Winners and Losers of Week 12 in College Football

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVNovember 18, 2018

Winners and Losers of Week 12 in College Football

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    Week 12 of the college football season didn't have the strongest schedule on paper, but once games kicked off, we were left with a handful of surprising results. The winners and losers of Week 12 have seen their seasons change in the blink of an eye.

    With West Virginia falling victim to Oklahoma State and a few other Top 25 teams suffering losses, we're sure to see ranking changes that'll affect the bowl and playoff picture.

    Most of the top teams across the nation were tested before prevailing. But a couple of Top 11 teams made statements with their wins over fellow Top 25 squads. 

Winner: Texas' Big 12 Championship Chances

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    There was a lot on the line as Texas hosted Iowa State on Saturday night. With their 24-10 win, the Longhorns set themselves up to earn a shot to play either Oklahoma or West Virginia again. They'd surely like the chance to avenge their loss against West Virginia, but the chance to beat Oklahoma again would be sweet as well.

    The Longhorns have had a fascinating season. Almost all of their games have been decided by one score, with USC, TCU and Iowa State being the three outliers. Both their offense and defense lack consistency, but it's a good team that has the talent to play with anyone.

    Only Kansas is left on Texas' schedule, and a win would make the Longhorns 9-3 in Tom Herman's second season. The chance to win the Big 12 championship and potentially knock Oklahoma out of the playoff race has to be a major motivator for this program. It would also set the Longhorns on course to play in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day.

Winner: Maryland's Anthony McFarland

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The surprising superstar emergence from the early slate of games came from Maryland redshirt freshman running back Anthony McFarland. The former 4-star prospect showed off tremendous speed, power and balance en route to his second consecutive 200-yard game. His monstrous performance against Ohio State had the No. 10 overall team on the ropes until the very last play in overtime.

    McFarland's 298 rushing yards are the most an Urban Meyer team has ever allowed to an individual. He started the game off with a bang, as he had 155 yards on his first three carries. Some of that had to do with the Buckeyes' notably porous defense, but McFarland's playmaking created a lot of the yards for him.

    His amazing story includes the fact that he missed his senior year of high school due to a broken fibula and then redshirted for Maryland in 2017. His playing time has been uneven this season, but now he has over 1,000 rushing yards. He's also former NFL and LSU star "Booger" McFarland's son.

    We'll likely be hearing much more about the younger Anthony McFarland for many years. He made Ohio State's plethora of athletes look mediocre in the open field. Watch for him to earn accolades and attention in the coming weeks and next season.     

Losers: Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano

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    Despite the win, it's hard to look at the two big names on the Ohio State coaching staff and feel positively. Yes, the Dwayne Haskins-led offense was masterful when it needed to be, but the Buckeyes have been in a funk since their loss to Purdue. They've been exposed as a good but deeply flawed team as they've continued to be outcoached on a weekly basis.

    Head coach Urban Meyer has always been animated on the sideline, but it seemed like he was having real health problems as the stress and mistakes piled on throughout the game. Every time the camera panned to Meyer, he was bent over in disgust. Social media took notice, and with Meyer's past health situations, it's possible this is now too much for him to handle without endangering his own future.

    The bigger problem for the Buckeyes on the field right now is defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and linebackers coach Bill Davis. Both have utterly failed their young players this year. Maryland interim head coach Matt Canada is known for his motion-based offense and sharp run calls, and yet the Buckeyes continued to fall into his traps with the motion distractions.

    Schiano looked good when Ohio State had four first-round picks in the secondary and mid-round picks at linebacker. But he and Davis have been terrible without that type of NFL talent at their disposal this year because they've still not corrected the lack of gap discipline on the unit.

    If Meyer stays beyond this season, he needs to consider revamping his defensive staff. Alex Grinch was superb with Washington State, and Larry Johnson is a legendary defensive line coach. But everyone else should be on the hot seat.

Winner: Matt Canada's Motion Offense

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    While the NFL is looking for more unique offenses that exploit mismatches, it may have just witnessed Matt Canada's bid to jump to the pros. Or maybe Maryland will look to retain Canada beyond this season. Either way, Canada's masterful offensive design and bold play-calling had the Terrapins just one open pass away from beating the Buckeyes.

    Canada's ability to stress individual defenders' decision-making in space has led to big plays. He's often picked bad jobs, though, causing him to bounce around the country in search of a proper fit. He wasn't the problem at LSU last year, and he has been more than impressive this season with Maryland.

    As former Buckeyes linebacker Joshua Perry tweeted, Canada picked apart the Buckeyes' defensive flaws with keen precision, leading to 339 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. The only reasons the Terps lost were related to their own limited passing game and Dwayne Haskins' Heisman-worthy comeback. Canada continually put his personnel into a position to succeed against a deeper, more talented team—and nearly won.

