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College Football Roundup: Week 12 Continues Top 10 Teams Going Down

Another week of college football equals more Top 10 teams going down

Two themes prevailed in Week 12 of this wild and wacky college football season – clarity and style points. Even on a weekend where no favored top-25 team lost, the results on the field still whittled the list of College Football Playoff contenders down to eight – Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. Additionally, just about all of those teams delivered impressive performances Saturday, giving the CFP committee plenty to think about when evaluating them based on the all-important “eye test”.

  • Georgia – beat Charleston Southern 56-7
  • Alabama – beat #21 Arkansas 42-35
  • Ohio State – beat #7 Michigan State 56-7
  • Cincinnati – beat SMU 48-14
  • Michigan – beat Maryland 59-18
  • Notre Dame – beat Georgia Tech 55-0
  • Oklahoma State – beat Texas Tech 23-0
  • Oklahoma – beat Iowa State 28-21

It’s hard to remember a year since the CFP started in 2014 when this many teams had a legitimate shot of being in the top four heading into the final week of the season. Watching so many meaningful games while eating leftover turkey will be a treat next weekend. But before we get there, let’s break down the Week 12 action.

UTAH 38 OREGON 7

“It should burn. It should hurt a ton.” Those were the words of Oregon coach Mario Cristobal in his postgame press conference after his team (and the Pac-12) saw its playoff hopes go up in smoke in a 38-7 drubbing at a raucous Rice-Eccles Stadium. Oregon had been living on borrowed time for awhile since defeating Ohio State in Columbus in Week 2, but outside of a game against Stanford where offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead had a health emergency the day of the game, the Ducks had always found a way to survive.

But on Saturday against Utah, the Ducks were physically dominated on both sides of the ball and special teams miscues and clock mismanagement led to the Utes taking a 28-0 lead into the half. Oregon had a field goal blocked in the first quarter and then missed a field goal that would have cut the lead to 14-3 with 2:02 remaining in the first half. That miss seemed to take the wind out of Oregon, as the Ducks defense was absent on the following drive, allowing Utah to easily drive down the field to take a 21-0 lead. Then on the ensuing possession, Oregon inexplicably tried to score after getting the ball with 27 seconds remaining, rather than taking it into half. The Ducks were stopped and forced to punt, and the Utes returned the punt 78 yards for a touchdown as the half ended. A game that easily could have been 14-6 was suddenly 28-0.

This is the type of loss that forces a coaching staff back to the drawing board. This Oregon team had built its identity around physicality at the line of scrimmage. The Ducks entered the game averaging 227.4 rushing yards per game and on defense have arguably the top player in the country anchoring the defensive line. However, Oregon ran for only 63 yards on 2.7 YPC against the Ute defense, while the powerful Oregon defensive front-seven – led by DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and LB Noah Sewell – had only one tackle for loss on 50 Utah rushing attempts (which went for 208 yards and four TDs).

With Arizona State’s loss, these teams will meet again for the Pac-12 championship in two weeks, but only a Rose Bowl berth will be on the line.

OHIO STATE 56 MICHIGAN STATE 7

Perhaps Michigan State offered head coach Mel Tucker that 10-year, $95 million extension one week too soon. Though Tucker has undoubtedly upgraded the Spartan talent level (primarily through the transfer portal), the talent gap between Michigan State and Ohio State remains a chasm, and to be blunt, the Spartans were not well-prepared by the coaching staff to play Ohio State and played tentatively the entire game.

Michigan State entered the game ranked dead last in the nation in passing defense and offered little resistance to the explosive Buckeye passing attack. You would think that heading into the matchup the top priority for the Spartans would be to limit big plays in the passing game and force OSU to drive the ball, but Michigan State made few adjustments to protect its defensive backs and continually left its safeties matched up one-on-one against Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

In the end, though, Ohio State was always going to be able to score on the Spartans, and the most disappointing aspect of Michigan State’s performance was that the Spartans were unable to run the ball, despite having the nation’s leading rusher in Kenneth Walker III. It is inexplicable that while the game was still in doubt on Michigan State’s first three possessions, Walker carried the ball on only three of the first twenty-three Spartan snaps. He didn’t even play on MSU’s third possession. His first three carries went for 25 yards too, so it’s not like Walker was bottled up early either.

On the other sideline, Ohio State asserted itself as the top contender to Georgia. The Buckeyes have always had the talent that they showed against Michigan State, but the frustrating thing is that this team had seldom fired on all cylinders – until Saturday. QB CJ Stroud punched his ticket to New York for the Heisman ceremony with an almost perfect performance (32-35 for 432 yards and six TDs), the Buckeyes ran for 206 yards, had three receivers with over 100 yards, racked up nine TFLs while holding the Spartans scoreless until the fourth quarter, and possessed the ball for over 37 minutes.

If the Buckeyes find themselves matched up against Georgia in the CFP, Ohio State’s offense against Georgia’s defense would be must-see TV. To get there, though, the Buckeyes must get by archrival Michigan next weekend and then win the Big Ten Championship, likely against an improving Wisconsin team.

