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2023 Championship Weekend - Controversy as College Football Playoff places confirmed

A college football season filled with twists, turns and high drama saved its best for Championship Weekend, where the FBS Conference titles would be decided, and the final four places in the College Football Playoff would be determined. A highly-anticipated weekend with enormous implications did not disappoint.

Pac-12 Championship - Washington 34-31 Oregon

Washington coach Kalen DeBoer lifts the Pac-12 trophy after the Huskies' win over Oregon (Image credit: AP/David Becker)

After an entertaining Week 7 showdown, it seemed inevitable that No.5 Oregon and No.3 Washington would meet again in the Pac-12 championship. In recent weeks, momentum seemed to favour the Ducks, who had racked up an impressive unbeaten streak with an average winning margin of 26 points. The Huskies. having beaten Oregon, were less convincing in the run up to this rematch, narrowly winning some close games, but critically finding a way to win.

Much has been written of the extraordinary passing offences of both teams, yet as in many championship scenarios, the strength of both teams offensive and defensive lines came to the fore. Washington's defensive front seven barely gave Oregon quarterback Bo Nix a chance to breathe in the early stages, allowing their signal-caller Michael Penix, Jr. to get the Huskies off to a fast start.

Washington were buoyed by the return from injury of Jalen McMillan who had 131 receiving yards. He was complimented by the consistent standout Rome Odunze, who had 102 yards. Penix, Jr, orchestrating the offense, answered the murmurs of questioning around his Heisman candidacy by completing 27 of 39 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown. Running back Dillon Johnson scored two touchdowns and ran for 152 yards.

Bo Nix found form when he was able to evade the Huskies' pass rush, throwing for 239 yards and three touchdowns, two to tight end Terrance Ferguson. Judging by the astronomic level he has played at in recent weeks, he will feel frustrated with his team's and his own performance and cut a disconsolate figure, peering through a towel covering his head as Washington ran out the clock on the game and Oregon's season.

“The love and trust we have on our team is unmatched. We’ve been doing it each and every week. We’re not going to say we want those games to be close.” - Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

Big 12 Championship - Texas 49-21 Oklahoma State

Quinn Ewers had a career-best performance in the Big 12 championship final (Image credit: AP/Tony Gutierrez)

In a triumphant conclusion to their 28-year tenure in the Big 12 Conference, No.7 Texas clinched their fourth conference title and first since 2009 with a resounding 49-21 victory over No. 18 Oklahoma State.

Quinn Ewers, a Texas native from Southlake, who transferred back to his home state after an uneventful few months with Ohio State, had the game of his fledgling career to date, winning the Most Outstanding Player of the game award. The Longhorns' mercurial quarterback completed 11 of 11 passes completed for 167 yards and three touchdowns in an extraordinary first quarter where Texas raced out of the blocks and couldn't be caught.

Texas set the tone with a quick 10-yard scoring pass from Ewers to Adonai Mitchell and the Longhorns amassed 422 yards in the first half alone.

Ewers continued his outstanding performance in the second half, finishing his game with 452 yards, surpassing the Big 12 championship game record set by Oklahoma's Sam Bradford in 2008 and equalling the game's touchdown record with four scoring passes. The Longhorns racked up 662 yards, setting a new Big 12 Football Championship game record.

Anthony Hill, Jr, the talented freshman safety had six tackles and a sack in a dominant win for a Texas team that enjoyed 40 minutes possession of the 60 played.

Coach Steve Sarkisian reached into his box of tricks, dialling up a trick play that saw 6'4", 360lb defensive lineman T'Vondre Sweat line up on offense and haul in a touchdown pass , and a flea-flicker play to JaTavion Sanders in the first half that put Texas 14-0 up.

Oklahoma State kept Texas honest at times, with quarterback Alan Bowman throwing for 250 yards and three touchdowns, while Ollie Gordon II, at times in the conversation for the Heisman disappointed, with 34 yards on 13 carries.

Texas move into the postseason with confidence in a hugely talented team hitting form at the right time, with the Big 12 title under their belt and the SEC looming on the horizon.

“I know it’s been a long time coming. Everybody’s been starving for this championship. To get it in our final game in the Big 12, I hope everybody enjoys it as much as we do.” - Texas coach Steve Sarkisian.

Big Ten Championship - Michigan 26-0 Iowa

J.J. McCarthy led Michigan to the Big Ten title and No.1 seed in the Playoff (Image credit: AP/AJ Mast)

In a dominant victory, No. 2 Michigan shut out No. 18 Iowa 26-0 in the Big Ten championship game, securing their spot as the likely top seed in the College Football Playoff. Blake Corum played a pivotal role, scoring twice and tying the Wolverines career record for rushing touchdowns at 55. With coach Jim Harbaugh back on the sideline after his second ban of the season, the Wolverines (13-0) won three straight conference titles for the first time in school history.

Harbaugh showed his running skills aren't far off his star running back Corum's, showing some agility on the ground to avoid the obligatory celebration Gatorade shower.

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy, named the conference's best quarterback, completed 22 of 30 passes for 147 yards. He has an extraordinary 25-1 record as Michigan's starter and his likely departure for the NFL leaves big shoes for the Wolverines to fill. Rumour has it they are in discussions with talented UCLA freshman quarterback Dante Moore.

Iowa's vaunted defense held Michigan to short yardage gains, but their offense struggles to keep the Hawkeyes in big games when it counts. Iowa produced just 155 yards of offense and became only the second team in Big Ten title game history to be shut out in the final season of the current East-West division format before the conference is joined by USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon next year. Deacon Hill, the Wisconsin transfer at quarterback had won six of his seven games as starter, but was overwhelmed by a Wolverines defense that had five sacks, passing for just 120 yards.

