An eccentric collection of almost ancient trophies ranging from the Golden Egg awarded to the winner of the Ole Miss versus Mississippi State game to the Platypus given to the winner between Oregon and Oregon State, along with bragging rights for the year, were on the line as college football’s greatest rivalries took center stage in the final week of the NCAA regular season.
Storied games, featuring names such as “Clean, old-fashioned hate,” “Bedlam” and “Farmageddon” have been pitting inter- and intra-state rivals against one another for more than 100 years and every year means something to the schools involved.
In addition to the importance of each game on a local level this year’s slate featured a handful of games that would set the stage for next week’s conference championships cast a long shadow over the second-to-last college football playoff rankings released on Tuesday night.
Three games, in particular, stood out from the crowd for the potential impact on the post-season, and all three delivered almost stunning upsets that roiled the national polls: The Iron Bowl between No. 5 Alabama and No. 15 Auburn; the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe featuring No. 8 Minnesota and No. 12 Wisconsin; and the century-old match between No. 24 Virginia Tech and unranked Virginia.
Coming into the game, the Crimson Tide knew they would not be playing in the SEC Championship game. As a result, the Iron Bowl was the last chance to make an argument for why they should be among the four play-off contenders when the dust settled on the season.
For Auburn, a team that had fought through one of the toughest schedules of the year, it was the final opportunity to show the country that they were better than their 9-2 record and possibly grab a slot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
The game reflected both the stakes and the bitter nature of the rivalry as the teams combined for almost 1,000 yards of offense and a total of 93 points, 48 of those points coming in the second quarter, in the second highest scoring game in Iron Bowl history.
A missed field goal and a substitution penalty in the fourth proved Alabama’s undoing and allowed the Tigers to hold on for the win by a final score of 48-45. The loss eliminated the Crimson Tide from the playoffs for the first time since their inception in 2014 and marked the first two loss regular season since 2010’s 10-3 record.
The battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, held by Minnesota for the first time in 15 years, was also a fight for the Big 10 West title and a berth in the conference championship against No. 1 Ohio State.
Looking to put the finishing touches on an already historic season, the Golden Gophers struck first with a beautiful 68-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. From there, it was all Wisconsin as the Badgers scored 17 unanswered points, allowing a field goal in the third quarter, on their way to a dominating 38-17 victory.
Despite being limited to 78 yards on 18 carries, Heisman contending running-back Johnathan Taylor still proved to be the difference maker with three touchdowns in the game to extend his FBS leading total to 20.
This year’s ACC has been dominated by No. 3 Clemson. No other team in the conference has come close to the scoring and yardage totals put up by the Tigers on their way to a second straight ACC Atlantic division title.
It is very unlikely that either Virginia or Virginia Tech would beat Clemson in the conference championship, but a shot at the Tigers was at stake when the two teams met to fight for the Commonwealth Cup on Saturday.
The teams entered the game on equal footing, with identical 5-2 conference records and 8-3 overall records. Based on strength of schedule, the Hokies managed to come in ranked No. 24 in the nation. Although neither team held a clear advantage on paper, Virginia Tech was in the midst of a 15-game winning streak in the series.
In a tight, back-and-forth battle that wasn’t decided until the fourth quarter when Kicker Brian Delaney gave the Cavaliers the lead with 1:23 left in the game. Virginia’s defense scored the final points of the game as they shut down the Hokies final drive to pull off the upset with a 39-30 victory, snapping the losing streak and earning their spot across the field from Clemson in next week’s championship contest.
College Scoreboard (On Bye: No. 22 USC):