Winners and Losers from Week 12 of College Football
Week 11 of the 2016 college football season put the entire country on "anything can happen" alert only for Week 12 to be almost devoid of upsets.
Sure, there were a few surprising results. No one expected No. 5 Louisville to get mollywhopped by unranked Houston. No. 12 Utah's last-second loss to Oregon was a bit of a shocker. Aside from that, though, it has been all quiet on the rankings front.
Ohio State and Michigan didn’t look particularly comfortable in their wins, but after last week, when five of the top nine teams suffered losses, even an ugly win feels great.
Should we expect more of the same in the final week of the regular season, or are we being given a false sense of security in advance of a wild finish?
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here are the biggest winners and losers from Week 12.
Winner: Arkansas State Red Wolves
November 17, 2016, will go down as perhaps the greatest day in the history of the Arkansas State athletic department.
First, the men's basketball team went on the road and shocked everyone by upsetting Georgetown. A few minutes after that game ended, the football team began a road surprise of its own, dismantling No. 25 Troy by a 35-3 margin.
The Trojans entered the night with just one loss—a 30-24 game at Clemson. They were averaging better than 38 points per game and a touch under 200 rushing yards. But Arkansas State put an end to that stretch of excellence by forcing five turnovers and limiting them to 55 yards on the ground.
It was an unexpected result to say the least, especially if you know anything about Arkansas State's struggles for more than a quarter of a century against ranked opponents.
Dating back to 1990, the Red Wolves had played 27 regular-season* games against ranked opponents and lost every single one. In fact, only four of those losses came by a margin of 18 points or fewer, as the average score of those 27 affairs was 45.3 to 11.2.
But after opening the season with four consecutive losses—including a home game against FCS school Central Arkansas—this team has turned into a wrecking ball. The Red Wolves have won six in a row to take sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt Conference with winnable games remaining against Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State.
Regardless of how those games turn out, though, the win over Troy clinched a sixth consecutive bowl appearance for Arkansas State.
*Kent State was ranked No. 25 for the 2012 GoDaddy.com Bowl, which Arkansas State won 17-13.
Loser: Louisville's Offensive Line
We've all had a ton of fun watching Lamar Jackson run around the field this season, but the Cardinals quarterback spent most of Thursday night's 36-10 loss to Houston running for his life.
The (former?) Heisman favorite entered the night averaging 133.4 rushing yards, 7.3 yards per carry and 4.6 all-purpose touchdowns per game. But the Cougars broke through the line time and again, holding him to 33 rushing yards, 1.3 yards per carry and only one passing TD.
Jackson did have several nice runs in the game. Take out the 83 yards he lost on 11 sacks, and it was yet another game with at least 100 rushing yards.
Unfortunately, those sacks were the story.
True freshman Ed Oliver had two sacks and two pass deflections on a night when it felt like he was involved in every play. Eight different Cougars recorded at least one sack, while five players either got credit for a QB hurry or a pass deflection.
Even when they weren't getting hits on him, it was readily apparent his confidence was rattled. Jackson threw a career-worst 23 incomplete passes, including several that were intended for no one in particular. He nearly hit the same security guard twice with pass attempts that he simply flung down the field right before running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.
What's bizarre is that Houston's defensive line hadn't been an unstoppable force through its first 10 games. The Cougars were only averaging 2.5 sacks per game and had a three-game stretch in October during which they recorded one total sack.
The loss eliminates what slim hope the Cardinals had for sneaking into the College Football Playoff, but for Jackson's sake, that's probably for the best. If this offensive line couldn't keep Houston at bay, imagine what Alabama would have done.
Winner: Jeremy McNichols, Boise State
We have no earthly idea why the CFP selection committee opted to vault Boise State ahead of Western Michigan in this week's standings, thereby putting the Broncos in position to be the representative for the "Group of Five" in the New Year's Six bowls. Was BSU's road victory over then four-win Hawaii that much better than WMU's road victory over still three-win Kent State?
Regardless, Jeremy McNichols helped back up Boise State's shiny new No. 20 ranking with four of the team's six rushing touchdowns in a 42-25 win over the UNLV Rebels.
