It was a four-part plan. Arizona State rendered the last three portions of it moot, building a large lead and then providing a single timely answer in the fourth quarter of a 31-28 defeat of the Ducks.
Arizona State led 24-7 in the middle of the fourth quarter, but the Ducks responded with a pair of three-play touchdown drives to get within a field goal. Three plays later, Arizona State (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) had an answer of its own, an 81-yard touchdown pass from Jayden Daniels to Brandon Aiyuk.
The Ducks (9-2, 7-1) are still headed to the Pac-12 title game, can still win another Civil War showdown, can still earn a spot in the Rose Bowl. But the conference’s playoff hopes now turn exclusively to Utah, the last of the one-loss teams in the Pac-12.
Oklahoma. The Sooners (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) locked up a rematch with Baylor in the conference title game by fending off Texas Christian, 28-24. It wasn’t Jalen Hurts’ best passing game (11 of 21, two touchdowns, one interception), but he ran for 173 yards and two scores while Kennedy Brooks rumbled for 149 yards. It’s enough to keep Oklahoma alive in the playoff race.
Louisiana State. Shellacked hapless Arkansas, 56-20, to remain undefeated and lock up the SEC West and a place opposite Georgia in the conference title game. The Tigers (11-0, 7-0 SEC) will be a top-two seed in the semifinals if they win their next two games. But simply getting a split might be enough to secure a playoff berth at this stage.
Kedon Slovis. With a new athletic director in place and a somewhat disappointing 8-4 regular season in the books, it would surprise few if Clay Helton is replaced as Southern California’s coach. But whether it is Helton or someone else coaching the Trojans, that man will have quite the quarterback to work with.
Slovis, a true freshman who enrolled in the spring, capped his first regular season by breaking Matt Barkley’s school record for passing yards. He threw for 515 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-35 defeat of UCLA.
Over the last three games, Slovis has completed 95 of 121 (78.5 percent) for 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns against one interception. That, suffice to say, is above average.
Georgia. In a perfectly Georgia game, the Bulldogs held Texas A&M to 274 total yards (including minus-1 yards rushing) in a 19-13 triumph to improve to 10-1 and remain a viable playoff contender. That Kirby Smart’s team didn’t sizzle the scoreboard with its 260 yards is besides the point. Right now, it’s a game of survive and advance.
The Bulldogs’ two remaining tasks? Beat Georgia Tech in a rivalry game and then knock off the SEC West champ (which Louisiana State sealed Saturday) to improve to 12-1.
Notre Dame. The Irish (9-2) continue to swat aside obstacles on the way to a New Year’s Six berth. Ian Book threw for three touchdowns in a 40-7 rout of Boston College. If Notre Dame can handle its season-ending trip out west to Stanford, it will be easier and easier to see it getting slotted in one of the few at-large spots available in the top six bowl games.
Charlotte. Thanks to a 24-13 defeat of Marshall, the 49ers (6-5) are bowl eligible for the first time in their brief history. Chris Reynolds rushed for 145 yards and a score and threw for 166 yards and another touchdown to seal the program’s first six-win season in its seven years of existence.
Memphis and Navy. The last two teams standing in the American’s West Division after Saturday’s games. Memphis (10-1, 6-1) drilled South Florida, 49-10, to remain in control of the division. Navy (8-2, 6-1) is still alive after its 35-28 defeat of Southern Methodist.
Memphis needs to beat Cincinnati or have Navy lose at Houston next week to move on to the league title game. If Navy wins and the Tigers lose, it will be the Mids who will reach the AAC final for the second time.
Mac Jones. Just as he did against Arkansas, the Alabama quarterback thrived in a start in place of the injured Tua Tagovailoa. When he started against the Razorbacks, it was a given Tagovailoa would be back. This time, Jones was taking the field as the Crimson Tide’s top remaining option under center.
