Alabama is no longer No. 1 in the BCS standings, thanks to Saturday's heartbreaking loss on the road at Auburn. Instead, Florida State sits atop the latest standings, Ohio State trails at No. 2 and Auburn elevates to third, while Alabama takes the short, yet precipitous fall to fourth overall.
The Crimson Tide isn't completely out of the title hunt, but it's certainly on the far fringe of any championship conversation. The Buckeyes would have to lose to No. 10 Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Seminoles would have to lose to No. 20 Duke in the ACC Championship Game and then Alabama would have to hope that the voters would allow an all-SEC title game to happen for the second time in three years.
Eastern Division champion Missouri, by virtue of its win over Texas A&M, is a solid No. 5 and the top one-loss teams in the country. Saturday's conference tilt between Missouri and Auburn -- an all-Tigers matchup -- will determine who stays in the top five and who has a shot at a trip to Pasadena, Calif., to compete in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.
All told, seven SEC teams made the top 25. South Carolina, which narrowly missed out on the East crown, sits at No. 8. LSU, which rebounded nicely in the final weeks with wins over Texas A&M and Arkansas, comes in at No. 15. And finally, Georgia and Texas A&M round out the top 25 at No. 22 and No. 24, respectively.
Alabama is not out of the picture either. If this crazy season keeps spinning off its axis, next week's games could feature another slew of upsets and surprises. For now, we'll pencil the Tide into the Sugar Bowl. By beating Texas A&M on Saturday, Missouri actually has a chance to get into the national championship debate as well, but it has to start by beating Auburn this week in Atlanta. If that doesn't happen, a two-loss Missouri might still have raised its national profile enough to be an attractive choice for the Capital One Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl picks next, and while many see the potential for a Johnny Manziel draw, A&M's four losses now move it behind LSU in the pecking order. The Bayou Bengals have plenty of pull at ticket offices in their neighboring Lone Star State, by the way.
The rest of the SEC projections haven't changed. Georgia is clinging to a New Year's Day bowl thanks to a double-overtime win against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Ole Miss is still holding on to its spot in Nashville thanks to its seven wins this year. Vanderbilt is stuck with the Liberty Bowl because the Music City Bowl is not expected to make the Dores repeat last year's appearance. And Mississippi State is now bowl eligible thanks to its upset in Thursday's Egg Bowl.
VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 6: Auburn
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Alabama
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Missouri
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: LSU
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Texas A&M
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Ole Miss
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Vanderbilt
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Mississippi State
No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Ohio State have taken over the top spots in the BCS standings with just one week to go before the final pairing for the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game is announced.
The Seminoles and Buckeyes are the only two remaining undefeated teams from the automatic qualifying conferences and have the inside track to play for the title.
Auburn moved up to No. 3 by winning the Iron Bowl, while Alabama dropped to No. 4, barely ahead of No. 5 Missouri.
Auburn will play Missouri on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game, but both teams will likely need either Florida State or Ohio State to lose in order to move into the top two.
Florida State is ranked first in both polls used by the BCS and is also first in the computer ratings. The Seminoles need only beat No. 20 Duke in the ACC Championship Game to remain at the top of the standings.
Ohio State needed to stop Michigan on a two-point conversion in the final minute to stay unbeaten, but the Buckeyes' ugly win doesn't seem to have hurt them too badly. They are second in both polls as well as the computers.
“Everybody should be back,” Richt said on his Sunday evening teleconference. “Everybody's got to do what they've got to do, as far as if they have opportunities and that kind of thing. We've got some things we've certainly got to get better at, but continuity is a good thing for Georgia.”
Richt's Bulldogs were one of the bigger disappointments in the SEC this season, thanks in part to a spate of injuries that helped Georgia fall from a No. 5 preseason ranking to an 8-4 mark at the end of Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech.
Georgia's defense was also a glaring weakness for much of the season, tying for 47th nationally in total defense (381.3 ypg) and ranking 80th in scoring (29.4 ppg). The Bulldogs allowed the most points for a season covering at least 12 games (353) and highest scoring average in program history, creating media speculation over much of the season as to whether defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and the defensive staff would return.
