Thursday, January 11, 2018

Transcript: Teleconference With 2018 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Inductee Ken Squier

An interview with:
KEN SQUIER

THE MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone.  Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference.  We are joined today by legends of our sport who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next Friday.
            We'll start with Ken Squier.  Thank you so much for joining us today.  With the induction ceremony a week away, I'm sure your speech is in a good place.  Maybe kick us off with what are some of the highlights you plan to touch on in your speech come next Friday.
            KEN SQUIER:  Well, I guess as much as anything, the standard of the five people who are represented in the Hall of Fame this year, and the consequence of that combination of people that is a bit different than what it has been in the past.
            I'm really excited about it for Red Byron, who I truly believe is one of the most misunderstood heroes of that time period.  I'm thrilled that I'm one of the ones that will join him in the Hall of Fame.
            As far as I was concerned, from the outset, Red Byron should have been there.  But that's what it's all about, because it's voted by the peers.  So many are younger than the generation that Red Byron came from and when he won the title in 1948.  History has been rectified a bit.  I'm thrilled about that.
            THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ken.  I think we can open it up to some questions.

            Q.  Ken, in 1979, ABC had already been doing flag-to-flag coverage of the Indy 500 for seven years.  How hard was it for you to sell CBS on the same thing with the '79 Daytona 500, which turned out to be a benchmark in many ways?
            KEN SQUIER: 
It was a matter of introducing people from Manhattan into the scope of American stockcar racing.  In the bread basket of America, that was the name of the tune that turned people on the most at that time.
            No one really understood that.  All you city guys, you had it down as to what was sport and what was not.  Usually it came out that the stockcar racing is defined as a good race around the block with a few exciting moments in it.
            Having them, CBS, take an interest in it, we did a group of races before we ever did the Daytona 500, and they did it so well.  It was like everything the network did in those days.  They spent the time, spent the energy, forethought to really put together what it was about.  This was a new page.
            We had done races.  We had done them live.  The Great American Race was one unto itself.  It really represented the face of the entire stockcar sport.  After a little match was touched, they got onto it.  Bob Wesler (phonetic) at those times, early times, in the late '70s, went down and took a peek.  He said, Yup, that's the right deal.  We'll begin to think about how we could do it and do it better.

            Q.  I remember when CBS ran its last Daytona 500, one of the things that you talked about was how big you thought and how big Bill France Sr. thought the sport would become because of that television participation.
            KEN SQUIER:
  Bill France thought big all the time.  That never changed (laughter).
            He was one of the most innovative and incredible people in the history of American sport, as far as I'm concerned.  Got thrown out of Indianapolis, tossed out the door.  Those stockcar guys, what a crowd that was.  He went home to Daytona Beach and said, I'll fix that.  He did.  He built that two-and-a-half mile track, got the investors.  He was brilliant enough to get the backing of the people that changed people's minds.  Fellows like the New York Times became hot on his list.  It wasn't just the racing newspapers, the rag trade, it was top to bottom that this was the opportunity for this sport to blossom.  Bill took full advantage.

            Q.  Ken, I was wondering what you see as the biggest impact of Ray Evernham, who is being inducted in the class with you?
            KEN SQUIER: 
Well, he's one of those people that has grown up in it.  He's come through all the various divisions of NASCAR.  He turned out to be a pretty good announcer.
            His background is deep.  He is totally dedicated.  I don't know what more you can add to that.  After all, he started at Belmar, Wall Stadium down in New Jersey.  He carried on and found ways.  He's a guy of principle.  He found a way to continue to develop his ability to do things in racing.  He was one of those people that was going to be needed, and needed badly, who not only understood how to put some pieces and parts together, but he also was a good manager of people.  That was a whole part of the act.
            A lot of those early days of stockcar racing, you got the neighbors to come help.  If you were lucky, you were the Wood Brothers in Virginia with a bunch of cousins, a nice barn they could build a car in, they were in business.
            That changed.  It changed so dramatically.  It needed the kind of people that Evernham represented.  Wherever he went, whatever he did, he just kept growing on it.  It wasn't something that he was born with, a natural thing to do.  It was something that he really dedicated himself to.
            When he and Jeff Gordon got together, that was some of the magic in that period, in the early ['90s].

            Q.  Ken, I think you get credited for coming up with the phrase 'The Great American Race' to describe the Daytona 500.  What were some of the origins, and how did that phrase come about?
            KEN SQUIER: 
Well, France Sr. had me down there from the '60s.  Daytona always stood out separately, individually, for one thing, the time of year, because most racetracks in America were closed.  It was the gathering of the tribes in Daytona Beach, which went all the way back to the turn of the century, when Henry Ford, the Chevrolet brothers, all of that tribe went down there.  They raced down that hard-packed beach.  That never stopped.  One way or another, they continued to go down there in the month of February and toast a few of their friends from the past and turn some wheels.
            That Spirit of Daytona is more prevalent than any other when you talk about tracks and parts of the country.  In my mind, it needed something that set it aside.  Indianapolis was always the greatest spectacle in sports.  Indeed, it was.
            But what was Daytona?  Well, it was All-American stockcars in those days, and pretty much the neighbors sounded like your neighbors, particularly if you came from a small town.  What would come to mind?  I fooled around with that for a long time.
            I was in Australia doing a show.  They had a great race over there.  It was a long one, it was a dinger, and it was a national holiday.  On the way home, I thought, God, that's what Daytona is.  It's The Great American Race.
            I got chewed up pretty good about that.  Hadn't I ever heard of Indy?  I sure as the dickens had.  This was coming from a different place.  Sure enough in 1958, when those three cars came across wheel-to-wheel at the end of 500 miles, that was The Great American Race.

