Winners and Losers from Week 12 of College Football

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2019

Winners and Losers from Week 12 of College Football

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    After the hip injury to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a dark cloud hovered over the sport during Week 12.

    Still, play went on, and everybody tried to enjoy what was left of the day when one of the sport's brightest stars was lost for the season.

    There were some major shakeups with two of the Power 5's unbeaten programs going down in Baylor and Minnesota.

    Alabama dominated Mississippi State after the Tua fallout. Other top-tier teams such as Clemson and Ohio State took care of business too.

    Plenty of big games dotted the schedule, like Georgia holding off a fourth-quarter rally from rival Auburn, Minnesota dropping its first game of the year against Iowa and Notre Dame pummeling Navy.

    It was a surprisingly interesting late-season slate, and there are still some big games left that we'll add as the night progresses.

    We had big drives, big responses and big duds. In other words, it was another wacky week in college football. 

    Let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the slate, and please check back throughout the night as we update with more games.


    Top 25 rankings courtesy of the Associated Press

Winner: Penn State's Monumental, Game-Clinching Drive

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    When Indiana's puzzling, failed fake punt happened early in the third quarter, and Penn State's Journey Brown scored a 35-yard touchdown two plays later to make it a 13-point game, it looked like the sweating was over for the Nittany Lions.

    Little did they know they'd have to battle the pesky Hoosiers the rest of the way. There's a reason their football team is ranked 24th, during basketball season, no less.

    But IU stuck around and closed the gap—until the fourth quarter. That's when the kind of drive that can define a season occurred.

    The Nittany Lions reeled off an 18-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up 9:01 and culminated with quarterback Sean Clifford's one-yard plunge with 1:44 remaining in the game to make it 34-24.

    "Gutsy," PSU coach James Franklin told ESPN of the drive. "We hadn't been able to do that in the past, so being able to line up and being able to eat the clock up and run the ball and being able to punch it in at the end was critical, obviously."

    Even then, the Hoosiers stormed downfield and kicked a field goal on 3rd-and-goal with 13 seconds left and couldn't recover an onside kick that would have allowed the Hoosiers to throw a Hail Mary into the end zone. That resulted in a 34-27 win for the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions.

    It was that kind of terrific game in Happy Valley as coach Tom Allen's team couldn't quite win for the first time ever at Penn State. A major reason was that life-sucking drive by Clifford and Coach Franklin's offense.

    How methodical was it? Just three plays went for 10 or more yards. Those were a Brown 13-yard run, a critical 10-yard run by Clifford on 3rd-and-9, and a 15-yard completion to Pat Freiermuth.

    That was the kind of epic drive Penn State needed to rebound from last week's tough loss to Minnesota.

Loser: CFB After Tua Tagovailoa's Hip Injury

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    As Tua Tagovailoa lay on the ground at Davis Wade Stadium, bleeding from the nose with the Crimson Tide up 35-7 on Mississippi State, you had to wonder why he was still on the field, especially considering he was a game-time decision thanks to an ankle injury.

    When the cart drove onto the field shortly after to take him off and everybody realized Tagovailoa was putting no pressure on his right leg, either, the answer became obvious: Nick Saban stuck with his star far too long in a runaway win.

    Of course, hindsight decisions are always easier than real ones, right?

    After The Athletic's Aaron Suttles reported Tagovailoa will be out for the year with "a dislocated hip with a posterior wall fracture," it's legitimate to wonder whether Alabama's title hopes were driven into the ground when its signal-caller was brought down by Leo Lewis and Marquiss Spencer.

    ESPN sideline reporter Molly McGrath reported Tagovailoa was "screaming in pain" on the field. But why was he out there when he was already hobbled and Alabama didn't need him?

    "That was going to be his last series; we were going to do two-minute before the half with him just for practice," Saban told McGrath at the half. "You know, we got to block them better so he doesn't get sacked, so too bad."

