With some huge games on the schedule for rivalry week in college football Week 13, the top teams in the nation did not fail to entertain.
Ohio State beat Michigan in double-overtime, 30-27. A defensive struggle throughout, there were five lead changes in this one, an instant classic that features Playoff implications.
Whereas that game was as close as it can get, Auburn proved to be just another helpless victim in the Iron Bowl against Alabama. The same can be said of Notre Dame, which was the eighth straight team to fall to the surging USC Trojans.
College football fans also witnessed history Saturday as Pitt and Syracuse broke a record for most points scored in a single FBS game.
We’ll take a look at these games and more as we discuss the biggest takeaways from college football Week 13.
1. Ohio State seals Playoff berth with win over Michigan
We can’t talk about college football Week 13 without leading with the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry game that lived up to all the hype and then some.
A defensive battle for most of the game, both teams struggled to produce offensively for long stretches of time. J.T. Barrett was a huge difference-maker in the second half with his fine play on the ground (108 yards, one touchdown), though he did not perform well passing the ball overall.
Wilton Speights managed to pass for 219 yards with two touchdowns, but his two interceptions — one of which was a pick-six that had LeBron James and his Cavs teammates dancing — were fatal errors in a game that required precision.
Ohio State should have won in regulation, but two missed field goals by Tyler Durbin gave Michigan extra life in overtime. Thankfully for the Buckeyes and their fans, Barrett and running back Curtis Samuel were unstoppable in overtime.
As you might expect in a game this big, there was some controversy in this one.
A “bitterly disappointed” Jim Harbaugh (who lost his marbles at one point, costing his team dearly), repeatedly ranted about Barrett’s run on 4th-and-1 in overtime after the game — a play the officials ruled a first down and upheld that ruling upon review. To Harbaugh’s point, it certainly could be argued that Barrett did not make the mark, but there was not enough evidence to overrule the initial call.
In the end, Ohio State won by three points in double-overtime, 30-27.
The victory should move the one-loss Buckeyes into the No. 2 spot next week. Barring a cataclysmic shift in Committee thinking, they are a lock to finish as one of the top four spots, despite not making it into the B1G Championship Game with Penn State also winning Saturday.
2. Lamar Jackson limping down Heisman home stretch
Remember the days when Louisville was right there on the outskirts of Playoff relevancy and Lamar Jackson was a lock to win the Heisman? Like, you know, just a few weeks back?
A horrible loss to Houston in Week 12 put an end to all that talk. Making matters worse, the Cardinals blew it again Saturday at home against Kentucky, losing 41-38 thanks to a late fumble by Jackson.
This fumble was but one of four turnovers by Jackson on Saturday, all lost in the second half, which led to 10 points for the Wildcats. The fumble also came just one drive after Jackson struck the Heisman pose following a one-yard touchdown run, his second of the game.
Needless to say, his presumptive pose did not go over well when he backed it up with a colossal mistake that cost his team the win.
Is there a meme of Lamar Jackson fumbling the Heisman Trophy yet?
— CaptainTouchback (@CaptTouchback) November 26, 2016
Well since you asked, CaptainTouchback, yes. Yes there is.
— Trip (@Triplett15) November 26, 2016
The Heisman was Jackson’s for the taking if he had the kind of game that made him such an early favorite to begin with. But as we stated during the week leading up to this final game for Louisville, a third straight poor performance to close out the season opens up the door for others to make a late run.
All told, Jackson did put up 452 yards and four touchdowns. But those stats turn ugly when you include his four turnovers and another loss, which occurred in direct correspondence to his poor play.
3. Washington makes Playoff statement heading into championship weekend
The Pac 12 is viewed as relatively weak compared to the ACC, SEC and Big Ten this year. With that in mind, No. 5 Washington needed a huge win on Friday to convince the College Football Playoff Committee it belongs in the top four heading into championship weekend.
After a 45-17 blowout win over No. 23 Washington State, it’s safe to say the Huskies did everything they could to accomplish that mission.
Jake Browning was brilliant distributing the ball to his talented playmakers. He finished with 292 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-29 passing and did not cough up a single turnover. Three receivers — John Ross, Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher — went for 80 yards or more through the air, and the Huskies rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, Washington demolished any chance Washington State had of making a positive impact. It created four turnovers, including three interceptions of Luke Falk, and held the Cougars to a relatively low yardage total of 334.
