Postseason dreams were crushed, some top performers struggled and the No. 1 team in the nation was surprisingly tested in college football Week 12.
Ohio State was nearly knocked off by Michigan State — a team that has won just three games this year. Penn State looked a lot like Michigan in a soul-crushing shutout over Rutgers. Michigan handled its business after last weekend’s shocker against Iowa.
There was a lot going on around the nation.
We’ll take a deeper look at these games, what they mean and much more as we review the top-10 takeaways from college football Week 12.
1. Houston’s inspired performance crushes Louisville’s playoff dream
Heading into Week 12, Louisville needed some help to get into the College Football Playoff. It needed Clemson to lose and needed to win out. Before Clemson ever took care of business against Wake Forest Saturday, we already knew the Cardinals were eliminated from the Playoff after being humiliated by Houston Thursday night.
Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson followed up his mediocre performance last weekend against Wake Forest with a miserable outing against Houston. Completing just 46.5 percent of his passes for 211 yards with one touchdown, Jackson struggled to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Compounding his problems, the dynamic dual-threat quarterback was absolutely shut down on the ground, gaining just 33 yards on 25 attempts. He also lost a fumble in the red zone.
The Cougars owned the line of scrimmage, hounding Jackson at every turn while sacking him an astounding nine times. Protection has been an issue of late, and he had no chance to succeed Thursday night given the pressure he was under all game long.
Lamar Jackson was sacked a total of 3 times in his first 4 games. He has been sacked 30 times in his last 7 games including nine tonight.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 18, 2016
The Cardinals didn’t score until the third quarter, and their 10 total points was the lowest scoring effort of the year — by two touchdowns.
Credit is due to Houston, which was at the beginning of the season highly ranked with aspirations of earning a spot in the Playoff. Greg Ward Jr. returned from an injury to put on a very efficient performance, and the outcome of this game was never in doubt from the opening moments when the Cougars scored on the first offensive play of the game.
Watching Jackson play this year has been a joy. Unfortunately, teams are beginning to figure out how to slow him down as his two total touchdowns the past two games show. He’ll still likely finish as a top Heisman finalist, but his once huge lead has shrunk considerably of late.
2. Ohio State played down to the competition against Michigan State
After getting bumped up to No. 2 in the wake of last weekend’s wave of upsets, Ohio State nearly lost to Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan.
Yes, the same Michigan State team that has won all of three games this year.
J.T. Barrett was not sharp in this one, completing just 10-of-22 passes for 86 yards with one touchdown. He also added 105 yards on the ground, which, combined with Mike Weber’s 111-yard performance helped the Buckeyes eke out a win against a team that is limping to the finish line.
If not for a failed two-point conversion by the Spartans, Ohio State would have lost this game.
Overall, the Buckeyes were underwhelming. But they did come away with a much-needed win as they look forward to rivalry week against Michigan.
“Tough day at the office right there,” head coach Urban Meyer said, per the Associated Press. “We’ll take the win against a team that we know very well and on the road in November. We’re 10-1 and getting ready for rivalry week.”
Michigan got past a scrappy Indiana team on Saturday evening, winning the game that was highlighted by wind and snowy conditions. The Wolverines will be coming to Columbus next weekend with a chance to claim the Big 12 East with a victory. If the Buckeyes continue to struggle offensively like we’ve seen so many times this year, then they will lose.
3. Big Ten West race coming down to the wire
Heading into Week 12, we highlighted the Big Ten West race between Wisconsin and Nebraska. It’s coming down to the wire as both teams fight for the chance to take on the heavy hitters in the Big Ten East.
Wisconsin absolutely buried Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., winning by a score of 49-20. Already up in the second quarter, TJ Watt broke the game wide open with a pick-six that would make brother J.J. proud.
Play of the game?
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 19, 2016
From there, Wisconsin just steamrolled Purdue en route to its fifth win in a row.
Nebraska didn’t put together quite as impressive a show of dominance at home against Maryland, winning by the score of 28-7. Playing without injured senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, the Cornhuskers did most of their damage on the ground and on defense. Take away Terps receiver D.J. Moore’s 124 receiving yards and Maryland managed just 83 yards otherwise.
These two teams are tied atop the division with conference records of 6-2 after the action this weekend. Wisconsin has the tiebreaker due to its win over Nebraska last month.
It could be argued that the Badgers have the easier game to close out the season next weekend. They’ll be hosting Minnesota, which lost to Nebraska two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers will head to Iowa for a date with the team that knocked off Michigan in Week 11.