    "I don't worry about players getting hurt," he said later in the interview, "but certainly don't want to see anybody get hurt, certainly him."

    It looked like there was a conversation between Tagovailoa and Saban right before that drive on whether he should go back in. McGrath asked if Tagovailoa lobbied to play, and Saban said he didn't.

    The junior quarterback went 14-of-18 for 256 yards and a pair of scores before being carted off, and Alabama scored touchdowns on its first five drives. Still, this is a season-changer.

Winner: The Georgia Trademark Ugly Win

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    The South's oldest rivalry renewed itself once again on Saturday, and Auburn looked nothing like the SEC West powerhouse it appeared to be early in the season. Until the fourth quarter, at least.

    Most of that was thanks to a Georgia team that isn't flashy in the least on either side of the ball but is finding ways to win games in a dominant fashion. No, the Bulldogs aren't blowing anybody out, but they are beating teams into submission.

    Next on the list was rival Auburn, and UGA did the same thing to the Tigers it did to Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and others, winning the game 21-14. The Bulldogs built a three-touchdown lead before their opponent nearly came all the way back in the final frame.

    Tigers quarterback Bo Nix couldn't duplicate his early-season heroics as the Bulldogs stopped two drives on fourth down in the final minutes to secure a win and move to 9-1. Yes, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's offense has major issues, but UGA's defense is improving every week. It was downright nasty on Saturday, beating the Tigers at their own game in their own house.

    The Bulldogs swarmed Nix, forcing him into poor decisions for three quarters and smothering Auburn's vaunted running game to the tune of just 84 yards.

    Nothing about UGA quarterback Jake Fromm's performance was particularly incredible. Though when the final horn sounded, he'd thrown for just 110 yards but three touchdowns. Running back D'Andre Swift didn't get into the end zone, but he still finished with 106 yards.

    Earlier this week when the College Football Playoff rankings came out, there were plenty of people who scoffed at coach Kirby Smart's team being ranked fourth ahead of Alabama. But with the Crimson Tide now facing life without Tua and UGA smothering Auburn, that ranking looks prophetic.

    A date with LSU in the SEC Championship Game looms, but this is a Bulldogs team capable of staying in the playoff conversation for the rest of the year.

Loser: Minnesota's Spotless Season and National Title Hopes

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    When the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out and Minnesota was No. 8 following last week's upset of Penn State, it showed the committee was paying attention to P.J. Fleck's team despite a soft schedule.

    All that went up in a puff of black and gold smoke on Saturday in Iowa City.

    The previously 9-0 Golden Gophers fell behind by 17 points to the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes, who displayed more offensive firepower than they have for much of the season. And though Iowa sputtered in the final half, it was able to hang on for a major 23-19 victory over Fleck's upstart program.

    This matchup featured two good teams going at it, but Iowa had a terrific game plan and showed everybody just how good it can be when the defense is ruling the day. Back-to-back close losses to Penn State and Michigan and a 24-22 setback against Wisconsin last week were disappointing for coach Kirk Ferentz's team. But they have been very close to being very good all year and aren't that far from being undefeated, either.

    Minnesota found that out the hard way. The Hawkeyes kept them out of the end zone in a crucial early second-quarter stand. 

    Then, as Minnesota threatened late in the first half, Fleck elected to go for the field goal rather than the touchdown on 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line down 20-3 with four seconds left in the half.

    The Gophers chipped away throughout the second half, but they never could quite solve the Hawkeyes' D, led by defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who had a monster day living in the offensive backfield. It was a tough loss for Fleck's team, but the program's trajectory is still soaring.

Winner: Pac-12 Powers on a Collision Course for the Pac-12 Title Game

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    For the past few weeks, Utah and Oregon were steamrolling opponents on their way to a presumed date in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

    Neither did anything to damage that course Saturday.

    The Ducks had little trouble in a late matchup with a struggling Arizona, winning 34-6 by using a dominant defense to smother the Wildcats and score more than enough points against a unit that already has fired one coordinator this year.

