On Saturday, Week 13 showed all of us that rivalries never die in College Football, that sometimes one mistake could bury your season, and that some things aren’t what they appear to be. As the 2016 regular season comes to a close, find out who the winners and losers were for the week as Championship Saturday looms.
Winner: Ohio State. You can say Ohio State won twice on Saturday.
First, the Buckeyes beat Michigan 30-27 in overtime, practically stealing a game that seemed lost in the third quarter when they fell behind by 10 points. Second, they watched Penn State wrap up the Big Ten’s East division, which means Ohio State’s body of work is complete at 11-1 — and is still almost certainly good enough to get them back into the College Football Playoff.
In other words, Ohio State is probably in the playoffs without having to risk anything in a conference championship game against Wisconsin (a team that took the Buckeyes to overtime in October), where there would be only be risk and downside with a loss and nothing to gain with a win. Don’t you think Alabama would sign up for that deal if they could?
Loser: Louisville. Head coach Bobby Petrino is probably thankful that the month of November is behind him, because it single-handedly ruined the Cardinals playoff and New Year’s Six bowl aspirations. After being handed a blowout loss to Houston last Thursday, Louisville compounded matters by falling to seven-win Kentucky, 41-38, at home this Saturday. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Cardinals were thought highly of as a second ACC team to make the playoffs.
Well… that opportunity has fallen flat.
It’s bad enough that Louisville lost to an inferior opponent in Kentucky (who they were 28-point favorites over), but quarterback Lamar Jackson may have loosened his grip on the Heisman Trophy with three interceptions and a late fumble that set up Kentucky’s winning drive. In addition, this game may also have cost the Cardinals a trip to the Orange Bowl if Florida State ends up ranked ahead of them.
Winner: Wisconsin. While all of the focus regarding the Big Ten has been shifted towards Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. The sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers, 10-2 and winners of six straight, are methodically building up a reputable playoff resume. After their sterling victory over eight win Minnesota, 31-17, head coach Paul Chryst has his team in the Big Ten Championship next week in Indianapolis with a possible spot in the College Football Playoffs on the line.
For Wisconsin, all season it’s been a mystery over who can engineer the quarterback position effectively. Through the entire regular season, the Badgers have managed to balance reps amongst freshman Alex Hornibrook and senior Bart Houston. However, in the matchup against the Golden Gophers, Houston was the one who replaced Hornibrook following an unspecified injury early in the second quarter. In Hornibrook’s place, Houston completed nine of his 14 passes for 123 yards. It’s obvious to many that Wisconsin will be riding the coat tails of its defense (which ranks third in the FBS in Defensive S&P+) and its workhorse tailback Corey Clement (who’s rushed for 1,140 yards in 2016) until seasons’ end.
Loser: SEC. The once overwhelming and intimidating bully of college football has lost its luster this season. No, I’m not talking about Alabama (they’re still prospering), Urban Meyer’s reckless coaching tactics or Dabo Swinney’s alluring swagger. I’m talking about the high and mighty SEC, or at least what’s left of it.
Week 13 was unkind to the conference for many reasons. First, every team not named Alabama has now sustained three or more losses this season (with a Florida loss next week in SEC Championship that makes four losses for all teams). Second, this shows that the parity between the Tide and the rest of the conference is staggering and that the SEC’s window of being the most complete conference in the sport has shut.
What else was learned this week
- The path to the playoffs opens up for Washington: The Huskies needed to win and look impressive doing it in the Apple Cup on Friday. They checked both boxes in a 45-17 win against Washington State, and now they’re very much in the race for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Since losing to USC in a rather uninspired performance, Washington outscored Arizona State and the Cougars by a combined 89-35 and appear to be back to their dominating ways. However, if there’s a knock on the Huskies, it would be its strength of schedule. With their biggest OOC win coming at home versus two-win Rutgers, they absolutely need to secure a Pac 12 championship to have any hopes of sneaking into the playoffs.
- Penn State continues to defy the odds: Who knew that a blocked field goal in late October would alter the course of your season? Penn State’s monumental play against Ohio State in Happy Valley has become a rallying cry for the once doomed Nittany Lions that stood at 2-2 entering Week 5. All of the credit in the world should go to head coach James Franklin, whose instilled first-year starting quarterback Trace McShorely maturation beyond his years this season. Following his brilliant campaign against Michigan State, McShorley completed the regular season with 2,976 passing yards, 21 TDs and only five picks. The debate over whether the Nittany Lions deserve to go to the Playoffs or that they’re really one of the best teams in the country will continue to rage on. But there’s one thing that can’t be disputed: Penn State has absolutely earned the right to play in Indianapolis.