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Isaiah Bond (17) celebrates a first down catch. Alabama Crimson Tide football team faces the Georgia Bulldogs on the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (Ben Flanagan /
Isaiah Bond (17) celebrates a first down catch. Alabama Crimson Tide football team faces the Georgia Bulldogs on the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (Ben Flanagan /

Elms' Essentials: Championship Week

The CFP field is set, and the semifinal matchups are thrilling

Championship week has come and gone, and as of the publication of this article, the College Football Playoff bracket has been officially decided. But more on that in a minute, as there was a lot to cover from championship week. We had a marquee showdown between two top-5 teams that ended up kicking one out of CFP contention, and then, to be perfectly frank, we had some snoozers.

What? Too harsh?

Anyway, as I alluded to, the bracket has officially been decided. And that means that this week signaled the end of not only the current regular season, but the end of college football as we know it. Conference realignment is going to change everything, way more than it already has, starting next season.

But for one day, we don’t have to think about that. Let’s get into some of the games.

The Pac-12 title game is up there with the best conference title games ever

Oh man, this game lived up to the billing and then some.

At first, it looked like Washington would cruise to an easy win. The Huskies jumped out to a 20-3 lead, and the offense was firing on all cylinders. The defense was also stifling, holding the normally dynamic Oregon offense to just three points through the first quarter and a half.

However, at the end of the second quarter, Oregon scored a critical touchdown on a Bo Nix flip to Terrance Ferguson from two yards out. And that score kickstarted a comeback, as the Ducks went into the half down by 10 as opposed to 17.

From there, the Ducks came out of the break firing, as they drove all the way down the field and got down to Washington’s 2-yard line. And while they were pushed all the way to a fourth-and-goal, Nix found Ferguson again for another score that cut the lead down to three. And after a Michael Penix Jr. interception, running back Jordan James punched it in from six yards out to give Oregon the lead. That touchdown drive was buoyed by a 44-yard run from Nix that got the Ducks to the Huskies’ 11-yard-line.

However, Washington did not just go away. In fact, quite the opposite. They ripped off touchdowns on two consecutive drives, first driving all the way to Oregon’s 1-yard-line where Dillon Johnson punched it in. Then, they followed that up with a Penix Jr. pass to Quentin Moore from two yards out to increase the lead to 10.

From there, Oregon scored to make it interesting, but Dillon Johnson put an end to any comeback hopes the Ducks had, maneuvering through the Oregon defense on the final drive to put the game away and secure the Huskies’ conference title and berth in the College Football Playoff.

The loss officially knocked Oregon out of CFP contention, as was alluded to in the intro, and officially clinched a berth in the big dance for Washington. The Huskies now await No. 3-ranked Texas (more on them in a second!) in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Texas deserved a spot in the Playoff after dismantling of Oklahoma State

In the Big 12 Championship Game, Texas took on the 9-3 and No. 18-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys. And while the Cowboys kept it somewhat close through the first quarter and a half or so, it was soon clear that Texas was simply the better team.

Quinn Ewers had a game for the ages, going 35-for-46 with 452 yards and four touchdowns. He looked composed and in control for the entire game, and aside from only one bad interception, he was practically perfect.

And it went beyond Ewers, as the entire Texas offense played well in the 49-21 win. Running back Kelian Robinson, who had an expanded role in the absence of Jonathon Brooks, ran for 75 yards and found paydirt twice. CJ Baxter added 43 yards and a score. Star wideouts Adonai Mitchell and Ja’Tavion Sanders combined for 214 yards and each hauled in a touchdown.

The defense also did a good job of neutralizing Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon II, who only ran for 34 yards and did not find the end zone. While Alan Bowman had a good game, throwing for three scores, some of those were in garbage time. The fact of the matter is that Texas had this game locked up long before the clock hit triple zeros.

For Oklahoma State, this was a bitter way to end a solid season, but they should make a pretty good bowl game. However, for Texas, this was a statement win that solidified its standing as a team that deserved to make the College Football Playoff. And they are, in fact, in. They will face off against Michael Penix Jr. and Washington in the Sugar Bowl in what will be a highly anticipated semifinal matchup.

Alabama made its statement in the SEC championship

There was perhaps not a hotter team in college football in Alabama heading into the SEC title game. However, they were facing the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were 12-0, and had been at the top of the AP Poll for the entire year. And the Crimson Tide were ranked No. 8 and were underdogs heading into the game.

Alabama saw those rankings and those predictions and promptly laughed at them.

