mean there are exactly 79 six-win teams eligible for a bowl, and 82 spots to fill.

That means 5-7 Minnesota goes bowling, too, as will JMU and Jacksonville State, which feels like a real failure of oversight. How will those schools learn not to be really good right away in the FBS if they don't face consequences for their actions?

And, somewhere in Indianapolis, an NCAA bureaucrat looked out his window and found JMU and Jacksonville State fans singing -- and his heart grew three sizes that day.

Utah sinks Coach Prime

With Bryson Barnes (injured), Nate Johnson (in the portal) and Cam Rising (shooting "John Wick 5") all unavailable for the regular-season finale Saturday, Utah was forced to dig a little deeper into its QB repertoire, finding walk-on Luke Bottari in between the couch cushions in Kyle Whittingham's office.

On the other side, Colorado was without its star QB, Shedeur Sanders, turning instead to Ryan Staub to serve as tackling dummy behind the traffic cones working on the Buffs' O-line.

The outcomes: Utah 23, Colorado 17.

It was a shocking finish to a once-promising season for Colorado with the Buffaloes losing eight of their last nine.

Prime now turns his attention to the offseason, where he'll be cutting three-quarters of his roster, including possibly several of his own children.

They're not in the playoff hunt, but the Flames wrapped up a 12-0 regular season with a 42-28 win over UTEP on Saturday.

Liberty QB Kaidon Salter completed just four passes for 22 yards, but the Flames ran for 441 yards on 62 carries in the win.

Afterward, Liberty coach Jamey Chadwell had a Mariachi band celebrate the perfect record.

The Not-Heisman Five

The Heisman may be a two-man race now between Jayden Daniels and Bo Nix, and only one of them has a game left to play before the trophy is awarded. But this week, we're not interested in the best players on the field. We're handing out our award for the best contributor to college football's 2023 season away from the action.

1. Former Michigan staffer Connor Stalions

Every sport has its controversies, from Spygate in the NFL to the Houston Astros scandal in Major League Baseball to the fact that the Winnipeg Jets are actually just a figment of Gary Bettman's imagination and everyone in the NHL just lets him keep pretending.

But college football doesn't have scandals. It has performance art. And this year, no one delivered the sheer ridiculousness that fuels this sport better than Stalions.

The entire ordeal was two parts Watergate, one part murder mystery dinner theater and three parts ideas you come up with at 3 a.m., all set to the "Benny Hill" theme song. It's impossible to unpack all the ridiculousness of this story, from his name -- Connor Stalions would've only been funnier if he spelled it $talions, like Ke$ha -- to the fact that he was ex-military to his allegedly dressing up like a Central Michigan staffer for a game.

So, Mr. Stalions, take your place among the legends of the game. This sport remains absolutely ludicrous and utterly perfect.

2. The Mississippi State ATV

Bulldogs interim coach Greg Knox led his team onto the field for the Egg Bowl riding a four-wheeler because he wanted to teach his team a life lesson. What is that life lesson? Something about adversity or opposition. Either way, it was enough to motivate former Ole Miss Rebels QB Bo Wallace to get into some Twitter beef with a local coffee shop during the game.

The important thing is, Knox provided yet another bit of circus-like flair to a rivalry that has historically been scripted like a fourth grader filling out a Mad Libs.

3. Tyler from Spartanburg

A man named Tyler called into Dabo Swinney's radio show after Clemson started 4-4 and berated the Tigers' coach for making a lot of money and winning too few games.

Swinney responded with an eloquent monologue, echoing the Buddha, that in fact suffering is cleansing, and it is only through our defeats that we learn to accept success, and that a man is only so rich as the friends he keeps. Either that or he ripped Tyler a new one, said he was "part of the problem," and reminded the world that he doesn't need anyone's bullcrap.

Either way, it worked splendidly for the Tigers, who went on to upset Notre Dame the next week then reel off three more victories, including Saturday's 16-7 rivalry win over South Carolina.

4. Davidson Bulldogs backup center Barclay Briggs

Not all Heisman candidates rack up dozens of highlights or dominate the opposition or, you know, play. Indeed, one of college football's true heroes of the 2023 season is a little known backup O-lineman from a non-scholarship FCS school who gave the world an absolutely epic NFL draft announcement.

In a perfect world, this joke will escalate in a game of college football one-upsmanship just like turnover props or walk-on scholarship announcements until it reaches its obvious zenith when Arch Manning turns pro while relaxing in a hot tub with a unicorn in the back of a limo as it jumps the Grand Canyon.

5. The Texas Tech-TCU opossum

No great show is complete without an animal, and so it was with the 2023 season.

The little guy looks just like us, clinging to what's left of college football season with all the strength we can muster.

    

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