College football winners and losers, Week 12: Wisconsin flexes, Kiffin's redemption
Week 12 didn’t exactly provide the chaos underwhelming slates normally do. That’s OK because in the absence of chaos was clarity, which is equally as good.
Ohio State wrapped up the Big Ten East and will play Wisconsin in two weeks in the Big Ten title game. Oklahoma secured a spot in the Big 12 championship. Clemson and Miami are still on a collision course for a de facto playoff quarterfinal. The playoff picture is coming together ever so slowly.
But that doesn’t mean Saturday didn’t have its own important storylines. Wisconsin put away Michigan in yet another convincing win that further shows the Badgers are a legit top-four contender. West Virginia lost its star player, quarterback Will Grier, for the final game of the season with a broken finger. From these storylines and more, we hash out the best and worst below with this week’s version of Winners and Losers
Wisconsin: Look, you don’t need anyone to wax poetic about the Badgers. There’s nothing flashy about them. They run the ball extremely well, play lights-out defense and sometimes quarterback Alex Hornibrook makes some throws you didn’t know he had in him because he also makes bad throws. And, yet, it works for them. Wisconsin is 11-0 after from Michigan 24-10, which is an extremely Wisconsin score. No, Wisconsin’s schedule hasn’t been daunting. Michigan, this team’s biggest opponent, will finish in the middle of the Big Ten East. FAU is the crown jewel of the Badgers’ nonconference schedule. No, there’s no Heisman candidate on this team, though running back Jonathan Taylor is arguably the biggest impact freshman of the season. But don’t interpret these things as deficiencies. Wisconsin is fine as it is, thank you. Winning games your way is the best way, and Wisconsin needs only to do that two more times in two weeks.
Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin: There are differing opinions about the man, that’s for sure. But there’s one thing that should be universally agreed upon: he can call plays and he can coach. At 8-3 thanks to a win over FIU, the Owls punched their ticket to the Conference USA Championship Game in two weeks for a rematch against North Texas. Keep in mind FAU was 3-9 last season. Granted, Kiffin inherited a program ready to go bowling, but the turnaround happened quicker than expected. Kiffin said earlier this week he beyond the 2017 season. He might have to whether he really wants to or not. There’s still some anxiety out there about hiring him long-term, but he’s doing an awful lot to rebuild his reputation.
Georgia running back Nick Chubb: It’s been a long road for Chubb. He’s unquestionably one of college football‘s top running backs year in and year out, but for whatever reason, he never quite gets all the individual accolades or awards — not that he’s into that type of stuff. Anyway, Chubb needed 106 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards, something he’s done in two of his previous three seasons. Not only did Chubb get 1,000 yards in Georgia’s win over Kentucky, he got it on this touchdown run.
Chubb finished with 151 yards and two touchdowns with Sony Michel adding three scores on senior day.
Oregon: Oregon’s 48-28 win over Arizona was big on two fronts. For one, it marked the return of quarterback Justin Herbert from injury, and he didn’t disappoint with 235 yards passing, a touchdown and a pick. For reference, that was the first time Oregon had passed for more than 200 yards in a game since Sept. 23, and the first time the offense went over 100 yards through the air in four games. That took the pressure off of running back Royce Freeman, who went for 135 and four scores. Two, the Ducks defense continues to be the under-appreciated, feel-good story of the season. Oregon limited Arizona’s dynamic quarterback Khalil Tate to under four yards per play. Oregon’s run defense has been good, but this was on another level. Coach Willie Taggart and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt know their stuff.
Iowa: Kinnick Stadium could be confused as the singularity of a black hole. There’s no way to tell this for sure because, well, no one knows what the singularity of a black hole looks like. What we do know is, once a year, Kinnick is a place where great teams go to disappear forever by way of being painfully stretched apart until they are mere atoms. This is evident by Iowa’s 4-1 record at home vs. AP top-five teams since 2008 — the most recent victory being a truly mind-boggling 55-24 rout of Ohio State. Since then, the Hawkeyes have scored exactly 14 points on offense and have lost back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Purdue. I don’t know what cosmic forces Iowa used to beat Ohio State, but whatever they were, they’ve vanished. And it remains not just a mystery for Iowa, but an ever-worsening loss for the Buckeyes.
West Virginia’s offensive crisis: Losing to Texas 28-14 is probably the least of West Virginia’s worries. Star quarterback Will Grier left the game in the first half with a gruesome finger injury and didn’t return. Grier suffered the injury while running toward the end zone on a third-and-1 play. Not only did he fail to score, he fumbled into the end zone for a Texas touchback while injuring his throwing hand. “Why do you have to have the quarterback run all the way around the edge?” coach Dana Holgorsen asked after the game. “When quarterbacks run the ball, bad things happen. Hand the ball off. It’s second and one. Hand it off. I gotta make sure that happens.” Questioning the play in hindsight doesn’t do much, but the big picture is that there’s a clear disconnect between Holgorsen, play-caller Jake Spavital and what transpired on the field. That has been West Virginia’s biggest problem as of late, even when Grier was healthy.