Michigan moves confidently into the College Football Playoff with coach Jim Harbaugh in bullish mood:

“It made me feel super great. I’ve got one question for the Michigan Nation, who’s got a better team than us?” - Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh

SEC Championship - Alabama 27-24 Georgia

Alabama shocked No.1 Georgia to win the SEC championship (Image credit: AP/John Bazemore)

In a stunning turn of events, No. 8 Alabama knocked off No.1 Georgia with a 27-24 victory in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Georgia had entered the title matchup on an unbeaten run that stretched back 768 days and 29 games. Bulldogs' coach Kirby Smart wryly remarked after the game, that two classes of his team had yet to taste defeat before the match.

Alabama and their emerging superstar at quarterback, Jalen Milroe, have been steadily gaining momentum since a Week 2 loss to Texas. Both the player and team matured in the heat of the SEC title game with Milroe throwing for 192 yards and two touchdowns with some solid decision-making keeping Georgia at arm's length. Alabama opened up a 20-10 lead going into the fourth quarter and the Crimson Tide's defense stepped up they held Georgia to a season-low 24 points.

Kendall Milton had opened the scoring for Georgia, one of his two touchdowns on the day, before Will Reichard's 43-yard field goal for Alabama made him the all-time leading scorer in college football. Bulldogs' quarterback Carson Beck completed 21 of 29 passes for 243 yards and a rushing touchdown.

Both teams were almost gladitorial in their approach, taking the bold decision to go for it on fourth down plays, and as in Washington - Oregon earlier in the day, battling for control on the offensive and defensive lines.

There are such fine margins at this stage of the season. Georgia, unbeaten for two years and the No.1 team in the country, were brutally cast aside from College Football Playoff contention, their place ultimately taken after just one loss and to the eighth-ranked team in the country. Alabama usurped Georgia at the pinnacle of the SEC and took their place in the College Football Playoff.

“This is a team. I’ve never been prouder of a group of guys.” -  Alabama coach Nick Saban.

ACC Championship - Florida State 16-6 Louisville

Brock Glenn hugs injured Seminole quarterback Jordan Travis after Florida State's ACC championship win (Image credit: Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat)

Going into the ACC championship final against No.14 Louisville, No.4 Florida State looked to be in the driving seat to make it to the Playoff. With starting quarterback Jordan Travis sidelined for the season due to a leg injury and backup Tate Rodemaker also unavailable due to a concussion, third-string freshman passer Brock Glenn stepped in for Florida State and the Seminoles were forced to lean heavily on their defense. Lawrance Toafili rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown, earning him the MVP award.

Despite a questionable performance against a Louisville team that looked off the promising form they had shown for most of the season, the Seminoles' defense impressed, sacking Cardinals' quarterback Jack Plummer seven times, three for Braden Fiske and two for Jared Verse.

This was a game littered with drops, fumbles where defensive pressure told, but didn't show either team at their best. Their first ACC championship win since 2014, they hoped, would secure Florida State's place in the College Football national championship semi-finals. With the playoff picture unfolding unexpectedly due to Georgia's loss to Alabama and an impressive Texas performance in the Big 12 final, the Seminoles would later learn the committee's decision, despite their unbeaten record, to deny them a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff.

Florida State, who will have real pride in their unbeaten season, go on to face Georgia, both cruelly excluded from college football's showpiece finale, in the Orange Bowl.

“You know what, they have showed up every single week and done it. So I don’t really care what everybody else’s opinions are. I know who I coach and I know they are going to go fight for everything they get. Whatever the next opportunity is, I promise you they’re going to show up.” - Florida State coach Mike Norvell.

Group of Five Championship Games


New Mexico 35-49 Liberty - Williams Stadium, Lynchburg, VA.

MAC (Mid American Conference)

Miami (Ohio) 23-14 Toledo - Ford Field, Detroit, MI.

Mountain West

UNLV 20-44 Boise State - Yulman Stadium, New Orleans, LA.

Sun Belt

Appalachian State 23-49 Troy - Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy, AL.

SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference)

Prairie View A&M 14-35 Florida A&M - Bragg Memorial Stadium, Tallahassee, FL.

CFP Rankings

(Image credit: College Football Playoff)

Michigan's Big ten title win over Iowa moves them into the No.1 seed and a place in the Rose Bowl, where they will face Alabama, voted in to No.4 after their surprise win over Georgia in the SEC championship.

Washington move up to No.2 with their Pac-12 championship win over fellow CFP contender Oregon. They will face No.3 Texas. The Longhorns benefitted from Georgia's loss and the committee's perception of Florida State's less impressive performances in recent weeks, and in their ACC final win.

The winners of the Michigan-Alabama and Washington-Texas games will compete for the national championship at NRG Stadium in Houston on 8th January.

College Football Playoff Weekend - The Line Up

Monday 1st January, 2024

Rose Bowl (CFP Semifinal)

(Image credit: College Football Playoff)

No.1 Michigan vs. No.4 Alabama - Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. 5pm ET (10pm UK)

Sugar Bowl (CFP Semifinal)

(Image credit: College Football Playoff)

No.2 Washington vs. No.3 Texas - Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, CA, 8.45pm ET (1.15am UK)

Across The Pond College Football Podcast

Rebecca and I look back at Championship Weekend, talk about the top four positions in the College Football Playoffs, and look ahead to the Heisman Trophy Ceremony on December 9th. Have a listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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