Winners and Losers from Rivalry Week of the 2015 College Football Season

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterNovember 28, 2015

Winners and Losers from Rivalry Week of the 2015 College Football Season

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    Here at Winners and Losers, we are thankful for many things: Washington State coach Mike Leach, undefeated Iowa, rivalry games and the fact you've decided to join us and partake in college football this weekend. 

    And Week 13 of the college football season is a great one. The playoff race is coming down to the final games, and several teams jockeying for a spot are playing one another. Remember when the playoff was supposed to kill the regular season?

    Yeah, me too. 

    From Iowa's perfect 12-0 regular season to Frank Beamer's emotional regular-season finale at Virginia Tech and everything in between, we break down all that's happening this weekend in college football. 

Winner: The Big 12

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    Remember when the Big 12 was doomed without a conference championship game? 

    Good times, good times. 

    Oklahoma's 58-23 win over Oklahoma State all but officially assures the Sooners will be one of the four teams to make the playoff—assuming, of course, the committee doesn't decide to mysteriously drop them two spots in the next two weeks. 

    There's no reason to, though. The Sooners jumped up to No. 3 last week after narrowly beating a banged-up TCU. If that's what propels Oklahoma into the Top Four, it'd be a sight to see what would drop the Sooners out of it.

    Oklahoma did what no other Big 12 team in the playoff hunt could in November: Get through unscathed. That in and of itself is a statement, but consider, too, that Oklahoma won two of its three toughest games by double digits.

    Couple this win with Notre Dame's loss to Stanford and there are no serious threats to Bob Stoops' team. Perhaps the Cardinal could get a look from the committee if it wins the Pac-12, but that seems like a long shot at best. 

    From where Oklahoma was this time last year to now, it's been quite a turnaround for Stoops and this program. Now, barring an unforeseen change of heart by the committee, the Sooners will have a chance to win it all one year after many predicted them to. 

Winner: Iowa

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    Well, parents. It's time. If you haven't talked to your kids about undefeated Iowa, you can no longer avoid it. Not after the Hawkeyes held on against Nebraska 28-20. 

    And the Hawkeyes held on despite the fact Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw four interceptions. Additionally, Nebraska called a bizarre fade route on a 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter when it really should have tried a more high-percentage play or opted for a field-goal try (it was an 11-point deficit, so a field goal would have made it a one-score game). 

    The point being, this one probably shouldn't have been as close as it was. 

    But Iowa won. It didn't cough up an inexplicable loss. This team hasn't all year. Does that mean the Hawkeyes are one of college football's four best teams? There are plenty of people who think the answer is "no." After all, Iowa didn't have to face Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State. 

    But their opinion also doesn't matter. As cliche as it is, the Hawkeyes are down to a one-week season with the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State next weekend. The game serves as a de facto playoff quarterfinal. Win and you're in. That's a great position to be in this time of year. 

Loser: The Game No One Wanted to Go into Overtime

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Never before has the concept of a tie been more popular in college football. 

    TCU beat Baylor 28-21 in double overtime, but are viewers really sure about what they witnessed?

    For one, heavy rain in Fort Worth made it difficult to see, period. This was easily the worst playing conditions for a major college football game in 2015. Baylor-TCU was a game played in driving, freezing rain. Secondly, the product on the field was pure carnage. There were 21 combined punts—and at one point more punts than completed passes—eight third-down conversions, seven turnovers, one hilarious punt in which the punter was decleated but somehow got the kick off and a partridge in a pear tree.

    And, to top it off, the Frogs won on a fourth-down stop. In other words, it was the opposite of the 61-58 shootout we saw last year between these two. As David Ubben of Sports on Earth tweeted, Mother Nature (and injuries) deprived us of what this game could have been. 

    If there's a winner in this whole thing, it's TCU linebacker Ty Summers, who finished with 23 tackles, including the game-winner. Otherwise, this was a sloppy, glorious mess. 

