College Football Winners and Losers from Week 13
Michigan turned "The Game" into a rout with a big-play barrage we haven't seen from the Wolverines as they carved the Buckeyes up like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Meanwhile, Clemson and Cincinnati saw long home winning streaks snapped in disappointing, meaningful losses.
For the Bearcats, Tulane's win at Nippert Stadium thrust the Green Wave into the AAC championship game. The Tigers saw rival South Carolina win its second consecutive game against a top-10 opponent.
Alabama drilled Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and Oregon collapsed against rival Oregon State to keep the Week 13 shenanigans going. Texas A&M rose from the dead and stunned LSU, too, to knock the Tigers from playoff contention.
The College Football Playoff rankings took quite the toss-up from the action, and it's going to be a wild race to the finish line thanks to all the twists and turns from the week.
Here are the winners and losers.
Winner: Michigan's Big-Play Barrage
Whatever the formula for beating Ohio State is, Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh should patent it.
The Wolverines dominated the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe on Saturday, turning what was a close game for much of the afternoon into a shocking 45-23 win thanks to explosive play after explosive play.
C.J. Stroud's Heisman Trophy hopes ended on that field with a pedestrian performance, but the story was how the Wolverines shredded Ohio State's rebuilt defense and embarrassed the Buckeyes and coordinator Jim Knowles with gash plays.
With Blake Corum unable to play much (two carries) because of a knee injury, the Buckeyes still keyed on the run. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy (12-of-24 263 yards, three touchdowns) took what they gave him, popping huge plays against man coverage and torching OSU on the back end.
He hit Cornelius Johnson for scoring tosses of 69 and 75 yards to loosen things up, and then he found tight end Colston Loveland for a 45-yard strike to pull Michigan ahead 24-20 during the back-and-forth part of the tussle.
"They were trying to stop our identity," McCarthy told FOX after the game. "I mean, we're a smash-fest football team, and they were trying to stop the run, so they let the passes get open deep."
Later, with Ohio State needing stops, backup running back Donovan Edwards instead provided the end-game, scoring on runs of 75 and 85 yards to silence the stands. He finished with 216 yards on 22 carries and the pair of big scoring runs.
Now, Big Blue looks like it has a clear path to its second consecutive College Football Playoff.
"Everything about it was magical," McCarthy said with a smile.
Loser: Clemson's Ability to Stop Beamer Ball
With dominoes falling all around them, a Clemson team that entered Saturday's Palmetto Bowl rivalry with South Carolina needed a style-points win to impress the College Football Playoff committee.
Instead, the Gamecocks waltzed into Death Valley and stunned the Tigers with a 31-30 win, snapping Clemson's 40-game home winning streak with a great showing in all three phases. The last time the Tigers lost at home was November 12, 2016, to Pittsburgh.
How fitting was it that, after South Carolina was forced to punt the ball, the Gamecocks stripped it from Antonio Williams on the return, secured the ball, got a first down and ran out the clock? Their special teams were terrific all day—the way it's been the entire season.
Much like his father, legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, Shane Beamer brings it on special teams. As he interviewed with ABC following the win, players all around him were chanting "Beamer ball! Beamer ball!" a special teams mantra.
"How about the fight of our team, though?" Beamer told ABC's Molly McGrath after the game. "They never flinched. That's a championship team we just beat. I'm just so proud of our players.
"It's a great day for all Gamecocks."
Indeed, what South Carolina has accomplished in back-to-back weeks is remarkable, beating Top 10 opponents Tennessee and Clemson. It's the first time consecutive victories over Top 10 opponents has happened in program history.
Maligned quarterback Spencer Rattler enjoyed his second brilliant game in a row, throwing for 360 yards and a pair of touchdowns, despite two brutal interceptions. He led the Gamecocks back from a two-touchdown deficit.
Winner: Caleb Williams' Heisman Hype
With much of the Heisman Trophy focus centering around others throughout the season, USC sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams has calmly—and dominantly—just led the Trojans to a bounce-back season for the ages.
In Saturday night’s 38-27 win over a Notre Dame team that has been playing much better and climbing in the rankings as well, Williams wasn’t dynamic. He wasn’t perfect. But his steady demeanor and four total touchdowns led the way to yet another win.
When you piece together Williams' body of work for the entire season, he's deserving of the Heisman Trophy, and that’s the reason he’s likely the favorite heading into next week’s Pac-12 championship tilt. Williams’ 44 total touchdowns is the most ever in a single season in the long, storied history of USC signal-callers.