Usually, sophomore QB Brett Rypien does most of the damage for Boise State through the air, averaging nearly 292 passing yards and better than two passing touchdowns per game. But the Broncos barely required his services against a Rebels team that had been slightly better than average against the run prior to Friday.
McNichols had 31 carries for 206 yards, including a 31-yard score on his final touch of the night. He did fumble twice, but the Broncos were able to pounce on both of those loose balls.
So, how much higher does Boise State need to climb in the rankings before we can start whispering about McNichols as a Heisman candidate?
He now has 26 total touchdowns and has scored multiple times in all but one game this season—and he still had 205 yards from scrimmage in the one exception to that rule. He has 1,575 rushing yards and 450 receiving yards for an overall stat line that is looking an awful lot like what Christian McCaffrey was expected to do when many had him pegged as the preseason favorite to win the Heisman.
Loser: Maryland Terrapins
Once upon a time, Maryland was 4-0 and looking like a legitimate contender in the Big Ten. The Terrapins beat up on Howard, Florida International, the University of Central Florida and Purdue by a combined score of 173-58.
But as good as they were in those first four games, that's how bad they have looked in their past four.
No one expected Maryland to win at Michigan, nor at home against Ohio State. But scoring a touchdown in one of those games would have been nice. The Wolverines stomped the Terrapins 59-3, and the Buckeyes followed that up with a 62-3 thrashing.
Things didn't go much better this week against Nebraska, either. The Terrapins did finally get on the board with a 92-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter—breaking a drought of more than 167 minutes without a touchdown—but they were already down 28-0 to a team playing without its starting quarterback. (Tommy Armstrong Jr. missed the game with a hamstring injury.)
Take away that big scoring play, and the Terps had just 115 yards of total offense. Not only did Nebraska win the game by a 28-7 score, but the Cornhuskers also beat Maryland in first downs by a 28-9 margin.
From 4-0 to 5-6, Maryland now needs to win its final game of the season to become bowl-eligible. The good news is it's a home game against Rutgers. Given how this team has played thus far in November, though, that game no longer feels like a gimme.
Winner: Florida's Red-Zone Defense
Based on the box score, No. 16 LSU should have beaten No. 23 Florida.
The Tigers had 423 total yards to Florida's 270. Take out the 98-yard TD pass from Austin Appleby to Tyrie Cleveland, and the Gators averaged a mere 3.3 yards per snap on offense. LSU ran for 219 yards and had 24 first downs compared to 14 for Florida.
But the Gators dug in their heels on defense for a goal-line stand, surviving by the skin of their teeth for a 16-10 win.
LSU had five red-zone possessions and got inside the Florida 5 on four of them. The end result was one touchdown, one field goal, one turnover on downs on a botched field-goal attempt and three fumbles—including on the final play of the game when Derrius Guice had the ball knocked out one inch from the goal line.
To say the least, that's not a great conversion percentage for the Tigers, but it's pretty much business as usual for Florida. The Gators entered the week with the fifth-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing 13.3 points per game. Five of their nine opponents had scored seven points or fewer.
Though ranked No. 23 in the CFP standings, the Gators entered the week as the one team that could conceivably skyrocket up the rankings to reach the Top Four. They just got a road win over the No. 16 team, they have a road game against No. 17 Florida State next week and are now guaranteed a game against No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
Their resume was painfully lackluster up until now—the best win was probably a home game against Georgia—but they could make some serious headway in these final three weeks.
Loser: Ohio State Buckeyes
If there's one team still in the heart of the College Football Playoff picture that needs style points, it's Ohio State.
No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 Clemson, No. 6 Washington and No. 7 Wisconsin all entered the week in control of their own destinies for a major-conference championship. Even if they win ugly, victories on Dec. 3 would be a huge boost to their resumes.
The Buckeyes, however, needed some help in the form of a Penn State loss—an unlikely proposition, given the No. 8 Nittany Lions finish the season with Rutgers and Michigan State. Though Ohio State is No. 2 in the CFP rankings, a spot in the national semifinals is no guarantee without a Big Ten title.