            Q.  Ken, if I'm remembering correctly, you were pretty heavily involved in the development of some of the first in-car cameras.  How did all that happen from your perspective?
            KEN SQUIER: 
Went over to Sydney, Australia, to do a bodybuilding program in the Sydney Opera House.  Naturally I got chatting with the folks from TV down there.  They were telling me about these cameras they had.  We had already done two or three years of actively trying to do things at CBS with in-car cameras, which incidentally I feel was as important as nearly anything, not quite as important as the '79 race, but the idea that you could take what most people considered a reality sport, and a calamity one, you could actually get inside the car and ride with the fella or lady, and experience what they experienced.
            I thought that did as much as anything.  Cale Yarborough has full credit.  Well, Benny Parsons originally.  My God, I think he drove to third or fifth the year he carried it.  All of them were concerned about it.  You talk about balance, how important it is in the car.  Crew chiefs, they were snake bit about that thing.
            The Australians had developed a camera that would turn 360 degrees.  They could look out the front, look out the back, look out the side, and look at the guy's feet when he was pedaling along in the thing.  It was just the kind of thing that America needed to see.  You could talk about being 200 miles an hour, but until you actually set beside Cale Yarborough and were going 200 miles, it was just a name, a number, and nothing more.  That changed all that.
            I'll tell you a great story.  Cale Yarborough, the first year he ran it, that was the year I believe of the 200-mile-an-hour lap, did it right, then showed you what happened if you did it wrong, slid down the front straightaway on his roof.  He was excited about the concept of being able to do stuff from inside the car.  Of course, everybody knows he's a little crazy anyway (laughter).
            He said, You know, I'll do that on one condition.  I can describe the start of the race.
            Whoa, wait a minute.  In those days, if you'd done anything with Formula One, that was sacrosanct.  You didn't talk to the driver before he climbed in and settled down to go.  And Cale said, Yeah, I could go.  Well, we didn't have time for it then, nor place for it because there was consideration, and serious, about what would happen if Cale put it on his ear.
            We ran that first race.  There actually was audio from his car.  It was the sound of the car.  Got down toward showtime, the finish, the audio guy, who was one of the brilliant people from CBS in those days, said, We're developing a problem here.  We've got a harmonic, and I can't find it.  It just keeps coming.  Every time this car goes up on that 31-degree banking, we can't hear anything but this ZZZZ going around the track.  That was high harmonic.  It took them about 15 minutes to realize that the sound they were hearing was that of Cale Yarborough describing each lap when he got down and bore down, hammered down on the high banks.  He would take a deep breath, then he would exhale.  We heard it all around the world.  It was a bit of a mystery, but not a mystery if you knew Cale Yarborough.

            Q.  So much has been said and written about that '79 finish.  I think Cale still thinks he was in the right.  Donnie still thinks he was in the right.  What is your view of that?  Is one more at fault than the other for what happened?
            KEN SQUIER: 
No, no.  If you read Donnie's book, I thought he did a pretty good job with that.  They were racers.  Here is the point:  They were short track racers.  They were used to that kind of in-your-door, side-by-side, you ain't rubbing, you ain't racing kind of stuff.  When it come down to it, they both came down from two laps down, made it up, and there they were scrapping to win, their Kentucky Derby, whatever you will.
            So they were on each other, both as determined as any race drivers that ever walked the face of the earth.  They were not going to give it up.  There you saw the result.  It was a very dramatic moment.
            Then we had to search around and find third, fourth and fifth.  They were running tail to tail about 12 seconds back.  It just built into an incredible finish, along with weather conditions in the east, and the whole sense of drama of that race.
            Cale and Donnie were knocked out early, spun down into the first and second turn.  Everybody pretty much thought, Well, that's the end of their day.  No, not with those guys.  If that car would run, and run well, they'd put it right back into contention.  Indeed, they did.

