To all the die-hards out there: you can finally exhale.
Week thirteen of the college football season brought the most heart-stopping, gut-wrenching clashes of the season. Nobody would have expected anything less on rivalry week.
In a Heisman race as clear as the muddy path that is The Grove at Ole Miss, this weekend was going to help voters make some tough decisions. The picture is getting a tad clearer now.
There was also the curtain call for one all-time great, if not two in Gainesville.
There were the three highest-ranked teams all in action against testy in-state rivals, two of them on the road.
There were coaches across the BCS conferences fighting for their jobs. Some may have won, others may have lost, and in the case of Louisville’s Steve Kragthorpe, some have already packed their bags.
The epic 72 hours that was the final weekend of the regular season is almost worthy of its own book.
Chapter one took place Thanksgiving night in College Station. The Texas Longhorns were aided by Colt McCoy’s best performance of the season in staving off the rival Texas A & M’s upset bid. McCoy both kept his team alive in the national title hunt and improved his Heisman stock in the win.
That was only the beginning. Instead of chapter one, let’s call Lone Star Showdown 2009 the prologue.
Chapter one is highlighted by the illustrious return of Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike. Midway through the year, Pike was an emerging candidate for the Heisman before breaking his arm against South Florida. His replacement, Zach Collaros, kept the Bearcats unbeaten in his absence. There were plenty of people who even dared to say Collaros outperformed Pike when he had the chance.
Head coach Brian Kelly ignored the advice of many people by re-inserting Pike as the starter against Illinois. All Pike did was throw six touchdowns in a 49-36 win. That performance left everyone wondering just how different the Heisman picture would be had Pike remained healthy.
Just as the Bearcats were putting the finishing touches on their win, the Auburn Tigers were jumping all over second-ranked Alabama 14-0 in the first quarter. The Crimson Tide responded to tie the game at 14 by halftime. However, with six minutes to play, Auburn held to a 21-20 lead, when Greg McElroy completed seven consecutive passes, including the game-winner to Roy Upchurch on third-and-goal.
Auburn failed to score after getting the ball back with 1:30 left to play, and the upset bid was thwarted soundly. In the meantime, Mark Ingram lost his loose grip on the Heisman lead with only 30 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Chapter three came that evening, when Pittsburgh and West Virginia met for the annual Backyard Brawl in Morgantown. Thanks to a stellar performance from Noel Devine, and a key third-down conversion from Jarrett Brown late in the game, the Mountaineers edged the ninth-ranked Panthers with a last-second field goal, 19-16.
You could argue there was more suspense in three of those four games than on any one weekend to date this season. The best was still yet to come.
The early kickoffs at noon ET would have made George Bush proud. There was plenty of shock and awe to go around with all the upsets being handed out in the early portion of the day.
Oklahoma, which has been the most inconstant team in the last month, shut out 12th-ranked Oklahoma State, emphatically slamming the door on the Cowboys’ hopes of an at-large BCS bowl bid.
Meanwhile, North Carolina State was taking on one of the hottest teams in America, the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Wolfpack were playing with heavy hearts as their offensive Coordinator Dana Bible had been diagnose with cancer earlier in the week, and was not with the team. Trailing 24-14 at halftime, the Pack led a furious comeback to take a 28-27 lead.
Casey Barth, the Tar Heel kicker who broke out of his brother Connor’s shadow with a game-winning field goal against Virginia Tech last week, was not as clutch this Saturday. His game-winning field goal attempt was blocked in the final minutes, sealing the emotional upset for the Wolfpack.
If that wasn’t enough chaos for a three-hour period, Clemson was also falling flat on its face against South Carolina. The Gamecocks continued their mysterious home-field dominance in a 34-17 win. The South Carolina team on the field Saturday resembled the one that beat Mississippi at home in September. C.J. Spiller took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, but after that found it hard to gain any traction against a tough Gamecock defense.
While the outcome of the game had no logistical impact on Clemson’s future, it’s still a tough loss. The Tigers had been red-hot heading into Saturday, and would have loved to carry that momentum into next week’s ACC title game. Instead, Dabo Swinney must go back to the drawing board to inspire his team this week.
Funny to mention Mississippi. The Rebels, fresh off a win against LSU last week, lived up to the name of the game they played in. The “Egg Bowl” pits the Rebels against the Mississippi State Bulldogs every year, and an egg is what they laid Saturday. Jevan Snead was intercepted three times, and the Bulldogs avenged last season’s 45-0 loss to Ole Miss with a 41-27 victory at home. Dan Mullen was the right hire in Starkville. Just wait until he gets his own recruits down there.
Next came the more sentimental moment of the day with the least suspense. Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy and national championship-winning Florida quarterback played his final home game in Gainesville. After hearing nothing all week besides the fact it was the last chapter in his career at home, Tebow led his team onto the field and proceeded to stomp the rival Florida State Seminoles 37-10.
It was exactly the performance Tebow needed to keep his hopes of a second Heisman alive. He accounted for all five touchdowns in the win.
In the meantime, it may have also been the final regular season game for legendary Seminole coach Bobby Bowden. School officials have announced that Bowden, 80, and head coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher will meet with administration Monday to discuss his future with the program. It is clear Bowden has fallen behind the times, and the changes to the game in recent years have been too much for his program to keep up with. The embarrassing loss to the in-state rival Gators proves as much.
The final chapter of this great weekend was an epic nightcap. For a recap of the most exciting night of the season, check back later.