    Earlier, Utah did the same against UCLA. So much for a tricky showdown with the Bruins, who had played much better recently with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson's light coming on in Chip Kelly's system.

    The Utes seized an early lead and dominated UCLA 49-3, forcing "DTR" into two interceptions. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley threw for 335 yards, and running back Zack Moss ran for 127 yards and a pair of scores in the win.

    The Bruins entered the game 4-2 in the conference but now must beat USC and California to become bowl-eligible. Utah has bigger things in mind, thanks to Huntley and Moss' continued health. The two offensive stars are doing impressive things, and Utah's defense is championship-caliber.

    So is Oregon's, which smothered pretty much everything Arizona wanted to do on offense.

    With Tagovailoa hurt—taking a bit of the luster off a one-loss Alabama that likely won't play for the SEC championship—and Georgia still having to play the Bayou Bengals in Atlanta for the SEC title, the Pac-12 Championship Game could have national-title ramifications.

    The Utes and Ducks may play in a virtual College Football Playoff quarterfinal game in the league-championship tilt if both keep winning. On Saturday, it looked like both were in prime position to meet as one-loss, high-stakes opponents.

Winner: A Balanced Effort from the Big 12's Biggest Sleeper

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    The biggest stories in the Big 12 this season have been how Oklahoma's prolific offense has been brought down by its horrific defense and how Baylor has found a way to keeps its undefeated record afloat.

    Everybody knew one of those things would relent when the Sooners and Bears got together.

    But what you perhaps aren't paying enough attention to is the balanced attack of Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State Cowboys.

    This isn't your older brother's pass-happy Big 12 team. The No. 25 Cowboys can beat you in a lot of ways, and they've been doing it to a lot of teams this year. The latest victim for the 7-3 Cowboys was Kansas, which fell 31-13 without much of a fight.

    Oklahoma State built a 31-0 lead with a stingy defense that stifled coach Les Miles' better-than-expected offense until the fourth quarter when the Jayhawks closed the game with 13 points. It was far too late to matter.

    If you don't know about running back Chuba Hubbard, you should check out his game. He's college football's top running back and has a legitimate chance to be a Heisman Trophy finalist. Though he wasn't quite as electrifying Saturday, he finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. 

    Dual-threat quarterback Spencer Sanders continued his steady season with 168 passing yards, 37 rushing yards and a touchdown through the air, and the Cowboys defense was strong.

    With consecutive wins over Iowa State, TCU and Kansas, Oklahoma State has set itself up for a nice season and has a game against West Virginia coming up next week. Win that one, and the November 30 showdown against rival Oklahoma becomes very interesting.

    Gundy's team is showing it will be tough for the Sooners to handle either way.

Loser: Yet Another Undefeated Cinderella

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    On a wild night in Waco, Texas, the Oklahoma Sooners both made history and stopped it.

    And coach Matt Rhule's upstart Baylor Bears are left wondering what happened in a ridiculous second half where OU quarterback Jalen Hurts went from being a turnover machine to a hero in a frantic 34-31 comeback win.

    Oklahoma's comeback from a 28-3 deficit was the largest in school history. Twice before, the Sooners had erased 21-point deficits, but never one of 25 points in its illustrious history. Hurts was the reason, countering his three turnovers with a sterling second half.

    In the final two quarters he completed 22 of 29 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. He also was a weapon on the ground despite a monumental fumble just before he crossed the goal line in the third quarter.

    The Bears were trying to prove they were better than the lack of respect the College Football Playoff committee showed them. After building the big early lead, they held a 31-10 halftime advantage.

    But Oklahoma stormed back and made terrific defensive adjustments in the second half that allowed the comeback. 

    After OU kicked a field goal to go up by three with 1:45 remaining, Charlie Brewer tried to lead Baylor to its own comeback on the final drive, hitting Denzel Mims for a big play to get on the cusp of field-goal range.

