Faculty soccer winners and losers for Week 15

But the play that will live in Gator infamy was defensive back Marco Wilson’s inexplicable reaction to helping to bring down Kole Taylor well short of the line to gain on third down: To pick up Taylor’s shoe, which came off during the play, and chuck it down the field.

No, really. For throwing a shoe 20 yards downfield, an explanation referee James Carter probably had never needed to use for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because of how utterly absurd it is to even think about tossing an opponent’s footwear.

Instead of LSU (4-5) punting from its 29 with about two minutes remaining and Florida quarterback and Heisman candidate Kyle Trask waiting to carve up the Tigers’ tiring secondary, Ed Orgeron’s offense stayed on the field. It picked up another first down, was stopped again but kicked the go-ahead field goal.

It’s the second time in a little more than a year the SEC has produced a mind-boggling brain freeze late in the season. In last year’s Egg Bowl, Mississippi wide receiver Elijah Moore celebrated a late touchdown that brought the Rebels within a point by pantomiming a dog urinating in the end zone. His unsportsmanlike conduct penalty turned the extra point into a 35-yarder, was promptly missed and Mississippi State escaped with a 21-20 victory.

Two days later, Mississippi made a coaching change that very well may not have happened had it won. Moore, to his immense credit, shook off the incident and has turned in a stellar junior season; he has 86 catches for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games.

As much as his penalty made him a household name for all the wrong reasons, it didn’t have playoff implications for his team and the rest of the sport.

Had Florida improved to 9-1, it would have faced a de facto play-in opportunity for the playoff in the SEC title game next week against Alabama. Beat the unbeaten Crimson Tide, and earn a playoff slot. Lose, and perhaps head to the Orange Bowl to play an ACC team. It would be a tough task, but Trask would give them more of a chance than anyone else Alabama has encountered this season.

Instead, the Gators took a second loss, something no team in the playoff era has overcome to secure a semifinal invitation. No. 5 Texas A&M (7-1), even with its victory over Florida devalued, benefits. So does No. 4 Ohio State, which could have faced a scenario with a 10-1 SEC champion Florida, 10-1 Alabama, a 10-1 ACC champion Clemson and a 10-1 Notre Dame while it had barely played more than half as many games.

No need to worry about that now. While Alabama might just bulldoze Florida like it has just about everyone this season, the Gators are probably out of the playoff picture now. The opportunity was thrown away in a shoe-cause penalty that won’t soon be forgotten in Gainesville.

Winners

Southern California. This Trojan team isn’t the program’s best in recent memory, and it won’t receive a chance to play for a national title. But it certainly has enjoyed some zany comebacks en route to a Pac-12 South title.

The No. 15 Trojans pulled out late victories last month against Arizona State and Arizona, then added to those with a pair of comebacks in a 43-38 defeat of UCLA to retain possession of the Victory Bell and improve to 5-0.

UCLA led 35-23 entering the fourth quarter, but the Trojans pieced together consecutive touchdown drives (failing on a two-point conversion after the second) to take a one-point advantage. The Bruins went up 38-36 on Nicholas Barr-Mira’s field goal, but left USC with 52 seconds to play with.

Gary Bryant’s kickoff return seemed to catch UCLA off guard; he brought it back 56 yards to the Bruin 43. On the next play, Kedon Slovis found Tyler Vaughns down the right sideline for 35 yards. A snap later, he connected with Amon-Ra St. Brown in the end zone for a go-ahead score with just 16 seconds left.

And with that, USC finished alone atop the Pac-12 South and will have home-field advantage against Washington for Friday’s conference title game.

Alabama. The Crimson Tide (10-0) will head into conference championship weekend all but assured of a spot in the playoff after completing an undefeated regular season. Alabama started slowly, but ultimately blasted Arkansas 52-3, a blowout sparked by DeVonta Smith’s 84-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the first quarter.

It’s hard to imagine even a loss to Florida next week would knock Nick Saban’s bunch out of the semifinals. A victory would almost certainly hand the Crimson Tide the No. 1 seed.

Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. Imagine being Williams, with his 236 yards and three touchdowns, and being the No. 2 rusher on his team. That’s because Carter piled up 308 yards and two scores to help No. 17 North Carolina crush No. 10 Miami, 62-26.

