Winners and Losers from Week 12 of College Football
There were 18 games canceled/postponed in Week 12 of the 2020 college football season, but if you thought that meant this week would be less entertaining than usual, you couldn't have been more wrong.
This week went off the rails before we even got to Saturday. Tuesday night MACtion brought our first 300-yard rusher of the season as well as a game with more than 100 total points. The only Thursday night game (Tulane at Tulsa) might have been the best matchup of the entire season. And there was a Friday night battle in the Big Ten with a wild, controversial finish.
Those fireworks continued on Saturday with a great offensive battle between Ohio State and Indiana, a defensive gem between Wisconsin and Northwestern and everything in between.
There weren't many significant upsets—certainly not in No. 1 Alabama's 63-3 shellacking of Kentucky—but it was still a slate chocked full of big winners and losers.
Winner: Desmond Ridder and the Cincinnati Bearcats
After four consecutive wins by a margin of at least 28 points and six consecutive games holding an opponent to 17 points or fewer, Cincinnati finally faced a real test at unranked but still potent UCF.
The Knights entered this game leading the nation with 619.1 total yards per game. They were also averaging 44.0 points and had not been held below 24 points since scoring 13 in the 2016 Cure Bowl against Arkansas State.
And UCF wasted no time in flexing those offensive muscles. It barely took two minutes for Dillon Gabriel and Co. to go 75 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening possession. And after the Knights went three-and-out on their second drive, Cincinnati's Ryan Montgomery fumbled the punt to put UCF in perfect position for another touchdown.
Just like that, a Cincinnati defense that had allowed just eight touchdowns in the first seven games was facing a 14-3 deficit.
Thank goodness for Desmond Ridder.
I don't know if Cincinnati's quarterback is going to be a Heisman finalist, but he absolutely should be. Ridder entered this game on a four-game streak of accounting for at least four touchdowns, and he kept that streak going with two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and 395 total yards in the come-from-behind 36-33 victory.
Ridder also made the fumble recovery of his life when a bad snap with four seconds remaining in the game almost sailed over his head. Cincinnati inexplicably did not have a man deep in the backfield for that potential nightmare situation, so if he hadn't gotten a finger on that ball, UCF might have won the game on a scoop-and-score.
Instead, Cincinnati improves to 8-0 with road games remaining against 1-6 Temple and 5-1 Tulsa before a projected rematch with Tulsa in the AAC championship. If the Bearcats win all three of those games and Notre Dame beats Clemson in the ACC championship, you better believe I'll be making an impassioned plea for Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff.
Loser: Ohio State's Secondary vs. Indiana
Ohio State won the game 42-35, and in the end, that's all that really matters. The Buckeyes are now all but guaranteed to represent the East Division in the Big Ten championship.
It was not pretty, though.
For starters, Justin Fields threw three interceptions, two of which were horribly ill-advised and one which was miserably underthrown. It was quite the uncharacteristic day for a Heisman contender who had previously thrown just three interceptions in 476 pass attempts in his entire college career. He'll still be in the mix for the Heisman, but he definitely lost some votes with this poor performance against the Hoosiers.
But Indiana has been exceptional in the turnover-forcing department this season, so we can almost forgive those three gaffes.
What we can't forgive is the secondary allowing nearly 500 passing yards, particularly against an offense that never had any hope of running the ball.
Indiana entered the week averaging a darn-near-worst-in-the-nation 2.66 yards per carry, and it finished this game with minus-one yard on 16 attempts. Ohio State didn't even need to respect the run, and it still couldn't defend the pass.
And this isn't some "Mike Leach offense" sort of situation in which, yeah, they don't run the ball, but the quarterback is liable to throw for a half-mile against any defense. Michael Penix Jr. has been fine, but he was only averaging 267.5 yards per game before lighting up the Buckeyes.
In his first four games, Penix had just two passes that went for 40 or more yards. Against Ohio State, he had a pair of 50-plus-yard gains in each half. Miles Marshall and David Ellis had gains of 68 and 51 in the first half, and then Ty Fryfogle went for 63 and 56 in the second half.
Even more disturbing than those broken coverages was the drive spanning the third and fourth quarters in which Penix had completions of 12, 11, 14, 12, 25 and 16—the last of which was a touchdown pass on 4th-and-10. Indiana got whatever the heck it wanted against OSU's secondary, which cannot possibly bode well for anticipated College Football Playoff games against Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and/or Alabama's Mac Jones.