Winner: Ohio State's Offense

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    One week after mustering a putrid 132 yards against Michigan State, and one week after running back Ezekiel Elliott criticized the offensive play-calling, Ohio State put on an offensive clinic in a 42-13 win over Michigan.

    College football, everybody. There is no reason in it.

    But let’s recognize that, for the first time since the second half of the season opener against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes were effective and creative on offense. Heck, they were fun to watch again.

    It stems from the success in the run game. Elliott only got 12 carries (for 33 yards) against the Spartans. Saturday against Michigan, Elliott more than doubled those carries (with 30) for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback J.T. Barrett added another 139 yards and three TDs on the ground. That opened up more passes downfield for Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall. The Buckeyes don’t have a great deep threat, but it’s a lot easier to go vertical when defenses have to respect the run.

    Keep in mind, too, Michigan had given up just five red-zone touchdowns on the season coming into the game. Against Ohio State, the Wolverines allowed five red-zone rushing touchdowns.

Loser: Quality Bowl Season

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    Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

    Let’s make one thing abundantly clear first: Bowl games are not rewards for a season well played. They are not “participation trophies” or some big indictment on society. They are extra games for ESPN and other broadcast partners to air so they can get more money. And if you think there are too many bowl games, it is your right as an American not to turn on the television.

    That said, we’re to the point where college football officially won't be able to find 80 bowl-eligible teams to fill all 40 slots. That’s…not a good look.

    With one weekend remaining, there are 75 bowl-eligible teams. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has a nifty tracker of where teams stand. As a reminder: A team must have at least six wins to be bowl-eligible (it must win seven if it plays two Football Championship Subdivision teams).

    Kansas State, South Alabama and Georgia State are the only five-win teams capable of getting to six wins. That means at least two five-win teams will make a bowl game. The point being, get ready to watch some five-win teams play in bowls this holiday season. Or don't.  

Winner: Alabama Running Back Derrick Henry

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    Alabama punched its ticket to the SEC Championship Game with a 29-13 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl. It might not have gotten there without running back Derrick Henry. 

    Henry ran 46 times for 271 yards, both career highs, and a score. His performance broke Alabama's single-game record for carries, as well as the program's single-season rushing record (1,679 yards) and touchdown record (21) held by Trent Richardson. 

    In fact, Henry out-rushed Auburn's entire offense, which had 260 yards. 

    Alabama has had its share of great running backs through the years. Statistically, Henry is establishing himself as one of the best. With Alabama rolling toward a playoff spot—the Tide will be favored, if not heavily favored, against the Gators—Henry has the opportunity to pad his stats even more. 

    Henry will be in New York for the Heisman finalist ceremony. That much is sure. Now, though, it seems not so much a question of whether he'll win, but by how much. 

Loser: Rutgers

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    It's been a miserable season for Rutgers, so it's only appropriate the Scarlet Knights ended things on the worst possible note. And that's by losing 46-41 to Maryland. When they had a 31-13 halftime lead. Midway through the second quarter, in fact, Rutgers had a 24-3 lead. 

    Ouch. 

    The Terps rallied by outscoring the Scarlet Knights 33-10 in the second half. Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood was on limited time anyway with the direction the program was headed. After losing in such painful fashion Saturday, it's hard to see him being the head coach in 2016. 

    Additionally, Flood's boss, athletic director Julie Hermann, could be out as well. Hermann's time at Rutgers has been rife with controversy, and, according to a report from Keith Sargeant of NJ.com earlier this week, Hermann was "fighting for her job." 

    Rutgers will be glad to put 2015 behind it, but this was as bad a way to end the year as anyone could have imagined.

Winner: Texas Tech Wide Receiver Jakeem Grant

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    The Big 12 is loaded with receivers. Two of the three Biletnikoff finalists are Baylor's Corey Coleman and TCU's Josh Doctson—and there's an argument Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard should have made the cut, too. 

    But if you were to go four-wide at receiver, you could do a lot worse than Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant as a slot guy. He's lethal in open-field situations, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury has done an excellent job putting him in positions to get the ball. 

