Charlotte, N.C. — No. 1 Clemson emphatically claimed its spot in the College Football Playoff with a 38-3 victory over No. 7 Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night.
The Tigers (12-1) came in ranked atop the CFP and should remain that way following Sunday’s final poll after their decisive show left little doubt the defending national champs are looking to go back-to-back.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in the postgame celebration he hadn’t been to New Orleans since going with Alabama in 1992, as a wide receiver with that national championship squad. This time, the Tigers as top seed get their pick of sites and Swinney left no wiggle room about what he’ll choose.
“Get ready, Sugar Bowl,” he shouted. “Here we come.”
Kelly Bryant set a championship game record — and surpassed his friend and former teammate Deshaun Watson’s mark of 13 — by completing his first 15 passes and finished with 252 yards passing and a 27-yard TD pass to Deon Cain on the way to Clemson’s third straight ACC crown.
“It’s just in our DNA. We’re built for moments like this,” said Bryant, named the game’s MVP.
Bryant had one of Clemson’s four rushing touchdowns and the Tigers defense made it stand up against a Hurricanes team that has been spurred on to its turnaround season by its glitzy, bling-covered “Turnover Chain” — jewelry worn by any Miami player with a pick or a fumble.
Instead, it was the Tigers who won the turnover battle (3 to 1) and held Miami to its fewest points and yards of the season to spoil the Hurricanes’ first appearance in the contest since the one-time powerhouse joined the league in 2004.
Clemson’s Travis Etienne opened the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown before Bryant’s twisting, 11-yard run for a 14-0 first-quarter lead. It was essentially over after that as the Hurricanes (10-2, No. 7 CFP) have lost two straight after rising to No. 2 in the CFP two weeks ago.
“Obviously, it didn’t go well at all,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. “It just shows they’re the class of our league and they’re the measuring stick.”
Miami fell apart in the third quarter with a pair of Malik Rosier interceptions leading to 10 points for the Tigers. The Hurricanes, who had averaged 440 yards a game this season, finished with 214 yards. The broke the shutout on Michael Badgley’s 29-yard field goal with 3:29 to go.
No. 6 Georgia 28, No. 4 Auburn 7: Shaking off a blowout loss to Auburn just three weeks ago, Jake Fromm threw two touchdown passes and Georgia made its bid for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Auburn (10-3) was the hottest team in the country, rolling into Atlanta after wins over Georgia and then-No. 1 Alabama in its last three games. But the Tigers were stymied by two crucial turnovers, a blocked field goal and a Georgia team eager to make up for its embarrassing 40-17 defeat on the Plains .
Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and freshman D’Andre Swift provided a much more effective running game for Georgia than the first meeting, which opened up things for the freshman quarterback. Fromm completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown to Isaac Nauta in the second quarter and a 6-yarder to Terry Godwin with just over 13 minutes remaining that essentially sealed Georgia’s victory.
The Bulldogs claimed their first SEC title since 2005 and capped an impressive rise in Kirby Smart’s second season as coach. Georgia went 8-5 a year ago, but Nick Saban’s former defensive coordinator insisted he was establishing a culture that would return the team to national prominence.
It happened in Year 2.
Georgia (12-1), which was No. 6 in the latest CFP standings, will surely move into the top four after its dominating performance against the Tigers. Auburn was ranked second in the CFP poll but managed only 259 yards after piling up 488 in the Nov. 11 rout.
No. 2 Oklahoma 41, No. 10 TCU 17: Baker Mayfield threw four touchdowns and Oklahoma staked claim to a playoff spot in the return of the Big 12 championship game at Arlington, Texas.
With their record 11th Big 12 title, the Sooners (12-1, No. 3 CFP) are a lock to be in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons. They are the only Big 12 team to make the four-team playoff format that started in 2014.
Oklahoma jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead, including Caleb Kelly’s 18-yard fumble return for a touchdown after running back Kyle Hicks’ turnover on the first offensive play by TCU (10-3, No. 11).
(At) No. 12 Central Florida 62, No. 16 Memphis 55 (2OT): Central Florida for the second straight week prevailed in a shootout on its home field. It is the Knights’ third AAC crown in the past five years.
They won the East Division last Friday with a 49-42 win over South Florida.
It was a wild game and the last at UCF for coach Scott Frost. After it was over, the second-year coach and Nebraska native was asked about reports that he would become the Cornhuskers next coach.
Frost, fighting back tears, said: “I’m going to go celebrate with my team.”
Frost was named Nebraska’s coach a couple of hours later.
It was quite a sendoff. The top two scoring teams in the country combined for 117 points and 1,479 yards. It was tied at 48 at the end of regulation.
UCF had the ball first in the second overtime and scored on a 1-yard run by Otis Anderson. Memphis got as far as the UCF 9 on its possession but Riley Ferguson’s pass on second-and-goal was intercepted by Tre Neal as the Knights (12-0, CFP No. 15) secured a likely spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.
The teams exchanged touchdowns in the first overtime. Memphis got the ball first and scored when Ferguson connected with Anthony Miller from 15 yards. UCF answered on a 2-yard run by Adrian Killins.
The Knights led 48-34 early in the fourth quarter but the Tigers (10-2, CFP No. 20) rallied to tie with 4:13 remaining on Ferguson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Miller.
(At) Boise State 17, No. 25 Fresno State 14: Brett Rypien threw for 246 yards and led a fourth-quarter comeback. Boise State (10-3), which lost 28-17 to the Bulldogs a week ago in Fresno in the regular-season finale, won its second conference title in four years.
Fresno State (9-4), which hasn’t won in Boise since 1984, still completed one of the best turnarounds in college history under first-year coach Jeff Tedford after going 1-11 a year ago.