The Tide simply outplayed the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship. At first, however, it seemed like that would not be the case. Georgia marched out to an early 7-0 lead on an absurdly efficient drive. There were some feelings that this might turn into a blowout.

But it did not. Far from it.

Alabama narrowed the lead to four with a field goal, and then stormed right back with a 28-yard  touchdown pass from Jalen Milroe to Jam Miller to take a 10-7 lead. Then, after the Bulldogs missed a 50-yard field goal, the Tide came out and added another seven points to the board to extend the lead to 10.

Georgia managed to cut the lead back down to three following two consecutive punts by both teams to open the half. However, that was when wide receiver Isaiah Bond came alive, catching four passes for a combined 57 yards on their next drive that ended in a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Roydell Williams. Alabama now found itself up 10 points again.

Georgia did manage to drive down the field and cut the lead back down to three again with 2:52 to go in the fourth quarter. However, Jalen Milroe put the dagger in the Bulldogs’ heart, rushing for 30 yards to Georgia’s 45-yard line for a first down, and he slid down inbounds to keep that clock running. A few kneeldowns ran the clock out, and the Tide escaped with a three-point win.

That game ended Georgia’s College Football Playoff hopes, but it kickstarted Alabama’s. They would prove to get in by the skin of their teeth, as the Crimson Tide are set to face off against top-ranked Michigan in the Rose Bowl. 

Michigan cemented itself as the best team in the country

Was there really any legitimate doubt at this point?

Georgia had just been humbled. Washington had barely escaped a really good Oregon team. And the other remaining undefeated team, Florida State, had just lost its top two quarterbacks and were trotting out a third-string freshman in the ACC Championship.

And as for Michigan? Well, the Wolverines just demolished Iowa in the Big Ten title game.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after the winning the Big Ten Championship against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 2, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images/TNS)

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, who cares? It’s Iowa. Their offense is the equivalent of a wet paper bag.” And, yes, Iowa’s offense is not going to light up the scoreboard on a consistent basis. However, regardless of who is playing who, a Big Ten title is absolutely nothing to sneeze at.

This game featured the return of Jim Harbaugh from his three-game suspension, and he coached up a pretty darn good game against the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines’ defense was, once again, phenomenal, holding Iowa to a grand total of zero points. The offense essentially just had to sit there and not screw anything up. And they did just that. J.J. McCarthy didn’t throw any touchdowns, but he didn’t turn the ball over and made the throws he needed to make. Blake Corum put the offense on his back, rushing for 52 yards and two scores.

It was simple, and it’s been said many times already: Michigan was dominant. And its dominance was rewarded with the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff bracket. And while they weren’t particularly happy to draw Alabama as their semifinal opponent, they are still a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball.

With all that said, one thing is for sure.

This semifinal matchup should be one for the ages.

And last but not least…

Joe’s picks: Who wins the first games of the College Football Playoff?

Whoa, what? A prediction section? To end the season? Is this real? Yes, this is real.

The College Football Playoff bracket is officially set, and while there may be some fanbases who felt that they got snubbed in a big way, the fact of the matter is that that is in the past. There’s nothing to be done about that now. The bracket we have is the bracket we have. But in the meantime, let’s put a bow on this year and make some predictions.

The Rose Bowl Game: No. 4 Alabama vs No. 1 Michigan

This game may look like it has a clear favorite on paper, but this is going to be closer than a lot of people might think. Michigan is the dominant team that ran its conference and is looking to finally exorcise its playoff demons (see last season). On the other hand, at the beginning of the season, no one thought Alabama would be in this position. I myself said that the dynasty was on its way out. However, Saban and Co. proved all of us wrong and then some.

However, in this case, Michigan is simply the better team. I expect J.J. McCarthy to perform better than he did in last year’s CFP semifinal, namely making fewer mistakes with the ball. Alabama keeps it close throughout, and both teams fight hard, but the Wolverines pull away late and advance to the National Championship.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Texas vs No. 2 Washington

This one is similar to the previous one in a few ways, but it also has some key differences. On one hand, we have the Texas Longhorns, who went red-hot since the Cotton Bowl loss to Oklahoma and torched the rest of the Big 12 en route to a conference title. On the other hand, the Washington Huskies completed a perfect season by escaping Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

This game will be better than the first semifinal game, as this one will come down to the wire. Two high-powered offenses going at each other is a dream scenario for any college football fan. However, this game will come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes. And in this case, I would take Penix Jr. over Ewers. The game is tied coming down to the wire, but the Huskies drill a late field goal to punch their ticket to the National Championship.

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