Some might argue that Michigan should not drop out of the top four after barely losing in double-overtime to Ohio State. But this scribe is of the opinion that the Huskies deserve the No. 4 spot when the new rankings come out next week. If not, then they absolutely must be No. 4 or better if they win the Pac 12 Championship Game next weekend.
4. Western Michigan is tremendously underrated
The Western Michigan Broncos won their 12th straight game to finish the regular season undefeated heading into the MAC Championship Game. They took Toledo’s best shot Friday night and still came out ahead by 20 points, winning 55-35 at home.
As usual, the talents of receiver Corey Davis and quarterback Zach Terrell were on display, but it was the stellar running of Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin that stole the show for the Broncos. The duo combined to rush for 236 yards and three touchdowns, with Bogan doing the lion’s share of the work on the ground.
Defensively, Western Michigan capitalized on Toledo’s mistakes. The Broncos forced four turnovers which led directly to four touchdowns, including a pick-six by junior safety Asantay Brown.
It was just one more example of the potent all-around roster and well-rounded team head coach P.J. Fleck has developed.
Since their one-point Week 1 victory over Northwestern, the Broncos have beaten every opponent by at least two touchdowns. They are also the only undefeated FBS school in the nation besides Alabama. Yet they entered Week 13 No. 21 in the nation, which is much, much lower than they deserve.
5. ‘Bama continues to make excellent teams look mediocre
Oh, look. The No. 1 team in the nation, Alabama, cruised to 12-0 on the season after pounding Auburn into the turf in the Iron Bowl Saturday afternoon. The final score was 30-12. And while it was close for a while (10-9 in the second quarter), the Crimson Tide ended up running away with the game.
Huge shocker, right?
While we’ve been witness to many a surprising development throughout the 2016 college football season, the one thing that has remained constant is that Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide have plowed through their competition. All year long, they have made excellent teams look mediocre, if not downright pathetic, and they’ve gotten even more dominant this past month.
Despite allowing a couple of huge plays through the air, ‘Bama’s defense was its usual smothering self. Auburn scored nary a touchdown, managed just three second-half points and did not sniff a score in the fourth quarter.
Alabama played 4 games in November and did not allow a touchdown.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 27, 2016
Alabama’s freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts continued his strong play, though a couple of interceptions did mar his stat sheet. He finished with 323 total yards and three touchdowns, and power back Bo Scarborough cleaned things up late with 90 rushing yards on 17 carries.
Auburn was outgained 501 yards to 182. The Tigers managed just seven total first downs, converting just 2-of-13 of their third and fourth downs.
It was total domination by Alabama. It will face Florida in the SEC Championship Game next week for the chance to finish the season right where it started, atop the rankings.
6. Adoree’ Jackson sparks USC’s eighth straight win
The No. 12-ranked USC Trojans remained red hot on Saturday at home against Notre Dame, destroying the Fighting Irish 45-27 for their eighth straight win.
They are the best three-loss team in the nation in this scribe’s estimation. Hindsight is 20-20, but it’s a shame it took Clay Helton three games to decide freshman Sam Darnold was the answer at quarterback instead of Max Browne.
Darnold was his usual exceptional self against Notre Dame, passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
But he was not the star of the show for USC. That honor belonged to junior defensive back Adoree’ Jackson, who totaled three touchdowns. Scoring once through the air, he took a short pass to the house. He also returned a punt (55 yards) and an kickoff (97 yards) for touchdowns, totaling 279 yards in the game. His performance puts him in rare company the past couple of decades.
Adoree' Jackson: 4th in last 20 seasons w/ punt rtn TD, KO rtn TD, rush/rec TD in same game. Last: Missouri's Marcus Murphy at Florida, 2014
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 26, 2016
USC’s defense allowed DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire to throw three touchdowns, but it also forced two turnovers, one of which was a pick-six by Ajene Harris. In all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — the Trojans owned the field.
7. Wisconsin and Penn State earn B1G Championship Game berths
All No. 6 Wisconsin needed to do Saturday to claim the B1G West was win. The Badgers got it wrapped up before they even took the field, though, as Nebraska lost in blowout fashion Friday against Iowa. There was still plenty to play for, however, as a Playoff berth is still possible, provided the Badgers win out and get some help from the other top teams.
After a slow start and an early deficit, Wisconsin handled its business. Led by a ruthless defensive effort in which the Badgers forced Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner into four second-half interceptions, the Badgers won handily, 31-17.
