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Top takeaways from college football Week 12

Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

A top-10 team got upset.

Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

For the most part, college football Week 12 gave fans a humdrum slate of games in which not a lot of surprises took place.

The Crimson Tide are still No. 1 (by a lot). The Big Ten is still underwhelming. The Big 12 and Pac-12 are both going to need help to get into the playoff. Etc.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some big developments, and unlike last weekend we did see a top-10 team get upset as West Virginia was taken out.

Ohio State nearly got upset, too, and that’s as good a place to start as any looking at the biggest takeaways from the action in Week 12.

 

Ohio State more lucky than good against Maryland

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As we’ve seen far too often this year, Ohio State played down to the level of its competition on Saturday on the road against Maryland. Sure, in the end the Buckeyes remained a one-loss team with an outside shot at the playoff. But let’s be honest. This team isn’t close to being one of the top-four nationally.

Greg Schiano’s defense let Anthony McFarland romp for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the first six minutes of the game, and he came two yards shy of 300 total rushing yards in the game. The Terps put up a total of 535 yards in this one, and if not for a truly godawful throw by quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome on the two-point conversion in overtime they would have pulled off the upset.

Dwayne Haskins did overcome some embarrassing moments to score six touchdowns, and running back J.K. Dobbins was spectacular. But Maryland is not a formidable opponent. This game should have never been close. Instead, the Buckeyes were lucky to come out with a win.

 

Nick Saban must secretly be so happy about The Citadel 

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For a while there, The Citadel set social media ablaze as it not only scored the first touchdown against Alabama in November but was all tied up 10-10 with the Crimson Tide at halftime. Of course, the inevitable transpired in the second half, as ‘Bama went on to win by 33 points.

And while head coach Nick Saban will be all too happy to express his frustration with how his team performed, he had to have been inwardly gleeful at the way the Tide were humbled in the first half. After all, Alabama has only really been challenged (sort of) twice this year, and in both cases — against LSU and Mississippi State — it pitched a shutout and went on to blowout wins anyway.

This team needed a wake-up call, if only just to keep its edge heading into the next two weeks before the College Football Playoff. Surprisingly, The Citadel served a purpose as the little cupcake that could…for one half.

 

Losing Eric Dungey was brutal for Syracuse

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

First off, credit is due to the Fighting Irish for doing their part on Saturday in yet another statement win to solidify their standing as one of the teams that will compete in the playoff. Barring a shocking loss next weekend, they’re in.

But the truth of the matter is that Saturday’s game against Syracuse was over from the moment that Orange quarterback Eric Dungey shockingly fell to the turf clutching at his right lower back region.

He had struggled early, so there’s a chance Notre Dame would have still won by a wide margin even if Dungey had been able to play. But not having him in there doomed Syracuse’s offense. In the end, the Orange managed just 234 yards and three points on the board. In an instant, the game of the week turned into a one-sided blowout.

 

Penn State has really gone downhill

Penn State coach James Franklin

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The Nittany Lions gained 322 total yards against a Rutgers team that came into Saturday’s game allowing more than 418 yards per game.

The Penn State defense hauled in three turnovers, including an absolute gift of an interception we can’t say was forced, because it was honestly the worst throw you’ll ever see, despite no pressure whatsoever.

But thanks to a dismal effort by the Penn State offense, James Franklin’s team managed just 20 points against a Scarlet Knights defense that ranks 105th in the nation allowing an average of 34.3 points per game.

In every conceivable way, Saturday’s 20-7 outcome was as pathetic a win as they come for a ranked opponent going up against a team in Rutgers that is now 1-10 on the season.

 

Crazy Wildcats keep grinding toward B1G title game

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Northwestern exemplifies B1G football to the maximum. It won its seventh conference game on Saturday on the road against Minnesota. Of course, that was the inevitable outcome once the players decided to warm up in sub-freezing temperatures before the game wearing nothing but compression shorts, socks and shoes.

This team is funny. It has just the one Big Ten loss — a three-point nail-biter against Michigan — but is 0-3 against non-conference foes. Even counting Saturday’s 24-14 win over the Golden Gophers, the Wildcats are barely outscoring their opponents on average.