Jones was 10 of 12 for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a 66-3 pummeling of Western Carolina. Things get more challenging next week when Alabama (10-1) closes the regular season at Auburn as it tries to preserve its playoff hopes.
Minnesota. The Golden Gophers (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) won in nearly every way imaginable. They got quarterback Tanner Morgan back from a concussion, and he threw for four touchdowns in a 38-22 defeat of Northwestern. They bounced back from their first loss of the season while holding the Wildcats to 222 yards. And they remained on the periphery of the playoff picture.
Granted, Minnesota is a long shot to land a spot in the national semifinals. But with Wisconsin awaiting in the regular season finale and then an opportunity to face Ohio State in the Big Ten title game if the Gophers win the West Division, Minnesota could still significantly improve its résumé.
Michigan State. It remains as true as it was in 2014: Nothing cures an ailing Big Ten team like a meeting with Rutgers. The Spartans ended their five-game losing streak, picking up their first victory since September with a 27-0 road victory over the Scarlet Knights.
This doesn’t erase Michigan State’s problems, but at least it puts it a victory over Maryland away from securing bowl eligibility. Cody White had 11 catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns for the Spartans, who held Rutgers to 140 yards and have allowed a mere 44 points in six meetings with the Scarlet Knights since they arrived in the Big Ten.
Miami. Remember Howard Schnellenberger’s old “State of Miami”? Well, the Hurricanes might not be the best team located in South Florida anymore. They certainly weren’t Saturday, dropping a 30-24 decision to Florida International at Marlins Park.
At 6-5, it has not been a rollicking debut season for first-year coach Manny Diaz. A three-game winning streak that included defeats of Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville offered some hope, but this dud (after a bye week, no less) isn’t going to win Diaz any applause.
Texas. Any list of the season’s greatest disappointments probably starts with the Longhorns, who have failed to distinguish themselves in a muddled Big 12 and fell to 6-5 with a 24-10 loss at Baylor. It was the third loss in four games for Texas, which has also lost its last four games outside of Austin.
The forgettable season isn’t a function of getting blown out, though the Longhorns did need a last-second touchdown to make things look more respectable Saturday. But there nonetheless remains something missing for a program that has spent much of this decade underachieving. Texas is 69-57 with no Big 12 titles since the start of the 2010 season. For a school with those resources, that just doesn’t cut it.
Stanford. The Cardinal dropped the Big Game to California, 24-20, to fall to 4-7 and seal its first losing season since 2008. After 10 consecutive years with at least eight victories, Stanford is looking at a sobering and possibly defining offseason after so much went wrong over the last three months.
Purdue. A somewhat lesser disappointment, but a disappointment nonetheless after the Boilermakers fell to 4-7 with a 45-24 loss to Wisconsin. There are mitigating circumstances in West Lafayette — So. Many. Injuries. — but this isn’t the place Purdue expected to find itself at when it banked up the Brinks truck to Coach Jeff Brohm after last season.
Penn State. The Nittany Lions are out of the playoff and Big Ten title race after their 28-17 loss at Ohio State. Penn State (9-2, 6-2) spotted the Buckeyes a 21-point lead, closed within 21-17 but had a punt, an interception and a turnover on downs in its final four possessions.
In one sense, it’s impressive the Nittany Lions made it that close. Starting quarterback Sean Clifford was knocked out of the game with an injury in third quarter, and backup Will Levis helped Penn State finish off three scoring drives before Ohio State reasserted itself.
Heisman watch (entering Saturday)
Ranking the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy by factoring historical voting trends (in favor of quarterbacks, players on top-five teams, against receivers and defensive players) as much as on-field performance. Statistics entering Saturday’s games.