McDONOUGH’S MUSINGS

  • Oregon’s loss to Utah means that the Pac-12’s playoff drought extends another year. The last Pac-12 team to make the CFP was Washington in 2016. The conference’s lack of competitiveness on the football field is becoming a problem. The Pac-12 trails the other Power Five conferences in TV revenue and proliferation (I live in Seattle and the Pac-12 Network is not even available on DirectTV or YouTube TV) and is falling behind in recruiting as well. Despite ten of the Top 100 recruits on 247 coming from states with a Pac-12 school in them, only two Pac-12 programs (Oregon and surprisingly, Stanford) rank in the top 35 team recruiting classes on 247. It will be very interesting to see whether USC and Washington, two of the top three programs in the conference, can land their top coaching choices this offseason. Those programs desperately need a shot in the arm, as their recruiting classes currently check in at 58th and 59th, respectively.
  • Clemson’s 48-27 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday sent a message. Even though the Tigers probably won’t play in a seventh consecutive ACC Championship game this season, Clemson still runs the conference. Wake Forest can secure its berth against Pitt in the title game with a win over Boston College on Saturday, but if the Demon Deacons fall and NC State loses to North Carolina, then Clemson will win the ACC Atlantic. Even if the Tigers fall short this year, odds are this will just be a one-year hiatus.
  • With each team coming off impressive victories, Ohio State and Michigan will meet in Ann Arbor on Saturday. This will be the most nationally important version of “The Game” since the #1 vs. #2 matchup in 2006. The winner of this game will represent the Big Ten East in the conference championship game, where they will take on either Wisconsin, Iowa, or Minnesota. If the Badgers beat Minnesota, they will represent the Big Ten West. Should the Badgers lose but Iowa beat Nebraska, the Ohio State/Michigan winner will matchup against Iowa. However, if both Wisconsin and Iowa lose and Purdue wins, Minnesota would win the ensuing four-way tie in the Big Ten West.
  • Preseason polls are always an inexact science, but the pollsters were particularly wrong this season. Twelve of the top-25 teams in the AP poll are now unranked, and four have already fired their coaches, with Dan Mullen getting the boot at Florida on Sunday. The teams no longer ranked are Iowa State (7th), North Carolina (10th), Florida (13th), Miami (14th), USC (15th), LSU (16th), Indiana (17th), Penn State (19th), Washington (20th), Texas (21st), Coastal Carolina (22nd), and Arizona State (25th). This polling inaccuracy is expected (especially coming off the disjointed 2020 season), but it unfortunately colors national perception for the rest of the season. For instance, Michigan gets credit from the CFP committee and national media for a victory over Penn State, and Big 12 teams get the same credit for victories over Iowa State, but no one counts Purdue as a quality win for Notre Dame, even though the Boilermakers have the same record as Penn State (with much better wins) and a better record than Iowa State.
  • With only one week to go in the regular season, here are my top five most deserving candidates for the Heisman Trophy. Note, of the list below, I expect only Young and Stroud to get the invite to New York, but if I were a voter, this would be my list.
  1. Bryce Young (Alabama), QB – Thrown for 3,584 yards and 38 touchdowns against only three INTs. Gets the nod over Stroud because Young has been spectacular all season while Stroud has made some big mistakes throughout the season, especially in the loss to Oregon.
  1. CJ Stroud (Ohio State), QB – Thrown for 3,468 yards and 36 touchdowns against five INTs. Getting better every week for the nation’s top scoring offense.
  1. Jordan Addison (Pittsburgh), WR – Has 74 catches for 1,272 yards while leading the nation with fifteen receiving TDs to spearhead the second-ranked total offense in the country.
  1. Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), QB – Though he doesn’t have the flashy stats of Young or Stroud (2,699 passing yards, 325 rushing yards, and 31 total touchdowns), he is the unquestioned heart and soul of a team on the verge of making history as the first Group of Five team to make the CFP. I see Ridder’s candidacy like Manti Te’o’s in 2012. Te’o did not have individual stats that blew you away (ranking 46th in the nation in tackles with only 5.5 TFLs, though he had seven interceptions), but was the unquestioned leader of a team making history and had a great life story (at the time).
  1. Will Anderson (Alabama), LB – Has been the most disruptive defensive player in the country, as he leads the nation with 13.5 sacks and 26.5 TFLs to go along with 78 total tackles for the #9 total defense in college football.
  • Here is my prediction for the CFP rankings that will be released Tuesday night. Oregon and Michigan State both drop out of the top-ten after blowout losses. Eight of these ten teams still have a chance to move up into the top four by the end of the season. Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Cincinnati, and Michigan control their own destiny. Notre Dame is best positioned to slide into the top-four, but the Irish still need some help and would like to avoid a one-loss Big 12 champion.
  1. Georgia – beat Georgia Tech, and the Dawgs are in the CFP, regardless of the outcome against Alabama
  2. Ohio State – beat Michigan and then win the Big Ten Championship
  3. Alabama – beat Auburn and either win against Georgia or lose in a very close game
  4. Cincinnati – beat East Carolina and then Houston in the AAC Championship
  5. Michigan - beat Ohio State and then win the Big Ten Championship
  6. Notre Dame – beat Stanford, coupled with Georgia beating Alabama (ideally by more than a field goal), and the Big 12 champion having two losses
  7. Oklahoma State – beat Oklahoma and then Baylor in the Big 12 Championship, coupled with Georgia beating Alabama
  8. Baylor – needs absolute chaos with two losses
  9. Ole Miss – needs absolute chaos with two losses
  10. Oklahoma – beat Oklahoma State in back-to-back games, coupled with Georgia beating Alabama