    But after Sooners defensive end Nik Bonitto narrowly missed an interception while dropping into coverage, he did it again on the next play and picked off a Brewer pass with 29 seconds to go to seal it.

    The OU victory stops Baylor's historic run, and the Bears need to knock off Texas next week to get a rematch with the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game. They've got to find a way to slow Hurts if they meet again.

Loser: Nebraska's Return on Investment with Scott Frost

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Nebraska announced Saturday morning second-year coach Scott Frost received a two-year contract extension through 2026 after he originally signed a seven-year, $35 million contract.

    Then, his Cornhuskers got trounced by Wisconsin.

    On one hand, you've got to give it to Nebraska for still believing in the former Huskers quarterback who the program tabbed as its savior before last season after his brilliant run at Central Florida. On the other, it's puzzling to reward a coach whose team's been downright bad.

    Nobody expected Nebraska to beat Wisconsin on Saturday, but plenty expected the Cornhuskers to make a large leap in year two of Frost's tenure. They were ranked entering the season, after all.

    Instead, Saturday's 37-21 setback against the Badgers dropped them to 4-6 on the year and 2-5 in the Big Ten. Now, Frost's record throughout his first two seasons in Lincoln is 8-14.

    This was always going to be a complete rebuild, which is why Nebraska's preseason buzz was puzzling at best. Yes, the Huskers had dynamic, playmaking quarterback Adrian Martinez and some pieces on both sides of the ball, but this season has been a disappointment all the way around.

    Keeping Frost in the fold is understandable. As a matter of fact, it would rightfully be questioned if the Huskers parted ways with him this soon, the way Florida State did with Willie Taggart a couple of weeks ago.

    But extend him two more years? That decision is questionable at best. It may not be as puzzling as Saban's decision to keep Tagovailoa on the field, but it wins the award for the second-most debatable call of the day.

    There have been few redeeming qualities to the way Nebraska played this year, and there needs to be some glimmers at least at this point, right? Frost has plenty to prove as the coach of his alma mater, and Saturday's decision by the university ensures he'll probably have plenty of time to do it.

Winner: Clemson's Playoff Pose

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    Don't look now, but after a stunning 21-20 survival win against North Carolina on September 28, the Clemson Tigers have every element of their football team clicking. 

    This looks like a squad that could repeat as national champion.

    The offense that sputtered to start the season had scored at least 45 points in five consecutive games leading up to Saturday, beating Florida State 45-14, Louisville 45-10, Boston College 59-7, Wofford 59-14 and NC State 55-10.

    That continued against what was the Tigers' biggest remaining test, Wake Forest. They cruised to a 52-3 win over coach Dave Clawson's team, which lost star receiver Sage Surratt for the season (undisclosed injury) a week ago.

    He wouldn't have mattered against a Clemson squad that hasn't played a difficult schedule but still looks like it is improving every week and humming right along at everything it's doing.

    Star quarterback Trevor Lawrence has shaken early-season turnover troubles and is distributing the ball to all his weapons the way he was expected to entering the year as a top Heisman Trophy contender. Travis Etienne has been a steadying force and was again against the Demon Deacons.

    Lawrence finished with 272 yards and four TD tosses, and Etienne had 121 rushing yards. Receiving weapons Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross haven't gotten a lot of buzz regarding accolades, but they are capable of breaking out every game.

    The defense is dominant too.

    Plenty of questions surround Clemson because of a schedule that has more cupcakes than a wedding shower, but there shouldn't be any doubts about the talent and ability of coach Dabo Swinney's team. It's dominating everybody every week. Wake was just the next name on the schedule.   

Loser: LSU's Armor of Invincibility (But Not LSU)

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    So, LSU is going to run away with the national championship, and quarterback Joe Burrow is going to cruise to the Heisman Trophy, right?

    After Saturday night's closer-than-expected and ugly-at-times 58-37 win over rival Ole Miss, maybe wait before engraving the names.