It’s not like Williams’ season came out of nowhere, of course. The former 5-star prospect replaced Spencer Rattler as a true freshman last year at Oklahoma. When Lincoln Riley left for L.A., Williams became the best player in the transfer portal and followed him.
He’s the primary reason why the Trojans are heading to the conference title game and why, if they win, they’ll be heading to the College Football Playoff.
The numbers are there statistically, but it’s plays like Williams reading the defense at the end of the first half, keeping the read option and sprinting up the middle for a rushing touchdown that makes him invaluable. He also sealed the game with a fourth-down touchdown scramble at the end of the game.
He understands Riley’s offense, and he’s the perfect player to run it.
With CJ Stroud’s mediocre game against Michigan on Saturday and injuries to Blake Corum and Hendon Hooker, Williams is running away with college football’s top individual honor.
Loser: Oregon's Colossal Collapse
With 4:46 remaining in the third quarter of the rivalry formerly known as the Civil War, the Oregon Ducks were in clear control with a three-touchdown lead over rival Oregon State.
All the Ducks had to do was stay in complete control and they would stroll into next week’s Pac-12 Championship Game.
But, behind a bruising run game and capitalizing on a fumble, the Beavers scored 28 of the game’s final 31 points to come all the way back and stun Oregon, 38-34. After trailing 31-10, Oregon State didn’t pass the ball a single time the rest of the way.
They used 14 runs to dominate the Ducks and beat them while completing just six passes the entire game. A pivotal fumble by Oregon did give Oregon State a short field on one of those drives, but there was nothing cheap about the way the Beavers won.
“We played four quarters,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said. “We didn’t play our best football for a while there. But the crowd made a difference. Special day.”
It wasn’t secured until a questionable pass interference call against the Beavers gave Oregon a 1st-and-goal situation late in the game, and Oregon State responded with a goal-line stand, got a pivotal first down via the run game (of course), and ran out the clock.
Oregon State won behind the muscle of 268 rushing yards, and the Beavers spoiled Oregon’s waltz into the Pac-12 Championship Game. Now, the Ducks have to hope Washington State beats Washington later tonight if they get the chance to play for the league title. If Washington wins, Utah goes.
Winner: Purdue Surviving Big Ten West Pandemonium
Michigan turned the Big Ten on its head Saturday with a blowout win over Ohio State to seize the spot in the conference championship game from the East side.
But the only thing missing from the West side of the ledger was a clown riding a unicycle.
Through a wacky season, the lead in the division seemed like a hot potato nobody wanted. All Iowa had to do was win this weekend over lowly Nebraska, and the Hawkeyes would have represented the West, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, they left the door open for somebody else to take their spot. Purdue walked through that door, ending Illinois’ hopes to back into the title game with a 30-16 win over rival Indiana. The Illini took care of business, too, with a win over Northwestern, but the Boilermakers moved to 6-3 in the conference and will play the Wolverines next weekend.
Of all the teams from the West, perhaps the Boilermakers and quarterback Aidan O’Connell’s ability to stretch the field gives that side the best chance for a colossal upset. Honestly, nothing would be too surprising after watching the conference beat up on itself this year.
On Saturday, the Boilermakers took care of business with a decisive win over a Hoosiers team that closed the lead to seven points in the fourth quarter.
Once that happened, though, O’Connell found his long-time friend and transfer star receiver Charlie Jones for a 60-yard touchdown to pull ahead by a couple of scores and end any chance for an upset.
Jones is a Biletnikoff semifinalist, and he showed out in a pivotal game Saturday, catching four passes for 143 yards and the decisive score.
It would take a huge upset for the Boilermakers to upend Michigan next week, but at least somebody took care of an opportunity from the West.
Loser: Iowa's Squandered Shot
All Iowa had to do was win Friday.
Beat a 3-8 Nebraska Cornhuskers team finishing out the season in the throes of a five-game losing streak, and despite all the offensive woes throughout the campaign, the Hawkeyes would be playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Improbable, yes. But coach Kirk Ferentz's team had everything in front of it.
So, what happened? The Hawkeyes let it slip right through their fingers with an inexplicable 24-17 loss that won't help any of the grumbles in Iowa City that had softened somewhat after a late-season surge put them in position for a big finish.
Instead, a Nebraska team with rumors swirling about the eventual hiring of Matt Rhule to be the next head coach in Lincoln played like a squad inspired.
The Cornhuskers jumped out to a 24-0 lead, which, to an Iowa team that can't score, had to feel like it was 97-0. Trey Palmer was the catalyst with nine catches for 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Nebraska built its lead.
