Historic Goal Line Stand Against Southern California Preserves Notre Dame’s Perfect 12-0 Season and Trip to the National Championship Game

College Football Wrap-Up – Week 13

The football gods were not needed. The school of “Touchdown Jesus” did not need a “Hail Mary” pass to win. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame went into the history books Saturday by beating Southern California on-the-road in the fabled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 22-13, and are officially on their way to the 2012 National Championship Game.

What a breath of fresh air has swept across major college football. Having another national championship with two Southeastern Conference teams from the same conference and same division play for the title would have raised zombies from graves in retribution (last year Alabama beat LSU 21-0, both teams were from the SEC’s West Division).

The win by Notre Dame, which completed a perfect 12-0 season, hinged on its defense holding Southern Cal from scoring late in the game, keeping the Trojans out of the end zone on 4 plays from the Irish 1-yard line with 2:33 left. After 3 straight runs yielded minuscule gains, freshman QB Max Wittek threw incomplete to fullback Soma Vainuku.

This goal-line stand will go down in college football history as one of the greatest ever.

After Kyle Brindza’s 5th field goal of 19 yards putting the Irish up 22-13 with 5:58 left in the last quarter, Marqise Lee answered with a kickoff return of 43 yards followed by a 53-yard pass reception, putting USC on Notre Dame’s 2-yard line.

On the first play, USC was penalized 5 yards, backing the Trojans up to the Notre Dame 7-yard line. Then Curtis McNeal rushed for 3 yards, Notre Dame was penalized for pass interference, putting the ball on the Notre Dame 2. Then Notre Dame was penalized again for pass interference, putting the ball on the Notre Dame 1 with another 1st-and-goal for USC, setting the stage for the greatest goal-line defense in recent memory, and I have been watching and covering major college football for 50+ years.

And then it happened from the Notre Dame 1-yard line. Max Wittek rushed for no gain. Max Wittek rushed again for no gain. Curtis McNeal rushed for no gain. And Max Wittek passed incomplete to Soma Vainuku. The Notre Dame defense held like the Rock of Gibraltar. Nary an inch did the Irish give to a formidable foe.

Think about it: Southern Cal had 8 (repeat eight) chances to score from the 2-yard line and could not get it done. The Fighting Irish had played their way into their first perfect regular season since 1988 under Lou Holtz (24 years ago), and their first possible national championship in 24 years under Lou Holtz.

Let the spirits of Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen arise and take notice, there are new heroes to be put on the list of Notre Dame’s great performers, including senior linebacker Manti Te’o and Coach Brian Kelly, who helped take the Fighting Irish from unranked to start the season to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time in 19 years.

Hats off to Manti Te’o, who had a key interception and became the second Irish defender with three 100-tackle seasons. Manti Te’o should be a hands down candidate for the Heisman Trophy because we are sick of tired of quarterbacks and running backs getting the trophy as the nation’s best players simply because they are quarterbacks or running backs with eye-popping statistics that they did not get alone.

Here is what happened in the rest of the major college football world this week:

Both Alabama and Georgia took care of their business.

#2 Alabama (11-1) at home humiliated unranked Auburn (3-9) in the Iron Bowl, 49-0, for supremacy in the State of Alabama. That’s right, Auburn had zero, zip, nada for points. By beating Auburn 49-0, Alabama logged the most lopsided Iron Bowl victory in 64 years. The win clinched the SEC Western Division title for the Crimson Tide.

#3 Georgia (11-1) at home was in no mood to diddle around either, crushing Georgia Tech (6-6), 42-10. The victory was the Bulldogs 11th in 12 years against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. 

Alabama and Georgia will now clash for the SEC title, with the winner likely advancing to play Notre Dame in the national championship game.

How Do You Spell “Belief”? Try Ohio State’s Perfect 12-0 Season

In the end, as always, only the score mattered, and that score was Ohio State 26, Michigan 21. And, as Paul Harvey would say, ” . . . and now for the rest of the story.”

First-year Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer took over a team that was 6-7 last season with a loss to their arch-rival Michigan and facing NCAA sanctions that prohibited them from playing for the Big Ten Conference title and any post-season bowl game. From that improbable start, Urban Meyer convinces the Buckeyes that they have something to prove—that the Buckeyes could still go 12-0 and be the “best” team in the country.