Yet when it’s all said and done, Northwestern is going to battle either Michigan (again) or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. And given the way this team has been grinding in B1G play, nobody should discount the possibility that Clayton Thorson and Co. will have a lot to say about who does and does not get into the College Football Playoff.

 

Charlie’s Bulls not so Strong

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Earlier this season, the South Florida Bulls found ways to eke out wins over mediocre teams and found themselves undefeated with a 7-0 record heading into Houston. Since then, Charlie Strong’s program has imploded.

The Bulls were on a three-game losing streak heading into Week 12 against Temple. They jumped out to a 17-0 lead at halftime, and it appeared the streak was finally coming to an end. Then the wheels came off. Temple forced five second-half turnovers and scored 27 unanswered points to run away with the victory.

Now with four losses in a row and a 3-4 conference record, the Bulls have hit a new low.

 

Nebraska learning how to win again

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this year, it was a fair question to ask if Scott Frost would win a single game during his first year at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers lost their first six games, including a few that could have gone their way.

Since then, however, this team has showed a ton of character and fight, leading to four wins in its last five games. Saturday’s gutty 9-6 victory over Michigan State was a tremendous example of how this team is learning to win. Down by six points in the fourth quarter, the Huskers managed three scoring drives in the game’s final quarter to win by three points.

The Huskers are building a foundation that can be built upon next season.

 

Pitt punched its ticket to the ACC Championship Game

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett

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In a program first, the Pittsburgh Panthers are headed to the ACC Championship Game after taking down Wake Forest, 34-13, on Saturday.

Led by Kenny Pickett, who hit a new career-best mark of three touchdown passes, the Panthers ran away with the game in the second half after going into halftime up by just four points.

It’s a huge step up for Pitt, but the journey might end up being more fun than the destination. Of course, Clemson awaits the Panthers in that title game. And based on the way the Tigers have played this year, it’s likely to be a one-sided affair.

 

Florida State might just go bowling, after all

Deondre Francois

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The Boston College Eagles thought they had their eighth win sewed up and in the bag Saturday on the road against Florida State. AJ Dillon ran in a score in the fourth quarter to give them a 21-13 lead, and that seemed like it might be the dagger.

Then, Deondre Francois woke up and led Florida State on two fourth-quarter scoring drives, finishing the second off with a 74-yard touchdown with under two minutes remaining to stun the Eagles, 22-21.

Suddenly, a team that appeared destined to miss a bowl game has new life. The Seminoles are 5-6 heading into their Week 13 game against Florida, and of course one more will would qualify them to go bowling in 2018. It’s been a rough season for Willie Taggart and Co. but this is a breath of fresh air, to be sure.

 

Defense fails Mountaineers, whose playoff dreams are officially dead

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Oklahoma State recently beat Texas, and last weekend came as close as it could to victory against Oklahoma without claiming it. The Cowboys have been dangerous all year, despite coming into Week 12 with a 5-5 record. On Saturday, they took down the No. 9 team in the nation as West Virginia’s defense was helpless to stop their offensive attack.

Senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius threw five touchdown passes (and scored six total), including the game-winner with under a minute left in regulation to help the Cowboys win, 45-41. He led an offensive attack that piled up 604 yards and an astonishing 35 first downs against the Mountaineers, who managed to force four turnovers, all for naught.

Not only did the victory put the Cowboys in bowl season, it also was a crippling blow to West Virginia’s already tentative dream of sneaking into the College Football Playoff.

 

Wisconsin-Purdue was the antithesis of Big Ten football, and it was great

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So often, when one thinks about Big Ten football, it’s defense and turnovers that spring to mind. Ugly football tends to come out of this conference, unless you’re talking about Ohio State or Penn State on one of their good days.

Well, Saturday’s Wisconsin-Purdue clash proved to be one of the most exciting offensive shows of the year. The stars on both teams came to play in a big way, led by Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, who racked up 321 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in triple-overtime.

Purdue’s David Blough had 386 yards and four touchdowns passing. Rondale Moore once again wowed the masses with an otherworldly display of athleticism en route to 141 yards and two touchdowns. It was just a ton of fun to watch.

