Auburn rallies, Ole Miss rolls and Wisconsin gets bedeviled

Sports Editor Brandon Walker's views on another wild Saturday in college football.

Auburn 24, Mississippi State 20: Both teams absolutely had to have this game in order to become bowl-eligible.

Only Auburn played like it, however.

Despite three turnovers and an offense that struggled for much of the game, Auburn survived its first gut-check of the Gus Malzahn era.

Quarterback Nick Marshall engineered an 88-yard drive in the game’s final two minutes when Auburn absolutely had to have it, helping the Tigers show more fight in one drive under Malzahn than they showed in 12 games under Gene Chizik last season.

The stomach-punch of a loss is crippling to a Mississippi State team that seems to invent new ways to lose when it visits the Plains. It’s the second straight trip to Auburn that has gone south on Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs on the final possession, and it seems to be emblematic of a program that, for whatever reason, can’t get over the hump in close SEC games, having won just three of 10 games under Mullen that have been decided by a touchdown or less.

For Auburn, the come-from-behind win is a shot in the arm for a program that has lacked momentum recently. Now 3-0, the Tigers are halfway to bowl eligibility. With non-conference games remaining against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, as well as SEC games left against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee, Auburn has a path to a possible eight-win season in Malzahn’s first season. At the very least, the Tigers will almost certainly go bowling.

Ole Miss 44, Texas 23: Ole Miss entered the 2013 season with plenty of momentum, thanks to surprising 7-6 season in Hugh Freeze’s first year and a top 10 recruiting class.

So far, the Rebels have done nothing to slow that momentum as they’re off to the program’s first 3-0 start since 1989. While I believe the fast start is a product of playing a disappointing Vanderbilt squad and a Texas team that is nearing Mack Brown Cliff on Mediocre Mountain, 3-0 is 3-0.

A reality check could be looming for Ole Miss in the form of a trip to Tuscaloosa next week, but Freeze hasn’t made a misstep during his season-and-three games in Oxford, and the Rebels look poised to win at least eight games.

Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30: Like most of you, I spent much of Saturday watching college football. Following the Alabama-Texas A&M game, the Auburn-Mississippi State game and a host of others, I was nearly comatose on my couch after goring myself on a buffet of football.

Half-asleep, I found myself paying semi-close attention to Wisconsin-and Arizona State, which seemed to begin around midnight Sunday morning. With Arizona State nursing a 32-30 lead and Wisconsin in prime position to kick a game-winning field goal, Badgers’ QB Joel Stave appeared to run to the middle of the field and take a knee, setting up a spike that would stop the clock and set up the FG attempt.

However, the Pac-12 officials were all apparently trying to make sense of the latest plot twists on Breaking Bad, as not one of the six officials involved looked interested in spotting the ball and giving Wisconsin a chance to win the game. Instead, with an Arizona State defender laying on the football like he was asleep, the officials simply let the clock expire and the sprinted off the field like showcase winners on The Price is Right running to view their prize.

It was one of the more stunning endings I’ve seen in a long time, and someone owes Wisconsin an apology – and a win.

By BRANDON WALKER / Daily News Published: September 16 21:47, 2013

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