Loser: West Virginia's Playoff Hopes

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    Within West Virginia's second-half and fourth-quarter collapse in Stillwater was a handful of key plays that ruined any chance this team had to make the playoff. Just one week before squaring off with No. 6 Oklahoma, the Mountaineers succumbed to their porous defense and offensive limitations. Their 45-41 last-minute defeat was a painful reminder that every team can lose in conference play.

    The Oklahoma State Cowboys rebounded after a poor first half, as they found huge success on the ground. Not only were they able to build consistent drives, but they also disrupted the timing of Will Grier's passing attack and forced the Mountaineers to start drives deeper in their own territory. The strategy yielded 10 points for the Mountaineers in the fourth quarter but opened a small window for the Cowboys to get a late lead.

    West Virginia hemorrhaged yards and then couldn't manufacture a productive passing game when it needed to most. Grier was stuck with short passes in the sharp winds, again exposed as having an average arm on a stage where he needed to make downfield passes. His final pass into the end zone was easily batted down, and his Heisman chances were reduced to zero with it.

    Now, the Mountaineers are stuck playing as spoilers to the Sooners' playoff bid. It was a disappointing loss, especially considering how well they played in the first half.

Losers: Jeff Long, Les Miles and Kansas

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Kansas Jayhawks made the plunge to hire former LSU head coach Les Miles, according to Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger. While the likely hiring is headline-worthy and will win over casual fans, it's one that should be worrisome to interested parties. It's not likely to end as poorly as Charlie Weis' tenure with the school, but it's fair to say the Jayhawks took the easy road to mediocrity with The Mad Hatter.

    Miles was a good recruiter at LSU, but he no longer has elite local talent to choose from that bled his school's colors. He's tasked with overhauling a Big 12 bottom-feeder as a 65-year-old who never figured out how to build a modern offense. His issues developing talent and identifying up-and-coming coaching stars led to his demise at LSU.

    And this move is more of the same for athletic director Jeff Long. He's hired Dave Wannstedt at Pitt and both Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema at Arkansas. He likes big names who have some accomplishments on their records, but he doesn't identify the best fit for the situation well.

    Long and Kansas should've looked for innovation. Calling a budding offensive star could've gotten them their own Matt Rhule, Matt Campbell, Tom Herman or Jeff Brohm. Instead, they'll let Miles try for a few years and then have to restart this entire process again.

Winner: The Citadel's Triple-Option

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The other big attention-grabber early on was a shocker: Alabama and The Citadel. For one half, The Citadel played ball control well enough to keep the ball away from the Crimson Tide's offense, which led to a 10-10 halftime score.

    Of course, the Tide blew them to bits in the third quarter because they're simply too good. Tua Tagovailoa continued his incredible season by completing 18 of 22 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns. But the Bulldogs need credit for highlighting how effective the triple option can be when there's a talent discrepancy.

    The Citadel attempted just two passes all game, both falling incomplete. Instead, it challenged Nick Saban's defense with pitches and handoffs based on leverage reads. The result was a total of 275 rushing yards on 60 carries. The Bulldogs likely gained the respect of the No. 1 Crimson Tide.

    Other small schools should take note of how to find a market inefficiency and exploit it. The Bulldogs are only 4-6 on the year, but they have a blueprint that catches teams off-guard. It's also worked for Navy and Army over many years.

    Our hats are tipped for you, The Citadel.

Loser: Houston Cougars

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Unfortunately for the Houston Cougars, college football fans and quarterback D'Eriq King, the incredible playmaker was lost for the remainder of the 2018 season when he tore his meniscus in his right knee Thursday night, per the Houston Chronicle's Joseph Duarte. The injury was of the non-contact variety, occurring on a handoff. King is certainly not a loser, but rather the fact that he suffered the injury.

    He's been an elite producer for the Cougars. He's among the country's top touchdown scorers and finished the year with 2,982 passing yards and 36 passing touchdowns. He added another 674 yards on the ground. King had earned a legitimate chance to go to New York for the Heisman presentation.

    The Cougars were able to win comfortably without King against Tulane, but this is a costly injury. At 8-3, this team is primed to get a decent bowl bid. But unless backup freshman Clayton Tune suddenly breaks out, the excitement around the team has taken a major blow.

    Hopefully King will be back at 100 percent for the 2019 season and can continue to make magic on the field.

Winner: Pittsburgh Panthers

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    The ACC Coastal Division continues to produce unexpected results. When the Pittsburgh Panthers beat Wake Forest comfortably, 34-13, they became the sixth different Coastal winner in the last six seasons. None of the champions claimed the crown more than once in that time. Virginia would be the last team left that could continue the streak in 2019.

    How the Panthers reached this point is most impressive. With a 6-1 conference record and a four-game win streak, they're a perfect example of a team that's gotten better as the season's progressed. They still had a negative point differential until last week, which highlighted their unconventional path to winning the division.