Winner: Northwestern Wildcats' Defense
Shortly after the projected Big Ten East champion put forth a traveshamockery of a defensive effort in a critical game, the new projected Big Ten West champion suffocated a Wisconsin offense that had scored 45 and 49 points in its first two games of the season.
Northwestern's offense was unable to get much of anything going against the Badgers defense. The Wildcats finished the night with just 17 points and 263 total yards, which is pretty much exactly what I was expecting when I picked Wisconsin to win this game. Northwestern had averaged 23.0 points and 294.0 yards in its last three games, and the Badgers defense had been outstanding thus far.
What I wasn't expecting, though, was the Wildcats to force five turnovers in a 17-7 victory, keeping Wisconsin from taking a single snap inside the Northwestern 20.
The Badgers did have one long scoring drive. After recovering a Wildcats fumble in the end zone for a touchback, they went 80 yards in six plays, finished off by a 49-yard touchdown pass from Graham Mertz to Chimere Dike.
But things got ugly from there for Wisconsin's offense. Three of the next four possessions ended with turnovers, and the other drive during that sequence resulted in a punt from the NW 36 that Paul Chryst probably wishes he could take back.
After that, it was punt after punt after punt. The Wildcats and Badgers combined for just two first downs in the first nine possessions of the third quarter. But with a 14-7 lead, Northwestern was more than content to just drain clock as the teams booted the ball back and forth.
The Wildcats are now 5-0 with games remaining against Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois. Even if they happen to lose one of those games, they're still going to win the division since they now own the tiebreaker against Wisconsin—the only other team in the division with fewer than two losses.
It will be very interesting to see where the Wildcats land in the inaugural CFP rankings on Tuesday. If they're in the Top 10, they just might have a path to sneak into the College Football Playoff even if they lose to Ohio State in the B1G Championship.
Loser: Everyone Who Didn't Watch Tulane at Tulsa on Thursday Night
For the longest time, Tulane at No. 25 Tulsa looked like it was going to fall into the "Loser" category for a much different reason.
No points were scored in the first half. At the intermission, Tulsa had 44 passing yards, but that was a whole heck of a lot better than Tulane's 12. The offenses did occasionally move the ball, but it always ended poorly. Tulane missed two field goals. Tulsa missed one and threw an interception at the goal line. And shortly after the break, things weren't looking any better. The first three possessions resulted in a fumble and a pair of three-and-outs.
It looked like we were headed for a repeat of the 2014 Virginia Tech-Wake Forest game that went to overtime tied at 0-0.
But things started percolating midway through the third quarter. Tulane took full advantage of good field position on back-to-back possessions to seize a 14-0 lead. And when injuries to Zach Smith (undisclosed) and Seth Boomer (knee) forced Tulsa to turn to third-string quarterback Davis Brin, the Golden Hurricane offense came to life.
Brin came off the bench and immediately started slinging darts. He led them on three fourth-quarter touchdown drives of more than 70 yards, including the 37-yard Hail Mary that tied the game at 21-21 with no time remaining in regulation.
Brin didn't enter the game until there were two minutes left in the third quarter, but he had 266 passing yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) by the end of the fourth. It's probably still going to be Smith's job next week if he's healthy, but Tulsa may have found its QB for the next few seasons. Brin looked nothing like a third-stringer.
After the teams exchanged field goals in the first overtime, Tulane started the second OT by getting down to the 3-yard line before likely All-American linebacker Zaven Collins picked off a Michael Pratt pass and took it 96 yards the other way for a walk-off Tulsa touchdown.
The Cardiac 'Cane strikes again. Tulsa scored the final 15 points in a come-from-behind win over UCF on October 3, turned a 17-3 halftime deficit into a 34-30 victory over East Carolina on Oct. 30, climbed out of a 21-0 hole last Saturday against SMU, and now this wild comeback to remain undefeated in AAC play.
Winner: Coastal Carolina's Still-Undefeated Season
With Appalachian State RB Daetrich Harrington out for the second consecutive week, it seemed like Coastal Carolina would have a significant advantage in the rushing department. After all, the Mountaineers had a disappointing 131-yard rushing day last week in a close call against Georgia State.
Throughout the first half, though, the Chanticleers had no answer for Camerun Peoples. His first touch of the game went for 50 yards. By the intermission, he was up to 171 yards on 20 carries, and Appalachian State was ahead 17-9.
The second half was a much different story. Peoples had just seven carries for seven yards, while CCU's offense woke up in a big way.