            Q.  Ken, this is the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's lone Daytona 500 win.  You had the opportunity to be in Victory Lane and interview him in that special moment.  I'm wondering, of the things that you did particularly on air, where does that rank in your highlights?  What are the special moments that still stand out of being in Victory Lane at Daytona in 1998 with Dale Earnhardt, the only time he was there for the 500?
            KEN SQUIER:
  Well, he was there more than anyone else as far as pulling into Victory Lane.  But the one that kept escaping him was that one, the 500.  He was determined to win it.
            Just how emotional he could be, pretty much always hide it.  But you couldn't hide that.  Everything that he thought about all of his life was winning the Daytona 500.  That represented to him the top of the mountain.  That was it.  Heretofore, he was just Sisyphus, rolling the rock up the mountain.  It rolled back on top of him a lot of times when it came to the Daytona 500.
            It was an accomplishment that I don't think many people could understand.  Anyone who's run second, third, fourth, fifth, that kind of thing, and tried so hard, come up short for one reason or another, I think they would understand it.  But in Earnhardt's case, that determination and that fixation, he never backed out.  He was there to the finish every time, including the year that he passed away, crashed up there in turn three.  He was still going.
            I've often thought, particularly about Dale, that when he saw his car with young Waltrip driving, Michael, and his son wheel-to-wheel, battling it out, I often thought that was the one time perhaps that he wasn't on the floor and just holding that car up, balancing it on every end of the track, being satisfied he'd won it, and there was his son battling one of his cars.  What a moment that must have been for him.
            He was back there with his pals, Sterling Marlin, that crowd.  They were all guys that had grown old together, racing together.  I just can't imagine what it was like for him when he poured down into turn three and had the sense that, Hey, either his team or his son was on their way in the Daytona 500.

            Q.  Any other special memories of being with Dale in Victory Lane in that 1998 Daytona 500 because of all the things that he went through, like you talked about?  Obviously you got that opportunity to be there where so many people would have loved to be able to be a part of that moment.
            KEN SQUIER: 
You know, that's such a good question.  I can't give you an answer.  I need to go back and look at that thing again.  You're right, it was the moment.
            No, I didn't do well by you in trying to remind myself of that.  I'll have to look at some notes.  I bet I didn't have it down.

            Q.  Ken, I was hoping you could maybe share with us what you consider to be the greatest media advancement in covering NASCAR racing now.
            KEN SQUIER:
  Where we are today?

            Q.  Yes.  From what you've seen through all the years, your involvement in the sport, what do you think is something you either thought, I can't believe this happened, this is such a fantastic thing?  What makes you impressed?
            KEN SQUIER: 
I guess what's most impressive - this sounds pretty silly - but it's the competition.  Take that back to Mike Helton.  When he came in there in the 1990s, was such a good human being, was so fair, but was so determined that he was going to keep that thing on the straight and narrow.  Now, you're dealing with 40 cars in a race, and everyone has an opinion on how to read that rule book.  He survived that.
            What you have today, that is the fruit of it.  It's pretty good tasting.  The competition is close, and the cars are better, and they are safer.  But the safety was never a factor in those early days.  I mean, it was racing, and everybody understood it, that it was dangerous.  They advanced the safety.  They advanced the cars.  They advanced all the parts and pieces that go into those things.  I think that, as you watch these races today, and particularly the stage racing, I wasn't very happy about that when they were going to do that.  I love the stage idea.  I had some other ideas about how they should do it.
            But what they did was they added the intensity with which those guys can compete, for all of them, to every lap.  In the old days, it wasn't that way.  There were guys out there having a heck of a good time, but they weren't driving as hard as they could because they could not, they should not.  They didn't have a nickel to put together on a lot of those cars when the race was over, but they'd given it a good shot.  The economics of it were such that they had to race within their means.  That's gone away.
            When we see them out there today racing, it's a whole different world than the world I live in.  That's not to say that those days with Pearson and Cale and Richard and the Allisons, all that crowd, weren't great races, great personalities.  But today what they have effected in NASCAR is a form of racing in which you have to be part of it, you have to be able to stay the course under the incredible pressure that they exert on each other.  We see the crisis and chaos when just one guy puts a wheel out of line midway through an event.
            That kind of thing, I thought, would buoy the whole sport up again.  It hasn't come to pass yet, but I've got to think that as time goes on it will help NASCAR and racing to be understood for what it is, because it sure is different.
            THE MODERATOR:  Thank you so much, Ken, for your time, the great stories and great answers today.  Good luck in the next week and a half.  I bet you're all wrapped up on your speech.
            KEN SQUIER:  Speech?  There's a speech involved in this thing?  All they said was I had to show up for dinner at all those things and get the chicken (laughter).
            THE MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.


FastScripts by ASAP Sports

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

No. 4 Alabama dominates No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in Sugar Bowl

By PAUL NEWBERRY
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nick Saban is back in his comfort zone.

Let others run up the points. He’ll take a defensive slugfest every time.

Especially when it gives Alabama another shot at a national title.

In a game where every yard was a struggle, the Crimson Tide defenders took matters into their own hands. They accounted for a pair of touchdowns just 13 seconds apart in the third quarter to turn an offensive slog into a 24-6 rout of defending national champion Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal game Monday night.

“This game was about our identity as a team,” Saban said. “I don’t think anybody would doubt our relentless attitude out there. We had a warrior-like mentality.”

He was clearly pleased.

Sure, it was quite a contrast to the first two meetings in the Alabama-Clemson trilogy, both high-scoring classics with the national title on the line , not to mention the Rose Bowl semifinal that preceded it. Georgia knocked off Oklahoma 54-48 in a double-overtime thriller that wasn’t decided until the Alabama was on its second possession in the Big Easy.

