Baylor holds on for Big 12 title, knocks Oklahoma State out of CFP

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Dezmon Jackson came up inches short on a desperate, fourth-down dive with 24 seconds remaining and fifth-ranked Oklahoma State fell to ninth-rated Baylor 21-16 in the Big 12 championship game Saturday, knocking the Cowboys out of contention for a playoff spot.

Blake Shapen threw three TDs while completing his first 17 passes as Baylor (11-2, College Football Playoff No. 9) took a 21-3 lead.

The Cowboys (11-2, CFP No. 5) rallied back, then went 89 yards on 17 plays on their final drive. But their Big 12 and national championship hopes wound up just shy.

After having first-and-goal from 2 following a pass interference penalty, Jackson gained a yard and was held for no gain before an incomplete pass by Spencer Sanders.

On fourth down from the 1, Jackson tried to sweep wide left, but with safety Jairon McVea in pursuit, he barely missed while trying to reach the pylon in the front corner of the end zone.

“When I saw the running back with the ball, I thought I’ve got to run this guy down,” McVea said, who wasn’t even sure where the ball was when the tackle was made. “The ref signaled not a touchdown, so when I saw that I was pretty happy.”

“They made a good play. It’s not 27’s fault,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said, referring to Jackson.

There would need to be some chaos, in form of an upset or two in other conference title games later in the day, for third-time Big 12 champion Baylor to have a chance to be in the final four for the first time when the CFP rankings come out Sunday.

Baylor coach Dave Aranda passed on politicking for the playoff.

“I’m sure it will work out the way it’s supposed to,” he said.

Baylor was 2-7 in Aranda’s debut last year when the pandemic wiped out spring drills when he was coming off a national championship as LSU defensive coordinator. The 11 wins match a school record.

Shapen started his second game in a row for injured quarterback Gerry Bohanon (right hamstring), and the Bears won even with only 242 total yards of offense. They had only 36 yards after halftime, while Shapen finished 23 of 28 for 180 yards passing overall.

Aranda recalled Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy telling him “that winning is hard” before an earlier meeting between the teams.

“And I think today was an example of it,” Aranda said.

Sanders threw four interceptions, one by McVea, and the Cowboys were without leading rusher Jaylen Warren because of his lingering ankle and shoulder issues.

After Oklahoma State took a 3-0 lead on Tanner Brown’s 23-yard field goal set up after all-purpose Baylor back Trestan Ebner fumbled on the opening drive of the game, the Bears scored 21 consecutive points.

Sanders threw picks on the next two drives, setting up Baylor with short fields for three-play TD drives – a 2-yard TD pass to wide-open tight open Ben Sims and Drew Estrada‘s 4-yard scoring catch.

Baylor had a 21-3 lead – the largest deficit this season for the Cowboys -after an incredible 13-yard diving catch by Tyquan Thornton with a defender on his back, and able to get both feet down in bounds, with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first half.

The Cowboys were within 21-16 on Brown’s 20-yard field goal with 8:17 left. That was set up after Ebner muffed a punt recovered by Korie Black, who had ended the first half by deflecting a field goal attempt that came up woefully short.

McVea had his interception early in the second half, but Baylor failed to get a first down. Instead of punting from their own 36, the Bears went for it on fourth down and Shapen had to just throw the ball away without an open receiver. Eight plays later, Dominic Richardson scored on a 4-yard run for the Cowboys.

“I told the team in the locker room how proud I was that they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do since January,” Gundy said. “Came up just a few inches short, but I also made them aware of that doesn’t have anything to do with what they’ve accomplished this year.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Baylor: The Bears won the 2013 Big 12 title outright and shared in 2014 with TCU, both of those coming during a six-season stretch when there wasn’t a championship game for the conference. Baylor lost to Oklahoma in the title game two years ago.

Oklahoma State: Sanders had seven interceptions in the two games this season against Baylor, though the Cowboys won the first meeting 24-14 on Oct. 2. The first pick Saturday was right to the defender, and the second one was picked off by leaping linebacker Matt Jones when Sanders, under pressure, tried to throw off his back foot toward the sideline. The other two interceptions were tipped passes. … Oklahoma State, also without standout center Danny Godlevske had only 70 yards rushing on 40 carries (1.8 yards per carry).

UP NEXT

Baylor: A New Year’s Six bowl game, going to the Sugar Bowl if not in the playoff.

Oklahoma St.: Waiting to find out which bowl game awaits.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.

Pratt accounts for 5 TDs, Tulane tops UCF 45-28 to win AAC

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS – As Tulane receiver Shae Wyatt watched jubilant fans streaming onto the field, he couldn’t help but reflect upon how far his team had come since finishing last season 2-10.