Dual-threat QB Grayson McCall—who had a 75-yard passing touchdown on Coastal's first snap of the game—had a 62-yard rushing touchdown on the third play of the second half. And after an App State field goal made the score 20-15, McCall led the Chanticleers 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Then the defense started terrorizing Zac Thomas, who threw three interceptions in the final 20 minutes. The second one gave CCU the ball in plus-territory to retake a 27-23 lead. The third one was a pick-six on 4th-and-20 with little more than a minute remaining.
(Ideally, D'Jordan Strong would have just sat down after making that interception, because Coastal Carolina could end the game with two knees. But you try telling a defensive back not to score in that situation.)
It was the first time since joining the FBS ranks that Coastal Carolina picked off at least three passes in a single game, let alone in one half. And the Chanticleers really could not have picked a better time to pull it off.
Coastal Carolina is 8-0, and it should easily take care of business against Texas State's awful defense next week to improve to 9-0 in advance of the Dec. 5 showdown with Liberty. We'll have to wait until Tuesday to see where the Chanticleers land in the College Football Playoff rankings, but if they beat Liberty and then knock off Louisiana for a second time in the Sun Belt championship, you're going to have a hard time convincing anyone that this team doesn't deserve to play in a New Year's Six Bowl.
Loser: The Officials Who Called Offensive Pass Interference on Purdue
Let me make it clear up front that I had no rooting interest in Friday night's Big Ten battle between Purdue and Minnesota.
Didn't go to either school. Didn't bet on the game. Didn't care which team won.
In addition to my lack of concern over the outcome, let me also state I firmly believe the last minute of games should be officiated the same way as the first 59 minutes. Some people overtly or subconsciously believe that ticky-tack penalties should go uncalled late in a game, but I don't adhere to that "no blood, no foul" mentality in crunch time.
With that out of the way: Purdue got royally screwed on one of the weakest offensive pass interferences calls in college football history.
Trailing 34-31 with less than one minute remaining, Purdue was at the Minnesota 19 and in search of a game-winning touchdown. And it certainly appeared the Boilermakers got it when Jack Plummer connected with Payne Durham in the corner of the end zone.
However, a flag came flying in because apparently Durham pushed off or extended an arm or gave a dirty look. I don't know what—because nothing happened. It was terrible. And on the very next snap, Plummer threw an interception to seal the game.
To be fair, it wasn't the only horrific pass interference call in the fourth quarter. Purdue also benefited from one when Plummer threw the ball away on 3rd-and-7 from the Minnesota 11. That drive should have ended with a field-goal attempt. Instead, an inexplicable flag kept Purdue on the field, and Plummer hit Durham for a touchdown on the next play.
That doesn't change the fact that the call against Durham was awful. And that came just a handful of plays after David Bell made one of the most incredible circus catches you'll ever see—only to have it overturned on replay because a defender was out of bounds when he made contact with the ball as Bell was corralling it. Between those two rulings, Purdue had plenty of reasons to feel aggrieved.
The call was so bad that PointsBet Sportsbook even tweeted that it will refund bets on the Purdue moneyline and spread.
Winner: Tuesday Night MACtion
This is my first week on the winners/losers beat since the Mid-American Conference started playing in 2020, and goodness, gracious did MACtion ever save some Tuesday night gems for me.
In the earlier of the two kickoffs, Buffalo's Jaret Patterson had a field day in a 42-17 victory over Bowling Green. The junior running back carried the ball 31 times for 301 yards and four touchdowns.
The best part came when head coach Lance Leipold fed his star with less than five minutes remaining in an 18-point game. Under normal circumstances, Patterson probably would have been bundled up on the sideline, watching the backups try to run out the clock. But he was 74 yards away from 300 when the Bulls got the ball back at their own 25. What followed was a four-play, 75-yard drive in which all four snaps were handoffs to Patterson.
Of course, those with a background in MACtion knew to expect something like this.
Bowling Green's run defense ranked among the worst in the nation in each of the last three years, and the Falcons had allowed 310 and 295 yards on the ground in their opening losses to Toledo and Kent State, respectively. Moreover, Patterson rushed for 298 yards and six touchdowns against BGSU last November.
Nevertheless, since the beginning of last season, the only other player to rush for at least 300 yards in a game was Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry against Army last December.
In the other Tuesday night game, Akron—which had been held below 30 points in 24 consecutive games dating back to September 2018—went on the road and put up 35 points against Kent State...
And still lost by 34.
In the second quarter, three consecutive snaps resulted in touchdowns. Akron's Teon Dollard ran one in from 28 yards out. After a touchback, Kent State's Dustin Crum found Isaiah McKoy for a 75-yard score. And then it was Dollard again for a 59-yard rushing touchdown.
