The week began with five undefeated teams. It now stands with just two (Clemson and Iowa). Some teams enter the final week of the regular season destined to make the playoffs, while others have lost ground significantly. With a playoff race that now appears to be more muddier than it has in the past, a possibility of the season ending in complete chaos isn’t far-off.
Here’s what we learned in Week 12 of college football.
Michigan State’s win over Ohio State changes the landscape of the Big Ten
When the Spartans fell 39-38 to Nebraska on a controversial call two weeks ago, it was to figure how Michigan State’s playoff, let alone conference chances would unfold. Evidently, it took a wild and resounding effort by the Spartans on Saturday to squash the Buckeye’s luminous season on senior day.
Tyler O’Connor, not Connor Cooke was the man in charge for head coach Mark Dantonio yesterday and he performed admirably considering the circumstances. Despite a rather miserable passing performance, in which he completed 58% of his passes for 89 yards and 1 TD. O’Connor and the rest of the Michigan State running backs wore down the Buckeyes sturdy defensive line up-the-middle, by gashing Ohio State with options runs and dives. This methodical procedure ate away at Ohio State and as a result allowed nearly 200 yards on the ground. Although Ohio State might have limited O’Connor’s passing efficiency, offensively they did nothing to help themselves by mustering just 142 total yards. In fact, the Buckeyes lone touchdowns came off of muffed punt returns by Michigan State. It’s safe to say that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer clearly misused running back Ezekial Elliot throughout parts of the game. In total, Elliot was handed the ball off a meager 12 times, for the Buckeyes offense to be effective, Elliot’s workload should be a constant 25-30 carries per game.
To compound matters, JT Barrett was truly hapless in the pocket and couldn’t sustain drives. This loss will hurt Ohio State deeply because it had many opportunities to execute and win this one convincingly. For now, Mark Dantonio’s squad now has a seemingly clear path to the playoff. Though nothing is guaranteed, the Spartans would have a strong case for inclusion if they finish the season 12–1 with a Big Ten title and wins over Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan and Oregon. The Buckeyes aren’t completely out of the hunt but lost control of their own destiny. Urban Meyer’s squad must beat Michigan next week and hope Penn State upends Michigan State to move Ohio State back to the top of the Big Ten East. A win over Iowa could be enough to propel the Buckeyes back into the top four.
Regardless of how the Big Ten East sorts itself out, the Spartans’ win was a huge boost for every other team on the playoff bubble. Iowa will almost certainly enter the selection committee’s top four this week as one of two remaining unbeaten teams. Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Baylor also benefit as the number of one-loss teams increases and makes their earlier defeats look less damaging.
Is Notre Dame losing ground in the playoff race?
The Fighting Irish are inside the selection committee’s top four for now, but it may not take a loss for them to drop out. While the other teams fighting for playoff spots are reaching the apex of their conference schedules, Notre Dame has beaten Wake Forest and Boston College over the past two weeks.
And Saturday’s victory over the Golden Eagles wasn’t even a commanding performance. Notre Dame turned the ball over five times, keeping Boston College in the game despite its lackluster offense. The Irish held on for a 19–16 win that required a failed onside kick to be secured. The Eagles converted just two of 13 third downs but hung around thanks to two interceptions and a fumble in the red zone from Notre Dame.
Iowa will almost certainly leapfrog the Irish in the playoff rankings when they are released Tuesday, and Oklahoma and Michigan State might as well. No team’s playoff résumé is more reliant on style points than Notre Dame’s due to the lack of an opportunity to play in a conference title game or even win a league championship. That makes lackluster, sloppy performances like Saturday’s all the more damaging.
The Irish still have a good shot to make the playoff, especially if the Big 12 cannibalizes itself in the final week. But without that, Brian Kelly’s squad is desperately in need of a convincing win over Stanford next Saturday to remind selection committee members why they had Notre Dame in the top four in the first place.
The Big 12 is slowly killing itself
Entering Week 12, Oklahoma State had the clearest path to the playoff of any Big 12 team. If the Cowboys won out, they’d surely end up in the top four. Baylor dashed those hopes, handing Oklahoma State its first loss of the season with a 45–35 decision that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. The Bears dominated the Cowboys offensively, outgaining Mike Gundy’s squad 694–399 despite quarterback Jarrett Stidham (only starting because of Seth Russell’s neck injury) missing the second half with ankle, hand and back injuries. Third-stringer Chris Johnson stepped in to throw for 138 yards and two scores and rush for 42 yards with another touchdown. Baylor ran the ball 73 times on the night for 304 yards while holding Oklahoma State to just eight rushing yards.
The only team to beat the Bears this season, Oklahoma, kept its playoff hopes alive by narrowly holding off a TCU team playing without its Heisman candidate quarterback, Trevone Boykin, or its Heisman candidate wide receiver, Josh Doctson. After backup Foster Sawyer proved ineffective, third-stringer Bram Kohlhausen rallied the Horned Frogs from a 30–13 deficit, pulling within a point on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left. Coach Gary Patterson opted to go for the win with a two-point conversion, but Oklahoma safety Steven Parker leaped to bat down Kohlhausen’s pass at the line. The Sooners also played at less than full strength with Heisman candidate quarterback Baker Mayfield sitting out the second half with a head injury (it’s been a rough year for Big 12 quarterbacks and injuries).
Oklahoma would now seem to be the Big 12’s best playoff shot due to the Sooners’ resounding 44–34 win over Baylor last week. However, if Oklahoma slips up next week in the Bedlam game against Oklahoma State, Baylor could be poised to play its way back into the top four. The Bears looked playoff-worthy Saturday night in their first victory in Stillwater since 1939. That doesn’t erase last week’s impressions, but a booming win over TCU next week and just a bit of chaos in the rest of the Power Five (like a Stanford win over Notre Dame) could vault Baylor into the semifinals.
Week 12’s Top Performers
- QB Dak Prescott (MSST)- 38/50, 508 yards, 5 TDs against Arkansas
- QB Blake Kemp (ECU)- 35/51, 465 yards, 4 TDs against UCF
- QB Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)- 27/50, 43o yards, 3 TDs against Baylor
- RB Brandon Ross (Maryland)- 19 carries, 250 yards, 3 TDs against Indiana
- RB Mike Warren (Iowa State)- 22 carries, 195 yards, 1 TD against K-State
- RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)- 29 carries, 192 yards against Cal
- WR KD Cannon (Baylor)- 5 receptions, 210 yards, 2 TDs against Oklahoma State
- WR Jamari Staples (Louisville)- 9 receptions, 194 yards, 1 TD against Pitt
- WR Simmie Cobbs Jr. (Indiana)- 9 receptions, 192 yards against Maryland