Kyle Whittingham’s curious late-game timeout: This one is going to sting. Whittingham’s timeout against Washington with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 30 was unnecessary. The Huskies had the ball at their own 30-yard line and were clearly playing for overtime. But Whittingham took the timeout, likely to force the Huskies to take another snap with the off chance that they fumble, giving the Utes one more shot at a go-ahead score. Instead, Washington took the opportunity to drive 49 yards on two plays and kick the game-winning field goal as time expired. Talk about a call backfiring.
Lamar Jackson and the egregious, inevitable Heisman snub: Jackson isn’t going to win the Heisman for a second consecutive year, and that’s fine. It’s a reality that many have come to terms with since before the season even began. Repeating as the Heisman winner is crazy hard, which is why there’s only one player ever (Ohio State’s Archie Griffin) to do it. So much has to go right to win the Heisman … and then all of those things need to go right again the next year. But Heisman voters are kidding themselves if they don’t think Jackson is at least worthy of another invite to New York. I don’t care what his team’s record is, and frankly it shouldn’t matter that much. He’s the most difficult quarterback to defend in college football because of how far he’s come in his accuracy. It used to be that his ball placement complemented his mobility and athleticism. Now, those aspects of his game are basically equal.
Best of the rest
Texas Tech’s shanked field goal: I’m never of the belief that one play sums up a game, but this play sums up Texas Tech’s 27-3 loss to TCU. There was a major crosswind in Lubbock, but I don’t know that you can blame it on this sad field goal — which, by the way, was an extremely un-Kliff Kingsbury move.
These thirsty Nebraska fans: It’s no secret Nebraska wants Scott Frost to come home. There are technicalities in the way: Mike Riley is still technically the coach and Frost is working on getting UCF to a New Year’s Six bowl berth. Eventually, though, the two sides will speak. In the meantime, here are some Nebraska fans trying to sway Frost during the Knights’ 45-19 win over Temple. Frost won’t make a decision based on a few fans, but you have to admire the hustle.
Virginia Tech: There’s just something appropriate and satisfying about Virginia Tech winning a game on a goal-line stand orchestrated by longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Here’s the final play of the Hokies’ 20-14 win over Pitt.
Kansas State wide receiver Byron Pringle: Pringle’s big day was nearly spoiled by an Oklahoma State comeback for the ages. Instead, the Cowboys came up just short in a 45-40 loss. Pringle, meanwhile, had four grabs for 166 yards and three touchdowns of 47, 46 and 60 yards, respectively. He also had an 89-yard kick return for a touchdown.
Stanford coach David Shaw: Shaw’s win over Cal on Saturday moved him to 72 career wins on The Farm. That passes one Pop Warner for the most all-time in program history. Not too shabby. Plus: the Cardinal are still in position to win the Pac-12 North with a Washington State loss in the Apple cup next week.
San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny: The versatile playmaker had 222 yards rushing plus two rushing touchdowns, a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown in a win over Nevada. Now if only we had a Penny for every touchdown he scored this season. (I’m sorry.)
Missouri: The Tigers started 1-5 and have since won five straight to reach bowl eligibility. Granted, playing Vanderbilt plus a hapless Tennessee and Florida is more manageable than Auburn and Georgia, but Barry Odom’s team has turned into a dangerous offensive machine scoring 52 points per game in their current win streak. How good is Mizzou really? They’re much better, and I wouldn’t want any part of them in bowl season.
Florida State wide receiver Justin Motlow: The walk-on nabbed his first career touchdown late in Florida State’s 77-6 win over Delaware State. Motlow — on senior day, no less — became the first member of the Seminole Tribe to actually score a touchdown for the Seminoles.
South Alabama: The Jaguars are the toughest college football team to figure out. They have respectable wins over Troy and Arkansas State … and then got blanked by previously winless Georgia Southern 52-0 on Saturday. I repeat: 52-0. South Alabama has a history of being weird, too. Last season, the Jags beat Mississippi State and San Diego State, but lost to 4-8 Louisiana-Monroe.
- Shawn Robinson became the first true freshman to start at quarterback under TCU coach Gary Patterson in his 17 years at the program. He had a nice day with 169 yards in a win over Texas Tech.
- Here’s an insane stat that seems extremely hard to do: Alabama has scored in every quarter of play this season.
- Here’s another insane stat: according to Michigan beat writer Kyle Rowland, the Wolverines haven’t beat a team with a winning record in 414 days.
- Stanford running back Bryce Love set the FBS single-season record with 11 rushes of 50 or more yards against Cal.
- In the most Florida stat possible, Johnny Townsend set the all-time school record with 234 punts in his career during Saturday’s win against UAB.
- A gruesome number for Nebraska from the Big Ten Network: the Huskers have allowed at least 50 points in consecutive games for the first time since 1945, and at least 50 points in three games for the first time since 1943. Mike Riley is as good as gone, but this is a staggering decline.
- For the second time this season, Ohio State’s defense allowed just 16 passing yards, this time in an easy win against Illinois.
- Tennessee and Vanderbilt will play next week as the only two winless teams in SEC play. Kansas, Illinois and Oregon State are the only other Power Five teams winless in their conference slate.