There would be no drama in the nightcap. With Deshaun Watson off to the NFL, top-ranked Clemson (12-2) simply had no answer for the Tide’s latest group of defensive standouts, setting up an all-Southeastern Conference showdown for the national title — with Saban matched against his former defensive coordinator, Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

“I’m proud of the job he’s done,” Saban said. “I’m sure it will be a great football game.”

Leading only 10-6 after a turnover to start the second half handed Clemson a field goal, the fourth-ranked Tide (12-1) quickly snuffed out any thoughts of a repeat title for the Tigers.

It began with 308-pound defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne picking off a wobbly pass after besieged Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was hit as he threw. Payne rumbled 21 yards on the return, shedding one would-be tackler with a deft open-field move and drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty when he was finally dragged down with a horse collar tackle.

After Alabama drove to a first down at the Clemson 1, Payne re-entered the game — presumably to add another big body for blocking purposes. Instead, he slipped open near the right pylon on a play fake and hauled in a touchdown pass, even managing to get both feet down before the celebration commenced beyond the sideline.

“I’ve got gold hands,” quipped Payne, who was picked as the game’s defensive MVP.

A bit shell-shocked by that turn of events, Clemson was thoroughly demoralized after its next offensive play. Bryant’s pass deflected off the hands of Deon Cain and was intercepted by linebacker Mack Wilson, who returned it 18 yards for another TD.

They could’ve called it right then.

“Just incredibly disappointed in our performance,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “But congratulations to Alabama. They were the better team today. No doubt about it.”

The Tide, which began the season in Atlanta beating Florida State , will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Monday night to face No. 3 Georgia and give Saban a shot at his sixth title, which would match Bear Bryant.

Saban has four championships in the last eight years at Alabama, along with a BCS title at LSU during the 2003 season.

This is eerily reminiscent of Alabama’s run to the 2011 championship, another season when the Tide didn’t even win its own division or play for the SEC title. That year, Saban’s team lost at home to LSU during the regular season but got a second chance against the top-ranked Tigers with the biggest prize on the line — in the Sugar Bowl, no less.

On that night in the Big Easy, Alabama defense didn’t allow LSU to cross midfield until the closing minutes of a suffocating 21-0 victory. This defensive performance was nearly as impressive.

Clemson was held to 188 yards — 260 yards below its season average — and never reached the end zone. Bryant was sacked five times and the Tigers were held to 64 yards on the ground.

Alabama played it tough right to the end, denying Clemson on a fourth-down pass into the end zone with just over a minute remaining.

Clearly, the Tide was still ticked off about the way last season ended, giving up a TD pass with 1 second remaining to hand Clemson the national title.

“This,” Saban said, “was a little bit personal for us.”

SILENT RENFROW

Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow was known as the Tide Killer.

Not this time.

After hauling in four TD passes in the last two national championship games — including, of course, the title winner a year ago — Renfrow was held to just 31 yards on five receptions. All of his catches came in fourth quarter with Alabama comfortably ahead.

“From the opening kickoff, they hit us in the mouth,” Renfrow said.

THE TAKEAWAY

Alabama: The Tide’s defense against Georgia’s offense will be an especially intriguing matchup given the way the semifinal games played out. One thing to keep an eye on: Anfernee Jennings was helped off with a sprained knee late in the game after recording a sack and three tackles for losses, another potential blow to the Tide’s already beleaguered linebacker corps.

Clemson: The Tigers looked at this game as a chance to show they had surpassed Alabama as college football’s most dominant program. Sorry, the Tide is still king.

“We’ll be back,” Swinney vowed.

UP NEXT

Alabama: A national championship game to end the season for the third year in a row and sixth time in the last nine seasons.

Clemson: Opens the 2018 season Sept. 1 by hosting FCS school Furman. 

Georgia beats Oklahoma 54-48 in Rose Bowl

By RALPH D. RUSSO
Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — After ending the first overtime Rose Bowl, one of the greatest Granddaddies of Them All, Sony Michel was swarmed by Georgia teammates as he broke down in tears.

The senior tailback had gone from possible goat to all-time hero for Georgia, sending the Bulldogs to the national championship game with one last burst in a game full of them.

Michel raced 27 yards for a touchdown in the second overtime to give No. 3 Georgia a 54-48 victory against No. 2 Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal Monday night.

Michel, who had a fumble in the fourth quarter returned for a go-ahead Oklahoma touchdown, ran for 181 yards and three scores for the Bulldogs (13-1), but none bigger than the last one.

“I made plays. I gave up plays. My team just had faith in me,” said Michel, who did all that damage on just 11 carries and got a hug from former Bulldogs great tailback Garrison Hearst after scoring the winning TD. “That’s what this team is all about. They showed true character today.”

In the final game of his great career, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns, and caught a touchdown pass that gave the Sooners a 17-point lead with 6 seconds left in the first half.

But the Heisman Trophy winner could not get the Sooners (12-2) into the end zone in the first overtime when a touchdown would have ended the game.

“It’s tough to describe right now,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said of the loss. “It’s a hell of a college football game. You know, an epic Rose Bowl game.”