    But three of their losses came to ranked teams, and the fourth was a close one at North Carolina. Quarterback Kenny Pickett's development has been key, but the defense has also looked significantly better most weeks. The unit's pounded out low-scoring affairs and won shootouts, making it one of the few teams able to handle varying styles.

    Congratulations to head coach Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers. After they play the Miami Hurricanes next week, they'll go on to face Clemson for the ACC title.

Winner: UCF's Playoff Argument

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Now at 10-0 and winners of 23 straight games, the UCF Knights and their ranking have reached a breaking point. They took care of business against a quality Cincinnati team, and a decent but non-threatening USF team awaits the Knights in their regular-season finale. It's time the playoff committee gives them respect with their ranking.

    Maybe the Knights aren't a Top Four team, but they're certainly close. The arguments against them are valid, but it's also unfair they're being asked to perfectly predict which teams to schedule multiple years out just to have a chance at making the playoff.

    Meanwhile, in Saturday's 38-13 win, quarterback McKenzie Milton was masterful again. His ability to manipulate his throwing motion to complete passes on the move is unique and dangerous. He sliced up a well-coached defense with repeated chunk plays.

    All-purpose playmaker Adrian Killins Jr. also had a big night on prime-time television. He's a threat as a runner and receiver with his blazing speed, but most of his damage came as a receiver. He set a season high with four receptions, totaling 82 yards and two touchdowns.

    Hopefully the committee finally gives UCF the respect it deserves by placing it in the Top Six. Anything less would be an indictment on a flawed process that'll only continue to reward Power Five teams and no one else.     

Loser: Colorado Buffaloes

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Colorado Buffaloes continued their downward spiral, as they fell 30-7 at home to Utah. The Buffaloes went 5-0 to start the season but have lost six straight games—all in conference play. It's possible they could lose again next week against Cal and miss bowl season despite their inspiring start.

    Their overly conservative offense has continued to stymie the talented duo of quarterback Steven Montez and wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. Though Montez was banged up Saturday, as the Utah defenders produced pressure throughout the game, the season has deteriorated as their commitment to the passing attack has waned. Far too often they've been left with 3rd-and-long situations for Montez to improvise on—to no avail.

    It's possible Montez will leave after the year, too. I've had conversations with agents who are of the opinion he'll try his luck in the NFL. Of course the team's late struggles could change things for him.

    Something else of note was that Colorado's mascot, Ralphie the Buffalo, did not run for the third time in 11 years, per the Pac-12 broadcast. She couldn't run due to the snow, which was likely a precaution by her handlers. It was a sad afternoon as the local fans missed out on the beloved buffalo and then endured a painful home loss.

Winner: Notre Dame's Playoff Bid

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    The week's most intriguing game was supposed to be Notre Dame vs. Syracuse, but the Fighting Irish again separated themselves from their competition during the first half. After the 36-3 walloping of No. 12 Syracuse, only a mediocre USC team stands in the way of an undefeated regular season for the Irish. If they can finish off the Trojans next week, they should punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff.

    Not only that, but the Irish also appear to be the country's third-best team. Winning every game should be valued, and their head-to-head victory against Michigan looms large. One of football's royalties is back in a big way.

    The Irish defense has been phenomenal, and the insertion of Ian Book at quarterback changed the direction of their season in ways no one could've expected. Book's 292-yard clinic this week included two first-half drives where he picked apart the Orange defense like they were running a summer seven-on-seven drill.

    This team has done everything it can to clinch a playoff berth. One more win and the Irish must be in.

Loser: Clay Helton's Tenure

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    In an aesthetic battle of classic college football uniforms, Chip Kelly's UCLA Bruins were victorious against the USC Trojans. After an exciting game that featured a 13-point fourth quarter for the Bruins after they faced a six-point deficit, the fallout for Trojans head coach Clay Helton seems crystal clear. Helton's tenure with the Trojans may well be over after his team lost its fourth game in five weeks.

    Expectations for the Trojans should never have been high, considering the roster depth and youth at key positions. But there's been no growth, and earning a bowl bid is likely impossible for 5-6 USC since Notre Dame's heading to town next week. Had the Trojans still stood 5-6 but found success late in the season, maybe Helton would have had a chance to survive, but he was an underwhelming choice from the start.

    USC needs to swing big and leave its comfort zone for its next coach, should it fire Helton. An up-and-comer, such as Iowa State's Matt Campbell, should also be welcomed if the Trojans can't land a more established figure. But they can't dip into the well of familiar names for the sake of comfort.

Winner: Jonathan Taylor's Monstrous Day

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    The phrase "career high" is an impressive feat, but it's especially notable when a talent such as Jonathan Taylor can say he set one. The Wisconsin sophomore running back set a new personal best in rushing yards against Purdue in triple overtime. He tallied 321 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in the 47-44 victory.

