Wild Weekends: Thanksgiving Weekend 2012

By Phil Clark

It is that weekend that embodies three things that Americans generally love: food (and lots of it), family and football (lots of it). Thanksgiving weekend is one of the biggest weeks on the college football calendar. It is has transformed over the years into not only a weekend with traditional rivalry games, but into a weekend of almost nothing other than rivalry games. This weekend had all the drama the end of any regular season has, only with a different feel to it. This was due to a few of this past weekend’s rivalry games living up to their historical lineage for the first time in years. And potential national championship game spots hung in the balance because of it.

Well, they did it, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish did it. They scratched and clawed and made it through the regular season undefeated. With this past weekend’s win over the USC Trojans, the Fighting Irish guaranteed themselves a spot in the national championship game, a scenario that was highly laughable at the beginning of the regular season. And like most of their games this season, it wasn’t easy and it involved the defense having to come through big in the fourth quarter.

The Fighting Irish had numerous opportunities inside Trojans’ territory to score touchdowns and turn this game into a more impressive showing for their offense. But that’s not the way this team rolls. It has worked out just fine so far that the Fighting Irish offense does enough to get by, which they did this past weekend. The downside to that is that it can put the defense into a situation where they are responsible for the game late, like what happened this past weekend. This is something the Fighting Irish defense is used to after having the same responsibility against the BYU Cougars, Stanford Cardinal, Michigan Wolverines, and Oklahoma Sooners, and coming up with the win each time. But I will be fair and say that Notre Dame’s offense has also come through in a few games when they’ve needed to, it’s just that there have been more Fighting Irish games left to the defense than to the offense.

This past Saturday, Notre Dame’s defense faced the possibility of the Trojans getting to within two points with plenty of time remaining in the fourth quarter. USC had a first down inside the Fighting Irish’s 10-yard line. The Trojans ended up a yard short on their final three attempts to get into the end zone and the game was out of reach after this stop. On my blog Saturday night I was calling it “the stuff of legends in South Bend,” and with or without a national title win, that goal line stand feels like it will end up being just that.

The Florida Gators made their final big statement of this season, and likely won themselves the SEC‘s other spot in a BCS bowl game in the process. On the road against the Florida State Seminoles, the Gators won a turnover-plagued game by forcing late turnovers and instantly converting them. This is how the Gators produced two of their four fourth quarter scores and fueled their 24-point quarter. The Gators also used those same mistakes and turnovers in a very dull first half of play to build a 13-point lead early.

The irony is that this game was very, very close to being all Seminoles once the second half began. The Gators began the half by playing very sloppy and very stupid football. They also committed a few turnovers that the Seminoles converted into points. All of this saw the Seminoles take a touchdown lead into the final quarter before their collapse.

The Pac 12 had its own drama this past weekend with the Oregon Ducks remaining the highest ranked team in the conference, but are not going to be playing for the conference title this Friday. This is because the Cardinal scored their second big win in a row, knocking off the UCLA Bruins to set up a rematch between the two on Friday. The win by the Cardinal made the Ducks’ demolition of the Oregon State Beavers irrelevant and the Ducks are going to have to settle for a BCS at-large bowl berth, something they are pretty much guaranteed, instead of a repeat trip to Pasadena. Funny how this game goes sometimes, right?

I’ve been a real fan of Clemson Tigers football since I first realized what a job Dabo Sweeney was doing turning the program around. Last year, I fell in love with this team as they had a fun style of play on offense thanks to some dual-position players and interesting play-calling. From the beginning, I knew (and wrote as much last season) that their defense would be the death of them, and this past weekend it was once again. Against the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Tigers’ defense once again let a close game turn into a runaway loss. To their credit, all the blame doesn’t go on them. A big game here would’ve legitimized Tigers’ quarterback Tajh Boyd as a potential Heisman candidate as he had been on a big tear coming into the game. But it wasn’t happening as Boyd was neutralized by the Gamecocks after a big first quarter and the Tigers’ offense collapsed in the second half when he couldn’t get going again.

It’s hilarious to even write this, but it can be argued that the Tigers can still get a BCS at-large berth despite the loss. Considering that a conference can’t send more than two teams to the BCS (their champion and one more as an at-large team), that cuts away at some teams that are ahead of the Tigers in the polls. And, ironically, this has long eliminated the Gamecocks from any chance at an at-large spot as well.

It was truly bedlam when the Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys met this past weekend. In their annual Thanksgiving weekend meeting, there have more classics and more high scoring games between these two over the last fifteen years, it can be argued, than any other fifteen year period in the rivalry’s history. This year provided the next chapter between the Sooners and Cowboys, and it was a shootout befitting the teams playing the game and the conference the game is played in. Defense? These two teams don’t know the meaning of it when they play each other, and that goes even more so when the game is decided through the air. The funny part about it all is that for as much as the passing games made this game exciting and crazy, it was the running games that produced the scores. Joseph Randle ran for four touchdowns for the Cowboys while the Belldozer came through with a game-tying touchdown run for the Sooners with seconds left in regulation.

Thanks to their overtime win, the Sooners are still in the hunt for the Big 12. I’ve always had nothing but respect and admiration for Bob Stoops and his Sooners football team, but go Wildcats and go Bill Snyder. For as much as that man has done for that university and that football team, Snyder deserves to finally get his conference title. He’s already coached in a BCS bowl game, but got there as an at-large team. Now it’s time for the Kansas State Wildcats to represent the Big 12 in a BCS bowl.

Of course this past weekend was only about one game for me: The Game.

The annual meeting between the Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes took an interesting turn when it became a game of halves with one half representing the new Big Ten and the other representing the old Big Ten that is always going to linger around. The first half saw both offense working fine and having no issues scoring. Then something weird happened: all that energy and momentum and good play that powered both offenses suddenly went into their defenses. And that’s what annoys me as a Wolverines fan the most about this game: all the Wolverines needed for the whole second half was one touchdown drive and they probably would’ve won. Both defenses played great, and I do have to tip my hat to the Buckeyes’ defense. They shut down Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner in the second half and the Wolverines had no chance on offense after that. They played great and even with my hatred of that team from Ohio being one of the few bits of fandom that I cherish, I’ll still give credit where credit is due.

Of course this game had a weird vibe to it from the beginning. Before the game (in Columbus), there was a ceremony celebrating the Buckeyes’ national title team from ten years ago, which included Jim Tressel. Of course Tressel got a standing ovation because winning will make people forget very quickly any damage that previous coach inflicted on the team. That and the Buckeyes got an even better coach out of it all, so maybe Tressel really did deserve that standing o. Besides that, the game also had a weird vibe because of the similarities between this game and the game played in Columbus ten years ago. The top of those was that the Buckeyes completed an undefeated regular season with this win, and the many similarities between this team and the 2002 Buckeyes team that went undefeated.

Funny how this game goes sometimes, right?

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