Dollard racked up 202 yards and four touchdowns, but Akron was helpless to stop the Golden Flashes, who finished the night with 750 yards and 69 points. By halftime, Crum was 17-of-17 for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
Kent State also put up 62 points against Bowling Green last week and is leading the nation at 52.7 points per game. Remarkably, in three games the Golden Flashes have already scored more points (158) than they did in the entire 12-game 2017 season (153).
Loser: Scott Frost, Nebraska
Last week's win over Penn State temporarily dialed down the burner on Scott Frost's hot seat at Nebraska, but that fire is going to be raging again after a 41-23 home loss to lowly Illinois.
The Illini had previously been held to 24 points or fewer in each of their first four games, but it didn't even take them 25 minutes to eclipse that mark against the Cornhuskers defense. They got some help from Nebraska's Luke McCaffrey fumbling on the first play of the game, but they went at least 65 yards on each of the next three touchdown drives.
Illinois also opened the second half with back-to-back scoring drives of at least 65 yards, the first of which included a fake punt that Nebraska could not have possibly looked less prepared to defend.
McCaffrey committed four turnovers before Frost finally put former Heisman candidate Adrian Martinez on the field. He promptly led the Huskers on a touchdown drive that did nothing for the final score but re-introduced the frustrating question of where it all went wrong with Martinez in the first place. He and Frost were supposed to be the perfect match to bring Nebraska back to national relevance, but it has just been another fall of disappointment in Lincoln.
It's almost impossible to imagine Nebraska actually handing Frost a $25.4 million pink slip, which is the reported buyout figure on his contract after he signed an extension through 2026 this past December. But fans are beyond fed up with the direction this program is headed.
Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska was 4-0 at home against Illinois, winning those four games by margins of 15, 19, 20 and 31 points. Losing by 18 is going to result in some serious soul-searching.
Winner: The Nation's Two Leading Rushers
It's extremely unlikely that there will be any 2,000-yard rushers in a season riddled with canceled games and unavailable players due to COVID-19 protocols.
But Iowa State's Breece Hall and UTSA's Sincere McCormick are giving it the ol' college try.
Hall entered Week 12 leading the nation with 1,034 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Not only had he rushed for at least 100 yards and a score in each of Iowa State's seven games, but he had eclipsed 130 yards in each of the last six games, rushing for multiple scores in five of them.
It was a lather, rinse, repeat sort of week for the Cyclones star in a relentless beatdown of Kansas State. Hall only managed 15 touches before spending the fourth quarter of a 45-0 blowout on the sideline, but he racked up 135 yards and a pair of touchdowns on those 15 carries to keep his season streaks alive.
He's now up to 1,169 yards on the year with Iowa State (6-2 overall; 6-1 in Big 12) in great shape to play a "bonus" game in a conference championship. Factor in an assumed spot in a bowl, and he has four more games to rush for 831 yards. Probably not going to happen, but this guy is a phenom who needs to be getting more national attention.
McCormick started the week at No. 2 in total rushing yards with 921, and he gained some ground on Hall in UTSA's 23-20 victory over Southern Miss. He carried the rock 32 times for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns, bringing his season total to 1,094 yards.
The Roadrunners trailed by one at the intermission, but McCormick had a 69-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter and punched one in from one yard out on their next possession. The UTSA offense almost entirely ran through him, per usual.
Loser: Penn State Nittany Lions
I hate to beat a dead horse—or a dead Nittany Lion, as it were—but Penn State fell to 0-5 this week with a 41-21 home loss to Iowa.
With each game, things seem to get worse and worse in State College.
In retrospect, losing in overtime at Indiana to open the season wasn't bad at all. (It's probably the least impressive thing Indiana accomplished this season.) The subsequent 13-point loss to Ohio State was both expected and understandable. But since then, the Nittany Lions have lost by 16 to Maryland, by seven to then-winless Nebraska and now by 20 to the Hawkeyes.
Iowa didn't even move the ball all that well, but turnovers were fatal for Penn State. The Nittany Lions committed four of them, including the pick-six in the final two minutes that eliminated any hope of a late comeback.
Then again, punting from midfield with 3:30 remaining in a 13-point game was a clear sign they had no intentions of making that comeback.
They do know that college teams can't tank for draft position, yes?
That's a joke, of course, but this season has been a complete disaster for Penn State.