Carter and Williams combined for 47 carries, 544 yards and five touchdowns, becoming the most potent single-game pair of teammates in FBS history. Carter posted the second-best rushing day in school history, while Williams’ outing ranks 12th in Carolina history.

Williams did collect a nifty consolation prize, the school record for touchdowns in a season. Williams has 22 for the Tar Heels (8-3, 7-3 ACC), breaking the record held by Don McCauley since 1970.

Sarah Fuller. The Vanderbilt goalkeeper-turned-kicker added to her story when she made an extra point in the first quarter of the Commodores’ 42-17 loss to Tennessee, becoming the third woman to score in an FBS game and the first to do so for a Power Five program.

Fuller joins New Mexico’s Katie Hnida (2003 against Texas State) and Kent State’s April Goss (2015 against Delaware State) as women who have scored for an FBS program.

Tom Herman. The Texas coach will be back for a fifth season in Austin, according to Longhorns athletic director Chris Del Conte.

Herman is 31-18 at Texas, and the program hasn’t built on the 10-4 breakout it enjoyed in 2018. This year’s Longhorns are 6-3 (5-3 Big 12), and had their finale against Kansas canceled.

Realistically, Herman could have used this news a week or two earlier. But Texas being Texas — which is to say, dysfunctional and with far too many wealthy people who believe they should be able to meddle with the program — there were enough Urban Meyer rumblings this month to make Herman’s status more precarious than it needed to be.

The question he faces moving forward is whether things will ever really be stable for him barring a playoff appearance. It has to be a somewhat uneasy situation though, especially where player procurement is concerned.

Army. The Black Knights’ annual game against Navy tends to veer toward the slugfest end of the spectrum, but rarely as much as it did this year.

Army (8-2) scratched out a 15-0 victory on two field goals, a touchdown and a safety to beat the Midshipmen (3-7) for the fourth time in the last five years. But there were virtually no style points; the teams combined for 12 first downs and 279 total yards in the first meeting between the academies played in West Point since 1943.

Northwestern’s rushing game. In their homage to the Army-Navy game, the Wildcats piled up 411 rushing yards in their 28-10 defeat of Illinois. No. 14 Northwestern (6-1), which already had clinched the Big Ten West, got 149 yards and a touchdown from Evan Hull and 142 yards and two scores from Cam Porter to flatten the Illini (2-5).

Northwestern ran it 58 times while throwing it on just 12 plays as it won the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the sixth consecutive year, its longest streak ever against the Illini and one shy of the series record set twice by Illinois (most recently from 1979 to 1985).

Ball State. The Cardinals are headed to the Mid-American championship game for the first time since 2008, ending the conference’s second-longest title game drought (Eastern Michigan has yet to appear in one).

It happened in riveting fashion. Ball State (5-1) scored 17 fourth-quarter points, including Jack Knight’s 22-yard field goal with 29 seconds left, to earn a 30-27 victory over Western Michigan and first place in the West Division. Next up for the Cardinals is Buffalo, which entered the weekend assured of the East Division title.

It also featured this wild sequence at the end of the game:

UAB. The Blazers joined in on the division clinching fun, claiming a 21-16 victory at Rice and denying the Owls a second consecutive upset a week after their excellent performance at Marshall.

For its part, UAB (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) had a “only-in-2020” degree of difficulty. This game was its first since Halloween; four games were wiped out in the interim. Nonetheless, the Blazers locked up C-USA’s West Division for the third year in a row and will meet Marshall in Friday’s league title game.

Jackson He. Believed to be the only FBS player born in China, the redshirt junior burrowed his way into the end zone for his first career touchdown on Friday to cap Arizona State’s 70-7 pummeling of Arizona. He finished with 7 yards on four carries and was one of eight players to score a touchdown for Herm Edwards’ team.

It was a superb way to finish off the Territorial Cup blowout for the Sun Devils (1-2), who hit the 70-point plateau for the first time since dropping a school-record 79 points on Colorado State in 1969.

San Jose State. One of the season’s best stories added another chapter Friday as the Spartans scored 23 unanswered points in the second half to rally past Nevada, 30-20, and clinch a berth in the Mountain West championship game.

