B/R's College Football Weekly Awards: Week 12
Ohio State might just be terrifying.
After an unspectacular start to the 2021 campaign, the Buckeyes have developed into one of college football's most dangerous teams. Not only did Ohio State annihilate Michigan State, but the Oregon loss hanging over its head is also no longer relevant.
Buckeyes faithful, you may address those thank-you notes to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and running back Tavion Thomas. Same goes for you, Cincinnati fans.
Ohio State's demolition, Utah's big victory and Cincinnati's statement win highlight this edition of B/R's Weekly Awards.
If you're new here, hello! Every Monday this season, B/R will distribute a handful of awards. Some will review the previous weekend's slate, and others will preview what's coming up. A few topics might be humorous or downright strange.
Team of the Week: Ohio State Buckeyes
The best way to describe Ohio State's dismantling of Michigan State? C.J. Stroud had a decent two games in the first half.
Stroud completed 29 of 31 passes for 393 yards and six touchdowns, propelling the Buckeyes to a stunning 49-0 halftime lead. Managing that against a lower-division foe is believable, but a 49-point lead on the nation's seventh-ranked team is madness.
Michigan State hardly generated pressure on Stroud, who perfectly summed up his role in the 56-7 win.
"I was just kind of back there chillin'," he told reporters afterward.
Each of the Buckeyes' three top receivers—Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba—delivered at least seven catches, 105 yards and one score. They combined for five of Stroud's six touchdown passes, which tied a school record.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, there isn't a hotter offense in the country.
#TeamChaos Win of the Week: Utah Crushes Oregon
Given that Utah entered as a three-point favorite, it's no surprise the Utes handed Oregon its second loss of the season.
But a 31-point obliteration of the Ducks? That was shocking.
Tavion Thomas scampered for 94 yards and three scores, guiding Utah to an impressive 38-7 win. Cameron Rising threw for 178 yards and added a rushing touchdown in a result that eliminated the Pac-12 from College Football Playoff contention.
Oregon had been the conference's final playoff hope for several weeks, clinging to a one-loss record and a road victory over Ohio State. However, the Ducks hadn't played at a high level since that important win, and a loss felt inevitable.
Now that it's happened, #TeamChaos is thriving. Yet another obstacle is out of Cincinnati's way to crash the CFP party.
Statement of the Week: Cincinnati Steamrolls SMU
Speaking of the Bearcats!
The selection committee unveiled the first CFP rankings Nov. 2. During this three-week span, Cincinnati's need for "style points" has constantly been mentioned as a way to offset a softer strength of schedule compared to other top contenders.
I'm pretty sure a 48-14 decimation of SMU—which held an 8-2 record—should fit the billing for style points.
Oregon is destined to leave the Top Four in Tuesday's CFP rankings, and Cincinnati stood at No. 5 in last week's poll. The committee has little justification for not moving the Bearcats up to No. 4 after a performance of that magnitude, though it still might happen.
This isn't meant to crown Cincinnati as a CFP lock. Luke Fickell's team needs to beat East Carolina in Week 13 and topple 10-1 Houston in the AAC championship game. Beyond the inevitable loss by either Michigan or Ohio State this weekend, the Bearcats would also benefit from an Oklahoma State letdown.
But between this stellar win and Oregon's loss, a trip to the College Football Playoff looks more realistic for Cincinnati.
Bowl Qualifier of the Week: South Carolina Gamecocks
Two years ago, South Carolina managed a 4-8 record. Last season, the Gamecocks fired Will Muschamp after a 2-5 start—then dropped the final three outings of the campaign too.
The program hired Shane Beamer, a longtime assistant with no head coaching experience. The son of Virginia Tech legend Frank Beamer had served on Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks staff from 2007 to 2010 prior to stops at Virginia Tech, Georgia and Oklahoma.
In short, all expectations for 2021 were total guesses. His past offered little help in forming predictions.
Considering the state of the program, something around 4-8 seemed like a reasonable first year. Instead, the Gamecocks have edged a bit higher. They upset Auburn 21-17 on Saturday, earning a sixth win and securing bowl eligibility.
That alone should make Beamer's debut season a success. And if the Gamecocks stun rival Clemson next week, he will gain legitimacy on the recruiting trail.
Stat Line of the Week: Malik Cunningham's 300/200 Explosion
Thursday night's tilt between 5-5 Louisville and 3-7 Duke wasn't appointment viewing for impartial fans. Everyone who tuned in, though, found themselves watching history.
Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham threw for 303 yards, rushed for 224 and accounted for seven touchdowns in a 62-22 rout. Cunningham became the second FBS player to have a 300/200 game, joining Washington's Marques Tuiasosopo in 1999.
While that output is rare, the junior's legendary performance didn't come out of nowhere.
Heading into Week 13, Cunningham has 2,589 passing yards and 18 touchdowns to five interceptions. He leads FBS quarterbacks in both rushing yards (933) and touchdowns (18) too.
The victory over Duke made Louisville bowl-eligible, giving Cunningham a great chance for more unique recognition. If he totals 411 passing and 67 rushing yards in the last two games, he'll be only the 11th FBS player to have 3,000 and 1,000 in a season.
Week 12 Rundown
'We're Still Here' Win of the Week: Clemson Tigers
September losses to Georgia and North Carolina State tossed Clemson out of the national championship race. Falling at Pitt in October put the Tigers' streak of six consecutive ACC titles in jeopardy. But thanks to a 48-27 triumph over Wake Forest, the Tigers are still alive. They need Boston College to beat Wake and North Carolina to upend NC State, but they have a path to stealing a spot in the ACC championship game.
Under-the-Radar Story of the Week: Old Dominion's Bowl Bid
Following the 2019 campaign, Ricky Rahne inherited a program that had mustered a 1-11 record. Then last year, Old Dominion opted out of the season. Expectations were understandably low in 2021, and the Monarchs fell to 1-6. Since then, however, they've ripped off four straight wins and have a chance to secure bowl eligibility with a victory over 5-6 Charlotte in Week 13.
Encore of the Week: Lew Nichols III, RB, Central Michigan
In case you've missed #MACtion lately, it's time to meet third-year running back Lew Nichols III. After rushing for 215 yards and four touchdowns last week against Kent State, he shredded Ball State for 219 yards and three scores. Those two enormous games have vaulted Nichols ahead of Michigan State star Kenneth Walker III as the leading rusher in the country with 1,516 yards.
Best Week 13 Storylines
When you remember a matchup based on the nickname, you know it's a history-rich series. The best part, though, is when tradition meets national relevance.
And that, my friends, is happening in Week 13.
During the noon ET window, The Game will take center stage. Michigan and Ohio State both enter at 10-1, needing a win to clinch the Big Ten East division. Crucially, the winner will be a front-runner for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Later Saturday, Bedlam is slated for a 7:30 p.m. ET kick. Although both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are also 10-1, OSU is best positioned to ascend into the Top Four of the CFP rankings.
Upsets may happen elsewhere. But heading into Saturday's action, there's no question The Game and Bedlam are most important.