A couple of top undefeated college football programs suffered upset losses in Week 12, setting up what should be a crazy finish to the 2015 season.
Most teams only have one more regular-season game before conference championship games commence, and from there it’s bowl season. Needless to say, the season has flown by at breakneck pace. It seems like just yesterday that we watched the season begin to unfold, and now we’re headed into the home stretch.
These were the top takeaways from the action this weekend.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes: They are who we thought they were
As we predicted, Michigan State took down Ohio State in Columbus Saturday evening, much to the chagrin of the Buckeyes and their fans, who endured a miserable day in the rain.
The final score read 17-14 Spartans, but the game wasn’t really even that close.
If not for a terrible mistake by Macgarrett Kings Jr., who inexplicably reached out for a poorly judged punt while the rain was pounding down late in the third quarter, the scoreboard would have accurately represented the one-sidedness of the affair.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 22, 2015
The Spartans overcame this blunder, which resulted in seven points for the Buckeyes, and pounded Ohio State into a gooey paste by game’s end. On both sides of the ball, Michigan State dominated the line of scrimmage. The final yardage totals of 294-132 in favor of the Spartans marked the worst offensive output in Urban Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Meyer deserves plenty of criticism for his role in this tepid showing. Along with a few head-scratching calls at critical moments, it’s worth pointing out Heisman Trophy hopeful Ezekiel Elliott only got 12 carries in the game while quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was extremely ineffective Saturday, carried the ball 15 times for just 44 yards
But honestly, anyone expecting a different look from Ohio State this weekend just hasn’t been paying attention or is simply a die-hard fan who was too late in accepting the truth. This is what we’ve seen from the Buckeyes all year. Despite outrageous talent on both sides of the ball, for whatever reason, this team never did get clicking as a well-oiled machine.
Now, with one loss and a ridiculously easy schedule on their resume, the Buckeyes are out of the conversation as a potential playoff team. Perhaps even sadder is the fact that Elliott is likely out of the running for the Heisman after he failed to reach 100 yards for the first time in 15 games. He didn’t hesitate to let reporters know at the end of the game he is not coming back to Ohio State next year on his way to the NFL.
2. Have we seen the end of Les Miles in Baton Rouge?
It’s hard to believe the Tigers were the No. 2 team in the nation just three weeks ago. Then Alabama ripped the heart out of LSU, and the program still hasn’t recovered. After getting blasted by Ole Miss on Saturday, losing 38-17, is it possible we’ve seen the last of Miles on the sideline in Baton Rouge?
Prior to the game against the Rebels, there were rumors of discontent brewing at LSU. The Tigers haven’t developed a quarterback since Miles became the head coach in 2005 (Zach Mettenberger doesn’t count as he was a transfer), and Scott Rabalais of The Advocate reported the head coach’s job is on the line to close out the season.
Then a board member suggested that a change might be in order even if the Tigers won their last two games.
“I think if he wins the next two games, it’s still something that needs to be looked at,” LSU Board of Supervisors member Ronald Anderson told Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana on Friday. “It’s the way they lost the two games.”
Needless to say, after the way the Tigers were thrashed Saturday to lose their third game, Miles could be on his way out as LSU scrambles to compete with the always steady Crimson Tide in the SEC West.
3. Deshaun Watson deserves a trip to New York at the end of the year
One week after shutting Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer down, Wake Forest was torched by Clemson’s Deshaun Watson during the blowout 33-13 win for the Tigers.
Watson did turn the ball over twice through the air, but he also showed his signature deep-ball accuracy connecting on a couple of 40-plus yard touchdown passes to Charone Peake and Germone Hopper, finishing with three on the day. And, to the surprise of nobody who’s been watching this young man play of late, he added a rushing score.
On the season, Watson now has 32 total touchdowns and 3,586 combined rushing and passing yards. Furthermore, he’s completing 70 percent of his passes and has many signature moments leading the team with the No. 1 ranking in the nation.
Watson deserves to be one of the five or six finalists invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. If he doesn’t make it, then something’s wrong with the system.