The Bulldogs will play Alabama on Jan. 8 fin an all-Southeastern Conference national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, about 70 miles from their campus. After Georgia made its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1943 a heart-stopping success, the Bulldogs will play for their first national title since 1980.

“We got to get back to work. It’s not done,” Michel said. “Now we got to finish. Let’s just finish this season off right.”

The 104th Rose Bowl was also the highest-scoring, surpassing last year’s 52-49 USC victory against Penn State. There was a lot more on the line in this one, the first CFP game to go to overtime as well.

After an offside penalty on Georgia gave Oklahoma a first down on third-and-five in the second OT possession, the Sooners stalled again and Austin Seibert came out for a 27-yard field goal. Leaping through the line, Lorenzo Carter got his outstretched hand on the kick and the ball fluttered down short of the uprights.

Any score would have ended it for the Bulldogs, and on the second play Michel slipped one tackle and was home free. The Bulldogs sprinted off the sideline and toward the corner of the end zone to mob Michel. Confetti rained down. Meanwhile, Mayfield stood motionless on the sideline for several seconds, bent over with his hands on his knees and head down. Mayfield battled flu-like symptoms the week leading into the game, but he played just fine.

“I can’t believe it’s over. It’s been a wild ride,” said Mayfield with a hoarse voice before he started to cry.

Michel and his roommate and running mate Nick Chubb were awesome for Georgia. Chubb ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yarder on a direct snap with 55 seconds left in regulation to tie it. The Sooners had taken a 45-38 lead when Steven Parker returned Michel’s fumble for a TD with 6:52 left in the fourth.

“I told him that he had to keep running and trying to hit the corner,” Chubb said. “We had a long game and after the fumble, we went down and he made up for it with that run to win the game.”

Both teams settled for field goals in the first overtime. First, Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship hit from 38 to make it 48-45.

Then it was Mayfield’s turn. A touchdown would have sent the Sooners to Atlanta, but on a third-and-2 from the 17 Georgia All-America linebacker Roquan Smith nailed Jordan Smallwood a yard short of the first down.

Seibert kicked a 33-yarder and the Bulldogs and Sooners played on, but not for much longer.

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia: The Bulldogs came in with the sixth-best defense in the country, but Mayfield and the Sooners sliced it up in the first half, including a nifty reverse pass to the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback that made it 31-14 with 6 seconds left in the second quarter. Oklahoma had 360 yards in the first half, the second-most the Bulldogs had allowed in a game this season.

Coach Kirby Smart said the defense “stunk it up” in the first half, but there were no dramatic changes in the second. Smith and company just played better. Oklahoma managed only 171 yards and one touchdown in the second half and OT.

Oklahoma: The Sooners’ defense has been an issue all season, but it did look for a while like it might make the decisive play. Linebacker Caleb Kelly lowered a shoulder into Michel trying to turn the corner on a sweep and the ball popped loose. Parker picked it up on the bounce, tight-roped the sideline and sprinted 46 yards for the score.

But with a chance to close out the game with 3:22 left in the fourth, Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm led a game-tying drive. Fromm finished 20-for-29 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

UP NEXT:

Georgia: It’s back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Bulldogs, where they beat Auburn to win the SEC championship and get in the playoff a month ago.

Oklahoma: The Sooners start the post-Mayfield era next fall at home against coach Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

No. 2 Oklahoma stakes playoff spot, 41-17 over No. 10 TCU

By STEPHEN HAWKINS
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Baker Mayfield and No. 2 Oklahoma never fretted the potential consequences of having to play in the revived Big 12 championship game.

The Sooners just went out and proved how deserving they are of that playoff berth coming their way by dominating TCU again, 41-17 on Saturday in the second top-10 matchup in four weeks between the Big 12's top two teams.

"I'm really proud of our group for not listening to the entire narrative across the country that we shouldn't be playing this championship game and all that mess," coach Lincoln Riley said. "We knew there was going to be a championship game and that was just going to be part of our journey if we wanted to get to this place."

Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy front-runner, threw four touchdown passes as Oklahoma (12-1, CFP No. 3) won its record 11th Big 12 title.

"The reason I came back was to play for a national title," Mayfield said. "The most exciting thing about today is we control our destiny. ... That's all out in front of us."

The Sooners are a lock Sunday 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.

Mayfield was so confident in the Sooners winning their third straight Big 12 title that in postgame he wore a shirt he had from back-to-back championships that already been updated, showing the three in a row he has won since transferring from Texas Tech.

"I had it updated before Bedlam," Mayfield said, referring to game against rival Oklahoma State a month ago.

The Sooners probably would have made the playoff even if the Big 12 hadn't played its first championship game since 2010. But a loss would have likely knocked OU out of contention.

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).

Kenny Hill threw two TD passes to get the Horned Frogs within 24-17 at halftime, but Oklahoma was in total control after scoring twice on its first three offensive plays after the break.

"Big plays, we gave up a couple. ... Two plays basically in the second half," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "The worst thing that could happen in the third quarter happened."

A week before the Heisman winner will be named, Mayfield finished 15-of-23 passing for 243 yards and took game MVP honors. His first two touchdowns were to tight end Mark Andrews .