The Hawkeyes' normally reliable defense let them down early, and even though Iowa rallied with 17 second-half points, they continued to struggle miserably at quarterback and didn't have enough firepower to come all the way back.
Now, they'll watch next week's conference championship game from their couches.
Winner: Kansas State Punching Its Ticket in Style
As the rain fell along with the once-Cinderella Kansas Jayhawks, Chris Klieman and Bill Snyder embraced on the Kansas State sideline.
The legendary Wildcats coach and the current one haven’t been a part of a seamless transition from one era to the other, but it’s obvious the program in the “Little Apple” is in Klieman's capable hands.
That was further evidenced by Saturday night’s 47-27 onslaught of rival Kansas in Manhattan to end any thoughts of the Wildcats choking on their chance to play TCU in next week’s Big 12 championship game.
The Horned Frogs beat the Wildcats 38-28 back on Oct. 22 on their way to an undefeated season, but, while they still have things rolling, so do the Wildcats. They actually could move into the top 10 in the rankings this weekend and will be a formidable foe for TCU.
Deuce Vaughn continued his dynamic campaign with 25 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats, and Will Howard has been terrific under center, as well. Since replacing Adrian Martinez, he has provided a better downfield passing option.
Against the Jayhawks, he completed 11-of-21 passes in the rain for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The defense did the rest, holding Kansas to 307 total yards and just 127 rushing. They made KU quarterback Jalon Daniels one-dimensional. The win sets up a marquee matchup next week.
Loser: LSU's Playoff Shot
Texas A&M’s inexplicable, bowl-less season has been the stuff of national headlines simply because of all the talent and weapons on both sides of the ball coach Jimbo Fisher has stockpiled the past few seasons in College Station.
There was simply no reason for seven losses.
On Saturday night, it all came together at the expense of an LSU team that was exposed on national television.
Running back Devon Achane was the star with 215 yards and two scores. But it wasn’t just him. Things finally clicked for true freshman quarterback Conner Weigman and receiver Moose Muhammad III who hooked up time and time again in a 38-23 stunner over the fifth-ranked Bayou Bengals.
While the Aggies offense came to life, perhaps the play of the game came on a Jayden Daniels keeper where he was stripped of the ball. It was picked up and returned 27 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
A&M added a Weigman-to-Muhammad scoring toss to pull ahead by two scores, and LSU was left without any playoff hopes. Yes, the Tigers are going to Atlanta to play Georgia next week, but they had an opportunity to perhaps sneak into the final four with a big win next week.
Now, that’s gone. Honestly, with the way LSU played Saturday night, there isn’t any chance the Tigers can beat the Bulldogs next week, anyway.
It was not LSU’s night, and with several dominoes falling around them, it was a tough pill for them to swallow.
Winner: Alabama’s Sudden College Football Playoff Chances After Iron Bowl Beatdown
Don’t look now, but with chaos looming large across the college football landscape, the sport’s old constant is still laying there in the weeds, just taking care of business and watching everything else unfold.
While it’s still unlikely the Alabama Crimson Tide get in the College Football Playoff, Vegas put them back on the board with Clemson’s loss Saturday and Ohio State getting blown out at home by Michigan. They are now +2000 odds to win it all.
For those who want to see some new blood in the playoffs, don’t shoot the messenger.
Coach Nick Saban’s team was off the boards the past couple of weeks following last-second losses to Tennessee and LSU, but the Tide have taken care of business since then and dominated Auburn in Tuscaloosa 49-27 in Saturday’s Iron Bowl.
With Hugh Freeze rumors replacing Lane Kiffin on the plains, Auburn shifted its sights on an Iron Bowl upset over Alabama. But the Tigers forgot to bring their defense along on the trip for interim coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.
Now, Alabama is not just thinking about bowl season. The Tide will watch the SEC Championship Game from home, but things get interesting if USC and/or TCU lose their championship tilts.
Would the Tide somehow get in over a one-loss Ohio State team or over a one-loss Horned Frogs? How would the committee view a two-loss Alabama against a two-loss, Hendon Hooker-less Tennessee when the Vols beat the Tide head-to-head? There are tons of scenarios still in play.
With Bryce Young flinging darts and Alabama playing well, it’s at least tabled to be part of the conversation.
Loser: Iowa State's Ability to Continue Chaos
With a spot in next week’s Big 12 title game locked up, you could pardon TCU if it overlooked an Iowa State team that isn’t going to be in the postseason in Saturday’s regular-season finale.
But with perhaps a little margin for error with the College Football Playoff committee and a weak conference, the Horned Frogs knew they needed to take care of business against the Cyclones.
Boy, did they ever.