A statement win against Michigan State was a near-must, but it instead turned into a near-loss. After smoking Nebraska and Maryland by a 62-3 margin in back-to-back weeks, the Buckeyes needed to survive a failed Spartans two-point conversion to come away with a 17-16 win that didn't impress anyone.
The weather conditions were brutal—it was barely above freezing, and it was raining and sleeting for most of the afternoon—but that's no excuse for the second-best team in the country struggling with what is now an eight-loss opponent.
If the Buckeyes come back next week and comfortably take care of business against Michigan, all will be forgiven. If they instead win an ugly, 10-9 type of game and leave lackluster performances against Michigan State and Michigan as their final images for the CFP selection committee, it would be more of a challenge to justify putting this team ahead of a one-loss Clemson or Washington with a conference championship.
Winner: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Those style points we wanted to see from Ohio State came instead from this OSU.
The TCU Horned Frogs dropped 62 points on the Baylor Bears in their last game and had two weeks to prepare for No. 11 Oklahoma State. That explosive offense was nowhere to be found in the loss to the Cowboys. TCU's only points of the game came two plays after Oklahoma State fumbled a punt on its own 6 in the opening quarter.
From that point forward, quarterback Mason Rudolph and Company outscored the Horned Frogs 31-0.
It was a tight game at the intermission. OK State led 10-6, and TCU was getting the ball to start the second half. But it only took three possessions for the Cowboys to put the game out of reach. They had consecutive touchdown drives of 91, 76 and 94 yards.
It wasn't Rudolph's most prolific passing game. He only completed 50 percent of his 34 attempts. But he threw for 207 yards and had three all-purpose touchdowns. The backfield tandem of Justice Hill and Chris Carson combined for 300 yards on 33 carries, shredding TCU's front seven with repetitive ease.
The loss leaves TCU one win away from bowl eligibility for another week, but it was a huge win for Oklahoma State's slim College Football Playoff hopes.
The Cowboys are now 9-2 with a marquee road game remaining against No. 8 Oklahoma in two weeks. And one of those two losses came on that Week 2 miracle play that never should have happened against Central Michigan, which the selection committee will certainly take into consideration.
Quite a few wild things need to happen in order for this team to climb into the Top Four, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility after a statement win over TCU.
Loser: Late Defense Between Oregon and Utah
For the first 44 minutes in Salt Lake City, neither the Ducks nor the Utes were able to do much on offense. There were three scoring drives, but they were surrounded by nine punts, two turnovers on downs, a fumble and a missed field goal.
Given the average Oregon game this season featured 80.6 total points, this was expected to be a high-scoring affair. Odds Shark had the over/under listed somewhere between 69 and 75.5. Either way, 17 total points heading into the final minute of the third quarter is not what anyone anticipated.
At long last, though, the offenses made their glorious arrival.
Oregon's Dillon Mitchell got the party started with a 45-yard punt return, setting the Ducks up for a 29-yard touchdown pass on the next snap. Then in the fourth quarter, there were three 75-yard TD drives as well as one that went 96 yards. Factor in a fumbled punt returned for a score, and there were six touchdowns scored in the final 16 minutes, including Darren Carrington's 17-yard reception on the final snap of the game, giving Oregon the 30-28 upset over No. 12 Utah.
The game still fell well short of hitting the over, but it made things exciting for the percentage of the population that gets the Pac-12 Network.
For Oregon, the win maybe saved head coach Mark Helfrich's job. The Ducks waved bye bye to bowl eligibility in last week's loss to Stanford, but it had one heck of a game playing for little more than pride on the road against a good team.
For Utah, it went from controlling its own destiny to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game and possibly the Rose Bowl to getting eliminated from both while opening the door for USC to wreak a little havoc on the New Year's Six picture. The Utes should still get into a respectable bowl, but their hopes and dreams were dashed in the past three weeks by a Washington punt return and a last-second Oregon touchdown.
Winner: De'Veon Smith, Michigan
With starting QB Wilton Speight sidelined by injury and half of the game played in what appeared to be a snow globe, Michigan's only hope to remain No. 3 in the CFP rankings for another week was to run, run and run some more against Indiana.
