Rivalry week in college football is always a blast, and this year was no different.
We witnessed blowouts, last-second wins and a few Heisman statements from the nation’s top players and schools, setting up what should be a phenomenal slate of championship games next weekend. Some of the results gave the Selection Committee plenty to think about, and you can be sure the final results will stir up considerable controversy.
These were the top 10 takeaways from the action in Week 13.
1. Sooners peaking at the best possible time
There isn’t another team in the nation as hot as Oklahoma right now. The Sooners absolutely destroyed in-state rival Oklahoma State Saturday night, going up 44-20 at the half and finishing with a 58-23 victory.
Oklahoma got it done in a number of ways Saturday night.
Baker Mayfield totaled 257 yards and three touchdowns while Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine combined to rush for 267 yards and four touchdowns. The offense racked up 524 total yards and 23 first downs, and best of all there were no turnovers.
The defense was spectacular shutting down Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense. Sophomore cornerback Jordan Thomas led the way, scoring a touchdown on one of his two interceptions on the night.
Jordan Thomas putting the game away early with a pick-six https://t.co/UaR7dXsXgV
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 29, 2015
For the Sooners, it was the fifth time in the last seven games that they scored over 50 points, and the last three wins came over highly ranked Big 12 opponents. Beating the Cowboys the way they did will surely send a strong message to the Selection Committee, which already had them ranked No. 3 in the nation before the win.
2. Ohio State was magnificent, but it’s too little, too late
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 28, 2015
After a season of waiting, we finally saw what Ohio State is capable of achieving when the offense is running at full throttle. Ezekiel Elliott carried the offense and the Buckeyes ran right through one of the nation’s best run defenses at the Big House to the tune of 369 yards and five touchdowns.
Elliott had 214 yards on the ground, which was the third-most of any visiting runner all time at Ann Arbor.
Joey Bosa had his biggest game of the year for the Buckeyes as well. The dynamic pass-rusher created two turnovers — one on a ridiculous sack/fumble (watch here) and another when he tipped a screen pass to himself and nearly scored on an interception late in the fourth quarter to seal the game for Ohio State.
Unfortunately, this awesome display of cohesion came a week too late. Last weekend’s loss to Michigan State all but eliminates Ohio State from Playoff consideration. The Spartans and Iowa Hawkeyes are playing in the Big Ten Championship, and the winner of that game will certainly be in the four-team tournament for the national championship, meaning the Buckeyes are the odd man out.
3. Deshaun Watson is the best dual-threat quarterback in the nation
Watson is the biggest reason Clemson is still undefeated this year. Whenever the Tigers have needed a big play, he’s delivered in the clutch, both as a passer and as a runner. Saturday the No. 1 team in the nation got South Carolina’s best effort of the year and still prevailed, 37-32, thanks to Watson’s determination to get into the end zone by any means necessary.
While he did have a terrific game through the air (279 yards and a touchdown on 20-of-27 passing), it was the hard work Watson did on the ground that made the difference for the Tigers. He led the team with 114 yards and three rushing scores, and it was the third time in the last four games in which he’d rushed for over 100 yards — each time as a necessity for the team’s success.
Heading into the ACC Championship Game, Watson has averaged 332 total yards and three touchdowns per game. He’s passed for over 250 yards seven times, passed at least two touchdowns nine times, rushed for at least 50 yards seven times and at least 93 yards five times. He’s the best dual-threat quarterback in the nation, as he not only can dominate on the ground but also can torch defenses through the air with some of the prettiest, most accurate deep passes of any quarterback in college football.
In his first year as a starter, the sophomore has gotten continually better every game — a scary thought for the rest of the nation. As good as Clemson has been this year, next season could be even better as the young quarterback continues tapping into his immense potential.
4. Michigan State should fear Iowa
The Spartans will battle Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game next weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium, and nobody should count out the undefeated Hawkeyes.
Michigan State finished the season with a strong performance, winning in blowout fashion over Penn State, 55-16. The Spartans have also beaten the likes of Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State. However, Iowa could be the toughest test yet for the Spartans.
Iowa has found all sorts of ways to win games this year, but the main gist of what this team is all about is this: The Hawkeyes can run the ball against anybody and they are adept at shutting the run down defensively. With four guys scoring six or more touchdowns, they have 35 rushing scores and have allowed just nine.
As a cherry on top, the team’s secondary is particularly opportunistic. Led by cornerback Desmond King, who has eight interceptions to lead the nation, the Hawkeyes have racked up 17 interceptions on the season.
It should be quite a battle next weekend in Indianapolis. Iowa hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves from the national media to this point in the season, but perhaps after the Hawkeyes take down the Spartans next weekend the perception of weakness will be altered.
5. North Carolina should give Clemson a run for its money
The Tar Heels have been spectacular since losing in Week 1. This team is putting up big numbers on the scoreboard on a regular basis on their way to 11 straight wins and can score in a heartbeat.
North Carolina's 35 first-quarter points are its most in any quarter against a Power 5 opponent in the last 10 seasons.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 28, 2015
Quarterback Marquise Williams is dangerous as both a runner and a passer, and it should be spectacularly entertaining watching him and Deshaun Watson duke it out next Saturday when the two go head-to-head at Bank of America Stadium in the ACC Championship Game. The winner should get into the Playoff (for sure if Clemson wins and almost for sure if North Carolina wins), while the loser will certainly be on the outside looking in.
On paper, Clemson’s defense is better than the one the Tar Heels feature, but North Carolina’s offense will certainly test the Tigers in a major way. Given the way Clemson has played down to competition the past few weeks, it would be foolish to assume a victory is assured for Dabo Swinney’s program.