Coach Sonny Dykes’ Frogs just continued their onslaught through the Big 12, rolling into next week’s title game with a dominating 62-14 win over Iowa State. At this point, there’s no question at all they belong and should be among the nation’s top four teams.
They may just make it in with a loss next week, though they probably don’t want to leave anything to chance. With the way Max Duggan and Co. are playing, who’d bet against them?
Duggan accounted for three passing touchdowns and 212, and Kendre Miller added 72 yards and two scores, as the Frogs did what they had to do and obtained some style points in the process.
As has been the case during the final part of the season, the defense continued its upward trend, too. The Cyclones couldn’t generate anything through the air, and even the rushing game wasn’t too great. When the game ended, Iowa State totaled 326 yards, but much of that was in garbage time. They converted just 4-of-13 third downs.
This was such a domination, TCU made sure the entire second half is included in that garbage time. Iowa State didn’t have much of a chance.
Winner: NC State's Grit
North Carolina State hasn't been characterized by pretty football throughout the tenure of coach Dave Doeren.
Sometimes, the Wolfpack underachieve, and they don't wow anybody with explosive offense like their rival, the North Carolina Tar Heels.
But you can never question their toughness, and it's that type of never-out-of-it mentality that has been a foundational aspect of the Doeren era in Raleigh and something for the program to be proud of. The next chapter in that determined era came Friday evening in Chapel Hill.
Down to fourth-string quarterback true freshman Ben Finley and decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball, the Wolfpack somehow found a way to withstand several late-game body blows dealt by UNC quarterback Drake Maye and pulled off a 30-27 double-overtime win.
"He was on the scout team, you know?" Doeren said of Finley, who completed 27 of 40 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. "We are down so many players. The heart of these guys, this staff, I'm just super-blessed. Thank you, God."
Noah Burnette missed a would-be, game-tying field goal in double overtime (his second of the day) to secure the win for the Pack.
The victory came despite Maye's regulation heroics. After converting a fourth-down pass in the closing seconds with an across-the-body pass, Maye appeared to find tight end John Copenhaver in the end zone as time expired. Officials ruled the nose of the ball hit the ground and put two seconds back on the clock.
Maye calmly found Antoine Green for the game-tying score with no time left, but he couldn't find the end zone in two extra frames, and the Wolfpack sent Coastal Division champion Tar Heels to their second consecutive loss.
Loser: Mike Norvell Hot-Seat Talk
From October 1 through 15, you could hear the "Mike Norvell is on the hot seat" discussions beginning to start the engines and turn up the heat.
Following four straight wins to start the year, Florida State endured a grueling three-game stretch against Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Clemson in which it went 0-3, falling 31-21, 19-17 and 34-28.
It felt like the Seminoles were going to unravel again like they had in Norvell's first two seasons of trying to rebuild things in Tallahassee.
Somewhere along the way, though, the 'Noles not only regained composure but also began to build off Norvell's former big-play resume, finding its offensive groove behind quarterback Jordan Travis and turning into an ACC aggressor. Friday night, they held off upset-minded rival Florida 45-38 to win their fifth consecutive game and move to 9-3.
Despite holding a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, the 'Noles allowed Florida to get untracked running the ball and tie the game at 38-all in the highest-scoring game in the rivalry's history. But a Trey Benson 17-yard scoring run to push him over 100 rushing yards put FSU up for good in a big win.
The victory was Norvell's first over Florida as FSU head coach, snapped a three-game losing streak in the series and dropped Billy Napier's Gators to 6-6 for the season.
Much of the talk will center around Florida State's 227 rushing yards and the big-play ability of Travis (who accounted for 353 all-purpose yards and three TDs), but the defense deserves plenty of credit too. It harassed Anthony Richardson all night, and the Gators quarterback was terrible with the game on the line.
He finished 9-of-27 for 198 yards, three touchdowns and an interception and was a different quarterback with the game on the line. Florida State was the better team, and it has a chance to get to double-digit wins with a bowl victory.
Winner: Alec Holler's Season-Saving Catch for UCF
Central Florida probably could have scripted a less hyperventilation-inducing way to punch its ticket to the American Athletic Conference championship game.
But I doubt the Knights could have crafted one any cooler.
After blowing a 28-point lead to a lowly South Florida team that fired its coach a few weeks ago and actually trailing in the fourth quarter, the Knights got two stunning catches on a go-ahead touchdown drive to end the game and won 46-39.
A Bulls Hail Mary fell harmlessly to the ground to end the last-hurrah effort to tie, but perhaps the most drama came beforehand.