Hill opened the second half with three consecutive incompletions. On the first play after the punt, Mayfield hit Mykel Jones for a 55-yard catch-and-run score.

A fourth-and-1 stop by Oklahoma's defense, led another Sooners touchdown. Marquise Brown made an impressive over-the-shoulder grab for a 52-yard TD and a 38-17 lead.

Hill, who started his college career at Texas A&M behind Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, was 27-of-37 for 234 yards passing, and led TCU with 51 yards rushing.

"It's been a fun ride and a wild ride, and I think this guy (Patterson) here for giving me the opportunity to come here and play," Hill said. "As far as Baker goes, man, he looks like the Heisman."

THE TAKEAWAY

TCU: The Horned Frogs had allowed only six points (two field goals) combined after halftime in their last seven games. Even Oklahoma was scoreless in the second half of its 38-20 home win on Nov. 11. The 41 points are the most TCU has allowed this season.

Oklahoma: The Sooners' 11th Big 12 title overall was the first without Bob Stoops, the coach for their last national title in 2000 who resigned unexpectedly last summer. Riley, at 34 the youngest FBS head coach, is only the fifth coach in FBS history with no previous head coaching experience at a four-year college to win at least 12 games in his debut season.

TITLE GAMES

Oklahoma is 8-1 in Big 12 championship games, winning seven of them between 2000 and 2010, when the Sooners beat Nebraska in the league's last championship game until Saturday.

IMPRESSIVE GRAB

TCU was within 17-14 when John Diarse made a one-handed TD grab before falling out of bounds. Initially ruled an incompletion, TCU had a touchdown after the replay review. Diarse had immediately run to the sideline and told Patterson it was a catch. "I told him I would take it as a catch as soon as they put their hands up," the coach said.

UP NEXT

TCU: The Horned Frogs could still possibly make it into one of the New Year's Six bowl games, and if not likely will be the Big 12 representative in the Alamo Bowl.

Oklahoma: The Sooners wait to find out who they will play and in which national semifinal game, the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl.

No. 6 Georgia makes playoff bid, routs No. 4 Auburn 28-7

By PAUL DEWBERRY
Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Kirby Smart took the customary drenching with an ear-to-ear smile. He bounced up and down on the sideline with as much exuberance as his players. And when the coach waved his visor to the red-and-black faithful, he knew better than anyone how much this meant after a long, long wait.

Rebounding emphatically from a blowout loss at Auburn just three weeks ago, the No. 6 Bulldogs doled out a whipping of their own on Saturday. And what a time for some revenge, with the Southeastern Conference championship and almost surely a trip to the College Football Playoff going to the winner.

Roquan Smith gobbled up two crucial turnovers, freshman Jake Fromm threw a pair of touchdown passes and Georgia cruised to a 28-7 victory over the No. 4 Tigers in an SEC title game that was a total reversal of the last meeting between the teams.

"It's great to bring it back to Georgia," said Smart, who played defensive back for the Bulldogs in the 1990s. "The Bulldog Nation is certainly starved."

Smart needed only two seasons to return his alma mater to national prominence, though he certainly learned a thing or two about what it took to get there in his previous job as Nick Saban's defensive coordinator at Alabama.

"It's hard to do," Smart said. "This one feels the same way."

Georgia (12-1) claimed its first SEC title since 2005.

Of course, there's a bigger prize for the taking.

The Bulldogs haven't won a national title since 1980, a drought that has only grown more and more irritating to Georgia fans as schools all around them — Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Clemson, Florida State — finished No. 1 in the years since.

"It's been an incredible journey," said Fromm, who took over as the starter when Jacob Eason was injured in the season opener and never relinquished the job. "I never thought it would shake out this way."

Auburn (10-3) didn't see it coming, either.

The Tigers rolled into Atlanta as the hottest team in the country after impressive wins over Georgia and then-No. 1 Alabama in its last three games. But the Tigers were stymied by their own mistakes, which also included a blocked field goal, and they had no answer for a Georgia team eager to make up for its embarrassing 40-17 defeat on the Plains .

"They flipped the script on us from the last game," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and freshman D'Andre Swift provided a much more efficient running game, which opened up things for the young 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, who were No. 6 in the latest CFP standings, should move into the top four after their dominating performance. Auburn was ranked second in the CFP poll, only to have its hopes fade away with a lackluster offensive performance. The Tigers were up held to 259 yards after piling up 488 in their Nov. 11 romp.

Swift, another impressive Georgia freshman, finished it off with a 64-yard touchdown run through a huge hole. He dashed to the end zone without being touched, sending the Georgia fans into a raucous celebration that figured to go on well into the night.

Swift finished with 88 yards, Chubb had 77 and Michel added 45 before he left the game in the third quarter with what is believed to be a minor knee injury. In the last game against the Tigers, Chubb was held to 27 yards and Michel 21 — their lowest outputs of the season.

Auburn started out like it was headed for another big win. Jarrett Stidham capped the opening possession with s 6-yard scoring pass to Nate Craig-Myers, and the Tigers pushed into position to extend their lead early in the second quarter.