4. So is the Big Ten East
Interestingly, if the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines next weekend and Penn State wins at home against Michigan State, then the Nittany Lions will win the Big Ten East.
Nobody really considered this to be a viable possibility when the season began. Penn State was not even ranked and lost two of its first four games to open up the 2016 campaign.
Since then, however, the Nittany Lions have rattled off seven straight wins, including the huge upset over Ohio State a few weeks back to give them the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes if they should tie in conference play at season’s end.
If Michigan beats Ohio State, then it matters not what Penn State does next weekend — the Wolverines will claim the Big Ten East and will battle either Wisconsin or Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Needless to say, there is a ton on the line next weekend as it relates to the Big Ten, and as it relates to the College Football Playoff.
.@CollegeGameDay will be in Columbus next week for Michigan at Ohio State. Show starts at 7 a.m. ET – a 5 hour GameDay. Buckle up
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 20, 2016
5. Western Michigan worthy of the national spotlight
After spending most of the 2016 season stuck on the outskirts of national prominence, undefeated Western Michigan finally got the spotlight treatment with ESPN’s College GameDay setting up shop on its front doorstep in Week 12.
The only undefeated team in the nation besides Alabama put on a show in front of its home crowd in Kalamazoo, shutting out Buffalo 38-0. After a scoreless first quarter, the Broncos finally hit their stride offensively.
Quarterback Zach Terrell went off for 445 passing yards (career high) with four touchdowns. Receiver Corey Davis, pegged by many scouts as a first-round NFL talent, was unstoppable. He caught 13 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the Mid-American Conference leader for career receptions in the process.
The Broncos were outstanding defensively, holding Buffalo to just 13 total first downs and 268 total yards of offense.
After knocking off the Bulls, Western Michigan (11-0) has just one more game to win to earn a trip to the MAC Championship Game. Next up is Toledo, which could actually steal the MAC West title with a win next week in Kalamazoo.
6. Oklahoma remains red hot against West Virginia
Since starting the season with two losses in their first three games, the Sooners have rattled off eight straight wins now to move to 9-2 on the season after dismantling West Virginia in Morgantown Saturday night. Led by a two-headed monster at running back (Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon), Oklahoma’s offense laid waste to what has been most of the season a very good Mountaineers defense.
The final score read 56-28. That’s a huge blowout. Yet the final score doesn’t even do justice to the lopsided nature of this affair.
The Sooners put points on the scoreboard early in the first quarter when Perine ran in a two-yard touchdown. Shortly afterwards, receiver Dede Westbrook wowed us with an amazing 75-yard touchdown in which he shed the tackle of a linebacker en route to the electric score (watch here).
From there, the Sooners just poured it on. They led 34-7 at the half and kept the scoring train rolling along nicely with 22 second-half points.
Lost amid the carnage is the outstanding game of West Virginia running back Justin Crawford, who rushed for 331 yards.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 20, 2016
The inability to shut down the run could be Oklahoma’s undoing in the postseason, but we digress.
For now, we’ll just revel in Saturday night’s blowout. It was complete domination by a team that is doing everything it can to convince the Playoff Committee it belongs among the elite.
One final game awaits the Sooners before they must wait out championship week to see where they will fall heading into bowl season. This final game comes against in-state rival Oklahoma State, which could wrest first place in the Big 12 away from Oklahoma with a win next weekend.
7. Penn State puts on defensive clinic in seventh straight win
You almost feel bad for Rutgers, which was punished by Penn State at home Saturday night. The Nittany Lions walked away from High Point Solutions Stadium with a 39-0 blowout win over the Scarlet Knights, who never had a chance.
Penn State's defense absolutely dominated Rutgers Saturday night.
* 5 first downs allowed
* 87 total yards allowed
* 0 points allowed pic.twitter.com/rgvfs5rMp2
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 20, 2016
The Scarlet Knights ran 40 offensive plays in this game, gaining just 87 yards. That’s a stunning average of just 2.18 yards per play.
It was the kind of defensive effort you’d expect from Michigan or Alabama at their best. The Nittany Lions were extremely well prepared for this road game and dominated a team they should have dominated.
Offensively, they piled up 549 yards and 25 first downs. Saquon Barkley led a rushing attack that gained 339 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries.
