Alabama showed off all its weapons in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Now, the Crimson Tide can expect a return trip to Atlanta for the College Football Playoff.
The nation’s No. 1 team scored off a blocked punt and an interception return Saturday before wearing down No. 15 Florida in the second half with a dominant running game. The result was a 54-16 rout that positioned Alabama to go for its second consecutive national title and its fifth crown in the last nine years under Coach Nick Saban.
Next up: a likely semifinal game at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 31.
The Crimson Tide (13-0) bolted to a 16-9 lead in the first quarter, despite being held to minus-7 yards and no first downs. They scored one touchdown off a blocked punt, another off an interception return. A field goal was set up by another pick — one of three thrown by Florida quarterback Austin Appleby in the first half.
The Tide led 33-16 at halftime — the most points ever scored in the first two quarters of an SEC title game — and iced the victory with scoring drives of 98 and 91 yards, sparked by a goal-line stand that finished off the last gasp by the Gators (8-4)
A 24-point underdog, Florida had a few shining moments against the nation’s only unbeaten Power Five team. The Gators marched the length of the field on the opening possession, the first touchdown given up by the Tide in more than 17 quarters. They had another long TD drive near the end of the first half to give themselves a glimmer of hope.
After Alabama went three-and-out to start the second half, Florida drove to the Crimson Tide one-yard line. Jordan Scarlett attempted to leap over the line on third-and-goal, but he never even got off the ground; Rashaan Evans blew by his blocker and slammed the running back for a one-yard loss. Appleby threw incomplete in the back of the end zone on fourth down, giving the Tide all the momentum.
Damien Harris broke off a 23-yard run, Jalen Hurts completed a 31-yard pass to ArDarius Stewart on third and 19, and bruising Bo Scarbrough finished things off with a 34-yard run and a two-yard touchdown.
No. 3 Clemson 42, No. 23 Virginia Tech 35: Deshaun Watson bolstered his Heisman Trophy candidacy by passing for three touchdowns and running for two more to lead the Tigers to the win in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in Orlando, Fla.
Winning consecutive league titles for the first time in 28 years likely will send the Tigers (12-1) back to the four-team College Football Playoff for the second straight year, providing Watson with an opportunity to resolve unfinished business from last January, when his team lost to Alabama in the national championship game.
The Clemson star completed 23 of 34 passes for 288 yards, including TDs of 21 and 10 yards to Jordan Leggett and 15 yards to Hunter Renfrow for a 42-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter. He also rushed for 85 yards on 17 attempts for the Tigers. They’ve won back-to-back ACC titles for the first time since winning three straight from 1986-88.
Watson’s Virginia Tech counterpart, Jerod Evans, was just as impressive. The 6-foot-3, 238-pounder ran for two touchdowns and rallied the Hokies from a 21-point deficit to make it close at the end.
The Hokies (9-4) scored on three straight possessions, trimming what was once a 35-14 deficit to seven points on Evans’ five-yard run early in the fourth quarter and Cam Phillips’ 26-yard TD reception with just under six minutes remaining.
Virginia Tech got the ball back with a chance to force overtime. Evans drove his team to the Clemson 23, where the drive stalled when Tigers cornerback Cordrea Tankersley intercepted a pass on fourth-and-6.
No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 5 Wisconsin 31: Trace McSorley threw four touchdown passes as the Nittany Lions stunned the Badgers by rallying from a 21-point first-half deficit to claim its first conference title in eight years with the greatest comeback in Big Ten title game history.
Now the East Division champs must wait to see if the selection committee rewards them with one of the four coveted playoff spots on Sunday. If the committee was impressed with the turnaround, it just might give the Nittany Lions (11-2) a chance.
They trailed 28-7 with 5:15 left in the first half, but McSorley led Penn State to touchdowns on each of its next four possessions, finally taking a 35-31 lead on an 18-yard TD pass to Saquon Barkley with 13:41 left in the game. The Nittany Lions never trailed again.
Things looked bleak early, but McSorley repeatedly burned the nation’s No. 3 defense with long passes on a record-breaking night.
McSorley completed 22 of 31 passes for 384 yards. The yardage and TD passes were both Big Ten championship game records. He also broke the school’s single-season records for yards passing and touchdown passes.