Richt defended the group's performance, pointing toward the considerable youth on a defense that lost 12 key players from last season and which had only one senior starter -- defensive lineman Garrison Smith.
Nonetheless, he added that the coaches and players must improve to better handle such situations in the future.
“There's a lot of areas that we all need to improve on, but I think that we've got the right group of guys and we have the right staff,” Richt said. “We've got to make sure that we take care of business as far as improving, maturing and keeping that continuity.”
These Dawgs have fight: If Georgia's bounceback from a 27-7 deficit at Auburn didn't prove it -- even if that game ended with a heartbreaking bomb for the Tigers' 43-38 win in the final seconds -- Saturday's rally made the point abundantly clear. These Bulldogs never, ever quit. This season will be remembered for what might have been if not for crippling injuries and controversial calls, but Georgia fought all the way to the finish time after time in 2013. Georgia Tech looked like it would win a blowout when it built a 20-0 lead in the first half, only to see Georgia outscore the Yellow Jackets 41-14 the rest of the way behind backup quarterback Hutson Mason and a much-maligned defense. As if the Bulldogs would have done it any other way.
Next season looks bright: Mason performed well last week in injured starter Aaron Murray's place, but that was against Kentucky. Making his first career start against one of Georgia's biggest rivals was a completely different animal -- and he hardly looked up to the task early. But he led a crucial touchdown drive to make it 20-7 at halftime. And then the Bulldogs scored on all five full drives after that. It was an unbelievable turnaround, but it has to give Georgia fans hope for what their 2014 offense will look like with Mason under center and essentially all of the key skill players also returning.
Gurley is a beast: Of course it helped Mason's cause that he had Todd Gurley behind him in the backfield. The All-SEC tailback still doesn't look like he's back to 100 percent following a midseason ankle injury, but he had more than enough in the tank on Saturday. Gurley scored the Bulldogs' first touchdown on a 9-yard reception. He was the only player to touch the ball in overtime, scoring after three straight runs in the first overtime period and then blasting up the middle for a 25-yard score in the second overtime. He finished with 158 yards of total offense -- 122 rushing and 36 receiving -- and scored four of Georgia's five touchdowns.
1. Duke is the outright Coastal Division winner. No tiebreaker scenarios needed. No back doors opened. Duke marched right into the ACC championship game with a thrilling 27-25 win at North Carolina, leaving no doubt it was the best team in the division and the most deserving to line up against Atlantic Division winner Florida State. Duke’s fate was sealed when DeVon Edwards intercepted Marquise Williams with 13 seconds remaining. It was a fairytale ending to Duke’s Cinderella season, which included eight straight wins to end the season and an undefeated season on the road. With its 10 wins, Duke broke the school record for wins in a season. Duke’s six ACC wins were the program’s most since 1989 -- also the same year that Duke last won an ACC title.
3. Syracuse is bowl eligible. In what was another one of the ACC’s most thrilling and entertaining down-to-the-wire games, Syracuse ended the season with a 34-31 home win over Boston College to reach bowl eligibility in its final chance to do so. With six seconds remaining, Terrel Hunt threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Parris to win the game. It snapped BC’s four-game winning streak and was one of the best offensive performances of the season for the Orange. Unfortunately for BC, Heisman hopeful running back Andre Williams was injured in the third quarter and didn’t return. BC quarterback Chase Rettig accounted for three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough, as Syracuse racked up 480 yards and won the turnover battle.
4. Maryland leaves the ACC on a winning note. The Terps won their final regular-season game as members of the ACC, a convincing 41-21 drubbing of an inept NC State team, to finish 7-5. It was a significant -- and much-needed -- turnaround for Maryland and coach Randy Edsall before heading to the Big Ten next season. It was also a terrific sendoff for quarterback C.J. Brown, who ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more in the win. It was Maryland’s first seven-win season since 2010. Maryland is likely bound for the Military Bowl, but as the Terps finish their season, they do so with the ACC’s lawsuit still hanging over their heads.