Because 6 of Ohio State’s 12 wins have been by 7 points or less, and 2 have been in overtime, they are only ranked #4 in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll, and #14 in Sagarin’s Ratings. The Coaches Top 25 Poll excludes them because of the NCAA sanctions.

The Buckeyes 12th victory was not easy. Michigan led 21-20 at the half, but the Wolverines committed 3 turnovers in the 2nd half, and were held scoreless by the Ohio State defense as the Buckeyes kicked 2 field goals to pull out the victory and the unbeaten season.

Four lower level Top 25 teams were upset—Texas, Louisville, Rutgers and Mississippi State all got caught napping.

Unranked TCU reminded pollsters why #18 Texas was never in the hunt this year, beating the Longhorns, 20-13. Worse yet, Texas was at home and is now 8-3 on the year.

Unranked Connecticut needed a 3rd overtime period, but hung tight to prevail against #19 Louisville, 23-20, leaving with Cardinals, again playing at home, with a 9-2 record.

Unranked Pittsburgh at home raced to a 21-0 halftime lead and then won with ease to upend #21 Rutgers, 27-6, leaving the Scarlet Knights with a 9-2 mark. Get this: Rutgers and Louisville play each other to end their regular season with a BCS bowl berth on the line. Believe this: Neither Rutgers or Louisville are good enough to play in a coveted BCS bowl game; in fact, the entire Big East Conference isn’t good enough to play in a BCS bowl game.

Unranked Mississippi at home proved that Ole Miss is not entirely dead and gone by easily turning away #25 Mississippi State, 41-24. 

Nebraska and Wisconsin Will Clash for the Big Ten Title

#17 Nebraska lost to Ohio State earlier in the season, and the Cornhuskers then capped off the regular season by winning their 6th straight game, this time on-the-road against unranked Iowa, 13-7, on a cold, windy afternoon unfit for passing. Rex Burkhead, who missed 4 games with a sprained left knee, returned to the turf, rushing for 69 yards in the last half and scoring the winning touchdown.

Unranked Penn State (8-4) upset unranked Wisconsin (7-5), 24-21 in overtime. Despite the loss by the Badgers, Wisconsin will face Nebraska for the Big Ten Conference title because both Ohio State and Penn State in the Leaders Division are ineligible for post-season play. Nebraska at home beat Wisconsin 30-27 earlier in the year.

It Will Be Stanford (not Oregon) and UCLA for the Pacific 12 Title

#11 Stanford (10-2) on-the-road at #15 UCLA (9-3) made it real clear that the Cardinal are not all that impressed with UCLA, beating the Bruins 35-17 in their showdown. By winning, Stanford, which upset Oregon last week, earned the right to play the UCLA Bruins again this week for the Pacific 12 Conference title.

Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and 2 touchdowns. The win was Stanford 10th of the year, giving the Cardinal their first-ever three 10-win seasons in-a-row.

Kent State and Northern Illinois Will Play for the Mid-American Conference Title

#23 Kent State (11-1) at home posted a 28-6 win, easily beating unranked Ohio (8-4), and #24 Northern Illinois (11-1) on-the-road blasted past a 2-10 Eastern Michigan team, 49-7. Both the Kent State Golden Flashes, East Division champions, and the Northern Illinois Huskies, West Division champions, head to the MAC championship game with perfect 8-0 league records.

Four Contenders Were Left Out in the Cold

#5 Oregon (11-1) on-the-road beat #16 Oregon State (8-3) for the 5th consecutive year, 48-24, to win The Civil War rivalry. That said, Oregon will not play for the Pac 10 title because the Ducks lost to Stanford 17-14 in overtime last week. Because Stanford beat UCLA 35-17 this week to end their regular season, it is the Stanford Cardinal who will now face UCLA for the Pac 10 Conference title.  

#6 Florida (11-1) on-the-road scored 24 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to surge past #10 Florida State (10-2), 37-26, and win bragging rights for the Sunshine State. That said, Will Muschamp’s Gators loss to Georgia earlier in the season will keep them out of the SEC title game (that will be Alabama and Georgia), and the national title picture.

#8 LSU (10-2) slid past a suffering, 4-8 Arkansas team, 20-13, to end their season on a winning note, something the Tigers could not do against Alabama and Florida. That said, the Tigers will be watching Alabama and Georgia in the SEC title game. 