Penn State needed a bit of help to win the B1G East, and it got it in the form of Ohio State’s emotional win over Michigan. But for a while there it looked like Michigan State was going to pull off a huge upset in Happy Valley. Leading by the score of 12-10 at halftime, the Spartans displayed a tremendous amount of pride hanging tough with Penn State.
As the game wore on, however, Penn State’s offense began to dominate. Led by sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley, the Nittany Lions engineered five touchdown-scoring drives after halftime to win handily, 45-12.
That Wisconsin emerged as the B1G West champ isn’t all that shocking. The Badgers gave Ohio State and Michigan a run for their money in their only two losses all year. What is surprising here is that James Franklin’s Penn State program represents the East.
Of course, the real interesting twist here is that it might not matter which of these teams wins the B1G Championship Game as it pertains to the College Football Playoff — it might not be enough to get in, regardless. The Committee has some seriously difficult decisions upcoming, and we cannot wait to see what happens next.
8. Clemson razor sharp heading into ACC Championship Game
Heading into Week 13 as the No. 4-ranked team in the nation, Clemson just needed to win out to ensure it remains among those top four teams for the College Football Playoff.
South Carolina provided the Tigers with the perfect tune-up opportunity before the ACC Championship game, which will be contested against Virginia Tech next weekend. Led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, Clemson steamrolled its rival to the tune of 56-7.
Watson, who had his best passing game of the season, finished with 366 total yards and six passing touchdowns. Receiver Mike Williams caught six balls for 100 yards and three of Watson’s touchdowns. Running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries.
All told, Clemson’s offense totaled 622 yards.
The defense also did an outstanding job, pitching a shutout through the first half before finally ceding a touchdown in the third quarter on a trick play — the only points allowed all game.
This was a game Clemson should have won big, and it came through with a dominant performance. One more like it and we’ll be seeing these Tigers playing for a national championship in January.
9. Colorado bailed out by horror show Utah offense
No. 9 Colorado didn’t play particularly well Saturday night in Boulder but came out with the 27-22 win over No. 22 Utah, mostly because the Utes couldn’t get out of their own way on offense.
Quarterback Troy Williams had the worst game of his 2016 campaign, completing just 13-of-40 passes for 160 yards with one touchdown (thrown on the team’s final drive) and two devastating interceptions.
Utah ran the ball into the teeth of Colorado’s outstanding run defense without a lot of consistent success. Outside of a 41-yard scamper by Cory Butler-Byrd, the Utes managed just 3.45 yards per carry and failed to score on the ground.
The Utes also failed to score a touchdown in four red-zone opportunities before finally converting on their final offensive drive.
Yes, Colorado’s defense deserves credit for keeping Utah down. But the offensive game plan was not sound when given opportunities to score, and the play of Williams just sunk any chance the Utes had of upsetting the Buffaloes.
On the other side of the ball, Sefo Liufau did just enough to keep Colorado on top. He struggled with accuracy at times but was picture perfect on his touchdown pass to Shay Fields and rushed in a score to account for the only touchdowns of the game for either offense.
It was an ugly win but a win nonetheless. It also earned Colorado a trip to the Pac 12 Championship Game next weekend to face Washington. It will take quite a bit more on the offensive end to upend the Huskies, but at least the Buffaloes have earned the right to challenge for the conference title.
Despite what happens next week, Colorado deserves a ton of credit for what it has accomplished this year, going from worst to first.
10. Syracuse vs. Pitt: The defense rests
The Pittsburgh Panthers outlasted Syracuse on Saturday in the highest-scoring game in FBS history, winning 76-61.
.@Pitt_FB beats Syracuse 76-61 – highest-scoring game in FBS history
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 26, 2016
There were 20 touchdowns scored in this game. The two teams combined to finish with 58 first downs and 1,312 total yards of offense.
Zack Mahoney threw five touchdown passes for Syracuse in a losing effort, while his counterpart Nathan Peterman threw four of his own. Orange receiver Amba Etto-Tawa hauled in 13 passes for 178 yards and all five of Mahoney’s touchdowns. Three different receivers hauled in Peterman’s scoring passes.
Eight different players scored at least one touchdown on the ground, with Pitt’s James Conner and Syracuse’s Manhoney rushing in two himself to finish with seven touchdowns on the day.
It was just a prodigious showing of offense or a cry-yourself-to-sleep dearth of defensive effort, depending on your point of view. All we know for sure is that we aren’t likely to see another display of offensive fireworks to match it for a long time.