Needing only a field goal to win, Gus Malzahn instead dialed up a pass to the pylon in the waning seconds, and Mikey Keene lofted the ball in the direction of Alec Holler. Falling out of bounds, Holler reached up, snared it one-handed and appeared to drag his foot before his knee hit out of bounds.
The officials called it a touchdown, and replay upheld it. The ensuing two-point conversion gave UCF the final tally, and, with the win, the Knights will have a rematch against Tulane, which they beat a couple weeks ago.
Holler’s heroics were epic, but Keene also made a ridiculous throw rolling to his left, lofting the ball downfield to a diving Javon Baker for a 41-yard gain to set up Holler’s grab.
Winner: Mike Leach for the 1st Time in the Egg Bowl
While all the talk preceding the annual Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State on Thanksgiving surrounded the "will he/won't he" saga of Lane Kiffin and the Auburn coaching vacancy, Mike Leach simply coached football.
It may seem like a novel concept in the state of Mississippi, where Kiffin and coaching rumors have sabotaged a once-promising season for the rival Rebels. But the Bulldogs pulled out a 24-22 win in Oxford on Thursday night.
So, maybe focusing on the actual game is something that works?
All jokes aside, the Rebels and Bulldogs played a terrific back-and-forth, evenly matched game in a driving rain.
After MSU took a 24-16 lead, an inexplicable officiating gaffe midway through the fourth quarter put the Bulldogs in position to seize control. Following what was ruled an incomplete pass by Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart, the Bulldogs picked up the ball, and the official announced there had been an inadvertent whistle.
Still, they reviewed the play and, despite the inadvertent whistle (which would have been a no-play), they overruled the incompletion, called it a backward pass and awarded MSU the ball. The Bulldogs drove to the 2-yard line, but quarterback Will Rogers fumbled going into the end zone, giving way to a 99-yard Ole Miss touchdown drive.
However, a failed two-point conversion attempt on a shovel pass and unsuccessful onside kick gave the Bulldogs the win, Leach's first over his rival since becoming the head coach.
Loser: Cincinnati, after Drowning in a Green Wave
Tulane has an opportunity to win its first ever American Athletic Conference championship after slaying the conference's big, red giant on its home turf Friday.
The Bearcats' two-year conference title streak will end there, as they had no answers for Green Wave running back Tyjae Spears, quarterback Michael Pratt and a supporting cast that just kept on delivering haymakers in Nippert Stadium.
In doing so, they erased Cincinnati's 32-game home winning streak with a 27-24 victory, giving the Green Wave their first win over an AP-ranked opponent following a 61-game losing streak that dated back to 1980.
Now, the Green Wave will host next week's AAC Championship Game against Central Florida, a team they can avenge their only league loss against. UCF beat the Green Wave 38-31 on November 12.
As has been the case throughout the season, Spears was the most amazing player on the field, running 35 times for 181 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Despite being banged up late in the game, he got two pivotal first downs, allowing Tulane to go into victory formation in Cincy territory to end the game.
Spears was the star, but Pratt came up huge too. After the Bearcats took their first lead of the game with 6:27 left on a Ryan Montgomery run, Pratt hit two big passes (33-yarder to Shae Wyatt and a 30-yard scoring strike Duece Watts) to cap a four-play, 75-yard answer and put them up for good.
Winner: Texas Goes Smashmouth for a Win but Doesn't Get Championship Chance
Texas was a team demoralized, consistently getting embarrassed yet again by a Baylor team that had sacked Quinn Ewers four times and benefited from three Longhorns false-start penalties through the first three quarters.
Suddenly, though, a Longhorns offensive line that had been getting pushed around decided to flip the script.
With Texas unable to muster much through the air or buy Ewers any real time to read through his progressions, the Longhorns elected to turn to old-school football, and the result was a straight-up bullying of the Bears through the game's final quarter-plus in a 38-27 win.
A 'Horns offensive line that recently had been much maligned paved the way for Bijan Robinson (29 carries, 179 yards and two touchdowns) and Roschon Johnson (13 carries, 77 yards and two touchdowns) to power Texas to the win.
Even though Kansas State upended Kansas to knock Texas out of a chance for the Big 12 title game, it was a positive sign for coach Steve Sarkisian's team to find some positivity in its young offensive front.
An 11-play, 74-yard drive that pushed Texas ahead for good at 31-27 during the fourth quarter was a statement with all 11 plays being runs by either Robinson or Johnson. The next drive (six plays, 42 yards) did the same. Ewers didn't throw a pass in the fourth quarter, and it didn't matter.
Texas dominated the line of scrimmage for the win.