Auburn, USC, and a masterpiece of a college football weekend

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

If you think about it, not much changed from when Ball State and NIU kicked off in DeKalb to when Ed Orgeron grabbed a sword late on Saturday night. But Week 12 of the college football season saw the sport at its silliest, most gripping, and most enjoyable.

It's not that crazy things happened, though my goodness, did crazy things happen. It's that they happened when they happened, where they happened.

If Western Michigan had beaten Central Michigan on a deflected, desperate, 70-yard bomb on fourth down in the final minute, it would have drawn attention. If a player in Saturday's Monmouth-Bryant game had made a catch like UCF receiver J.J. Worton's, it would have made the SportsCenter Top 10.

But they happened in the closing seconds of games that mattered. Worton's catch helped to bail UCF out of an embarrassing, humbling loss that would have put the Knights' conference title hopes on shakier ground. And Auburn's Ricardo Louis didn't just catch the aforementioned bomb. He didn't just recreate one of college football's most famous endings (sans the Gatorade bath). He did so in the 117th iteration of a celebrated rivalry; he did it in a game so important that it might end up deciding both divisions of the SEC.

This was the most college football weekend of the 2013 season, one that began with a high-fivin' dog in DeKalb and finished with a Cajun man holding a sword in South Central L.A. If you have emotions, they were broken down. If you love this sport, you were reminded why.

In Illinois on Wednesday night, the MAC's perceived game of the year ended like most important MAC games do: with Northern Illinois pulling away late. Jordan Lynch threw for 345 and ran for 123, and MACtion was magic.

In Los Angeles on Friday night, a freshman linebacker logged four tackles and four touchdowns as UCLA recovered fumbles and held off Washington, 41-31.

In Philadelphia early on Saturday, amid a run of beatings (Wisconsin by 48 over Indiana, Cincinnati by 35 over Rutgers, Ole Miss by 30 over Troy, Oklahoma by 38 over Iowa State after a slow start, Ohio State by 25 over Illinois), perhaps the biggest underdog of the afternoon, a 1-8 Temple squad, got 382 passing yards from a freshman quarterback (P.J. Walker, whose previous high was 293) and took a 36-29 lead over No. 17 UCF with two minutes left. (Temple, by the way, was given a one percent chance of winning this game.) But four plays later, in a stadium designed for pro football, Worton made a catch most pros couldn't make.

At the same time, a few hours to the north and east, Boston College became bowl-eligible riding the oak-tree legs of Andre Williams, who went for 339 yards and created records not even listed in the BC media guide.

In Blacksburg, Maryland upset Virginia Tech in a win almost as unlikely as Temple's would have been. The likewise bowl-eligible Terps built a 21-7 lead, blew it, then won in overtime anyway.

In Durham a few hours later, a basketball school whipped a football school, 38-20. If Duke wins out against Wake Forest and North Carolina, the Blue Devils will go to the ACC title game.

In Evanston, at another school known more for academics, Northwestern was experiencing the crueler side of the sport. Michigan tied the Wildcats with a 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation, then won in the third overtime. It was Northwestern's fourth consecutive loss by a touchdown or less.

And then there was Auburn. Depending on the method one uses, your odds of winning when up 20 points with 10 minutes left are somewhere in the neighborhood of 95 to 99 percent. Your odds of winning when counting on a fourth-down heave into triple coverage with 30 seconds left are almost perfectly opposite. Early Saturday evening, both of those sets of odds came into play in a fourth quarter for the ages. Georgia scored three touchdowns in eight minutes to turn a 37-17 deficit into an almost certainly crippling, all-time loss for its oldest rival. Instead, the Dawgs were just setting themselves up for the same.

In Arlington, as Auburn fans were throwing toilet paper around where two trees used to stand, Baylor was spotting Texas Tech a 20-7 lead; without their top two running backs and best receiver, however, the Bears scored 56 of the games final 70 points and rolled up almost 700 yards in yet another easy win against a team that was ranked 10th in the country not even a month ago.

And back in Los Angeles, the evening was capped with a tense, defense-heavy struggle, one most directly decided by two fourth-quarter Kevin Hogan interceptions, one that cost Stanford points deep in USC territory, and another that gave USC just enough time to drive about 30 yards, bomb in a 47-yard field goal in the final seconds, and finish off the Cardinal's national title hopes. And then Ed Orgeron grabbed a sword.

Perhaps the most college football part of this college football weekend was that, despite the chaos and the bounces and the records and the surprises, very little actually changed. No undefeated team lost. The current BCS favorites, Florida State and Alabama, won their games by a combined 79-10 (though most of that margin came from the Seminoles, who were seemingly up 21-0 and playing Hangman on the sidelines when their game against Syracuse kicked off).

UCF was probably still going to win the AAC even without the miracle win. Thanks to Duke's iffy odds of winning at North Carolina, Virginia Tech might still be the favorite to win its division. Auburn still probably isn't going to beat Alabama, and Missouri is going to be a favorite (according to most computer rankings) to win each of its last two games, meaning Auburn-Georgia might not end up having any impact on the SEC race after all. Baylor's still on the outside of the national title race looking in. And USC is still probably going to be hiring a new coach this offseason (instead of giving the job to Orgeron, the interim).