    LSU has warts, and even though you can't blame the Bayou Bengals for not elevating their play against a four-win team after beating Alabama last week, things need to improve before the SEC Championship Game and College Football Playoff.

    It's a good thing the Tigers have so much offensive talent it didn't matter in the end.

    The Rebels ripped LSU in the running game with true freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee finishing with 212 yards on the ground and classmate running back Jerrion Ealy having 141. 

    That's a one-two punch fans in Oxford can be excited about for the future, even if 2019 isn't going the way they want.

    The Tigers gave up 614 yards to Ole Miss. Yikes.

    Also, Burrow even had a lapse. The senior quarterback has a huge lead in the Heisman race, but he had a fourth-quarter blip where he threw two interceptions in four passes. Burrow still threw for 489 yards and five touchdowns, so he didn't take too much of a hit.

    Is it picking nits to talk about LSU as a "loser" when it won the game in walk-away fashion? Yeah, probably. The Tigers did enough. But the Rebels had the ball down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and LSU is too good for that to happen.

    They need for this to be a wake-up call because Ohio State, Clemson and even Georgia are playing at a high level.

Winner: Notre Dame Mastering a Unique Test

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    Every year, you hear questions and read articles about whether Notre Dame should renew the annual rivalry with Navy.

    The Midshipmen are routinely underdogs, and there's little to gain for the Fighting Irish if they win the game. It's also always such a unique, challenging showdown for the Irish because of Navy's archaic option attack.

    Nobody else really runs that offense besides the service academies anymore, so you've got to take extra time in the midst of the season to prepare for something you don't see again all year.

    When you're also playing at the highest level and have been challenging for championships the way the Irish have the past two years, it's maybe an unwanted sidebar.

    When you handle it the way coach Brian Kelly's Irish did in Saturday's 52-20 domination over the No. 21 Midshipmen in South Bend, it becomes a bit of a respite during a schedule that's rife with potential stumbling blocks rather than a problem.

    Ian Book ripped off four first-half passing touchdowns as Notre Dame built an insurmountable 28-0 lead on its way to a 38-3 halftime advantage. While Book hasn't shown his passing prowess much this season, he was exceptional.

    The Midshipmen simply aren't built to come back from a large deficit with their run-oriented, methodical offense, so once things snowballed, it got ugly. They'll almost certainly drop from the rankings after their second loss of the season.

    There's no shame in losing to Notre Dame; a lot of teams have done so over the past couple of years. But this was exactly the type of effort you hope to see for such a funky, difficult late-season test. The Irish passed it with flying colors.

Loser: The Big 12's Power Ranking

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Big 12 took center stage in college football's marquee prime-time slot on national television with Oklahoma and Baylor's battle. They're easily the two best teams in the conference.

    But the rest of the league has spent the season beating up on itself, and Saturday was no different.
    A pair of high-profile Big 12 teams lost conference battles Saturday, keeping the league spiraling in the Power Five hierarchy.

    Texas has dealt with more injuries than most teams this year, and though the No. 22 Longhorns battled Iowa State throughout a close game, the Cyclones pulled out a 23-21 win when Connor Assalley's 36-yard field goal went through the uprights as time expired.

    One of the biggest upsets of the year came when Neal Brown's sputtering, rebuilding West Virginia Mountaineers upset Kansas State 24-20 as Hakeem Bailey intercepted Skylar Thompson at the end of the game to secure the win.

    The Wildcats were one of the conference's biggest surprises and began surging after they upset Oklahoma a few weeks ago, but this loss dropped them to 6-4.

    At least the No. 25 Oklahoma State Cowboys won their game, so that's another Big 12 team that will stay in the rankings. But Texas and Kansas State let the league down.

Winner: A Cincinnati Survival

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    Every team has close calls throughout each season, even magical years, and coach Luke Fickell's Cincinnati Bearcats simply needed to survive South Florida on Saturday.