Star linebacker Micah Parsons opted out in August and was one of the few Big Ten players who didn't change his mind when the league un-postponed its season. The Nittany Lions also lost top running back Journey Brown before the season to a career-ending medical condition. And now they'll be without tight end Pat Freiermuth for the remainder of the season, as it was announced on Saturday he will undergo season-ending surgery for an injury suffered against Ohio State.
They are already guaranteed their first losing record since 2004, and at this point, it's really just a question of whether this will be the worst season in program history.
That record currently belongs to the 1931 team that went 2-8. If they win two of their four remaining games (at Michigan, at Rutgers, vs. Michigan State, TBD on Dec. 19), they would finish 2-7, good for the second-worst winning percentage ever. With the way things have been going lately, though, 0-9 is definitely on the table.
But even that wouldn't be enough to get James Franklin fired, since his buyout is well over $30 million. They just need to take this one on the chin and hope it doesn't stick with them through future seasons.
Winner: JT Daniels, Georgia
Some lot of good it does Georgia now with a pair of losses and no realistic hope of reaching the SEC Championship Game, but it appears the Bulldogs have finally figured out their quarterback situation.
USC transfer JT Daniels lit up a solid Mississippi State secondary for 401 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-24 victory. The former 5-star recruit set career highs in both passing yards and touchdowns. It was also the first time in more than four calendar years that Mississippi State allowed 400 or more passing yards in a game. (The last occurrence came in October 2016 against Samford, of all teams.)
Now the question becomes: Why in the world did Kirby Smart wait so long to hand the reins to Daniels?
He was a late transfer who wasn't ruled eligible until mid-July, and he wasn't medically cleared to play (torn ACL last August) until after Georgia's first game of the season. You can understand why he wasn't on the field right away against Auburn.
By the third game of the season against Tennessee, though, it was obvious that Stetson Bennett IV was nowhere near the caliber of quarterback that most of the College Football Playoff contenders were bringing to the table. And by the end of the loss to Alabama, it was blatantly clear that Georgia wasn't going to be a true threat until it made a change at quarterback.
Yet, for the do-or-die game against Florida, there was Bennett, completing five of 16 passes for 78 yards while Kyle Trask shredded Georgia's secondary. And when Smart had seen enough of Bennett, he turned to D'Wan Mathis, who was even less effective.
If Daniels was healthy enough to start this game against Mississippi State, why wasn't he available two weeks ago when he actually could have saved their season?
At least they have their answer at quarterback for 2021?
Loser: Liberty Flames for the First Time
It's hard to believe that 15 points was enough to win a game between Liberty and North Carolina State.
The Flames were averaging 40.5 points per game and weren't anything special on defense. NC State was both scoring and allowing more than 33 points per game. In fact, the Wolfpack had both scored and allowed at least 20 points in all eight of their games.
But instead of lighting up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree, Liberty's 15-14 loss to NC State was a comedy of errors on both sides.
Liberty QB Malik Willis entered the day with just one interception thrown all season, but he tossed three passes to the wrong team—the second of which set the Wolfpack up at the Liberty 26 for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. Liberty also took a safety in the third quarter that proved to be quite significant.
NC State committed 123 yards' worth of penalties.
The Wolfpack missed a 37-yard field goal on the game's opening drive. The Flames' would-be game winner from 36 yards out was blocked.
It just wasn't pretty football, but Liberty would have been elated with an ugly win to remain undefeated. It wasn't meant to be, though. The Flames will very likely drop out of Sunday's AP Top 25.
Winner: Oklahoma in "Bedlam"
One of these days, we'll need to have a serious conversation about changing the nickname of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State rivalry.
"Bedlam" suggests unpredictability and pandemonium, but it's an Oklahoma win far more often than not. And lately, it hasn't even been a competitive game.
That trend continued Saturday night in Oklahoma's 41-13 drubbing of the Cowboys.
After a brutal start and an equally brutal hit on a sack, Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders was benched. Shane Illingworth was even worse, completing just five of 21 passes before Mike Gundy opted to put his starter back in the game.
It didn't matter who was at quarterback, though. Oklahoma was ahead 21-0 before the Cowboys even managed a first down, and the Sooners cruised to victory from there.
Spencer Rattler threw for 301 yards and four touchdowns. Rhamondre Stevenson had a dominant 195 total yards from scrimmage. In a nutshell, Oklahoma looked like the team we thought it would be when it opened the season ranked in the AP Top 5.
Oklahoma is now 17-1 all-time in this series when both teams are ranked. Five of the past six meetings fit that description, and the Sooners won all five of those games by double digits.