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Boise State shocked on dramatic day by Nevada

Is “whew” a word?

The nation’s top two teams both trailed at halftime on Black (and Quack) Friday and, for at least a few hours, something historic filled the air.

A loss by either No.1 Oregon or No. 2 Auburn would have put a mid-major, Boise State or Texas Christian, in major position to play for this year’s national title.

That drama, which started in Tuscaloosa, ended in Eugene with Oregon and Auburn both showing up for the second half.

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There was more late-night drama, though, in Reno, where Nevada stunned Boise State, 34-31 in overtime.

Auburn, incredibly, rallied from 24-0 down against Alabama to win, 28-27, while Oregon turned a five-point halftime deficit completely around on Arizona, ultimately crushing the Wildcats, 48-29.

That leaves only one weekend left for plot-shifting, poll maneuvering and computer recalculation.

The hope for a “non-AQ” school making the title game isn’t over yet, but the days are numbered.

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Boise State, ranked fourth in the Bowl Championship Series standings, raced out to a 24-7 lead on No. 19 Nevada but was caught from behind.

Boise State’s Kyle Brotzman had a chance to win on the last play of regulation, but he missed a 26-yard field goal after Kellen Moore connected with Titus Young on a 58-yard heave.

Brotzman also missed a short field-goal try in overtime, and Nevada’s Anthony Martinez ended it with a 34-yard field goal.

Boise State fans watched Friday’s Iron Bowl from tailgate parties in Reno, knowing an Auburn loss would probably have made Friday’s Nevada game a play-in for the national title.

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Hours later, their Broncos let a big lead slip away, making it a great night for BCS No. 3 Texas Christian, which concludes its regular season Saturday at lowly New Mexico.

If Oregon and Auburn win their final games, the highest ranked “non-AQ” earns a trip to this year’s Rose Bowl.

Oregon (11-0) has to play at Oregon State in the annual Civil War game. Oregon State will be highly motivated for payback after being knocked out of a Rose Bowl berth by Oregon each of the last two seasons.

Oregon has clinched its second straight Pac-10 title and will play Jan. 1 in Pasadena or Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz., site of this year’s Bowl Championship Series title game.

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Auburn (12-0) has one more test to pass, in Atlanta, against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference title game. Auburn won a hard-fought, 35-27, home victory over South Carolina on Sept. 25.

Auburn must quickly now put the emotion of Friday’s mini-miracle aside and refocus on South Carolina.

Forgetting Friday, though, will be impossible.

Alabama was 30 minutes from turning college football on its ear hole. The Crimson Tide led 24-0, and took a 24-7 lead into halftime.

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But you never count a team out in a rivalry like the Iron Bowl … ever.

Alabama was dominating early, 21-0, with its Heisman Trophy winner racing down the sideline toward 28-0 when an Auburn defender punched the ball loose into the end zone for a comeback.

It was one of the moments you said, “um, that could be a turning point.”

Alabama also had the ball deep in Auburn territory three times and came away with six points.

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“I feel like we played with a lot of effort,” Mark Ingram said afterward. “But we just didn’t finish. The program is built on finishing, and I feel like we gave them the game.”

What’s new? Auburn has been doing this all season, eking out wins against Kentucky and Clemson and also rallying from behind to defeated Arkansas and Georgia.

Friday’s comeback, given the implications, and the rivalry, was instantly epic.

It was even a little eerie.

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Auburn came back from a 24-0 deficit the same weekend Notre Dame is playing USC in Los Angeles.

In 1974, at the Coliseum, USC trailed Notre Dame by the same score late in the first half before scoring 55 unanswered points to record one of college football’s greatest upsets.

Auburn’s victory will mean just as much in its rich, Iron Bowl history, especially if the Tigers go on to win the national title. USC’s victory over Notre Dame in 1974 helped clinch a share of the title for the Trojans.

“We were just too anxious and caught up in all the hype in the first half,” Auburn tailback Michael Dyer said. “In the second half we just got in our rhythm and played ball.”

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Maybe it was something about the date?

Sixteen years ago to the day, Nov. 26, 1994, Florida State rallied came from 31-3 down against Miami to tie, 31-all.

Arizona State also rallied from a 17-0 deficit against UCLA on Friday to win, but somehow that one is probably not going to be remembered in 20 years.

Auburn, though, does resemble 1998 UCLA team that made a run to the national title with a jet-propelled offense and not-so-great defense.

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Auburn has also taken on the heart-stop persona of the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes, who survived scare after scare on its way to the BCS national title game, where they shocked top-ranked Miami.

Friday provided some nervous moments.

For the moment, though, Oregon and Auburn are safe.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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