    They trailed the Bulls and freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud 10-0 at halftime but scored 10 points in the third quarter and did so again in the fourth to pull out a 20-17 win. Sam Crosa's 37-yard field goal as time expired ensured the Bearcats' victory.

    They're battling teams such as Memphis and Boise State to be the Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six bowl games.

    The win against a struggling South Florida, which has played better recently, guarantees the Bearcats at least a share of the American Athletic Conference East division. Despite the victories, Cincinnati proved it has plenty of flaws.

    Two weeks ago, the Bearcats had to rally from being down 12 to beat a bad East Carolina, and they've struggled to put away teams they should handle easily all season. There are times, however, when they play at a high level.

    Saturday was not one of those times.

    Quarterback Desmond Ridder was not himself, and the Bearcats couldn't muster anything offensively early in the game. There looked to be a decisive speed advantage in the first half for the Bulls. 

    But Cincinnati woke up in time to grab an important win that gave it eight victories in a row after it lost to Ohio State. They close the season against Temple and Memphis, and both of those games will be giant tests.

Loser: Mack Brown's Close-Game Mojo

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The evidence that coach Mack Brown is turning around North Carolina's program is abundant, even if it's not tangible next to a 4-6 record.

    But he missed yet another golden opportunity for the Tar Heels to pull an upset Thursday in a 34-27 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on the road.

    For a time, it looked like the Heels may end the close-game doldrums when freshman quarterback Sam Howell worked his fourth-quarter magic in bringing them back from a 14-point deficit to tie the game. Instead, it took at extra session for UNC to notch is 18th consecutive loss when trailing by that margin.

    The Panthers scored a touchdown first in overtime, though, and then stopped Carolina from doing the same in securing their seventh win and keeping their slim ACC Coastal hopes alive. They need to win out and for Virginia Tech to beat Virginia.

    There will be no title-game for the Heels, but they're oh so close to being an ACC contender. Yes, they have slim bowl hopes with winnable games remaining against Mercer and North Carolina State, but a closer look shows just how maddening this year has been.

    Nine games have been decided by seven points or fewer. UNC is 3-6 in those with close losses to Wake Forest (24-18), Appalachian State (34-31), Clemson (21-20), Virginia Tech (43-41 in six overtimes), Virginia (38-31) and Pitt.

    Howell's fourth-quarter prowess has shown glimmers of being special; he's thrown for 858 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions in that quarter, according to the ESPN broadcast. But that hasn't resulted in many wins.

    The Heels are close, but they simply aren't there yet.

Winner: Shea Patterson and Michigan Spank the Spartans

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    Michigan State's forgettable season got a lot less memorable in the Big House on Saturday as the Wolverines had little trouble in a 44-10 beatdown of the Spartans.

    Yes, Michigan State held the Wolverines' resurgent running game to just 83 yards on 34 carries, but Michigan didn't need it. It had quarterback Shea Patterson, who had the type of game everybody expected would be commonplace when he transferred from Ole Miss before last season.

    Michigan perhaps hasn't lived up to massive expectations the past couple of years in part because of Patterson's inconsistency, but he was brilliant against the Spartans in the largest margin of victory for either team in the series since 2002.

    Patterson completed 24 of 33 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns in the annihilation of MSU's secondary. Ronnie Bell had nine catches for 150 yards, and Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Cornelius Johnson and Nick Eubanks all had scoring grabs.

    To put Patterson's game (and Michigan State's misery) into perspective, Spartans starting quarterback Brian Lewerke has thrown for 326 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in three career starts against the hated Wolverines.

    Patterson bested all those numbers Saturday in a massive win.

    While the Wolverines might seem like a long shot to beat Ohio State at the end of the year, they've played at a high level recently, including when they stormed back in the second half during a close loss to Penn State.

    If Patterson plays like this, Michigan can give the Buckeyes a run at the end of the year. This is a positive development in Ann Arbor, regardless.