5. The Hokies still own the state. As much as Virginia Tech’s offense has struggled this season, rival Virginia’s offense was even worse on Saturday in a 16-6 loss. The Hokies’ defense held Virginia without a touchdown on its home field, and both quarterbacks -- starter David Watford and his backup, Greyson Lambert -- were ineffective. It was the 10th straight win against UVa for the Hokies, who have won 18 of the past 22 games in the series. Much has been made about Virginia’s strong recruiting class, but it has yet to add up in this rivalry or in the win column under coach Mike London. UVa ended the season on a 10-game losing streak and winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.
Tre Mason, Auburn: Chris Davis will forever live in Auburn lore for his game-winning 109-yard missed field goal return as time expired, but Mason deserves some big-time credit for a big-time performance. The junior running back was productive all day against the Alabama defense, finishing with 164 rushing yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and had a 40-yard run on the day. He's been one of the SEC's best all season.
Connor Shaw, South Carolina: The senior quarterback threw for 152 yards and a touchdown but ran for 94 more yards and another score to lead the Gamecocks to a 31-17 win over No. 6 Clemson. Shaw embodies toughness, and he also has been money at home, concluding his career with a 17-0 record in Williams-Brice Stadium and capping it off with a big win over a rival.
James Franklin, Missouri: In a 28-21 win over Texas A&M, the senior quarterback had a productive day. Franklin finished with 233 passing yards and two touchdowns and ran for 80 yards to help the Tigers clinch the SEC East Division title outright and a spot in the SEC Championship Game next week. Now fully healthy, the steady Franklin played a smart game and didn't make any noticeable mistakes to put his team in a bad spot.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Speaking of tough, like the aforementioned Shaw, Prescott has also symbolized this trait. The sophomore quarterback was initially ruled out in this game by head coach Dan Mullen because of injury. However, after getting some good feedback from doctors in pregame, Mullen decided to go to the playmaker late in the game and it paid off. After coming in, Prescott threw for 115 yards and ran for 29, including the game-winning 3-yard touchdown run in overtime to give the Bulldogs the Egg Bowl victory and clinch bowl eligibility for his team.
Todd Gurley, Georgia: When he's been healthy, he's been one of the nation's best. The sophomore running back had 122 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in Georgia's 41-34 comeback win over rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs fell behind 20-0 in the first half but came roaring back thanks in large part to Gurley. He was huge late in the game, scoring touchdowns in the fourth quarter and the game-winner in the second overtime.
Todd Gurley: He might not have been 100 percent, but whatever Gurley had was more than enough to make him the most valuable player in the Bulldogs' comeback win. He was the only skill player to touch the ball on either of Georgia's overtime possessions -- running three times and scoring on the first series and then blasting through Georgia Tech's line for a 25-yard score to open the second overtime. In the end, Gurley finished with 20 carries for 122 yards and three touchdowns and four catches for 36 yards and another score. What a performance.
Hutson Mason: Not a bad way to make your debut as a starting quarterback: Spot the opponent 20 points and then lead a comeback that results in an overtime win. Mason wasn't perfect, and he would be the first to admit it. But once he found his rhythm, he led Georgia to points on each of its last seven full possessions. Mason finished 22 for 36 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. And the most important stat of all: He's 1-0 as a starter.
Ramik Wilson: The SEC's leading tackler ranked second on the team with nine stops on Saturday, including one stop for a 3-yard loss. But the most important play Wilson made on Saturday was when he dropped off the line on Georgia Tech's final pass play and deflected a Vad Lee throw across the middle intended for Darren Waller. The ball bounced high in the air and Damian Swann knocked it to the ground for an incompletion that preserved the Bulldogs' heart-stopping win.
ATLANTA -- Of course Georgia's season ended like this.
With backup quarterback Hutson Mason making his first career start against Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs spotted the rival Yellow Jackets a 20-0 lead only to rally and force overtime -- and then win 41-34 in the second extra session on a deflected pass that seemed to hang in the air for several minutes.
