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Alabama makes its case for the College Football Playoff, while Georgia’s three-peat bid could be over

Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe celebrates after leading the Crimson Tide to a victory in the SEC championship game and winning the game's MVP honors.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

After handing Georgia its first loss in nearly two years, Alabama mixed a raucous celebration of its latest Southeastern Conference championship with a whole lot of lobbying for a College Football Playoff spot that no one could have envisioned in September.

Jalen Milroe, the quarterback who epitomizes the Crimson Tide’s remarkable turnaround from an early-season loss to Texas, posed a pointed question to the committee that will decide who’s in — and who’s out.

“Georgia is No. 1, right?” said Milroe, who was picked as MVP of a 27-24 victory Saturday that snapped the top-ranked Bulldogs’ 29-game winning streak. “We just beat the No. 1 team. What do you consider us?”

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Alabama would have to make a big leap from No. 8 in both the AP poll and the most recent CFP rankings — and perhaps leapfrog the No. 7 Texas team that beat it, 34-24, in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 9 — to claim a spot in the four-team playoff that will be announced Sunday.

“This is a team,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who may get a chance to add to his record seven national titles. “I’ve never been prouder of a group of guys.”

Another big question: Is Georgia’s bid for a third straight national championship over?

Coach Kirby Smart bristled at the notion that his team squandered a shot at becoming the first team in the AP poll era to win three titles in a row.

“It’s the best four teams,” Smart said. “So if you go tell me somebody sitting in that committee room doesn’t think that Georgia team is one of the best four teams, I don’t know if they’re in the right profession because we’re a really good football team.”

After his Iron Bowl heroics a week earlier, Milroe threw a pair of touchdowns and Alabama’s defense dominated much of the way after giving up a score on Georgia’s opening possession.

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Georgia (12-1) will have to hope its dominance over the last two seasons persuades the selection committee to give them a do-over in the playoff, which is what happened two years ago. The Bulldogs’ hopes of becoming the first team in the poll era to win three straight titles is now in the hands of others.

The Bulldogs closed the gap to 20-17 after a 28-yard punt return by little-used Anthony Evans III set up Carson Beck’s sneak into the end zone for Georgia’s first touchdown since the opening minutes.

But, with a drive for the ages, Milroe hooked up with Isaiah Bond on four completions for 56 yards — rekindling memories of a week earlier when the two connected on a fourth-and-31 touchdown pass that miraculously pulled out an Iron Bowl victory over Auburn.

Roydell Williams scored on a 1-yard run that restored Alabama’s lead to 27-17 with 5:47 remaining.

Georgia didn’t go quietly. The Bulldogs hustled down the field for another TD, scoring on Kendall Milton’s fourth-and-goal run from the 1 with 2:52 left to again get within a field goal.

But Milroe broke off a 30-yard run — and wisely went down inbounds to keep the clock running — and Alabama ran out the clock.

Big Ten championship — Blake Corum scored twice, tying the school record for touchdown runs with 55, and No. 2 Michigan beat No. 18 Iowa, 26-0, in Indianapolis to likely take the top seed in the College Football Playoff.

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With coach Jim Harbaugh back on the sideline for the first time in four weeks, the Wolverines (13-0) routed Iowa (10-3, No. 16 CFP) to win three straight outright conference crowns for the first time in school history.

And with No. 1 Georgia falling to No. 8 Alabama in the SEC title game, Harbaugh and the Wolverines are poised — finally — to claim the top playoff seed and reach No. 1. Harbaugh became the first coach in Big Ten history to win three straight outright titles and he celebrated by running evasively to avoid getting doused in a Gatorade bath.

Atlantic Coast championship — Florida State made things as difficult as possible on the CFP selection committee, using a dominant defensive performance to beat No. 15 Louisville, 16-6, at Charlotte, N.C., for the fourth-ranked Seminoles’ first league title since 2014.

The Seminoles moved to 13-0, but even that doesn’t guarantee a spot in the four-team playoff. No Power Five team has ever gone unbeaten, won its league title, and failed to make the CFP.

Lawrance Toafili ran for 118 yards and a touchdown for the Seminoles. Louisville dropped to 10-3.

Quinn Ewers put up record numbers as Texas won one last Big 12 championship, its first since 2009.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Big 12 championship — Quinn Ewers set a career high by throwing for 452 yards with four touchdowns (all in the first half), one of those to 362-pound defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat, and the seventh-ranked Longhorns won their fourth Big 12 championship game, 49-21, at Arlington, Texas. The Southeastern Conference-bound team got two rushing touchdowns from Keilan Robinson after Texas led, 35-14, at halftime. For No. 19 Oklahoma State (9-4), national rushing leader Ollie Gordon II finished with only 34 yards on 13 carries against Sweat and the Big 12′s top rushing defense. Ewers completed 35 of 46 passes and his touchdowns went to four different receivers, the biggest one being the finalist for a Outland Trophy that goes to the nation’s top lineman (offense or defense).

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Mid-American championship — Rashad Amos ran for two touchdowns and Graham Nicholson kicked three field goals as Miami (Ohio) upset No. 23 Toledo, 23-14, in Detroit. Nicholson put Miami in front for good, 16-14, at the beginning of the fourth quarter when he made another 40-yarder, and Amos sealed the win when he ran 10 yards for a touchdown with 2:41 left.

Boise State quarterback Taylen Green dives over UNLV defensive back Quentin Moten for a touchdown.Steve Marcus/Associated Press

Mountain West championship — Taylen Green threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, Ashton Jeanty rushed for 153 yards and a TD, and Boise State won its fifth Mountain West championship, 44-20, in Las Vegas. The Broncos (8-5) have won three consecutive games under interim coach Spencer Danielson. UNLV (9-4) was playing on its home field and appeared in its first MWC title game.

American Athletic Conference championship — Kevin Jennings threw a touchdown pass and accounted for 266 yards from scrimmage in his first career start, Collin Rogers kicked four second-half field goals, and No. 25 SMU beat No. 17 Tulane, 26-14, for the AAC title in New Orleans. Both teams are 11-2.

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Sun Belt championship — Kimani Vidal rushed for 233 yards and five touchdowns as Troy (11-2) rolled to a 49-23 home victory over Appalachian State and a second straight league title.

Pac-12 championship — On Friday night, the Huskies went into what likely was the last Pac-12 championship living on the edge, and of course they were going to do it again. Washington (13-0) blew a 17-point lead, watched Oregon (11-2) go ahead by four, and immediately responded with the drive of the game to prevail, 34-31. And now the third-ranked Huskies not only are the Pac-12 champions, but they secured one of the four CFP berths. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. was named the game MVP after passing for 319 yards and a touchdown. Oregon’s Bo Nix, one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy, passed for 239 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 69 yards.

Boston Globe Today: Sports | December 1, 2023
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