Championship Snap Judgments Part I: Huskies, Cardinal take conference titles
Quick hits from Friday night's college football conference championship games. For more on Week 14, check out our Championship Saturday Snaps, coverage of Louisville-Rutgers, Oklahoma-TCU and the epic clash between Alabama and Georgia, plus our complete Top 25 review.
• No. 19 Northern Illinois 44, No. 18 Kent State 37 (2OT). Jordan Lynch put on a show in Detroit, and NIU's defense played the part of showstoppers in the 2012 MAC championship game. The Huskies won their second consecutive conference title, in their third consecutive conference title game appearance, but this is MACtion, dahling. And MACtion would never, ever wind up without a flourish.
Down 10-0 late in the first quarter and looking slightly discombobulated, the Huskies executed a bit of gridiron theater we might have expected out of the early-season Golden Flashes, back when they were returning fumbled punts the wrong way down the field and tackling their own teammates for safeties: They attempted a fake field goal attempt that was interrupted by their own timeout call, effectively icing their own kicker, who wasn't even planning to kick. Problem? Not for a team with Lynch, who returned to the field after the break, converted fourth-and-three on his own two feet, then continued running for 14 additional yards. Viva MACtion!
NIU managed only a field goal at the end of the drive, but the spark was lit. The Huskies scored touchdowns on each of their next two possessions, tying the game on a Lynch pass to Martel Moore in the middle of the end zone, regaining the ball after intercepting Spencer Keith and pulling ahead on an Akeem Daniels dive over a goal-line pile. They did not trail again in regulation, but true to league form, things got rrreal interesting around the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. A successful scoring drive by Kent State returned the ball to NIU, but a botched handoff between Lynch and Daniels was returned for a touchdown by Zack Hitchens to tie the game, 27-27. Undaunted, the Huskies fired right back with the game's third score in under two minutes. Undaunted by that, the Golden Flashes re-tied the game with under a minute to play, and so it was that a grateful nation was blessed with overtime in the MAC title game. Two traded field goals, a Lynch touchdown and a Keith interception in the end zone later, and Kent State's BCS bustin' dreams were no more.
If you happen to be searching for running themes for the proceedings, try low outputs from Dri Archer and Trayion Durham and the Golden Flashes' inability to consistently contain Lynch. Durham was held to his fourth-lowest rushing output in 13 games, recording 72 yards on 20 attempts and one catch for 22 yards; Archer fared better at receiving with five catches for 81 yards (mostly on one 60-yard catch that you'll want to find on replay) but managed only 15 net yards on 12 carries. Lynch passed for 212 yards, ran for 160 more and accounted for four touchdowns.
Talking Lynch means it's time to talk records: As of the third quarter, Denard Robinson's single-season quarterback rushing record of 1,702 yards belonged to the junior Huskie, who at night's end had a grand total of 1,771 rushing yards in 13 games. Lynch also set a new school record for most plays in a single season.
So now what? A BCS bowl is still a possibility for NIU, but as ever when discussing postseason gatecrashing, the odds are grim. UCLA's loss helps the Huskies, who ranked 21st in the latest BCS standings, but they'll need more help from the voters than Kent State would have, a Texas loss tomorrow and so on. Don your purple and cheer heartily for Collin Klein if you care to see the MAC in a big-money bowl. [BOX | RECAP]
• No. 8 Stanford 27, No. 17 UCLA 24. We very, very nearly got to witness two conference championship overtime games in a single evening, but a hooked field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter prevented a late tie and sent Stanford to the Rose Bowl. It's a natural instinct, maybe, for a non-partisan observer to wish for two different outcomes in games played between the same teams less than a week apart, but the narrative chaos was as uncooperative as the weather and the Cardinal took their fifth straight win off the Bruins.
Still, the contest was much closer than last week's, and it being late November, we do get to talk more broken records. Though his team came out on the wrong end of the scoreboard, we must begin with Johnathan Franklin and his 19-carry, 194-yard, two-score rushing performance. Franklin's longest run was also his first touchdown, a spectacular 51-yard effort on UCLA's opening drive that bumped him past Maurice Jones-Drew's mark for career all-purpose yards. On the Bruins' second drive, Franklin eclipsed Karim Abdul-Jabbar's single-season rushing record and the team broke the program record for single-season offensive yardage. And by the end of the first half, Brett Hundley had passed Cade McNown to top UCLA's single-season list for total offense.
The victorious Cardinal broke records of their own: Stepfan Taylor had a quiet night on the ground by Stepfan Taylor standards -- 78 yards on 24 carries -- but added 55 receiving yards on six catches and broke Darrin Nelson's Cardinal career rushing record just before halftime. Stanford's Ed Reynolds missed tying the NCAA record for single-season return yards by a single point, with an 80-yard pick return. Championship game MVP Kevin Hogan, in just his fifth start, threw for 155 yards and a touchdown and ran for 47 yards and another score. Moving forward: The Cardinal are headed to their first Rose Bowl since 2000, and if Wisconsin beats Nebraska tomorrow to claim the Big Ten title, they'll get a rematch of their last postseason game in Pasadena. Prior to tonight's action, Stewart Mandel projected the Bruins would wind up making an in-state bowl trip as well, down to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl. [BOX | RECAP]