    Taylor sits at 1,869 rushing yards on the season and has Minnesota on deck next week as he tries to hit 2,000. That resembles last year's 1,977, except he's accomplished that total in fewer carries (299-228) and has two more touchdowns. He's deserving of a trip to New York for the Heisman presentation.

    What's been overlooked is that Taylor's racked up 496 yards with a backup quarterback playing. He's still produced as defenses have had even more reason to key in on him. His physical running led Purdue to soften at the end of regulation, and Wisconsin scored 34 of its 47 points in the fourth quarter and overtime periods. An average back doesn't get that done.

Loser: Top 25 Contenders

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    It's been a tough year to find 25 teams to rank. There's a clear drop-off after the Top 12, and there's another shortly after that where it's impossible to differentiate between squads with a few losses. As Group of Five competitors have climbed higher, they've also suffered setbacks.

    Wednesday night saw Ohio University obliterate Tyree Jackson and the Buffalo Bulls. The 52-17 Bobcats victory likely ended the 9-2 Bulls' bid to finish the regular season in the Top 25.

    The 9-2 UAB Blazers have had a phenomenal year but were blasted by Texas A&M at Kyle Field, 41-20. The Aggies, now 7-4, are a good team, so this would've been a statement win for UAB. As with Buffalo, it'll be hard to put UAB in the Top 25 with two losses.

    No. 20 Boston College fell to Florida State in one of the day's worst losses, considering how much the Seminoles have struggled this year. The Eagles' loss may allow Pitt or NC State into the Top 25. No. 24 Cincinnati lost 38-13, but their efforts against UCF may not lead to a drop. The Bearcats were tough and competitive, and they belong in the Top 25. It's not like there's a long list of worthy contenders who are clearly better.

Winner: Gary Patterson and TCU

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    Having to play with their third quarterback and final scholarship running back, the TCU Horned Frogs still pulled out a 16-9 road win at Baylor to improve to 5-6. While that's not a good season for legendary coach Gary Patterson, he's one victory away from bowl eligibility for the 17th time in 19 seasons. And he's almost achieved this feat with an injury-riddled roster.

    Down to fifth-year senior quarterback Grayson Muehlstein, the Horned Frogs kept things basic. Muehlstein played his role effectively but had just one completion in six career games before this. When starter Michael Collins suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter, it seemed as though Baylor had the upper hand. But a pair of long touchdowns (65 and 37 yards) from wide receiver Jalen Reagor sealed the win.

    Patterson hasn't been able to pull off one of his signature upsets, nor does he have the explosive offense of years past. But his team competes against talented opponents despite injuries. Most programs would crumble while having to back-fill so many positions.

Loser: Lovie Smith's Defense

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    The Lovie Smith-Illinois era continues to sputter, as the program lost its seventh in nine games. Sitting at 4-7, the Illini will again fall short of a bowl bid. What reflects worse on Smith is how poorly his defense has performed, considering his pedigree as a defensive coach.

    The Illini have allowed at least 46 points in all but one loss this year, and three teams have hung more than 60 on them. It's not a good program, and those are the types of beatings that lead to no-brainer firings.

    The defensive issues can be linked to youth but also schematics. Teams are marching down the field for points, often scoring on three- or four-minute drives. Smith has to adjust by dropping more defenders into space instead of relying on his base defense to make plays.

    There's no clear answer on what to do. Smith has cachet but has also not produced anything worthwhile in his three-year Illinois tenure. The administration may want to have Smith be more of a figurehead like Herm Edwards is for Arizona State than anything else.

Winners: Drew Lock and Derek Dooley

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    There was a lot of skepticism surrounding Missouri when it hired Derek Dooley to be its offensive coordinator in January. The thinking was: Dooley's experience in pro-style concepts might benefit future NFL draft pick and quarterback Drew Lock, but it surely would limit his production and the team's upside. Some of that was justified, but the partnership has looked much better in recent weeks.

    Dooley's return to Neyland Stadium was triumphant as the Tigers smacked the Volunteers 50-17 behind Lock's arm and an effective running game. Though Dooley was far from a good head coach for Tennessee (15-21 record from 2010 to 2012), the continued offensive struggles for the Volunteers post-Dooley have shown their issues ran deeper than him.

    Lock continues to piece together good games. The 6'4", 225-pounder has a strong arm but middling accuracy and has struggled against conference foes in his career. But he's had some of his best performances in each of the last three weeks, totaling 760 yards, seven touchdowns and two tipped interceptions.

    Missouri is likely heading to a decent bowl game. Although the Tigers aren't ranked, they've been competitive in all but two of their games and could easily have a shot at 10 wins if it weren't for close losses against South Carolina and Kentucky.