Notre Dame’s Playoff Bubble is Burst While Iowa Lives to Fight Another Day – College Football Week 13
As the regular season for most teams comes to an end, we had a lot of exciting matchups this week that cleared up the playoff picture and set up some big storylines for next week’s conference championship games. Here are some of the highlights from a big rivalry week in college football.
Bedlam Turned Into a Bust
In recent years, the annual Oklahoma/Oklahoma State Bedlam Series has been one of college football’s more entertaining rivalries—since 2000, eight of 15 matchups have been decided by a touchdown or less (two of the last three have gone to overtime) and the lower-ranked team has won six times. But this year’s edition turned into a laugher, with Oklahoma cruising to a 58-23 victory over the Cowboys. Oklahoma State took a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter before the Sooners went on a 34-7 run to blow the game open before halftime.
For all the talk about the Sooners’ up-tempo passing attack, it was the running game that was on full display in this one, racking up 344 yards on the ground. Running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined for 267 yards and four scores, becoming the first Sooner duo to each have 60+ yard touchdown runs since Demarco Murray and Allen Patrick did it against Utah State in 2007. Since the early October loss to Texas, Oklahoma has been averaging 299.9 rushing yards per game, tops among Power-5 conference teams.
The Sooners came into this week ranked No. 3 in the playoff poll and likely won’t drop any after clinching the Big 12 title with a big road win over the No. 9 team in the country. Barring some major shakeups in next week’s conference title games, it’s difficult to see a scenario in which Oklahoma is left out of the playoffs.
‘Tis the Season for Giving
It’s hard to beat an undefeated team with its sights set on the college football playoff. It’s even harder when you gift wrap a victory for your opponent. That’s a lesson Nebraska learned the hard way this weekend after serving up a 28-20 Iowa win on a silver platter.
On almost every measure except the scoreboard, Nebraska outplayed the Hawkeyes. The Cornhuskers outgained Iowa 433-250, had 22 first downs to the Hawkeyes’ 11 and dominated time of possession by over 12 minutes. Take away two big touchdown runs by running back Jordan Canzeri and Iowa actually had less than 160 yards in total offense. The Hawkeyes ran just 44 total plays (only 18 in the second half), the second-fewest by a winning team in college football this year.
But Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong was in a giving mood, throwing four interceptions (including a pick six).
The rest of the team got in on the giving spirit as well, committing eight penalties (including four personal fouls) for 95 yards. Even the coaches were in the holiday spirit with some questionable play calls down the stretch. Midway through the fourth quarter with the Cornhuskers trailing by 11 and facing 4th-and-1 at the Iowa 19, rather than kick a field goal to make it a one possession game, coach Mike Riley opted to go for it. Then, instead of dialing up a power run or short pass for the first down, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf dialed up a deep jump ball pass to the end zone. The low-percentage play predictably ended up falling incomplete and the Hawkeyes took over on downs.
Iowa has had a great year with their first undefeated regular season in 93 years. But most championship teams get a few lucky breaks to go their way and this game certainly fit that bill. Now the only remaining question is can it continue over into the Big Ten title game?
Notre Dame Won the Battle But Lost the War
The replay went Notre Dame’s way . . . and that might have been the worst thing that could have happened for the Irish.
With less than a minute left, Irish quarterback Deshone Kizer was tackled going into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The play was reviewed and ultimately stood with insufficient evidence that his knee was down early. But it might have been better for him to have been ruled down, giving Notre Dame another shot from inside the 1 and a chance to run some more clock. Instead, Stanford took over with 30 seconds left and all three timeouts. And that’s all the Cardinal would need.
Stanford drove 45 yards in 24 seconds to set up Conrad Ukropina’s game-winning field goal as time expired.
Give Notre Dame credit—for the crazy number of key injuries the Irish have suffered, the fact that they were even in playoff contention going into the last week of the season is pretty impressive. But their luck was due to run out sooner or later and it finally happened when the clock hit 0:00 in Palo Alto.
Ezekiel Elliott Was Right
A week ago, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott made his feelings very well known about only receiving 12 carries for 33 yards in the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan State. The Ohio State coaches apparently took heed and gave Elliott the ball early and often in this week’s matchup with archrival Michigan. And the strategy worked, with Elliott going full beast mode to the tune of 214 yards and two touchdowns in the 42-13 win.
Elliott has rushed for 100+ yards in 15 of last 16 games and joined two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin as the only Buckeye player with multiple 1,500+ rushing yard seasons. He also tied Griffin with his fifth career 200+ yard game and moved past Heisman winner Eddie George into second place on Ohio State’s career rushing list.
The Heisman Field is Getting Crowded
Usually by this time in the year, one or two players have distanced themselves from the pack in the Heisman race. But this year’s field could be one of the closest ever as the top contenders are all playing some of their best ball down the stretch. Here are how some of the nation’s best are coming down to the wire.
- Alabama running back Derrick Henry has rushed for 200+yards in four of his last five conference games (143 and two touchdowns in the other). He leads the nation in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
- As mentioned earlier, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for 100+ in 15 of his last 16 games and should gain some consideration among voters with an eye for history based on his comparisons with Archie Griffin.
- An early-season frontrunner, LSU running back Leonard Fournette dropped back after the Tigers’ three-game losing streak. But he still leads the nation in yards per game and broke LSU’s single-season school rushing record.
- Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey leads the nation in all-purpose yards (his closest competitor is more than 50 yards per game behind) and gained some much-needed visibility in the Cardinal’s win over Notre Dame.
- Florida State’s Dalvin Cook is second in the nation in rushing yards per game and has averaged 7.4 yards per carry in November.
- It’s almost impossible for the best player on the best team not to get an invite, so look for Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson to be in New York. In his last five games, Watson has averaged nearly 420 total yards per game and scored 18 touchdowns.
- Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield is the other quarterback most likely to make the final field. Since the Sooners’ loss to Texas, Mayfield has been on fire, throwing 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Heisman voters love the “photogenic quarterback of the hot team” candidate, and Mayfield certainly fits that bill.
Henry, Watson and McCaffrey still have a chance to impress voters in their respective conference championship games while the rest of the field can only sit back and wait for the finalists are announced on Dec. 7th.