While the College Football Playoff picture is starting to take shape, Week 12 saw a mixture of shakeups, comebacks and the end to one of the greatest college football careers of all time. Power 5 Cinderellas—Minnesota and Baylor—are unbeaten no more, Oklahoma overcame a 21-point halftime deficit to regain control of the Big 12, and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, one of the most exciting players of this generation, is sadly done for the rest of the season after dislocating his hip. We’ll see what that means for the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes in the coming weeks.
With that, here are the biggest winners and losers from Week 12:
1. Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma
In one of the more thrilling games of the season, Oklahoma erased a 21-point halftime deficit to come back and beat previously undefeated Baylor, 34–31. Gabe Brkic kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:45 left after Jalen Hurts went 30-of-42 for 297 yards and threw four touchdowns passes—with star receiver CeeDee Lamb on the sideline—to keep the Sooners’ playoff hopes alive.
After a tough two-game stretch in which OU lost to Kansas State and beat Iowa State by just a point, Hurts reminded us just how elite of a quarterback he is. Despite turning the ball over three times—one interception and two fumbles, including one at the goal line—he remained even-keeled and poised, throwing all four TD passes after his team dug itself into a 28–3 hole.
As far as those playoff hopes go, the Sooners still need some help. First, they need to win the rest of their games, including a potential rematch with the Bears in the conference title game. Even if they win the Big 12, their resume will be compared to a one-loss Pac 12 champion (Oregon or Utah) and maybe a one-loss non-conference champion Alabama. Oklahoma’s resume right now isn’t stellar, but there’s still time to get into the selection committee’s good graces.
2. Don’t count out Wisconsin…
…In the Big Ten West race, that is. The Badgers can still win the conference thanks to Minnesota suffering its first loss of the year on the road at night to Iowa. Now what Wisconsin has to do to clinch the division is beat Purdue next week and then the Gophers in the regular-season finale.
Everybody thought the Badgers were down and out after a shocking road loss to Illinois last month. Then they were promptly blown out by Ohio State. But they still have life and could realistically make it to Indy.
It helps to have Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 204 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Badgers’ 37–21 win over Nebraska. After all the preseason Heisman hype around the standout running back, he lost some luster after the Buckeyes held him to a season-low 52 rushing yards. But this weekend marked Taylor’s 11 200-yard game. He now has 5,634 rushing yards for his career, moving him past Herschel Walker into first place for most rushing yards through a junior season. Maybe he’ll have a chance for revenge against the Buckeyes next month.
3. Pac-12’s CFP hopes
No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah are on a crash course to meet each other in the Pac-12 title game in a few weeks. Both the Ducks and Utes clobbered opponents Arizona and UCLA, respectively, on Saturday and assuming whoever wins the conference still only has one loss, that program could slide into the CFP.
Oregon might have the better chance given its strength of schedule. The Ducks’ lone loss is to Auburn on a neutral field in the first week of the season, while Utah has one to USC. Barring the selection committee putting two SEC teams in the four-team field or choosing a one-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma instead, the Pac-12 will likely get a team in the CFP.
1. Power 5 Cinderellas
Baylor and Minnesota, you had a good run. These two previously unbeaten teams both suffered their first losses of the season on Saturday with the Bears allowing Oklahoma to storm back and beat them, while the Gophers were the latest victim in a night game at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. Now the only remaining undefeated FBS teams are No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson.
Are Baylor and Minnesota out of the CFP running now? The Bears can still finish 12–1 and beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. Would that be enough to see them sneak in? This kind of scenario would require the committee to favor them over an 11–1 Alabama (who is now Tua Tagovailoa–less for the rest of the season) and potentially a one-loss Pac-12 champion. But what if that one-loss Pac-12 champion is Utah? Then it probably comes down to strength of schedule. But according to the Sagarin Ratings, Baylor (No. 41) and Utah (No. 48) are ranked fairly equally.
And what about the Gophers? They can also finish 12–1 and still have the opportunity to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. A win over the Buckeyes, who most pundits agree is the most complete team in the country and is getting star defensive end Chase Young back next week, would be considered one of the best wins on any resume.
While those scenarios are possible, they’re also unlikely.
2. Texas isn’t back
Where does Texas stand in Year 3 of Tom Herman’s tenure? Iowa State beat the Longhorns 23–21 after Connor Assalley nailed a 36-yard field goal as time expired. Texas could have had a chance at a final drive with 2:16 remaining, but as the Cyclones lined up to kick a field goal on fourth down, the Horns jumped offsides. Iowa State got a new set of downs and ran out the clock before hitting the game-winning field goal.
There was so much preseason optimism in Austin after last year’s 10-win season and Sugar Bowl win. But now with four losses, including two straight road games vs. TCU and Iowa State, it’s fair to question what progress Herman is making here. Right now, there are no answers. That was clear after Saturday’s game when quarterback Sam Ehlinger was asked why Iowa State was able to stymie this offense—the Longhorns were held to 54 rushing yards and only had 16 first downs all game (the Cyclones had 26).
“It’s a great question,” Ehlinger said. “If I knew the answer, I would fix it and play that way every drive.”
Herman & Co. need to figure out some answers, especially before ending the season with Baylor and Texas Tech.
3. All of college football
The biggest news from Saturday was heartbreaking. With Alabama leading Mississippi State 35–7 just before halftime, Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa was brought down by two Bulldog defenders on a third-down play. He suffered a bloody nose and dislocated his hip. Alabama announced after the game that he was done for the season.
Tagovailoa left Bryant-Denny Stadium in extreme, insufferable pain, screaming as he was loaded onto a medical cart. He was quickly airlifted to Birmingham for CAT scans and MRIs.
Tagovailoa, a projected top NFL draft pick, was a game-time decision this week after he had surgery to repair a sprained ankle on Oct. 20. In a halftime interview with ESPN, Nick Saban said he was planning to pull Tagovailoa after that series. Many will and already are questioning Saban’s decision to play Tagovailoa at all, but is that really fair? It was a freak accident and Tagovailoa was 14 of 18 for 256 yards with two touchdowns before he was injured.
The real shame here isn’t about him playing or not, though. It’s about the unfortunate end to one of the greatest college football careers of all time. Tagovailoa has wowed us and thrilled us for three years. He arrived on the scene in the most dramatic of ways, leading Bama to a comeback win in overtime of the 2017 national championship against Georgia as a freshman. He’s been one of the toughest players we’ve seen, too, most recently playing against rival LSU a few weeks post-surgery.
Alabama team doctor Lyle Cain said in a statement Saturday night that Tagovailoa will make a full recovery and on Sunday, said the QB is en route to Houston for an evaluation and surgery this week.
The Tide, meanwhile, still have a chance to make the playoff if they finish the season 11–1 with an Iron Bowl win over Auburn. But regardless of how things shake out in that respect, this is a sad day for Tagovailoa, Alabama, and all of college football.