Because Rutgers is a bad team that has only won two games this year, it would have been easy to see Penn State experience a bit of a let down. That did not happen. They did start the game slow offensively but kept grinding away until the end, scoring 30 points in the final two quarters.
James Franklin has his team playing extremely well right now. And now, assuming the Lions pull off a win in Week 13 against Michigan State, they will represent the Big Ten East if Ohio State manages to beat Michigan at home.
8. Nick Saban, always pushing for greatness, is the GOAT
The No. 1 team in the nation struggled to gain much momentum Saturday against lowly Chattanooga. At the half, the Crimson Tide were leading by the score of 14-3. Incredibly, they were trailing 3-0 until they finally broke through with a score in the second quarter.
Predictably, Saban was furious with his team at the half after such a poor showing against a team that had no business giving ‘Bama the business (watch here).
Even after the half, we never did see the steamrolling team that has crushed so many top-level teams this year. Yes, Alabama shut out the Mocs in the second half and won by the score of 31-3. But this was hardly the kind of effort we expected. Chattanooga isn’t a cupcake among cupcakes, but it’s not a school that should give a program like this trouble, either.
After the game, Saban made it clear he’s not happy with the way his team played. But he also made it clear that Chattanooga deserved credit for their effort.
Nick Saban: "That wasn't probably our best effort, but I think you have to give the Chattanooga players a lot of credit."
— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) November 20, 2016
However, there was some silver lining to be found. With the win, Saban became the most successful head coach in college football history when it comes to wins as an AP No. 1 team.
Now 11-0 on the season, Alabama will face Auburn in the Iron Bowl next weekend to close out the regular season before preparing to play in the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide will face Florida in that pivotal game, which is the final step to being included among the final four for the College Football Playoff.
9. Washington rebounded nicely after stunning loss to USC
After getting manhandled by the surprising USC Trojans last weekend in their own house, the Huskies needed a boost of confidence. They got it in the form of a 44-18 victory over Arizona State to improve to 10-1 on the season.
With a week left in the regular season, it seems unlikely that Washington will make it into the playoff this year barring some shocking developments.
Still, it was nice to see the Pac 12 powerhouse show up strong once again, especially on defense and on the ground. Led by Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown, the Huskies totaled 201 yards on 33 carries.
We all know quarterback Jake Browning is a tremendous passer. But last weekend’s loss showed what happens when he doesn’t get the run support he needs to keep opposing pass rushers honest. Browning wasn’t sharp early in this game, throwing a couple of interceptions in the first half. He also missed some open receivers. But overall, the offense performed much better this week, as did the defense.
Next weekend’s interstate clash against Washington State is for all the marbles. Win that game and the Huskies will have a shot to play in the Pac 12 Championship Game. If they win out, there is still a chance that the Huskies can make it into the College Football Playoff if other top teams lose in the next couple of weeks.
10. Charlie Strong is likely a goner at Texas
To say that the 2016 season has been a disappointment to the Texas Longhorns would be quite an understatement. After opening the season with a huge win over Notre Dame and a blowout against UTEP in Week 2, it sure looked like this program was headed in the right direction.
Obviously things did not pan out that way. The Longhorns went on a three-game losing skid afterwards and have won just three games since.
Under fire all year for his team’s lackluster performances and many mistakes, Charlie Strong has been talked about as a guy who could be fired since the middle of the season.
Then on Saturday, the Longhorns lost to Kansas.
They were losing at halftime, 10-7, which signaled what was a bad omen for the rest of the game due to a horrible trend during Strong’s tenure.
Texas is 1-16 when trailing at halftime during the past three seasons. Longhorns trailed Kansas at halftime
— Anwar Richardson (@AnwarRichardson) November 19, 2016
Texas appeared poised to break that trend when it took a 21-10 lead into the fourth-quarter. Of course, it blew that lead, ended up turning the ball over six times total and lost in overtime, 24-21.
It’s important to point out that Kansas hasn’t beaten a Big 12 team since November of 2014. Heck, the Jayhawks hadn’t beaten Texas since 1938 until Saturday. They aren’t good. They’re not even mediocre.
Then again, neither is Texas.
After the game, Strong was asked about his future at Texas. He had no idea how to respond (watch here).
Regardless of when it happens, he will be fired. We know it. He knows it. The university has to know it by now, too. Strong is a goner. He’s had three years to turn things around at Texas. Barring a win next weekend against TCU, he’ll have finished each of his first three seasons with a losing record, if he’s around to coach next Saturday to begin with.