For the first 40 minutes, that strategy wasn't working very well. Midway through the third quarter, the Wolverines were trailing 10-6 and had yet to put together a drive of 40 yards or more.
All of a sudden, holes opened up. John O'Korn scrambled for 30 yards on 3rd-and-8 on what immediately felt like a momentum changer. One play later, De'Veon Smith broke free for a 34-yard touchdown run. Two drives after that, he scampered in from 39 yards out.
As a team, Michigan ran the ball 50 times for 225 yards. Smith did the majority of that damage with 158 yards and both of the team's touchdowns in the 20-10 victory.
The senior running back had been hit-or-miss all season long. In last week's loss to Iowa, he had 28 yards on 12 carries—his fifth game of the season with fewer than 40 rushing yards. On Saturday against the Hoosiers, though, he set a career high in yards, keeping Michigan's College Football Playoff hopes intact in advance of next week's showdown with Ohio State.
Loser: Teams on Life Support
It's looking less and less likely that 80 teams will get to six wins this season. It was a long shot when the week began, but it went from improbable to nearly impossible as six-loss teams across the nation picked up that dreaded seventh loss.
It started back on Wednesday night when Ball State fell to 4-7 with a loss to Toledo. Friday also had a pair of casualties when UNLV and Cincinnati fell to already-bowl-eligible opponents. The closest of those three games was a 17-point margin, so they weren't exactly robbed of a trip to the postseason.
That was nothing compared to what Saturday had in store.
By 7 p.m. on the East Coast, seven more teams had acquired a seventh loss. Louisiana-Monroe, Duke and Syracuse were blown out by Appalachian State, Pittsburgh and Florida State, respectively. Georgia Southern and Charlotte put up valiant fights before falling one score shy of keeping hope alive. But two of the seven teams sealed their fate in brutal fashion.
Notre Dame led Virginia Tech 24-7 late in the second quarter, only to get outscored 27-7 the rest of the way. Outside of a 67-yard TD run by Josh Adams, the Fighting Irish gained a grand total of 19 yards on their first six possessions of the second half.
While that game was going on, Texas Tech inexplicably gave up 66 points to an Iowa State team that hadn't scored half that many points in a game since Oct. 1. Joel Lanning ran for five touchdowns for the Cyclones. The Red Raiders scored 10 points as an entire team.
Also worth noting, Texas fell to 5-6 with an overtime loss against a Kansas team that hadn't beaten an FBS school since Nov. 8, 2014. It doesn't eliminate the Longhorns from bowl season, but it does mean they'll need to beat TCU next week to get there.
Winner: Sefo Liufau, Colorado
Sefo Liufau’s contributions as Colorado’s senior quarterback have been, in a word, inconsistent.
In a 10-5 win over Stanford, he completed just 48 percent of his passes while throwing for 135 yards. The following week, he snapped a season-long streak without an interception by throwing two and coughing up a fumble against UCLA. Between the two games, he had 278 passing yards, 96 rushing yards, one total touchdown and three turnovers.
But this is also the same guy who threw for three scores without a single turnover against Michigan.
On Saturday, that version of Liufau showed up for No. 10 Colorado against No. 22 Washington State. He threw for a season-high 345 yards, had three passing touchdowns and ran for a career-high 108 yards.
Liufau led the Buffaloes to 31 first downs, 13 of them on third-down conversions. He was personally responsible for the first 12, completing nine passes on third down and scrambling for the marker on three other attempts. He simply broke the back of Washington State’s defense over and over again.
Liufau and the Buffaloes remain in the driver’s seat to reach the Pac-12 title game with a game against Utah looming next weekend. If they win that game and beat Washington in the conference championship, things will get interesting. Even with a Pac-12 title, it would be tough for Colorado to edge out either of the Big Ten’s top two teams or Clemson in the CFP rankings, but the Buffaloes would at least be in the conversation.
Who saw that coming after 10 consecutive sub-.500 seasons?