    In a 48-45 win over Texas on Thanksgiving, Grant had two catches for 105 yards and a score, which came on one of the best tip-drill receptions you'll see this year.

    He also had a 40-yard touchdown run on a fake kneel-down toward the end of the game. It was a brilliant call by Kingsbury, who took a page from the Gus Malzahn playbook by putting Grant, all 5'7" of him, behind a big offensive line for the sneak. 

    What's the play called? "Little people, big world," Kingsbury said.

Winner: LSU Head Coach Les Miles

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Rumors of LSU head coach Les Miles' termination have circulated for weeks but have gone unconfirmed. 

    Until now, perhaps. Following a 19-7 win over Texas A&M, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said "I want to make it very clear that Les Miles is our football coach and he'll continue to be our football coach."

    So there you have it.

    No one will remember how many yards the offense produced or how many turnovers the defense forced. What we'll remember is Miles being carried off the field by his players. We'll remember Miles singing the school's alma mater, terribly and off-key, during the postgame interview. 

    Miles has done a lot for LSU. He's coached for two national championships, winning one. He's won more games in the last five years (49) than Nick Saban did in his five years in Baton Rouge. 

    The future of the program is a discussion for another day. After all, it won't go away even if Miles is back. So for one night, Miles can enjoy a win with his players. Sometimes, it's those simple things that make it all worthwhile. 

Loser: Dak Prescott's Senior Night

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Oh, Dak. Not like this. 

    College football is losing one of its better quarterbacks in Dak Prescott. Unfortunately for him—and for all of Mississippi State, really—Prescott didn't get to end his illustrious career with a win. The Bulldogs fell to rival Ole Miss 38-27 and the game wasn't as close as the score indicated. 

    Prescott did finish the game with 254 yards passing and three total touchdowns, but he threw a pick-six in the first quarter to put Mississippi State down 21-0. The Bulldogs were never able to recover. 

    The loss isn't any worse for Prescott than any other senior who loses their final home game, but it'd be wrong to not at least acknowledge what Prescott has meant to the program. He's been the face of Mississippi State and a perfect cornerstone of head coach Dan Mullen's offense. He's also been the SEC's best quarterback in 2015, and it's not even close. 

    Assuming he's a go for the bowl game, Prescott will finish his career with more than 9,000 yards passing and 2,400 yards rushing, per Sports-Reference. For him to go out like this is a disappointing end to a great career. 

Winner: Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Now that's how you send off a legendary coach. 

    Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer will likely get one more opportunity to get a win for the Hokies. Thanks to a 23-20 victory over Virginia, Tech is now bowl-eligible. A low-scoring, 6-6 game at halftime suddenly got all kinds of fun when Virginia Tech and Virginia combined for 24 fourth-quarter points, 17 of which were scored by the Hokies. That includes the final 10 to tie the game and eventually pull ahead. 

    According to multiple reports, including one from ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, Memphis head coach Justin Fuente will succeed Beamer and keep defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Fuente, for what it's worth, refused to address those reports. If true, it's a great hire and a good situation to keep one of the great assistant coaches on staff.

    But Virginia Tech will always be linked to Beamer. It's good to see this program win its final regular-season game with him on the sidelines. With any luck, the Hokies will get to send him out with one more win in a bowl game. 

    In the meantime, Dab on 'em, Frank

Loser: The Saddest Promotion Ever

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    If you haven't heard by now, an Orlando bar called The Basement has been giving away free beers to promote business in light of Central Florida's epically bad 2015 season. The bar, usually packed with UCF fans, announced in September it was giving away free beer until the Knights won a game (UCF was 0-4 at the time). 

    Well, that win never came. UCF's 44-3 loss to South Florida on Thanksgiving dropped the Knights to 0-12 on the year, meaning The Basement kept giving away beer throughout the season. According to Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, the bar gave away an estimated 15,000 free brews: 

    Caratini estimated the bar provided 15,000 free beers. That comes to about 1,900 per game since the promotion started. The Basement gave away only Coors Light and Yuengling. If you're keeping score at home, disappointed UCF fans enjoy Coors Light more than Yuengling. The Basement went through seven to 10 kegs of Coors Light per game.

