Alabama, Georgia receive warm welcome in frigid Indianapolis

Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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INDIANAPOLIS- Coach Nick Saban walked off Alabama’s team plane Friday night to a cold, harsh reality.

When he returns to the airport for the final time this season, the Crimson Tide will either be celebrating another national championship or heading home disappointed.

Saban’s top-ranked team received a warm welcome in frigid Indianapolis, arriving shortly after dusk Friday with streaks of orange and red and a bright crescent moon coloring the sky. Players scurried from the plane to buses with temperatures in the teens as drummers played tunes for Alabama before doing the same when Georgia arrived about 90 minutes later.

Even for a playoff regular like Alabama, this was a different routine.

“It’s been pretty cold in Tuscaloosa the last day or two but not this cold,” Saban said. “I told them to be ready for the cold. Our guys are not used to it. Fortunately, we won’t be playing in it, so I told them to get used to it from the plane to the bus.”

Monday night marks the first time the College Football Playoff championship game will be played in a northern city and though the Lucas Oil Stadium dome will be closed, this was not the greeting organizers hoped for.

Thursday night’s wind chills dipped into negative digits and were still hovering there Friday morning. The highs Saturday and Sunday are expected to be near 40 degrees before lows are forecast to hit single digits again Monday night.

The good news is Indy’s maze of indoor walkways mean players and fans won’t need to be outside much if at all – just like the teams that competed in last spring’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

And in a region best-known for embracing basketball, racing and the Big Ten, the buzz heating up around town is all about the Alabama-Georgia rematch. One electronic billboard even renamed the city as Indianapoli-SEC.

“We’re really pleased to have the opportunity to be in the CFP and it’s a great place have it, a great venue,” Saban said, noting some of his players hope to return to Indy in late February for the NFL’s annual scouting combine.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart was not scheduled to speak with reporters after the Bulldogs arrived Friday. School officials cited concerns over the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. He did briefly, anyway.

“We’ve had great health, no issues with flu or COVID,” he said in announcing everyone made the trip. “The guys have practiced well.”

So far, though, there’s no indication the virus will force revisions to Monday’s plan.

A crowd of roughly 68,000 is expected to attend the game in the same venue where the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts have been playing in front of full or near-capacity crowds since August. Organizers are not requiring fans to wear masks though they do strongly encourage using them.

It’s not a new phenomenon for Indy, either. An estimated 135,000 fans attended last May’s Indianapolis 500 and Lucas Oil Stadium hosted a sellout crowd for December’s Big Ten title game between Michigan and Iowa.

No changes have been announced to the indoor or outdoor events open to fans, either.

“I think we’re going to provide a different level of fun and football than they may see in other cities,” said Susan Baughman, president of the local organizing committee. “They’ll feel like they’re taking over the city.”

No. 3 TCU loses 31-28 in OT to K-State in Big 12 title game

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime as 13th-ranked Kansas State beat No. 3 TCU 31-28 in the Big 12 championship game Saturday, leaving the Horned Frogs to wait another day to find out if they had already done enough to get into the four-team College Football Playoff.

The Wildcats set up the winning field goal after TCU (12-1) had the opening possession of overtime and Kendre Miller was stopped short on consecutive plays from inside the 1.

Deuce Vaughn ran for 130 yards and a touchdown and Will Howard threw two TDs for the Wildcats (10-3, No. 10 CFP), who six weeks earlier had jumped out to a 28-10 lead early in the second quarter before TCU scored the game’s last 28 points.

That was one of five games the Horned Frogs (12-1, No. 3 CFP) won when trailing after halftime. But they couldn’t do it again with the chance to guarantee being the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma to make the playoff.

TCU, the first Big 12 team to complete a regular season undefeated since Texas in 2009, could still get into the playoff. While their case was helped when fourth-ranked Southern California (11-2) lost 47-24 to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night, the Frogs now have to wait until the final CFP rankings come out Sunday.

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark said before the game that TCU, with first-year coach Sonny Dykes, already deserved to be in the playoff.

“You look at their strength of schedule. You think about how they’ve performed all year long,” Yormark said. “I think regardless, they should be in, for sure.”

No. 4 USC falls to Utah in Pac-12 Championship, damaging playoff hopes

Utah vs. USC
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — No. 12 Utah pounded a limping, bloodied Caleb Williams and roared past No. 4 Southern California 47-24 on Friday night to win the Pac-12 Championship and put USC’s College Football Playoff hopes in doubt.

The loss by the Trojans (11-2) could open the way for Ohio State (11-1) to take their spot in the playoffs. USC is fourth in the CFP rankings, the Buckeyes are one step behind.

Ohio State had to be Utah’s biggest fan. The Buckeyes move up in playoff consideration, with 12-0 Michigan at No. 2 with the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, that would give the Big Ten conference two playoff teams for the first time. It also would extend the Pac-12′s playoff drought — Washington in 2017 is the last team from that conference to make the playoffs.

Utah (10-3) is heading to the Rose Bowl, but the Utes already were going there regardless of the outcome of the title game. They are responsible for USC’s only losses, having edged the Trojans 43-42 on Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City.

The Utes rolled up 533 yards of offense in the rematch, and Cam Rising passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

Williams threw for 363 yards and three TDs. He entered the game as the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, but wasn’t the same after getting injured in the first quarter.

The Trojans looked as if they were going to run away with the game, taking a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter behind some stellar play by Williams.

He appeared to hurt his left knee or leg in the first quarter on a 59-yard run in which he took a big hit at the end, and he suffered a bad cut on the pinky finger of his throwing hand. He spent most of the game limping, and wasn’t the same after a sterling first quarter in which the Trojans outgained Utah in total yards 194-70, and Williams had both touchdown passes.

After USC failed to pick up a fourth-and-8 from Utah’s 37-yard line, the Utes scored two touchdowns in the final 3:55 of the first half, and suddenly the game was tied at 17. Instead of a rout, the game was beginning to look like the shootout the Utes won in October.

The game took on that tone at times in the second half, but USC had no answer for how to slow down Utah, which outscored the Trojans 44-7 in overcoming that two-touchdown deficit.

ATTENDANCE RECORD

A announced sellout crowd of 61,195 made this the largest for a neutral-site Pac-12 Championship. It beat the previous record of 58,476 fans. who watched Southern California-Stanford in Santa Clara, California, in 2015.