That's when the game suddenly turned.

Stidham dropped back to throw, couldn't find anyone open and didn't sense Davin Bellamy coming up behind him. The Georgia linebacker stripped the ball away and Smith fell on it for the Bulldogs at the 16.

Georgia drove the other way for the tying score and tacked on the first of two field goals by Rodrigo Blankenship for a 10-7 lead at the half.

Auburn wasted another scoring opportunity in the third quarter when Daniel Carlson's 31-yard field goal attempt was swatted away by DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle.

Then, trailing 13-7, another turnover on the first play of the fourth quarter finished off the Tigers.

Kerryon Johnson, who played despite an ailing right shoulder, was stripped of the ball and Smith scooped it up again at the Auburn 39 , retaining the spiked, Road Warrior-style vest that Georgia awards to players who take the ball away from the other team, the Dawgs' version of the turnover chain.

Smith picked up another prize after the game: the MVP award.

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia: Smart did a masterful job of motivating the Bulldogs after they were thoroughly outmuscled in the first meeting. "They just physically whipped us up front," Malzahn said.

Auburn: After being knocked out of the playoff, the Tigers will turn their attention to Malzahn's future. He's been mentioned as a possible candidate at Arkansas. "I'm happy at Auburn," he insisted. "I think the best is yet to come."

OFFENSIVE WOES

Johnson, whose status wasn't known until game time, managed just 44 yards on 13 carries. Clearly, he was bothered by his ailing shoulder, but he wasn't the only one who struggled.

Stidham, who played brilliantly during a five-game winning streak, was held to 16 of 32 for 145 yards by a Georgia defense that brought heavy pressure all game. He was sacked three times.

UP NEXT

Georgia: Will likely head to either the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl to play in a semifinal playoff game.

Auburn: Could wind up returning to Atlanta on New Year's Day for the Peach Bowl against Central Florida.

Bryant, No. 1 Clemson pound No. 7 Miami 38-3 for ACC crown

By PETE IACOBELLI
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kelly Bryant long ago laughed off those worried he couldn't succeed Clemson's national championship icon Deshaun Watson this year.

How's the ACC championship game MVP look now?

Bryant ran for a touchdown, threw for another and passed for 252 yards to help the top-ranked Tigers (12-1, No. 1 CFP) claim their likely spot atop the College Football Playoff poll with a 38-3 victory over No. 7 Miami on Saturday night.

Bryant, the smiling, lanky, 6-foot-3 junior has shaken off defenders the way he's pushed aside concerns he would not match Watson's success. But Bryant's shown week after week, he's more than up to the challenge.

Bryant proved it once more against the Hurricanes (10-2, No. 7 CFP). He set a championship game record by completing his first 15 passes — topping the mark held by teammate you know who from two years ago — and putting the Tigers ahead 14-0 on his twisting, 11-yard TD run in the opening quarter.

"We had a lot of questions about the guys who left," Bryant said. "Having the guys around me who've believed in me has helped. And like coach Dabo says, just be the best version of Kelly B I can be."

The best of Bryant certainly points to another title run for the defending champs.

Oh, no, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, corrects, "We're the attacking champs. We're attacking to try and win another one."

Swinney said amidst the postgame celebration he hadn't been to New Orleans since going with Alabama in 1992, the then wide receiver part of 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."

Bryant capped his game with 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.

Clemson's defense made things stand up against a Hurricanes team that has been spurred on to its turnaround season by their 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.

Bryant and receiver Ray-Ray McCloud even mocked the Miami necklace, McCloud pantomiming putting an invisible chain around Bryant's neck after the quarterback's TD run.

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.

THE TAKEAWAY

Miami: The Hurricanes showed they still have some growing to do to catch up with the ACC's elite program. Miami let early chances get away — a long pass to an open receiver overthrown by Rosier, a recovered muffed punt in Clemson territory — and paid for it as the Tigers relentless offense and dominating defense took control. "They came out and from the beginning, they jumped us," Miami receiver Braxton Berrios said.

Clemson: The Tigers have methodically proven themselves at every turn this year when the doubters were sure they'd falter with so many (11 new starters) fresh faces after last year's national championship. Once more, Clemson answered the questions and will head to its third straight College Football Playoff, a likely No. 1 and favorite to win a second consecutive crown.

THREE-PEAT

Clemson joined Florida State as the only teams to win three straight ACC championships. The Seminoles had their run from 2012-2014, right before the Tigers got going with their current streak. Clemson's win also made it seven in a row for Atlantic Division teams over Coastal opponents.

BIG RUSH

The Tigers set an ACC championship game mark with four different players scoring rushing touchdowns. Along with TDs by Etienne and Bryant, Clemson's Adam Choice had a 1-yard scoring run and Tavien Feaster had an 11-yard scoring run.

CHARLOTTE RETURN

The title game came back to Charlotte after a year in Orlando, Florida, due to the ACC's ban on awarding championships to North Carolina for a law that limited protections for LGBT people. The law was repealed earlier this year, the ban lifted and the contest restored to Bank of America Stadium.