    Bartender Adam Caratini told Solomon the promotion "turned into a pretty cool thing" and "brought back some sort of fun to UCF games," but the bottom line, literally and figuratively speaking, is the bar just gave away massive amounts of alcohol.

    There might be some medium or long-term notoriety The Basement gets for this, but there's not much joy in a promotion that feeds off a losing streak.

Winner: USC Cornerback Iman Marshall

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    UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen came into Saturday's game against USC having thrown 218 straight passes without an interception. In a 40-21 loss to the Trojans, however, Rosen threw two picks, ending that streak at 246 passes. 

    Picking off both of those passes was another elite freshman: USC cornerback Iman Marshall. 

    Like any freshman, Marshall has gone through his share of rough moments. College football has a learning curve, and it hasn't always been easy for the former blue-chip recruit. But coming up big against your crosstown rival's freshman quarterback is a nice way to end the season. 

    And, now, USC packs its bags to play Stanford for the Pac-12 Championship Game. No, the Trojans aren't going there with playoff aspirations. The 2015 season has been disappointing in that way. But credit interim coach Clay Helton and this team for coming together and rebounding after a disappointing start.

    Starting with a huge victory over Utah, USC has won five of its last six games. Its lone loss came to Oregon, which might be the best team in the Pac-12 right now. 

Winner: Houston

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    If you're looking for a team to get behind without fully being converted into a fan, check out Houston. The Cougars are all kinds of fun and could be on their way to a New Year's Six bowl appearance after a 52-31 win over Navy. At the very least, the victory puts Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game against either Temple or South Florida. 

    Navy entered Friday's game with the higher playoff ranking (No. 15) and Heisman candidate and quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Certainly, Reynolds didn't do anything to hurt his Heisman stock by throwing for 312 yards and rushing for another 84. He also tied former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball for the most total touchdowns in NCAA history (83).

    However, Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. stole the show with 308 passing yards, 83 rushing yards and four touchdowns. His touchdown run was nothing short of pure teleportation. To think he has another year of eligibility left is exciting for everyone who watches football and terrifying for defensive coordinators. 

    But Houston is more than Ward. Receiver Demarcus Ayers had one of the nicest one-handed grabs you'll see this season. Linebacker Elandon Roberts had seven tackles, five of which went for a loss, and delivered bruising hits all day. 

    The Week 12 loss to UConn is stunning, but Ward was hurt and, well, the Huskies are good to deliver at least one demoralizing defeat a year. Ask ex-Big East teams about that. At 11-1, Houston is clearly an excellent team that has fun when it plays. And why wouldn't you when you're this good?

Loser: Missouri

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    Samantha Baker/Associated Press

    It's been an emotional few weeks for Missouri. Earlier this month, head coach Gary Pinkel announced he was retiring at the end of the season after being diagnosed with lymphoma in the offseason. Understandably, Missouri wants to send Pinkel out on top. 

    Unless the Tigers get a bowl waiver, that's not going to happen.

    A 28-3 loss to Arkansas dropped Mizzou to 5-7, meaning the only way it could get to the postseason is if there are enough bowl slots open that a sub-.500 team gets an exemption. But let's assume all these things fall into place. It's still no guarantee Pinkel would coach in the bowl game. Per Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com, Pinkel said athletic director Mack Rhoades would make that call in such a situation. 

    "Man, I came here to play football for Coach Pinkel and get an education, but the way we let him go out is an embarrassment," Tigers running back Trevon Walters tweeted

    The easiest way this could have been avoided was Mizzou winning six games. Pinkel's legacy isn't tarnished in any way by finishing 5-7, but it would have been nice to send one of the all-time great coaches out on a better note.