And he wasn’t the only one to have a memorable performance. Saeed Blacknall caught six passes, two for touchdowns, and finished with a championship-game record 155 yards.
Wisconsin (10-3) played without starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook but still jumped to a 28-7 lead behind Corey Clement, who ran 21 times for 164 yards including a 67-yard TD run in the first quarter.
at No. 9 Oklahoma 38, No. 10 Oklahoma State 20: Baker Mayfield passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns, and the Sooners toppled the Cowboys in a game that decided the Big 12 Conference champion.
The Heisman Trophy candidate performed well throughout, despite finishing the game without top receiver Dede Westbrook, a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Westbrook caught four passes for 111 yards before being knocked out of the game on a crushing hit by Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns.
Samaje Perine rambled for 239 yards on 37 carries for the Sooners (10-2, 9-0 Big 12), who won their 10th Big 12 title under Coach Bob Stoops.
Mason Rudolph completed just 11 of 25 passes for 186 yards for Oklahoma State (9-3, 7-2). His top target for the season, James Washington, caught just two passes for 50 yards on eight targets.
It was the second straight time the teams met in the regular-season finale to determine the conference champion. Oklahoma beat the Cowboys, 58-23, last season.
Temple 34, at No. 19 Navy 10: Phillip Walker threw two touchdown passes and the Owls’ defense stuffed the Midshipmen’s running game to help Temple claim its first American Athletic Conference.
After Temple (10-3) scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, protecting the 21-0 lead became substantially easier when No. 19 Navy (9-3) lost standout quarterback Will Worth to a second-quarter ankle injury.
Although the defeat took Navy out of the running for the Cotton Bowl, the Midshipmen are expected to play in the Armed Forces Bowl after facing Army next Saturday.
The Owls extended their winning streak to seven and earned their first league title since finishing atop the Middle American Conference in 1967. Temple lost to Houston in last year’s AAC championship game.
This time, the Owls dominated from the outset. Not only did Temple open with TD drives of 75, 59 and 70 yards, but the defense quashed a Navy attack that was averaging 61 points over its previous three games.
San Diego State 27, at Wyoming 24: Rashaad Penny rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns, and Donnel Pumphrey added 110 yards and one TD as the Aztecs won their second consecutive Mountain West Conference championship.
Penny also gained 113 yards on two kickoff returns and 13 receiving yards for a total of 243 all-purpose yards for the Aztecs (10-3). San Diego State’s defense forced three Wyoming turnovers and held the Cowboys (8-5) to 2-of-14 on third down and 0-3 on fourth down.
Josh Allen led Wyoming with 248 yards passing and three touchdowns. But he also was picked off twice and lost a fumble.
at No. 16 West Virginia 24, Baylor 21
Skyler Howard threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, and West Virginia held on in the Big 12 regular-season finale for both teams.
Justin Crawford rushed for 209 yards to help the Mountaineers (10-2, 7-2) to their first 10-win regular-season since 2007. They came from 11 points down in the first half to hand Baylor (6-6, 3-6) its sixth straight loss after a 6-0 start.
Baylor held the momentum for nearly three quarters in the final regular-season game for acting coach Jim Grobe, but that changed on two plays.
oward, having one of his worst games of the season, threw to Gary Jennings over the middle and he turned it into a 58-yard scoring play. After Baylor got the ball back, Marvin Gross stripped quarterback Zach Smith, and Darrien Howard recovered for West Virginia. An unsportsmanlike penalty on Baylor gave the Mountaineers the ball at the Bears 6, and Howard scored on a 1-yard sneak on fourth down for a 24-14 lead.
Kansas State 30, at Texas Christian 6: Jesse Ertz ran for a career-high 170 yards with a touchdown and threw an 83-yard scoring pass as the Wildcats ended their regular season with a win on a drizzly afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas.
Coach Bill Snyder got his 201st victory in 25 seasons with the Wildcats (8-4, 6-3 Big 12), who next will play in their 20th bowl game — the 19th under Snyder. Kansas State appears headed to the Houston Bowl to play an SEC team.
TCU (6-6, 4-5) will play in its 14th bowl with Gary Patterson, even after finishing the regular season without a winning record for only the third time in the coach’s 16 full seasons and being held without a touchdown in a game for the first time since 2006. The Horned Frogs could play an SEC team in the Liberty Bowl.