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Ranking college football’s Championship Weekend final scores by surprising-ness

Week 14 of the college football season was tense and exciting ... and we think we know what happens next.

Big Ten Championship - Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

So. We think we know what’s going to happen now, right? The one-loss, best-offense-in-the-country Oklahoma Sooners are going to go to the College Football Playoff alongside unbeaten Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame, right? That’s how this is going to go? Two-loss, conference non-champion Georgia doesn’t have enough of a case, and Ohio State didn’t beat Northwestern by nearly enough, right?

Championship Weekend was tense and exciting, a fun 30 or so hours of football that set the table for Sunday’s CFP and bowl selections.

Let’s look back at Week 14’s action by looking at the difference between projection and reality.

S&P+ had an odd week. It was as dialed in as ever, with an absolute error (the average difference between projection and reality) of just 7.8 points per game in FBS vs. FBS games, about as low as I can remember. (Anything below 12 or 13 is pretty great.) Vegas, however, was also pretty dialed in, so S&P+ went just 7-7 against the spread. Oh well.

Still, whether the numbers are dialed in or not, there are always surprises.

Using the S&P+ projections as a guide, let’s look at which games played out as expected and which ones very, very much did not.

(Rankings listed below are from the most recent CFP rankings.)

Right on (projection and reality within 3 points of each other)

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
  • Big Ten Championship: Ohio State 45, Northwestern 24 (projected margin: OSU by 20.2)

It looked for a moment like Northwestern was going to Northwestern its way into an upset win, but the Buckeyes pulled away late.

  • MWC Championship: Fresno State 19, Boise State 16 (projected margin: Fresno by 4.2)

The best team in the Mountain West had to win on the road to take the crown and did so ... eventually.

  • South Carolina 28, Akron 3 (projected margin: SC by 25.4)

Mostly on (3 to 7 points)

NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Texas vs Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
  • Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma 39, Texas 27 (projected margin: OU by 15.5)

OU evened the turnover battle and put itself on the doorstep of the College Football Playoff.

  • SEC Championship: Alabama 35, Georgia 28 (projected margin: Bama by 3.2)

The sequels continue to be every bit as dramatic as the original.

  • Conference USA Championship: UAB 27, MTSU 25 (projected margin: MTSU by 2.3)

UAB went from dead to C-USA champion in two years. That just doesn’t make any damn sense.

  • Stanford 23, Cal 13 (projected margin: Cardinal by 5.5)
  • Pac-12 Championship: Washington 10, Utah 3 (projected margin: UW by 1.8)

Granted, S&P+ expected more points, but it had the margin pretty much nailed if not for a pick six.

  • AAC Championship: UCF 56, Memphis 41 (projected margin: UCF by 9.6)

Down big with their backup quarterback, the Knights not only come back but go on to win by double digits. They are un-killable.

  • MAC Championship: NIU 30, Buffalo 29 (projected margin: UB by 4.9)

A heartbreaker for Buffalo, which led by double digits and looked unstoppable but lost its offensive rhythm and couldn’t do a damn thing to get it back.

  • ACC Championship: Clemson 42, Pitt 10 (projected margin: Clemson by 25.2)

Good for Pitt for responding to early disasters and a 14-0 deficit to make it 14-10 nearing half. It didn’t stay that way, but the Panthers did give their fans a reason to cheer for a moment.

A bit off (7 to 17 points)

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Appalachian State Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
  • Sun Belt Championship: Appalachian State 30, UL-Lafayette 19 (projected margin: App by 18.3)
  • Liberty 52, Norfolk State 17 (projected margin: Flames by 24.8)

Way off (17-28 points)

NCAA Football: Marshall at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
  • Virginia Tech 41, Marshall 20 (projected margin: Marshall by 6.0)

Way, way off (more than 28 points)

Drake v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images
  • Iowa State 27, Drake 24 (projected margin: ISU by 36.7)

Man. I cannot properly communicate how big an upset this would have been if Drake — no scholarships, 219th in Sagarin, 41-point Vegas underdog, lost to Stetson, and got blown out by Montana — had been able to to pull this one off. Alas.

  • NC State 58, East Carolina 3 (projected margin: NCST by 21.1)

The ultimate in back-door covers: ECU, down 58, kicks a field goal on the last play of the game. They not only avoid a shutout; they also move the total from under to over. A lot of money changed hands with the most pointless field goal of the entire season.