Winner: Washington

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    It's always a good thing when a team becomes bowl-eligible. It's even better when it happens at the end of the year against your in-state rival. So congratulations, Washington, on getting to 6-6 after beating the doors off Washington State 45-10. 

    The Cougars didn't have quarterback Luke Falk (concussion), and receiver Gabe Marks suffered a bad-looking leg injury in the fourth quarter, so it was a rough day for Mike Leach's team. Still, this was a big win for the Huskies and second-year head coach Chris Petersen. It's validation the program is heading in the right direction. 

    Washington won fewer games in 2015 (8-6) than '14, but this was largely a new team, and three of its six losses were by six points or fewer. Two more games, against Utah and Arizona State, were essentially lost in the fourth quarter. 

    Put another way, this is probably a better overall coaching job by Petersen. It's nice to see that job rewarded with another game and extra practices.

Winner: #Pac12AfterDark Finale

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    Dorothy Gale missed the Scarecrow most of all in The Wizard of Oz. And, well, I think we'll miss #Pac12AfterDark most of all, too.

    There's something about late-night, comical football with (typically) no defense that feels right. We're all empty people in some way just trying to feel whole. High-scoring Pac-12 games ending somewhere around 2 a.m. fills that void. 

    Cal's 48-46 win over Arizona State on a walk-off field goal was the perfect ending to the Pac-12 regular season. Thirty points were scored in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns and a field goal in the final six minutes. That's the good stuff right there. 

    Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff finished with a career-high 542 yards and five touchdowns. He also made this play, cementing himself as the greatest dual-threat quarterback no one knew existed. If this was Goff's final home game in a Cal uniform, it's been a lot of fun watching him play. 

    And it's been just as much fun watching late-night Pac-12 games. Both will be missed. 

Loser: Kentucky

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    David Stephenson/Associated Press

    Oh, Kentucky. There are losses, and then there's blowing a second-half lead against your biggest rival to finish the year 5-7. 

    The Wildcats had a 21-0 lead on the Cardinals in the first quarter thanks in part to poor play by Louisville quarterback Kyle Bolin, who went 2-of-5 and threw a pair of picks, including one that was run back for a touchdown.

    Switching to quarterback Lamar Jackson provided a spark for Louisville, but it doesn't excuse Kentucky's offense for shutting down. Following the 21-0 lead, the Wildcats were outscored 38-3, including 31-0 in the second half. 

    With the 38-24 loss, Kentucky has now dropped six of its last seven games. As B/R colleague Barrett Sallee notes, this collapse is nothing new for Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops. In 2014, Kentucky lost its final six games to lose out on bowl eligibility. According to Mark Ennis of ESPN 680 in Louisville, Stoops is now 0-7 in games in which he could secure bowl eligibility. 

    Entering year four in 2016, it's safe to say Stoops needs to make a bowl game to save his job. 

Winner: Memphis Quarterback Paxton Lynch

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    Yes, it’s just SMU. We know. We get it. But let’s at least point out that Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch had more touchdown passes (seven) than incompletions (five) in a 63-0 win over the Mustangs.

    It doesn’t matter how good you are or who you’re playing against, that’s an absurd stat line. And if you disagree, well, go enjoy Nebraska throwing fade routes on 4th-and-1.

    Lynch has been one of the great stories in college football. An unheralded recruit, Lynch has thrived in head coach Justin Fuente’s offense and is projected to be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2016 NFL draft, according to CBS Sports' Rob Rang. He’ll have one more game to play before that happens, but this was a good a way to end the 2015 season.

Winner: Michigan State Center Jack Allen

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    Michigan State took care of Penn State 55-16 and will face Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. However, that's basically an afterthought to what Spartans center Jack Allen did. 

    Well, at least to us. Then again, our priorities are a little skewed. We care less about playoff implications and more about big ol' men carrying footballs, reading blocks and throwing wicked stiff arms. 

    So congratulations, Allen, you've hit our radar with your nine-yard touchdown run. Look at you go. Such athleticism, speed and power. Who can tell you're 296 pounds anyway?