San Jose State (6-0), off to its best start since going 13-0 in 1939, got 184 yards and a touchdown from Tyler Nevens and took advantage of two Wolf Pack fumbles in the second half to secure a spot opposite Boise State in next week’s league title game. That will give the Spartans a shot at their first conference crown since sharing the 1991 Big West championship.

Losers

Miami. Hurricanes fans weren’t thrilled with how the ACC stacked the deck and didn’t force Clemson and Notre Dame to make up postponements, in the process giving those two programs an open date the week before the conference championship.

Then Miami went out and effectively took Saturday off as well, especially on defense.

The Hurricanes’ 62-26 loss to North Carolina was ugly both by its margin and the Tar Heels’ unrelenting offensive efficiency (554 rushing yards, 778 total yards, 10.4 yards per play). North Carolina led 34-3 late in the first half, then stretched things out further after the break.

Here’s a candid assessment of Miami’s season. The Hurricanes (8-2, 7-2 ACC) won their close games, going 3-0 in one-possession game and 5-0 in games decided by 13 points or less. They didn’t stumble against anyone bad, though they were easily dispatched by Clemson and North Carolina (combined record: 17-4). And, like other teams, they dealt with severe virus issues.

So Miami was better than last year’s erratic mess, but not nearly good enough to belong in a year-end conversation of the nation’s best teams. Progress was made, but there’s still a lot to improve if the Hurricanes are going to reclaim a place as a top-10 program.

Colorado. The Buffaloes’ dreams of an unbeaten season — even though one wouldn’t have gotten them into the playoff and might not have gotten them into the Pac-12 championship — faded away with a 38-21 loss to Utah at frosty Folsom Field.

It was hardly a blowout; the Utes (2-2) led 27-21 entering the final five minutes. But it still goes down as a disappointing result for Colorado (4-1), which was much improved in coach Karl Dorrell’s first season.

However, Utah did a number on Colorado’s defense, scoring on six out of seven possessions before a kneel-down at the end of the game. Ty Jordan rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and his 66-yard scoring scamper with 4:43 remaining effectively clinched the Utes’ fourth consecutive Rumble in the Rockies victory.

Kevin Sumlin. Every now and then, you see a game late in a season where it feels like a team is almost trying to get a coach fired. Rarely is there any malicious intent, but there’s usually enough lifelessness and ineptitude to make it hard to ignore the possibility of a change in leadership, and sure enough, Arizona announced on Saturday it was firing its head coach.

Arizona’s 70-7 loss to Arizona State on Friday was exactly that kind of game. The Wildcats yielded a kickoff return for a touchdown on the game’s first play, lost a fumble on the second play from scrimmage and gave up another touchdown a snap later. The Sun Devils led 14-0 less than a minute in, and things never got better. Arizona, in fact, coughed up seven turnovers on the night.

Sumlin wasn’t a sure thing when he was hired to replace Rich Rodriguez in the desert in early 2018. No one is. But he was 51-26 and had tutored a Heisman Trophy winner in six seasons at Texas A&M before the Aggies made a change after the program plateaued.

He inherited an electrifying quarterback in Khalil Tate, and the fairly modest state of the Pac-12 South coupled with Sumlin’s track record suggested Arizona would be a postseason regular if not necessarily a conference contender. Instead, the Wildcats are 9-20 over the last three seasons, including 0-5 in this abbreviated season. This is not the year for a quick trigger for anyone, but getting blasted by a winless rival in such humiliating fashion makes it understandable.

Northern Illinois. It will go largely unnoticed nationally, but the Huskies — who played in seven out of nine Mid-American Conference title games between 2010 and 2018, winning four of them — wrapped up a winless season with a 41-33 loss at Eastern Michigan.

Are there sweeping conclusions to draw here? Probably not, although it does mark the program’s first back-to-back losing seasons since 2007 and 2008. Nonetheless, 0-6 is Northern Illinois’ most games under .500 since 2007 (2-10) and the Huskies’ first winless season since 1997 (0-11). Given their profile as one of the steadiest Group of Five programs over the last decade, the nosedive (even under trying circumstances) is noteworthy.

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