“It’s definitely surreal,” said Wyatt, whose two touchdown catches were no small part of why a celebratory scene so hard to conceive of a year ago was unfolding around him. “Seeing all the other schools with their success, and having their fans storm the field – eventually, everybody wants that.”

Michael Pratt accounted for 442 total yards and five touchdowns, Tyjae Spears highlighted his 199 yards rushing with a 60-yard score and No. 18 Tulane beat No. 22 UCF 45-28 on Saturday night in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

The victory virtually assured Tulane (11-2) would play in the Cotton Bowl – its first major New Year’s Day bowl since the 1939 season.

A full hour after the game, Tulane players were still in uniform, walking back to the field from the locker room to pose for photos with teammates, some with cigars in hand. Spears joked that his elbow was sore from fans pulling on him for a congratulatory embrace.

“It was an amazing feeling, man,” Spears said. “That’s something that will stick with us for the rest of our life.”

And Wyatt suggested that Tulane’s remarkable turnaround should serve as a lesson.

“They were just throwing dirt over us and for a while it was hard to bounce back,” Wyatt said of last season, during which Tulane was displaced by Hurricane Ida to a Birmingham hotel for a month, and plagued with injuries to prominent players.

“If you keep your faith and you believe in your brothers that are next to you, flowers will grow. I promise you,” Wyatt said. “I hope this is a testament to anybody out there.”

Pratt passed for a career-high 394 yards, including touchdowns of 73 yards to Duece Watts, 60 and 10 yards to Wyatt and 43 yards to Lawrence Keys. Pratt also ran for a pivotal 18-yard touchdown with 4:04 left.

“It was awesome to close out that game and have those fans so fired up,” said Pratt, named the game’s most outstanding player.

Spears electrified the record crowd of 30,118 at Tulane’s cozy, on-campus Yulman Stadium with his long scoring run, on which he broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage, made two other defenders miss and hurndled his own fallen teammate after cutting back inside.

The Green Wave, which earned the right to host the title game by ending Cincinnati’s 32-game home winning streak last weekend, avenged a 38-31 regular-season loss to UCF (9-4) on the same field on Nov. 12.

But UCF was not quite the same team because of QB John Rhys Plumlee‘s nagging hamstring injury, which appeared to rob him of the explosiveness he displayed by running for 176 yards in the previous meeting.

Plumlee struggled enough early on that coach Gus Malzahn pulled him in the second quarter in favor of Thomas Castellanos. But with Tulane up 24-7 in the middle of the third quarter, Malzahn put Plumlee back in as primarily a passer – and he nearly led the Kights all the way back.

“He’s one of the toughest players I think I’ve ever coached,” Malzahn said. “John Rhys just kept telling me, `Coach, give me another chance.’ … He really gave us a spark.”

Plumlee led UCF quickly for a touchdown to make it 24-14, converting a fourth-and-10 pass along the way and capping the drive with a 17-yarder to Kobe Hudson.

“You work all year to play in a game like this,” said Plumlee, who completed 29 of 39 for 209 yards and one TD, but finished with minus-7 yards rushing as Tulane had six sacks. “I didn’t want to sell myself short or sell this team short.”

Tulane responded when both UCF safeties froze on a play-fake to Spears and Pratt found Watts running free behind the defense.

UCF cut it to 31-21 when former Virginia QB RJ Harvey took a backward pass from Plumlee and launched a 49-yard TD pass to Hudson.

And the Knights got the ball right back when Spears fumbled after a catch on the Green Wave 30. Isaiah Bowser‘s 10-yard run shortly after got UCF as close as 31-28 with 9:48 still left.

But Pratt again found a way to lead the Wave down the field, connecting with Wyatt for the longer of the receiver’s two TDs, and UCF didn’t threaten again.

THE TAKEAWAY

UCF: Knights sophomore backup QB Mikey Keene, who had come in after Plumlee injuries for comeback victories over Cincinnati and South Florida, did not dress for the game. That allowed him to retain a year of eligibility, but also raised questions over whether he might test the transfer portal.

Tulane: It was a dream end to week that got off to a less-than-ideal start with reports out of Atlaata that head coach Willie Fritz being pursued by Georgia Tech.

“Well, I sure am glad I stayed,” Fritz said. “I made a commitment to these kids and the last thing I ever wanted to be was a distraction. So, I’m just proud to be here.”

UP NEXT

UCF: Awaits a bowl bid on Sunday.

Tulane: Heads to its most significant bowl appearance since losing 14-13 to Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1940.