Loser: Wyoming's Special Teams Defense
With the added incentive of getting the ball at the 25 by taking a touchback, kickoff returns for touchdowns are fewer and farther between than usual. There were 66 kick-sixes last season, but there were only 43 through the first 11 weeks of this year. And only four teams in the entire country had more than one.
Yet, somehow, Wyoming allowed San Diego State to return two kicks for touchdowns Saturday afternoon.
Rashaad Penny took the opening kick back 93 yards for a score, and after Wyoming's first points of the second half, Juwan Washington returned the next kick 92 yards to paydirt. During their six-game winning streak, the Aztecs returned a total of seven kicks for 147 yards and no touchdowns.
Of course, when you’re winning, you don’t get many chances to return kicks. Their last six opponents had averaged just 7.0 points per game. But San Diego State allowed Wyoming to score 34 points in a losing effort that will make Boise State fans none too happy.
The Aztecs had a chance to win the game, scoring a touchdown on the final play of regulation to make the score 34-33. Rather than take the extra point and go to overtime, though, they went for two and failed.
As a result, the Cowboys remain in first place in the Mountain West Mountain Division. Unless Wyoming loses to New Mexico next week, Boise State won’t get the chance to play for the MWC title and thus would not get to go to the Cotton Bowl, regardless of whether it stays ahead of Western Michigan in the CFP standings.
Winner: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
When Christian McCaffrey sets a career high in something, we take notice.
California has one of the worst defenses in the nation, allowing 283.4 rushing yards and 540.5 total yards per game. McCaffrey took advantage, rushing for a career-high 284 yards with three touchdowns. He also had four receptions for 22 yards, going over 300 total yards for scrimmage for just the second time in his career.
At the half, No. 24 Stanford only led 17-14. McCaffrey had 124 yards, but he had not yet found the end zone. He corrected that in a hurry in the second half, scoring on a 90-yard run on his second carry of the second half. He proceeded to score on each of Stanford’s next two possessions, giving the Cardinal an insurmountable lead. They won 45-31.
The CFP selection committee couldn’t care less about the "what if?" game, but imagine where Stanford might be if McCaffrey hadn’t gotten injured in late September. In games where he rushes for at least 125 yards, the Cardinal are 7-0, and they won each game by a margin of at least two possessions. In the other four games, though, the Cardinal went 1-3 with a seven-point win over Notre Dame and blowout losses to both Washington and Washington State.
Last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up won’t win this year, and Stanford won’t partake in the national semifinals. But it sure is nice to have a healthy McCaffrey back in our lives—unless you’re a fan of another Pac-12 team.
Loser: Everyone Who Is Ruled Out of Playoff Picture
All year long, the College Football Playoff projection has been the champion of the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, with perhaps the occasional second team out of the Big Ten or ACC in place of that Pac-12 champ. With Oklahoma losing on the opening weekend of the season, the one thing that was never legitimately discussed was the Big 12 champion vying for a spot.
But wouldn’t you know it, Bedlam could cause some serious bedlam in the CFP standings.
Between No. 9 Oklahoma doubling up No. 14 West Virginia by a 56-28 final and No. 11 Oklahoma State having little difficulty dispatching TCU, the Big 12 is likely to have a pair of teams in the Top 10 in Tuesday’s next batch of rankings. Unfortunately for both programs from Oklahoma, there wasn’t much chaos atop the polls this week with only No. 5 Louisville going down, but it could be the Sooners at No. 8 and the Cowboys at No. 10.
Both teams have next week off before going head-to-head on Dec. 3 for the Big 12 regular-season championship. Regardless of who comes out on top, it’ll be a marquee win.
Meanwhile, at least two out of the four Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State) will suffer a loss in the next two weeks, as will at least one out of two between Washington and Colorado. With all that guaranteed cannibalism, the worst-case scenario for the winner of the Bedlam Series might be No. 5 in the CFP rankings with a shot at No. 4 if Clemson happens to slip up in one of its two remaining games.
It isn’t particularly likely that the Big 12 gets a spot in the national semifinals, but it isn’t exactly a chaos scenario, either. One way or the other, there will be an argument for Oklahoma (State) on Selection Sunday with Clemson determining just how fierce that argument is.