#13 South Carolina (10-2) on-the-road and anxious to prove something, leaned on Jadeveon Clowney and Dylan Thompson to whip #12 Clemson (10-2), 27-17. Clowney, the Gamecocks star sophomore defensive end, racked up 4.5 sacks and Thompson, a backup quarterback for injured starter Connor Shaw, threw for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns. Clemson was only able to run 19 plays in the 2nd half to South Carolina’s 51; it’s called ball control.

The victory was South Carolina’s 4th straight in the rivalry for the first time in 58 years. The win also gave Coach Steve Spurrier the school wins record at 65 in 8 seasons, joining the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant as the only coaches with that distinction at two Southeastern Conference schools, and gave South Carolina its second consecutive 10-win season for the first time ever.

That said, Steve Spurrier and South Carolina will have to watch Alabama and Georgia play for the SEC title.

In Other Action of No Great Consequence

#9 Texas A&M (10-2) at home gave fans in College Station something to cheer about, drilling unranked Missouri (5-7), 59-29, behind the passing and running of Johnny Manziel (aka Johnny Football as he has become known in Texas). Manziel went 32-of-44 (72%) for 372 yards and 2 passing touchdowns, and also scoring 2 rushing touchdowns by running for another 67 yards.

Manziel has thrown for 24 touchdowns this season and ran for another 19 touchdowns while logging more than 4,600 yards of total offense—this dude has got it going on, and he’s a redshirt freshman.
Texas A&M has turned some heads this season as a first-year entry in the always tough SEC. 

#14 Oklahoma (9-2) at home needed an overtime to nip #22 Oklahoma State (7-4), 51-48, in an awesome display of no defense, which apparently is not played in the State of Oklahoma. The win kept the Sooners chance of a Big 12 title alive until next week if they beat TCU and Kansas State loses to Texas.

Senior Landry Jones had the best possible last game in this Bedlam rivalry, throwing 3 touchdown passes while going 46-for-71 (64%) and exactly 500 yards. Oklahoma was ranked #4 in the preseason Top 25 Poll, which shows what happens when pollsters drink too much while making out their to 25 predictions. Short take: Landry Jones and Oklahoma were vastly overrated.

#25 Utah State (10-2) stomped a mud hole in a potato patch, beating an unranked, 1-11 Idaho team, 45-9, ending its Western Athletic Conference schedule with a perfect 6-0 record and a WAC title.

By winning, the Utah State Aggies made more history. The victory marked their first 10-win season in 114 years of play, their first outright conference title in 76 years, and their 6 wins in league play was the first for a team that 6 years ago won just a single game.

Utah State is tied for 25th place in the AP Top 25 Poll with Mississippi State. 

Six unranked teams won again this week to push their season record to 9-3. They included Central Florida (UCF), Northwestern, San Diego State, Toledo, Fresno State and Ball State.

Texas-San Antonio, a newcomer to the NCAA Division 1 this season, ended its year at 8-4 with a 38-31 win over Texas State, another newcomer to major college football this season.

And Here Are 3 Really Sad Notes of Failure

1) Southern Mississippi lost to Memphis 42-24, ending its season as the only winless major college team at 0-12. Last year Southern Mississippi was 12-2, and the Golden Eagles last winless season was in 1925, 87 years ago.

2) Michigan State started the season ranked 13th in the nation, and now ends the season with a 6-6 record after defeating Minnesota, 26-10. While the Spartans are bowl eligible with 6 wins, there is now some serious doubt about whether Coach Mark Dantonio, a great defensive coordinator, has what it takes to produce a top 10 product as a head coach. Trust me on this: Dantonio is not recruiting and developing future talent as well as he should.

Michigan State lost 5 times in Big Ten Conference play by a total of 13 points, and its other 2 Big Ten wins were by 7 points combined. In other words, the Spartans had a defense but no offense worth talking about—that is Dantonio’s responsibility, and if the can’t do it he better get someone who can.

3) Washington (now 7-5) on-the-road lost its chance to become a rising star by blowing a 28-10 lead against rival Washington State (3-9), losing to the Cougars 31-28 in overtime. The way the Huskies lost to the Cougars was stupid, arcane and bovine.

The Cougars overcame a 18-point deficit in the last quarter, snapping an 8-game losing streak, and creating the largest comeback ever in the 105-year competition between the two Apple Cup schools. Simply put: The Cougars showed they wanted it more with better focus, effort, guts and belief when it counted most. Shame on the Huskies, whose loss was so unnecessary and so sorry as to be unforgivable.

Only one Top 25 team was idle this week–#7 Kansas State.

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