4. Iowa isn’t going away, one-loss teams
After another impressive showing by the Hawkeyes in Week 12, many of the remaining one-loss teams in the playoff hunt have cause for concern about getting in. Iowa dominated Purdue Saturday, going up big early and finishing strong to win 40-20 over the Boilermakers, who never had a chance.
As we’ve come to expect, the victory was a team effort. Quarterback C.J. Beathard threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers while Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels Jr. combined for three rushing scores. Meanwhile the defense continued to excel at the bend-but-don’t-break strategy.
The win sealed the Big Ten West for the Hawkeyes, who have much bigger fish to fry in the weeks ahead. Up next is Nebraska and then the Big Ten Championship Game. Win out and this team should be in the College Football Playoff, but that’s not what the players are focused on at this time.
“We haven’t looked ahead to any games. There have been opportunities to with all the outside noise,” Beathard said after the game, per the Associated Press. “We want to win every game this season…and we’re focused on Nebraska.”
While the Cornhuskers have won just five games this year, the Hawkeyes would be foolish to overlook the team that took down the Michigan State Spartans on a controversial touchdown play in overtime. Based on everything we’ve seen from this program in 2015, though, a lapse in focus isn’t likely be a problem next weekend.
5. Derrick Henry gains on the Heisman field in limited action for Alabama
As expected, Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn’t tempt fate by letting Henry play more than one half against Charleston Southern. He wasn’t needed, as the Crimson Tide rolled over the Buccaneers with ease, winning 56-6. The game was well out of hand heading into the third quarter with ‘Bama already up 49-0.
In extremely limited action, Henry actually gained on most of the top contenders, totaling 96 yards and two touchdowns. It’s worth noting he wasn’t the most dynamic player on the field for the Tide on Saturday, however, as Cyrus Jones celebrated Senior Day by taking not one, but two punts back for touchdowns.
Have a day, Cyrus Jones. The speedster already has 2 punt returns for TDs today. https://t.co/rVBQdjiLWt
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 21, 2015
Back to Henry, the junior now has 21 rushing touchdowns on the year for ‘Bama, which is first in the nation. And, while he made the most out of limited work in Week 12, he saw his top competition for the Heisman struggle through difficult days. Ezekiel Elliott of OSU was held to 33 yards and a touchdown rushing on 12 carries and Leonard Fournette failed to score, though he did total 180 yards in the loss to Ole Miss.
6. Florida just begging to be passed over
Once again, for the third time in three straight weekends, Florida almost let a weak team pull off the upset. This time around it was the unheralded Florida Atlantic Owls that pushed the Gators to the limit, forcing overtime before ultimately falling 20-14 when Treon Harris hit Jake McGee on a 13-yard touchdown pass to win the game.
“We struggled. We just weren’t all together on it as a unit up front today,” he said, per the Associated Press. “We have to really improve this week and have a big week of practice.”
Before this near-upset, Conference USA bottom-feeder Florida Atlantic had won just two games in 2015, yet the Owls held Florida to just 252 total yards and 13 first downs and could have won if not for a non-call on the Gators.
Florida avoids calamity, thanks to a very helpful non-call on an obvious pass interference on 2nd and goal.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 21, 2015
The crazy thing about the Gators is this: A win against Florida State next weekend and then again at the SEC Championship Game would seem to guarantee a playoff spot, but the way this team has been squeaking past opponents that should be mere blips on the radar will certainly give the committee reason to pass over Florida for another one-loss team that has been more impressive down the stretch.
7. North Carolina remains dark-horse candidate for playoff after surviving scare
Man, Frank Beamer’s players really didn’t want to see him lose his final home game at Virginia Tech. Wearing all-black uniforms to honor their soon-to-be-retired head coach, the Hokies stunned North Carolina with a two-touchdown rally in the final few minutes of regulation to tie the game at 24-24.
The Tar Heels thought the game was over after Elijah Hood ran in his second touchdown of the fourth quarter to go up by 14 points but were shocked into reality by the sudden burst of energy from Virginia Tech at the end of the game. Quarterback Marquise Williams lost two fumbles in the final minutes, allowing the Hokies to make it a game.