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BIGGEST WINNERS OF THE WEEKEND

  • Ohio State – Asserted itself as the top contender to Georgia with a dominant 56-7 victory over #7 Michigan State, setting up a massive matchup next weekend against archrival Michigan.
  • Clemson – The Tigers need help to make the ACC Championship game for the seventh straight year, but is anyone in the conference playing better right now? Clemson put together its best performance of the season in a 48-27 win over #10 Wake Forest, led by 333 yards rushing.
  • UTSA – Trivia question. In addition to Georgia and Cincinnati, who is college football’s third undefeated team? You probably said the Roadrunners given you’re reading about them now, but that being said, who would have predicted UTSA would be sitting at 11-0? The dream season continued Saturday, as a deflected pass from QB Frank Harris found its way into the arms of WR Oscar Cardenas as time expired to give UTSA a 34-31 win over UAB.
  • Cincinnati – The Bearcats had been less than impressive since knocking off Notre Dame, but delivered their most dominant performance of the season Saturday in a 48-14 win over SMU. The Mustangs came into the game with one of the top passing offenses in the nation, averaging 329 YPG, but QB Tanner Mordecai was held to just 66 yards through the air. On offense, a balanced Bearcat attacked racked up 295 yards through the air and 249 yards on the ground.
  • Baylor – Coming off a massive win over Oklahoma, the Bears needed to travel to Manhattan to take on Kansas State, always a tough place to play. Just before halftime with the Bears holding a slim 14-7 lead, star QB Gerry Bohanon went down with a hamstring injury. All backup Blake Shapen did was complete 16 of 21 passes for 137 yards while adding 44 on the ground in a 20-10 win. A victory over Texas Tech coupled with an Oklahoma loss in the Bedlam game will send the Bears to the Big 12 Championship game.

BIGGEST LOSERS OF THE WEEKEND

  • Oregon – The Ducks entered Saturday’s matchup with Utah feeling disrespected after Vegas made them a 3.5-point underdog. Looking back, it should have been even more. Despite having everything to play for, Oregon didn’t even score until Utah led 28-0. Oregon beat the Buckeyes in Columbus, but how will this season be remembered if the Ducks don’t even capture the Pac-12 title?
  • Nebraska – Bo Pelini won nine games or more in all seven seasons at Nebraska but was run out of town. After Saturday’s 35-28 loss to Wisconsin, Nebraska dropped to 3-8 and will miss a bowl for the fifth consecutive season. Sure, all the losses have been close, but at the end of the day, close loss after close loss speaks more to poor coaching than bad luck. Frost will be back next season, but if he can’t win at Nebraska, who can?
  • Michigan State – The Spartans came into the Horseshoe controlling their own destiny for the College Football Playoff, led by a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, and believing they had found their coach for the next decade. Three hours and six CJ Stroud touchdown passes later, the Spartans headed back to East Lansing looking at an Outback Bowl berth.
  • Texas – The Longhorns dropped their sixth straight game 31-23 at West Virginia and will miss a bowl game in Steve Sarkisian’s first season, something Tom Herman never did. On a positive note, the Longhorns didn’t blow a double-digit second-half lead in this game – as they never even led. Maybe that’s not actually a positive.
  • USC – A season to forget in Los Angeles continued with a 62-33 loss to rival UCLA. In front of a sparse crowd at the Coliseum, the Trojans looked uninterested in being there, giving up 609 yards to the Bruins. The consensus is that USC is a top-flight, destination job, and though that may be true, there’s a culture problem that needs to be fixed before this team will contend nationally again.

BIGGEST GAMES OF WEEK 13

Note – rankings reflect the November 21st AP rankings

  • #8 Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Thursday)
  • #17 Iowa at Nebraska (Friday)
  • #4 Cincinnati at East Carolina (Friday)
  • North Carolina at #24 NC State (Friday)
  • #1 Georgia at Georgia Tech
  • #2 Ohio State at #6 Michigan
  • #21 Wake Forest at Boston College
  • Texas Tech at #9 Baylor
  • #3 Alabama at Auburn
  • Penn State at #12 Michigan State
  • #18 Wisconsin at Minnesota
  • #10 Oklahoma at #7 Oklahoma State
  • Clemson at South Carolina
  • #5 Notre Dame at Stanford

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