6. Too bad Vernon Adams Jr. missed part of the year for Oregon
It’s a shame Adams injured his finger in the first game of the season for Oregon. The quarterback put up amazing numbers when healthy this year, and it’s not crazy to think the Ducks could have been a Playoff contender this year if he’d been healthy for all 12 games.
Barring his short-lived and dismal attempt to play hurt against Utah, he averaged 302.5 passing yards and three touchdowns per game and led the Ducks to a record of 7-1, with the only loss coming against Michigan State. He played hurt in that game as well, and one wonders if Adams could have led his team to an undefeated season in the Pac 12, which has literally cannibalized itself this year in terms of Playoff aspirations.
A graduate transfer (he already got his diploma at Eastern Washington), this was his last year to achieve big-time college football glory.
It’s too bad the Ducks won’t have a chance to compete for a national title, but at least they will have one more chance to shine in a big-name bowl game. Oregon’s 9-3 record is pretty darn impressive given the difficult circumstances faced by the Ducks this year, and the late-season victories against USC and Stanford stand out as phenomenal achievements.
7. Derrick Henry for Heisman
It’s safe to say the Crimson Tide wouldn’t be in Playoff contention without Henry, who has literally carried this program to victory on more than one occasion. He did so again on Saturday against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, going off for 271 yards and a touchdowns on an astonishing 46 carries.
It was his fourth 200-plus yard game of the season, putting him in elite company.
Derrick Henry's performance today put him among an elite group of SEC running backs pic.twitter.com/440lRTLzBb
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 29, 2015
Henry now has 1,797 rushing yards on and 22 touchdowns on the season to lead the nation in both categories.
In addition to his statistical dominance, he’s mowed through some of the most stout run defenses in the nation and has been the key player for the No. 2 team in the nation.
At this point, the Heisman Trophy is his to lose with one more game left to pad his stats. The SEC Championship Game next weekend offers Henry the perfect opportunity to add a few more signature moments to his already impressive 2015 campaign, which should finish with him holding the trophy in New York before Alabama competes for a national championship in January.
8. Kevin Hogan saved his best for last
In the final home game of his career, senior Stanford quarterback put forth the finest effort of his career, helping the Cardinal take down rival Notre Dame by a score of 38-36, winning on a last-second field goal.
Completing 17-of-21 passes (81 percent) for 269 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, Hogan was practically perfect through the air against a Notre Dame defense that had previously been among the best in the nation all year at shutting down opposing passing attacks. He also calmly navigated his team into field goal range with just 30 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter, setting up kicker Contrad Ukropina for the game-winner.
Afterwards, an emotional Hogan rated the win as “No. 1 all-time,” over his Rose Bowl victory and two Pac-12 titles, per ESPN’s Kyle Bonagua.
Viewed by most as just the guy who came after Andrew Luck, Hogan improved by leaps and bounds during the second half of the season. And, if not for the Pac 12’s brutal schedule, there is a good chance he’d be taking Stanford into the Playoff.
With only two losses on the books, the Cardinal will surely be featured in one of the top bowl non-playoff bowl games, when Hogan can continue to add to his resume with one final performance before he attempts to take his skills to the next level in the NFL.
9. The season that could have been for Baylor and TCU
Injuries. That’s a word you can bet Art Briles and Gary Patterson — head coaches for Baylor and TCU — would like to punch right in the mouth after experiencing brutal seasons in which the injury bug bit hard in extremely sensitive places.
Baylor notably lost starting quarterback Seth Russell and then backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham late in the season. Both losses on the Bears’ record came as a direct result of these injuries, as freshman Stidham was overwhelmed by Oklahoma’s defense and third-string quarterback Chris Johnson was abominable on Friday night against TCU.
For the Horned Frogs, injuries started making an impact early on. The team’s defense lost more than half its starters, but quarterback Trevone Boykin kept the wins coming. Then he was injured, along with receiver Josh Doctson (one of the best in the nation), and there just wasn’t enough firepower left standing to keep the loss column empty.
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) November 28, 2015
Both programs had a great shot at making waves in the Playoff, but their ability to stay in the hunt was severely hampered by injuries. We’ll never know if they were good enough to hang with the big boys of the SEC or Big Ten, but thankfully Oklahoma should get a chance to show the world the Big 12 is more than just fluff in January.
10. Florida’s Playoff dreams crushed by Florida State, but the season isn’t a disappointment
With the SEC East already in their pocket, the Gators just needed one more win to give themselves a chance at making it into the Playoff with a win over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game next weekend. Unfortunately for Jim McElwain and his players, the dream died on Saturday night down at The Swamp, as the Seminoles dominated, winning by a score of 27-2.
Florida’s offense failed to score a single point, and the two points garnered were a result of a safety by Florida State in the fourth quarter. The fact that the Gators struggled on offense wasn’t a surprise, but still it was a big disappointment for a team that had its eyes on the nation’s biggest prize.
On the other side, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook added to his Heisman candidacy by totaling 194 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Seminoles to victory. Both touchdowns came in the second half of the fourth quarter, sealing the victory for FSU.
Florida performed well above expectations this year in McElwain’s first season at the helm. Nobody expected the Gators to win 10 games this year, and looking at the roster even now it’s remarkable how well this team performed. This season is by no means a disappointment, but Saturday’s blowout loss will be a bitter pill to swallow, regardless.
Florida fans should feel encouraged by what we’ve seen from this program under McElwain’s guidance. As he attracts more top talent the Gators should continue to develop into a national powerhouse that will surely have other opportunities to compete for a national title.