 

Harbaugh and Co. were not sharp, but a win is a win

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines have quite the test in college football Week 1

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If the Wolverines are going to remain in playoff contention with a win next weekend over Ohio State, then they’ll need a much sharper showing in that game than we saw Saturday against Indiana.

Michigan went into halftime down by two points, thanks in part to an absurd sequence in which Jim Harbaugh’s time-management skills were exposed as flawed.

In particular, the most troubling aspect of Michigan’s 31-20 win over the Hoosiers was that the team’s top-ranked defense just wasn’t up to snuff. It allowed 190 yards rushing (4.8 yards per carry), and gave up 385 yards total. Only two weeks ago, Penn State was held to 186 yards and seven points by this same unit.

Ohio State will present a more significant challenge, to be sure. Still, the Wolverines have now rattled off 10 straight wins and are guaranteed to get into the playoff if they win out. It’s going to be a ton of fun watching things play out the next couple of weekends.

 

It’s time for USC to fire Clay Helton

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Barring a shocking upset over Notre Dame next weekend, USC is going to finish the 2018 season with just five wins and will miss a bowl game for the first time since before Pete Carroll was coaching (excluding sanctions).

The reason for this is that USC was taken out on Saturday by a two-win UCLA squad that won in all three phases of the game.

At this point, there’s clearly someone to blame — head coach Clay Helton. He’s out of his depth. His inability to glean the best from his extremely talented roster is a huge problem. There’s really no way around it: it’s time for the Trojans to start all over again. It’s time to fire Clay Helton.

 

Clemson is a machine

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Daniel Jones and the Duke Blue Devils must have been feeling pretty good after one quarter in Death Valley Saturday. They managed to score field goals on two straight drives, the first of which was the culmination of a 13-play, 83-yard drive. That type of production against Clemson’s defense is almost impossible these days.

Turns out, that would be the last time the Blue Devils would taste success offensively. Clemson’s defense woke from its slumber and put the clamps down the rest of the way.

On the other side, Clemson’s incredibly balanced offence once again imposed its will on another poor defense. Trevor Lawrence dropped some incredible dimes in the passing game, and Clemson’s potent rushing attack had little trouble moving the ball at will.

The end result was another ho-hum 35-6 blowout win for the Tigers, who are cruising to the finish line right now.

 

Oklahoma’s defense is a big problem

Kyler Murray

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Sooners are so much fun to watch with Kyler Murray doing amazing things from week to week on offense. He was once again dynamic Saturday night as Oklahoma hosted Kansas, racking up 371 total yards and five touchdowns as the Sooners won 55-40.

But the second half of that scoring total is problematic.

The Jayhawks had no problem piling up yardage on the ground and putting points on the board. Mind you, this is a team that’s scored an average of 17 points per game the past five contests. Worse still is that Oklahoma giving up the farm is not abnormal. This defense has been the team’s Achilles heel since the start of the season, and it remains to to this day.

It’s the biggest reason why the selection committee just cannot possibly put Oklahoma into the playoff without other teams like Michigan or Notre Dame falling by the wayside.

 

UCF still perfect, and it’s time for some national respect

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Forget about strength of schedule for a moment. After all, LSU barely squeaked past Arkansas last weekend, for crying out loud, and still stayed at the No. 7 spot with two losses on record. Yet the undefeated UCF Knights entered Week 12 pretty much right where they were last year when the selection committee didn’t give them the time of day.

Saturday night’s shellacking of the Cincinnati Bearcats — a one-loss ranked team — was so much more impressive than what we saw teams like Ohio State, Oklahoma or even Michigan do this weekend. The Bearcats featured one of the nation’s top defenses and were absolutely railroaded by McKenzie Milton and Co.

On the other side, UCF’s defense showed out big time. Until the fourth quarter — and the game was over by then — the only score of the game for the Bearcats came on the defensive side of the ball. That came early in the first quarter, and from then on out it was all Knights, all the time.

This team deserves to be among those who at least have a shot to get into the College Football Playoff. Being undefeated in the FBS has to amount to something more than what the Knights have been served up the past two years.

 

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