The Playoff Chase Heats Up – College Football Week 12
While there weren’t many games between ranked opponents, this week shaped the playoff hunt and set up some epic rivalry games. Here are the highlights from Week 12 in college football.
Louisville, We Hardly Knew You
After a day of wild upsets last week, Louisville had moved up to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings and appeared to be well-positioned to move into the Final Four by season’s end. But that hope was short-lived as the Cardinals were manhandled, 36-10, by Houston on Thursday night.
The outcome was never in doubt—Louisville fumbled the opening kickoff and Houston scored on its first play just 11 seconds into the game. The Cougars took advantage of three Louisville fumbles and raced out to a 31-0 halftime lead. The Houston defense bottled up Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson, holding him to a season-low 33 rushing yards and 211 yards and one touchdown on 20/43 passing.
While losses to Navy and SMU might have undone Houston’s own playoff hopes, the Cougars are specializing in playing spoiler, upsetting then-No. 3 Oklahoma in the season opener and now ending the Cardinals’ bid.
“The Game” Just Became THE Game
With a possible playoff spot at stake in next week’s Ohio State/Michigan matchup, both teams might be forgiven for looking ahead a bit, but they were lucky it didn’t come back to bite them. No. 2 Ohio State had to hold off a late rally by Michigan State, intercepting Spartan quarterback Tyler O’Connor with 34 seconds left, to secure a 17-16 victory. No. 3 Michigan, meanwhile, trailed most of the day against Indiana before getting two scores late in the third quarter to escape with a 20-10 win.
The results set up an epic rivalry matchup next Saturday with a likely playoff spot on the line. The Wolverines can clinch the Big Ten East with a win and would move into the playoffs with a victory in the conference title game (likely against Wisconsin). Ohio State, ironically, has an even easier path to the title. Because Penn State would hold a tiebreaker over the Buckeyes, Ohio State would be kept out of the conference title game unless the Nittany Lions somehow slip up against Michigan State. As such, if Ohio State wins this week, they will likely find their way into the playoffs despite not even technically winning their own division.
Since 2001, Ohio State is 13-2 against the Wolverines, including the last four straight. But seldom before has so much been on the line in a rivalry that is already one of the nation’s most heated.
Bedlam Will Live Up to the Name
The annual Oklahoma/Oklahoma State rivalry is always a wild affair, but this year’s tilt in two weeks could be even crazier with the Big 12 title and a potential playoff shot on the line.
No. 9 Oklahoma blew out No. 14 West Virginia this week, 56-28, in a game many thought could be the marquee game of the Big 12 season. The Sooners’ defense gave up 579 yards (including 331 rushing to Mountaineer running back Justin Crawford), but forced four turnovers and the OU rushing attack took over from there. Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined for 307 yards and three touchdowns while Oklahoma jumped out to a 34-0 lead late in the second quarter. The Sooners are now riding a 15-game conference winning streak, the longest in the Big 12 since Texas won 20 straight from 2004-06.
The No. 11 Cowboys, meanwhile, put themselves in position for just their second-ever Big 12 title by rolling up 21 unanswered points in the second half of a 31-6 win at TCU. Running backs Chris Carson and Justice Hill became the first pair of opposing runners to top 100 yards in the same game against the Horned Frogs since 2007.
Both teams have a bye this week before facing off in a de facto conference title game on Dec. 3. Yes, it’s a long shot for a two-loss Big 12 team to make the playoff. But after the upsets we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, we certainly shouldn’t bet against it.
Farewell Charlie Strong
When Texas beat then-No. 10 Notre Dame to open the season, we thought maybe the Longhorns were back. Then came the three game losing streak that put coach Charlie Strong back on the hot seat. But Texas rebounded to win three of their next four, including an upset of then-No. 8 Baylor. A close loss to No. 16 West Virginia was forgivable, but what happened this week is not and almost certainly signals the end of the Charlie Strong era in Austin.
Playing lowly Kansas (1-9 coming in), Texas gave up 11 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. Longhorn quarterback Shane Buechele was then intercepted on the second play of the extra period, allowing Kansas to kick the game-winning field goal and tear down the goalposts after a 24-21 victory.
Any doubt about Charlie Strong’s future on the Longhorn sideline are gone. It’s not a matter of if he gets fired, only a matter of when.
Christian McCaffrey is Still Good
After finishing as the Heisman runner-up a year ago, it’s been a quiet year for Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. However, since struggling with an undisclosed injury that slowed him during a 1-3 stretch in October, the Stanford junior has returned to form of late, racking up 787 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in his last four games. This week, he rolled up a school-record 284 rushing yards as the No. 24 Cardinal topped Cal, 45-31, for the seventh straight year in The Big Game.
While Stanford’s mid-season slide knocked them out of contention for their fourth Pac-12 North Division title in five years, McCaffrey has the Cardinal playing their best ball of the season down the stretch and primed for a solid bowl bid.