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Week 12 Takeaways: Eight biggest things we learned Saturday

The Sooners are surging, Charlie Strong's fate is sealed, Colorado is in prime position to win the Pac-12 South and more analysis from Saturday's action.

Three of the nation’s top four teams were upset last weekend, two in primetime. If Week 11 was the party, then Week 12 was the hangover. Here are the key takeaways from Week 12:

Oklahoma is surging

It’ll require a miracle for them to make the College Football Playoff, but the resurgent Sooners are one of college football’s most exciting teams. Their 56–28 demolition of West Virginia in snowy Morgantown was another standout performance for a team that was expected to contend for a playoff spot, but was virtually eliminated after two losses in its first three games. Despite some shaky defense, the Sooners forced two crucial turnovers inside the 5-yard line and allowed the offense to build a 34–0 first-half lead. Running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine steamrolled a vaunted Mountaineer defense for 307 rushing yards and three TDs while quarterback Baker Mayfield needed only nine completions to log 169 yards and two touchdowns.

For more on the rout in Morgantown, consult Ben Estes’s three thoughts on the game.

The sun is setting on Charlie Strong

Charlie Strong has taken some bad losses during his three seasons as the Texas head coach. Two to Cal, one to Iowa State last season, the Texas Bowl loss to Arkansas that Bret Bielema called “borderline erotic.” Those were all bad. None rank anywhere near the 24–21 loss to Kansas that the Longhorns suffered on Saturday afternoon. Though he’s only in his third year in charge of the program, Strong’s firing is all but inevitable now. All indications are that he will coach the regular season finale against TCU (Texas needs a win to become bowl eligible), but the administration is likely mapping out a list of candidates to replace him after the regular season concludes. It’s hard to envision anybody not named Tom Herman as the No. 1 candidate for the job.

THAMEL: Michelle Herman never wavered as Tom navigated coaching ranks

For more on the dawn of the Strong era, read on about the nightmare that unfolded in Lawrence.

The Pac-12 South is upside down

Few teams have suffered as badly as Oregon this season, but the Ducks mustered a standout defensive performance and an incredible game-winning touchdown catch to knock off No. 12 Utah. The loss now puts No. 10 Colorado in pole position to win the Pac-12 South, but the resurgent Buffs will need to knock off Utah in order to clinch the division. Hanging in the balance is USC, which throttled UCLA 36–14 at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night. Colorado knocked off No. 22 Washington State, 38–24, in a thrilling tilt in Boulder.

Watch: Oregon upsets Utah on last-second catch by Darren Carrington

Whether or not Colorado clinches the division to advance to the Pac-12 championship game, head coach Mike MacIntyre should be the frontrunner for National Coach of the Year. After winning just 10 games in his first three seasons in charge of the program, MacIntyre has Colorado at 9–2. The only two losses (Michigan and USC) were close and required the play of backup quarterback Steven Montez because of an injury to usual starter Sefo Liufau. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has coached up a unit that entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 9 in the nation in total defense and held the high-flying Cougars in check for most of the afternoon. With a veteran defense and a balanced offense led by running back Phillip Lindsay, the Buffs are a ton of fun even if they haven’t commanded national respect.

For more on Colorado’s win over the Cougars, consult Chris Johnson’s recap on the game and how it alters the Pac-12 race.

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Rutgers is so bad

The Scarlet Knights lost to Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State by a combined score of 224–0. We knew things were bad in Piscataway, but this kind of futility is unprecedented. Chris Ash’s job isn’t in jeopardy as he was hired to tear down and rebuild a struggling program, but the Scarlet Knights have gone from having steady, if unspectacular, teams under Greg Schiano and Kyle Flood into maybe the worst team in the Power 5. Even Kansas beat Texas on Saturday. Right now, it doesn’t appear that Rutgers could beat anybody.

Florida stymies LSU to win SEC East, damage Ed Orgeron's prospects

Christian McCaffrey is still a gamebreaker

Cal entered the season with the 127th-ranked rushing defense in the nation, so Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey wasn’t a great prescription. McCaffrey steamrolled the Bears defense for 284 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinal’s 45–31 win in Berkeley. McCaffrey’s 90-yard touchdown run to put Stanford up 24–14 was the gamebreaking play to give the Cardinal their seventh consecutive win in the Big Game and fifth in a row by double digits.

Air Raid teams need defenses

After Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen popularized Air Raid offenses in 2011 and 2012, several schools flocked to find coaches from the Hal Mumme and Mike Leach coaching tree to install college football’s most popular offense. Washington State hired Leach in 2012, Texas Tech hired Sumlin’s offensive coordinator (Kliff Kingsbury) and Cal hired Sonny Dykes in 2013.

Leach won just 12 games in his first three seasons before hiring a promising young defensive coordinator in Alex Grinch. Holgorsen was considered a prime hot seat candidate this season, and Tony Gibson’s defense has taken the head coach off of it. In Lubbock and in Berkeley? There are huge problems. Those offenses fly when clicking, but the defenses are so bad that neither coach should feel terribly secure. Texas Tech took the season’s worst loss on Saturday in a 66–10 rout at the hands of 2–8 Iowa State, while Cal surrendered at least 45 points for the sixth consecutive game in its loss to Stanford. Those two defenses are ranked Nos. 127 and 128, respectively, in the FBS, which has 128 teams.

High-flying offenses are fun. Defenses that can’t stop the run or the pass make those viewing experiences awful.

The far-reaching implications of Houston's stunning upset over Louisville

Let’s check in on Rich Rodriguez

Oregon State beat Arizona 42–17. Here’s what Rich Rod thought about that.

Joe Thomas Sr. becomes oldest D-I player

Fifty-five-year-old South Carolina State running back Joe Thomas Sr. logged a three-yard carry in South Carolina State's win over Savannah State. Read David Gardner on Thomas’s incredible journey.