2012 SEC title game: the greatest in conference history?

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For all the annual pomp and circumstance surrounding the SEC championship game, more times than not the preeminent college football conference’s showcase has turned into an unabashed rout.

In the 20 such games played prior to this season, 16 of them were decided by 10 points or more.  More than half (11) saw the winning team romp by more than two touchdowns, with three of those devolving into 30-plus-point bloodbaths.  Just two had been decided by six points or less, and those were back in the pre-BCS days of 1994 and 1997.

The former game — Florida’s one-point win over unbeaten Alabama — and the latter — one that saw a Peyton Manning-led-Tennessee squad overcome a 20-10 deficit on Auburn en route to its one-point win — have widely been considered the greatest in the history of the conference, as has the 2008 matchup of No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida.  And then along came the 2012 edition of what’s turned into a BCS title-game play-in, one that can stand firmly alongside, if not above, the others in the conference annals.

In Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia, Saturday night’s instant classic had something none of the aforementioned could claim: a combination of what made all three of those games classics in their own right.

Lofty rankings for both teams as in 2008?  Check, with the Tide clocking in at No. 2 and Georgia at No. 3.  A double-digit third-quarter deficit overcome by the winning team as in 1997?  Check, with the Tide digging its way out of an 11-point hole.  A game-winning drive in the latter half of the fourth quarter?  Check, with AJ McCarron reprising the role made famous by Danny Wuerffel.

And the stakes for this year’s game?  Yes, ’97 Tennessee and ’94 Alabama both had titles within their grasp, but only ’08 Alabama-Florida and ’12 Alabama-Georgia had a shot at national championship on the line for both teams involved.

Mix in some late-game controversy… momentum swings that tested the hearts and stomachs of the faithful on both sides… one head coach attempting to shake the big-game gorilla off his back while the other looked to continue a seemingly inexorable march toward coaching immortality… add all of that together and add a splash of the raw emotion on display from both sides at game’s end, and you have a rock-solid case for 2012 stacking up against any other year.

Five yards and four points separating the two teams after 60 minutes of football, with a spot in the BCS title game at stake?  Case closed.

While a football game’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and knowing full well the immediacy of sporting moments ofttimes transcend the fading memories of games gone by, the 2012 SEC title showdown can lay its head on the pillow this morning armed with the knowledge that it was indeed one of the greatest of all-time.  And the greatest ever in my little corner of the college football world.

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”