"I'm just glad I'm still standing," Georgia coach Mark Richt said, relief evident in his weary voice.
Richt's team dealt with injuries to key players all season, played down to the final gun seemingly every week and gave many members of its fan base a good reason to visit a cardiologist. Or a psychiatrist. Or both.
Of course the Bulldogs (8-4) would allow Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, who hadn't exactly looked like Dan Marino this season, to hit multiple big passes in the first quarter -- throws of 68, 43 and 26 yards -- that helped the Yellow Jackets (7-5) build a 17-0 lead by the end of the period. Of course they would rally back behind Mason and tailback Todd Gurley, who scored both overtime touchdowns, and a defense that hadn't been able to stop anyone consistently all season.
It came down to Tech's final overtime possession, with the Jackets grinding all the way down to Georgia's 3 before Leonard Floyd led a host of tacklers to stop Robert Godhigh for a 3-yard loss and force a final fourth-down play.
Lee -- who passed for a season-high 232 yards -- threw over the middle to Darren Waller, only to have linebacker Ramik Wilson tip it into the air. Cornerback Damian Swann then batted the deflection away from Godhigh, and it fell to the ground incomplete.
Unlike their failure under similar circumstances two weeks ago in the final seconds against Auburn, the Bulldogs made the pass breakup that put away a dramatic win against a rival.
"It was up there for a while," said Wilson, who was second on the team with nine tackles. "I hit it as hard as I could, trying to make a play. Then it bounced to Swann, and Swann hit it up again. So I'm just glad that the ball fell down."
Said Gurley, who rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns and caught four passes for 36 yards and another score: "I was like, 'Thank God.' I just knew somebody from Tech was coming to get that tipped ball, but they didn't."
Early on, it didn't look like there would be any late-game dramatics. Lee went 3-for-4 for 137 yards in the first quarter alone, while Mason and the UGA offense sputtered. It wasn't until the Bulldogs' final drive of the second quarter, which started with just 1:43 remaining until halftime, that they finally began to show a pulse.
Operating out of the up-tempo setup that helped him become a record-setting passer in high school, Mason went 5-for-5 -- including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Gurley -- and ran for a 16-yard gain as the Bulldogs' 86-yard scoring drive cut Tech's halftime lead to 20-7.
Georgia got the ball to open the second half and drove 63 yards to set up Marshall Morgan's 40-yard field goal, and all of a sudden 20-0 became 20-10, and the folks wearing old gold at Bobby Dodd Stadium weren't quite so loud.
"Momentum's huge in a road game, and with that environment and being down 20, they had all of it in the first half," Mason said. "And you can see how quickly it can change."
Then the defense started getting stops more consistently. Tech's vaunted rushing attack picked up chunks of yards -- it finished with 263 yards on 58 attempts -- but the Jackets mustered just one second-half touchdown, while the Bulldogs put 20 points on the board.
They tied the score for the first time at 27-all when Morgan booted a 32-yard field goal, and then the defense stopped Tech at the Georgia 40 on the ensuing possession to force overtime.
It was all Gurley from there. The Bulldogs' All-SEC tailback ran three straight times and scored from 6 yards to answer Lee's touchdown run in the opening OT period. And then Gurley bolted 25 yards up the middle to score on Georgia's first play of the second overtime.
That put it back on the defense -- which forced two punts, intercepted two passes, surrendered a fourth-quarter touchdown pass and saw Tech's Harrison Butker miss a 43-yard field goal after the Jackets went up 20-0 -- to make one final stop.
Unlike the end of that devastating loss to Auburn, when Ricardo Louis caught a floating deflection for the game-winning score, this time they made the play to win.
"I was saying in the locker room it was a little bit of a redemptive feeling after that Auburn game to have this win -- just a little bit," said receiver Michael Bennett, who caught five passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. "Bottom line, we've got to start out better, obviously, but to see our team come back from that is just amazing."
There has been plenty of amazing this season for Georgia. Some of the good kind and some of the bad. Of course, the Bulldogs couldn't finish without providing one more moment to remember.