But none of that mattered in real time. We still got crazy catches and crazier catches, overtime drama and unexpected upset bids, high-caliber football and complete silliness. It may not be called feelingsball, but emotion was everywhere you looked on Saturday. And it was incredible.

That tweet at the top, by the way? That wasn't by a Georgia fan or a Stanford fan. It was by my friend Ross, a Missouri fan. Missouri didn't even play this weekend. As I've said before, welcome to college football, where this all makes sense.

Five other thoughts from the weekend

Nobody else has outscored Syracuse, 35-0, in a game's first 18 minutes.

1. Wow, FSU.

I don't want to get too far into the "distractions" angle here, since FSU's potential distractions heading into last weekend could have ranged from the star quarterback being falsely accused of something pretty awful (and vague) to the star quarterback being guilty of something pretty awful (and vague). We won't know whether these "distractions" were justifiable or not for quite some time. That said ... wow, did FSU put on another clinic on Saturday.

I know, I know. "Yes, but it was Syracuse." But you know that "It's not who you play but how you play" argument I've made approximately 1,438 times this season? Let's just say that nobody else has outscored Syracuse, 35-0, in a game's first 18 minutes. Nobody else gained 523 yards in 45 plays. And Georgia Tech aside, nobody held the Orange to anything close to 92 yards and zero points in their first 10 possessions.

This was yet another disturbingly ridiculous performance from Jimbo Fisher's 'Noles. And if you want to vote them No. 1 over an Alabama team that sleepwalked through a game in Starkville on Saturday, I can't blame you. Alabama certainly doesn't have such an advantage that it should be receiving 55 of 60 first-place votes in the AP poll (56 of 62 in the Coaches Poll).

2. Offensive Coordination 101.

I knew Florida was going to lose when the Gators didn't try a play-action bomb on the first play of the second half.

Look, Brent Pease (offensive coordinator) and Will Muschamp (head coach), I get it. You had a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first start against a team that features Jadeveon Clowney in its pass rush. You are, by nature, conservative anyway, and to put it kindly, your receiving corps hasn't really proven itself when given the opportunity. You weren't going to pass a lot no matter what. Plus, you built an early lead (14-6 at halftime), which therefore afforded you the opportunity to play it safe as long as possible. But at some point you have to take a shot.

First of all, no matter how much he looks like his father Fred sometimes, Kelvin Taylor probably isn't going to be able to string two halves together like the one he had in the first half (13 carries, 86 yards), not as a freshman, and not with that M*A*S*H unit of an offensive line. Second, if South Carolina indeed catches up and/or takes the lead (as one knew the 'Cocks would), it behooves you to help your quarterback find some semblance of a rhythm before you encounter a situation in which he has to pass.

Skyler Mornhinweg had thrown five passes in the first 53 minutes of the game, and only one had gained more than five yards. When South Carolina inevitably caught up, Mornhinweg had to pass. Down 16-14 with 6:43 left, Florida took over and had Mornhinweg throw two short passes (three including a play called back for a hold), all short of the sticks, and went three-and-out. On the next possession, Florida's last chance, Mornhinweg looked downfield for basically the first time all day, and on an obvious throwaway situation, rolled to his right and threw a misguided interception.

The easiest time for a young quarterback to pass is when the defense doesn't expect it. Even if Florida was still going to run almost the entire time, the play-calling did Mornhinweg a disservice.

3. You know who's improved recently? North Carolina.

Five weeks ago, North Carolina was 83rd in the F/+ rankings. Entering this past weekend, the Heels were 41st, and they shouldn't fall much (if at all) following a 34-27 win over Pittsburgh, even if they made things harder on themselves than they needed to. (Up 27-3 midway through the third quarter, they let the Panthers come back to tie the game before getting a punt return touchdown from Ryan Switzer to secure the win. College football, man.)

Once 1-5, UNC is now 5-5, and while the whole "If Duke wins out, the Blue Devils can reach the ACC title game" scenario is fun to think about, it will require a win in Chapel Hill, and that might not be incredibly likely at this point.

4. Here's my only contribution to the ongoing Ohio State-Baylor debate.

Both teams won shootouts with similar scoring (25-29 points) and yardage (170-220 yards) margins. Baylor's opponent ranked 54th in last week's F/+ rankings (19th on offense, 87th on defense), and Ohio State's ranked 67th (39th on offense, 105th on defense). Baylor played Texas Tech on a neutral field, and Ohio State played at Illinois. So basically, however you thought about these teams before the weekend, that's how you should feel about them afterward. And since I've been #TeamBaylor from the start, I'm still on that bandwagon now.

5. Teams that are still alive in their respective conference races: Arizona State, Auburn, Baylor, Buffalo, Duke, Minnesota, Missouri, North Texas, SMU, UTSA.

Recent History called and thinks that's ridiculous.

More from SB Nation college football:

New BCS standings: Baylor stalking Ohio State

Bowl projections: Bama-FSU, Clemson-Wisconsin and more

Pic: FSU starters playing Hangman during Syracuse blowout

Long CFB reads | Has Baylor crafted the ultimate football offense?

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