The College Football Playoff nearly seems set, save for that curious No. 4 spot. No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson have tight grasps on their spots, but who will the selection committee choose to join them? We know it won’t be Oregon after the Ducks were stunned by Arizona State on Saturday. But who does their loss help? A one-loss Pac-12 champion Utah (if it beats Oregon in the conference title game)? How about a one-loss Oklahoma if it wins the Big 12? Or a one-loss/non-champion/Tua Tagovailoa–less Alabama?
There’s still so much that can happen these next two weeks. And with that, let’s look at the biggest winners and losers from Week 13:
1. Ohio State faces adversity
The Buckeyes experienced their first contested game of the year on Saturday. Ohio State beat Penn State 28–17 in spite of three fumbles and allowing the Nittany Lions to make a steady comeback and come within a 21–17 score in the third quarter. It was a weird place for Ohio State to be given that Ryan Day’s team has been beating everybody by multiple touchdowns.
In the end, Ohio State proved to be the better, more balanced, and more talented team. It out-gained Penn State 417 yards to 227, Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins combined for 57 touches for 225 rushing yards, and Chase Young, back from a two-game suspension, again proved to be unblockable with three sacks, nine tackles and two forced fumbles.
Despite those dominant numbers, the Buckeyes showed they’re not invincible. Fields fumbled once in the first half at the goal line, then he and Dobbins both fumbled in the third, and Penn State capitalized with 14 points. Ohio State had to slug through the second half—not just because it was raining—to get the win.
Day and his players agreed it was a good thing to face adversity, especially before playing rival Michigan in the Big House and either Minnesota or Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. We’ll learn a lot about the Buckeyes and how they address these issues over these next two weeks.
2. Tennessee’s resurgence
Tennessee started Year 2 of the Jeremy Pruitt era 1–4, which included a season-opening loss to Georgia State, a double-overtime loss to BYU, and two blowouts against Florida and Georgia. Don’t look now, but the Vols are bowl eligible for the first time since 2016 with a 6–5 record. They’ll finish the regular season next week against Vanderbilt.
The team has shown great improvement in Pruitt’s two seasons, from beefing up its roster and getting through some growing pains with scheme changes. But you can’t talk about the remarkable turnaround happening without looking at quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. The junior started the year shaky and lost his starting job after four games. But he kept working, came in off the bench, and eventually earned his spot back. In a 24–20 road win over Missouri on Saturday, Guarantano passed for a career-high 415 yards and two touchdowns.
Now, after consecutive last-place finishes in the SEC, Tennessee will exceed expectations and finish third in the East Division behind Georgia and Florida. And to truly understand how impressive that is, know that the Vols only won five conference games once (2015) in the last decade.
3. Virginia Tech rolling
Any hot-seat discussion around Justin Fuente’s job status has cooled off by now. Since a 45–10 loss to Duke in September, Virginia Tech has won six of its last seven games. The loss was by one point at No. 16 Notre Dame.
In their last two games, the Hokies shutout both Georgia Tech and Pitt—by a combined score of 73–0—which is a nice going-away present for longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Now, Fuente & Co. just need to beat Virginia over Thanksgiving weekend to win the ACC Coastal. Take care of that, and the Hokies will get the chance to spoil mighty Clemson’s perfect season in the conference championship game.
1. Oregon’s CFP chances
Arizona State shocked No. 6 Oregon, 31–28, in a special edition of #Pac12AfterDark. Sun Devils’ true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels completed 22-of-32 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns and the defense came up big late by intercepting Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert twice in a wild fourth quarter.
The Ducks had already clinched the Pac-12 North and will play for the conference title, but their College Football Playoff dreams are dead. The Pac-12 could still be in play to send a team into the final four, though. If No. 7 Utah can beat Colorado next week and Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, it could make a compelling case despite a weak non-conference schedule and mid-September loss to USC. Oregon’s loss also opens the door to Alabama and Oklahoma, who could potentially find their way back into the top four.
Oregon’s path was pretty clear. Win out and make the playoff as a one-loss conference champion. But Herbert was inconsistent down the stretch and the Pac-12’s second-best defense gave up 535 total yards.
2. Miami’s dark night
This one was really bad. So bad, that after Florida International embarrassed Miami 30–24 on Saturday, Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said this: “One of the darkest nights in this program’s history. That’s on me. I’ve got to take the responsibility for that.” Players shared similar feelings.
FIU, led by former Miami coach Butch Jones, is a 6–5 team that’s currently ranked fifth in Conference USA. With this win, the Panthers are now bowl eligible.
It was clear the Canes had a lot of work to do after a narrow season-opening loss to Florida. Since then, it’s become apparent that Diaz has much more of a mess to clean up than maybe he realized when he took this job in the off-season. Losing to a top-10 rival is one thing. Losing to FIU will be one of the worst moments of his coaching career.
3. Tom Herman’s pregame shenanigans
Before facing No. 14 Baylor on the road, Texas coach Tom Herman wanted to fire up his team. And so, he decided to headbutt senior defensive lineman Malcolm Roach four times while surrounded by his players on the field. Roach was wearing a helmet. Herman was not.
This was obviously a very bad idea for many reasons. And it did not do the trick for the Longhorns, who fell 24–10 in Waco. Herman’s team is now an underwhelming 6–5, 2–4 since the loss to Oklahoma, and things seem to get worse every week. There were such high hopes for the Horns in the preseason after they capped a 10-win season in 2018 with a Sugar Bowl victory. They were ranked No. 10 in preseason polls and were even considered a dark horse to make the playoff.
No one—not Herman nor Sam Ehlinger nor any of his teammates—can explain why the season has unfolded the way it has. After being humiliated at McLane Stadium, the Longhorns still have one more regular-season game to play against Texas Tech at home.
Sure they’re bowl eligible, but nowhere near playoff contender status.