UP NEXT

Miami will most likely head to the Orange Bowl in the ACC's usual spot.

Clemson should maintain the top spot in the CFP rankings and, with the option to choose location, will certainly choose the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans over the Rose Bowl to ensure it gets a strong crowd in the stands for the national semifinals. Its opponent will be announced Sunday.

Buckeyes claim Big Ten title over Badgers, seek playoff spot

By MICHAEL MAROT
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — J.T. Barrett felt and played like his old self Saturday.

The only thing that would make the Ohio State quarterback feel better would be making the playoffs.

Six days after undergoing surgery on his right knee, Barrett started the game, threw two touchdown passes, ran for another and led No. 8 Ohio State to a 27-21 victory over previously unbeaten No. 3 Wisconsin for the Buckeyes' first Big Ten title since their 2014 national championship run.

"We have two wins over two top-four team and another one over a team ranked 12th or 13th," said coach Urban Meyer, who included a win over Penn State in his rundown. "We're a conference champion and we deserve a shot."

All the Buckeyes (11-2, No. 8 CFP) can do now is wait to see if college football's selection committee agrees.

With one final chance to make an impression, Ohio State ended the Badgers' perfect season and the nation's longest active winning streak at 13 by winning their fourth in a row.

And they did it behind a quarterback many expected to be watching.

But unlike most athletes, who need at least two or three weeks to recover from minor knee surgery, Barrett told doctors and coaches he would be OK.

After watching Barrett in pregame warmups with a protective brace around the injured knee, Meyer gave his three-time captain the starting nod. Barrett didn't disappoint.

He wound up 12 of 26 for 211 yards and two interceptions and ran 19 times for 60 yards including a crucial fourth-down conversion that set up the last field goal of the game.

"We expected to see the best and he was," Badgers coach Paul Chryst said of Barrett. "He's a heck of a quarterback."

It didn't take Barrett long to get going, either.

Following a 9-yard run on third down on the Buckeyes' second possession he hooked up with a wide open Terry McLaurin for an 84-yard TD pass to make it 7-0.

Two possessions later, Barrett threw a short pass to Parris Campbell, who turned a missed tackle into a 57-yard mistake for another score. Then after a 77-yard run by J.K. Dobbins, Barrett powered in from the 1-yard line to give the Buckeyes a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.

"It never does (surprise me)," Meyer said. "That's just because I've had (Tim) Tebow — this kid is a lot like him. How you keep him out of the game I just don't know how it happens."

No, Barrett wasn't perfect.

The only time he really paid for it, though, came on an ill-advised pass from near his goal line in the first quarter. Barrett was picked off by Andrew Van Ginkel, who returned it 9 yards for a Wisconsin score.

Otherwise, the Buckeyes stayed pretty much in control and kept Barrett out of trouble.

"I didn't have any pain in my knee," Barrett said before answering whether the Buckeyes deserve a playoff spot. "I feel like we're one of the best teams in the country."

Wisconsin got within 21-10 at halftime and 21-13 early in the third quarter before the offense got into the end zone on Chris James' 1-yard run early in the fourth. A conversion pass from Alex Hornibrook to Troy Fumagalli cut the deficit to 24-21.

But Barrett's extra effort on the fourth down play set up the field goal and the Buckeyes defense stopped Wisconsin twice to close it out.

THE TAKEAWAY

Ohio State: Since getting blown out at Iowa last month, the Buckeyes have been trying to play their way back into the playoff picture. The win over Wisconsin just might do it. Three of the four playoff spots were likely sewn up Saturday, going to Big 12 champ Oklahoma, SEC champ Georgia and ACC champ Clemson. Will the committee take another conference champion over Auburn or Alabama? Stay tuned till Sunday.

Wisconsin: Critics contended the Badgers were never as good as their undefeated record because of a weak schedule. On Saturday, they fought to the end but still came up short. The usually stout defense missed too many tackles and gave up too many big plays.

RECORD BREAKER

The last time Dobbins played a game in Indiana, he rushed for freshman game record of 181 yards in a rout over the Hoosiers. This time, Dobbins broke Maurice Clarett's season freshman record at Ohio State. And all he needed was one run. Dobbins finished with 17 carries for 174 yards and surpassed Clarett's total of 1,237 yards on the 77-yard run. He finished the day with 1,364 yards. Dobbins was named the game's MVP.

STREAK BUSTERS

Wisconsin started the game as the only team in the nation that hadn't trailed in the fourth quarter. That streak ended when the Badgers opened the fourth down 24-13. Jonathan Taylor's streak of four straight 100-yard games also ended Saturday. The Big Ten rushing champ was held to 41 yards on 15 carries and failed to score for the fourth time this season.

TURF TWIST

The game was delayed after the seams of two pieces of turf came apart during James' TD run. The refs immediately stopped play and summoned maintenance, which spread a black substance underneath the turf and rubber pellets on top of the turf. After about 10 minutes, the game resumed to the roar of the crowd.

UP NEXT

Ohio State: Will find out where it's heading this postseason on Sunday.

Wisconsin: Also awaits its postseason fate Sunday.