Thankfully for North Carolina, Williams came through in the clutch with a five-yard touchdown strike to Quinshad Davis in overtime to win the game in overtime.
The Tar Heels stayed alive (barely) in the playoff race with this five-yard touchdown strike from Williams to Davis https://t.co/wW0UmYozPg
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 22, 2015
“Emotional. Bittersweet,” Williams said after throwing for 205 yards, running for 74 and overcoming two lost fumbles in the final five minutes, per the Associated Press. “That was a hard game. Everybody panicking. Heart attacks going left and right. We just had to find a way.”
While the Tar Heels won’t earn any style points for this win, it does still keep them on the outskirts of the playoff race. And, should they win next weekend against North Carolina State and then find a way to beat Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, then it would be hard to argue against this team getting into the four-team tournament.
8. Third-string Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson is cold-blooded
One week after suffering the first loss of the season, Baylor exacted some revenge against Oklahoma State by handing the Cowboys their first loss of the season, meaning there are no more undefeated teams in the Big 12.
On a related note, one wonders if Baylor head coach Art Briles really does grow quarterbacks on trees.
Heading into the game, we knew receiver Chris Johnson could be called into duty to replace freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who was questionable to play with a back injury. Stidham did start the game and connected on some huge plays downfield, including a 59-yard bomb to KD Cannon for a touchdown. Unfortunately for him, an ankle injury kept him sidelined in the second half.
Thankfully for Baylor, Johnson was a stone-cold assassin in reserve.
— Baylor Football (@BUFootball) November 22, 2015
Although he has played as a receiver this year for the Bears, Johnson was competing at quarterback this offseason before Stidham asserted himself as the No. 2 guy behind Seth Russell, who was lost for the season with a fractured neck.
When his team needed him the most, he stepped up and performed with acumen, throwing two touchdowns and running in another in the second half, leading Baylor to victory on the road. With the win, the Bears remain a fringe playoff contender and could receive consideration as one of the final four teams by winning out against TCU and Texas.
9. Notre Dame backing into postseason
If the Irish win next weekend against Stanford to finish the season with a record of 11-1, then there is a good chance they will make it into the playoff. After the narrow 19-16 win at Fenway Park Saturday night, head coach Brian Kelly knows the entire season boils down to next week.
“The committee is out if my hands,” he said (per Andrea Adelson of ESPN). “We feel we need to win another game to be considered.”
Kelly isn’t wrong. That said, this program is sure going the wrong way at a time when it should be surging.
Ever since narrowly beating Temple a few weeks back, the Irish have been playing down to competition and pulling out closer-than-anticipated wins over Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Boston College.
In particular, the three-point win Saturday against the Eagles is alarming considering the Irish turned the ball over five times. After failing to throw a touchdown pass last weekend against Wake Forest, quarterback DeShone Kizer threw three interceptions Saturday and seems to be fading down the stretch.
At this point, nobody should be surprised if unbeaten Iowa sneaks past Notre Dame when the College Football Playoff Rankings come out again on Tuesday. The Irish have been far from impressive, and next weekend’s game on the road against Stanford is their final opportunity to make a positive impression.
10. Oklahoma better hope Baker Mayfield can play in Week 13
Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield was knocked out of Saturday night’s game against TCU and missed the entire second half of the game. Horned Frogs linebacker Ty Summers was ejected for targeting after launching into Mayfield early in the second quarter.
This was a huge hit taken by Baker Mayfield. https://t.co/jyY9WobzGd
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 22, 2015
Although he did stay in the game for a while and threw a 36-yard touchdown pass later in the second quarter (his second of the game), Mayfield was clearly not comfortable, and the Sooners did the right thing holding him out in the second half.
That said, Oklahoma is going to need its offensive leader next weekend against Oklahoma State because Trevor Knight was downright awful in reserve. The starter last year, Knight proved quite turnover-prone in 2014, and his propensity for mistakes showed up again Saturday night. Completing 5-of-16 passes for 76 yards, he failed to throw a touchdown pass and turned the ball over with an interception.
Should Knight be forced into action next weekend because Mayfield’s injury remains problematic, then the Sooners could see their national championship hopes go up in flames.