It was the Immaculate Reception, Southern-fried style. Seventh-ranked Auburn, with help from Georgia defensive backs, pulled off the play of the year in college football to beat Georgia 43-38 on Saturday and keep its national title dream alive.
Ricardo Louis’ unbelievable 73-yard scoring catch on a tipped desperation pass with 25 seconds left sets up an enormous showdown in — where else? — the SEC: Alabama at Auburn on Nov. 30. Two-time defending national champions vs. greatest turnaround story in the sport. A trip to the SEC title game which, of course, leads to the BCS title game will be on the line in the Iron Bowl.
The miraculous ending broke a 54-54-8 series tie in the Deep South’s oldest rivalry. The Tigers, 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC in 2012, will take a 10-1 record, 6-1 conference, into the Alabama game.
Lucky for Auburn that quarterback Nick Marshall underthrew the ball, because it allowed Georgia safety Tray Matthews to deflect it farther downfield into the arms of Louis. Franco Harris would be proud.
Bear attack: No. 5 Baylor’s 63-34 romp over Texas Tech is more impressive considering the Bears spotted the Red Raiders a 20-7 lead. Once again, the Baylor offense appears unstoppable, gaining 673 yards in this one with two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard receivers.
Big 12 showdown: The Big 12 will horn in on the SEC’s territory to provide next Saturday’s blockbuster: Baylor (9-0, 6-0) at Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1). The Cowboys, the preseason pick to win the league, are rolling now, hammering Texas 38-13 for their sixth straight win.
“You seldom go on the road and win by more than three touchdowns against a team that is undefeated in conference in the middle of November,” coach Mike Gundy said of his third straight victory in Austin.
Big 12 lowdown: Now for that bad. TCU (4-7) and West Virginia (4-7) were eliminated from bowl contention, joining Kansas (3-7) and Iowa State (1-9). That means the Big 12 will not be able to fill its seven-bowl allotment. But they’re celebrating in Kansas, because the Jayhawks’ 31-19 win over the Mountaineers ended KU’s 27-game Big 12 losing streak.
Dynamite Duke: Yep, the path to the ACC championship leads through Duke … in football, people. The amazing Blue Devils (8-2, 4-2) put another notch in their buckle with their sixth straight victory, 48-30 over No. 23 Miami. Duke clinches the Coastal Division, and an ACC title-game date with No. 2 Florida State, if it beats Wake Forest (4-6) and North Carolina (5-5).
Great grab: Auburn’s Immaculate Reception is the play of the year, but J.J. Worton’s spectacular one-handed, diving touchdown haul for No. 17 Central Florida is the catch of the year. Worton’s 30-yard snag with 1:08 left helped rally the Knights to a 39-36 win over Temple, keeping UCF (8-1, 5-0) atop the American Athletic Conference. And to remind: A BCS bid awaits the AAC winner.
Spartan power: No. 16 Michigan State can book its trip to the Big Ten title game against No. 3 Ohio State after winning 41-28 at Nebraska. The matchup isn’t quite official yet, but it will happen. The Spartans had been 0-7 lifetime vs. the Huskers. MSU’s top-ranked defense was dented more than it had been all year, but it forced five turnovers.
Woe is Wildcat: There cannot be a more snakebitten team than Northwestern. The Wildcats lost 27-19 to Michigan, their sixth straight defeat. Of the six, two were in overtime, two others were by three points and one was on a Hail Mary. Clearly, Northwestern is the best 4-6 team in America.
Pretty please: Texas Lutheran’s 63-14 stomping of Howard Payne wrapped up its first eight-win season since 1976. The Bulldogs will learn Sunday whether they get an NCAA Division III playoff bid. “I’m going to church first, and I’ll be praying,” coach Danny Padron said. Texas Lutheran won NAIA national titles in 1974 and ‘75 under Jim Wacker.
Argh: The Southwestern Pirates’ first football season since 1951 ended 0-10 after a 40-0 loss to Southern Virginia. Defensive end Justin Broussard was one bright spot for the team, made up almost exclusively of freshmen. Broussard led his league with six sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
Extra points …
- Navy (6-4) torpedoed South Alabama 42-14 and accepted a big to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth on Dec. 30 against a Mountain West opponent.
- Southeastern Louisiana clinched at least a Southland title share with a 34-21 win over Sam Houston, the league’s two-time defending champ.
- Vanderbilt (6-4) nailed down its third consecutive bowl invitation for the first time in program history.