1. QB Joe Burrow, LSU (3,687 yards, 38 TDs, 6 INT passing; 215 yards, 3 TDs rushing). Burrow is the starting quarterback on an undefeated team who is breaking school records left and right. He’s not quite in Lamar Jackson territory — where his team can fall apart the last two games of the season and he still coasts to a Heisman win — but might be with one more dominant game. (Last week: 1)
2. QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (3,039 yards, 28 TDs, 5 INTs passing; 983 yards, 15 TDs rushing). Heisman or no Heisman, his ability to engineer a comeback from a 25-point deficit against previously undefeated Baylor further cements his legend in Sooner lore — not the easiest thing to do with a pair of Heisman-winning predecessors from the last two seasons. (LW: 2)
3. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State (2,164 yards, 31 TDs, 1 INT passing; 377 yards, 10 TDs rushing). Tack on another 305 yards and four touchdowns through the air last week for Fields, who is looking more like a probable top-three finisher in the vote for both good reasons (his team continues to shred opponents) and bad (Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending hip injury). (LW: 4)
4. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon (2,662 yards, 28 TDs, 3 INTs passing). Threw for a season-high 333 yards and tacked on four touchdowns last week in a drubbing of Arizona. Herbert and the 9-1 Ducks get Arizona State and Oregon State before the Pac-12 title game. (LW: 6)
5. RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (1,726 yards, 20 TDs rushing; 11 receptions for 82 yards). Had a solid, workmanlike day in the Cowboys’ victory over Kansas, rushing for 122 yards and two TDs on 23 carries. It was his ninth 100-yard day of the season, and he’s a good bet to hit that plateau again Saturday against West Virginia. (LW: 5)
6. RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (1,463 yards, 17 TDs rushing; 20 receptions for 162 yards and four TDs). Taylor’s response to the Badgers losing back-to-back games: Merely uncorking consecutive 200-yard days of his own. He gets a shot this week at a Purdue defense yielding 4.51 yards per carry, worse than everyone in the Big Ten except Nebraska and Rutgers. (LW: Not ranked)
7. RB Travis Etienne (1,335 yards, 14 TDs; 25 receptions for 252 yards and two TDs). Imagine what numbers Etienne might have if Clemson actually needed him to play in the fourth quarter on a regular basis. Perhaps that’s what the playoff will be for. Etienne’s efficiency (8.7 yards per carry) is not in question, but his season high in carries is just 17. That’s not to say the 11-0 Tigers should use him much in the second half of blowouts. That would be foolish. Nonetheless, he’s stitched together six 100-yard games in a row about as quietly as possible for program annually in national title contention. (LW: Not ranked)
So about Tua …
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending hip surgery is, above all, a harsh twist for a player who figured to be one of the top picks in next year’s NFL draft (assuming, as most did, he would leave Tuscaloosa after his junior year).
Less significantly but still of wide interest, it makes it more difficult to evaluate the Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1 SEC) for playoff purposes and does not help Alabama’s chances of winning a national title.
And far less importantly, it creates a question for Heisman voters: What is the best way to treat a player who was one of the best players in the country (2,840 yards passing with 33 touchdowns against three interceptions) when he played in only nine games?
Tagovailoa isn’t among the five or seven most likely players to win the sport’s player of the year award because his season is over. But don’t be astonished if he winds up in the top five, as Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon did in 2007 after he missed the final two games of the year with an ACL tear.
Granted, it was a distant fifth (Dixon had less than half as many voting points as fourth-place finisher Chase Daniel of Missouri), but two brilliant months were enough to get mentioned on more than 100 ballots. It’s plausible the same will be the case for Tagovailoa.
One to go
While there are still three undefeated teams at the FBS level, there is one at the other end of the spectrum. Akron fell to 0-11 with its 20-17 loss at Miami of Ohio on Wednesday, a plucky showing so deep into a rough season. It was only the second one-possession loss for the Zips, who had scored just 23 points in their previous five games.
Without a victory Tuesday over Ohio (which, at 5-6, will be playing for bowl eligibility), Akron would be just the seventh winless FBS team this decade. The others include 2012 Southern Mississippi, 2013 Georgia State, 2013 Miami of Ohio, 2015 Central Florida, 2015 Kansas and 2017 Texas-El Paso.