In short, Oregon State’s 41-38 triumph was a delight, unless you were the Ducks. And maybe the Pac-12 office.
Oregon (3-1) was widely viewed as the best team the Pac-12 had to offer entering the season. And at the start of October. And at the start of November. The Pac-12’s belated start meant its playoff hopes were going to ride heavily on whether somebody — and “somebody” was assumed to be Oregon — would bash everyone in its way.
Those hopes took a theoretical hit during the playoff’s rankings infomercial Tuesday. Oregon checked in at No. 15, though let’s be clear: Those rankings are variable and mean nothing until the final week of the season.
Oregon took a much more direct hit Friday. They’re not headed to the playoff. They’ll win the Pac-12 North with defeats of California and Washington the next two weeks, and probably go to the Fiesta Bowl if they win the league.
And as for the rest of the Pac-12? It has three unbeatens left. Southern California (3-0) barely escaped Arizona and Arizona State and had its game this week against Colorado (2-0) canceled. The Buffaloes already had one game axed this month and scrambled to line up San Diego State. And Washington (2-0) has had a cancellation and, fair or not, seems like an afterthought nationally.
The same is true of the Pac-12 itself, which needs its best team to go undefeated in style and without virus hiccups. That hasn’t happened. The Pac-12 might provide some fun times, but for the fourth year in a row, the Left Coast’s power conference is almost certainly getting shut out of the playoff.
Washington. The Huskies (3-0) mounted their largest comeback in more than three decades to remain undefeated, sinking Utah, 24-21, on Dylan Morris’s touchdown pass to Cade Otton with 36 seconds to play. Washington is alone atop the Pac-12 North, and it looks more and more like the division title will come down to the Huskies’ Dec. 12 game at Oregon.
It seemed like Washington would join the Ducks in taking their first loss this weekend when Utah took a 21-0 lead into the break. But the Huskies scored on their first three possessions in the second half to close within four, before Morris rebounded from an interception on Washington’s penultimate drive to engineer a 12-play, 88-yard scoring march.
The last time Washington rallied from 21 down to win? A 1988 game against California, when the Huskies scored 25 second-half points and kicked a last-second field goal to edge the Golden Bears, 28-27.
Alabama. The No. 1 Crimson Tide did not need Nick Saban on the sideline to obliterate No. 22 Auburn.
Mac Jones threw for 302 yards and five touchdowns, and Alabama (8-0) didn’t let Auburn into the end zone until the fourth quarter of a 42-13 Iron Bowl bludgeoning. Saban missed the game after a positive coronavirus test, but the Crimson Tide was in capable hands with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian (a former head coach at Washington and Southern California) in charge for the day.
With Auburn (5-3) out of the way, Alabama needs only a split with LSU and Arkansas to lock up the SEC West. Win both, and it probably is staring at a playoff berth so long as it isn’t crushed by the SEC East champion (probably Florida) in the SEC title game. Win out, and the Tide is a safe pick to land the playoff’s top seed.
Clemson. Dabo Swinney’s bunch finally got to play for the first time since its loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 7. It had a scheduled open date, then an unscheduled open date when Florida State canceled last week’s game a few hours before kickoff over covid concerns, which did not go over well with Swinney.
So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise Tigers decided to punish Pittsburgh for Florida State’s perceived sins. Clemson scored 31 points in the first quarter, Trevor Lawrence threw for 403 yards and two touchdowns in his first game in a month and the Tigers cruised to a 52-17 rout of the Panthers in their home finale.
No. 3 Clemson (8-1, 7-1 ACC) effectively made its point: When it is completely locked in, it can be utterly remorseless. Florida State might just get the four-quarter version of what the Tigers dropped on Pittsburgh this week if that postponed game ever gets made up.
Jaret Patterson. The Buffalo running back matched former Illinois star Howard Griffith’s FBS record for touchdowns in a game, visiting the end zone eight times in the Bulls’ 70-41 defeat of Kent State.
Patterson, who was coming off a 301-yard effort a week earlier against Bowling Green, finished with 409 yards on 36 carries. That was just 18 yards shy of former Oklahoma back Samaje Perine’s 427-yard day against Kansas in 2014 — and Patterson very nearly got that mark.
However, Buffalo coach Lance Leipold pulled Patterson with the Bulls driving with less than three minutes to go, prompting CBS Sports Network game analyst Ross Tucker to act as a worthy avatar for pretty much anyone who was watching the Mid-American Conference tussle.
“No! No! What are you doing, Lance Leipold?” Tucker said. “Don’t do this to me, Lance. Somebody tell him we have a chance at history. Stop hugging him and put him back in the game. … We can still do this. You’ve got to put Patterson back in. Tell one of the offensive linemen to hold on the next play so we can go back 10 yards. We can still make this happen.”
Alas, Patterson backup Kevin Marks (who had a fine day himself with 97 yards and two scores) cruised into the end zone two plays after Patterson’s exit to pad the Buffalo lead with 1:16 to go.
Sarah Fuller. The starting goalkeeper on Vanderbilt’s SEC champion women’s soccer team, she became the first woman to play for a Power Five football team when she joined the Commodores for their game at Missouri.
Fuller squibbed a kickoff to open the second half. Unfortunately for her — and 0-8 Vanderbilt — there was further need for her help. The Commodores piled up just 196 total yards and never made it inside the Missouri 30-yard-line in a 41-0 loss.
Kyle Pitts. In his first game since suffering a concussion Nov. 7 against Georgia, the Florida tight end hauled in five catches for 99 yards and three touchdowns as the Gators (7-1) closed in on an SEC East title.
Even in a truncated season, Pitts has 29 catches for 513 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’ll be a major piece of No. 6 Florida’s late playoff push, which includes games against Tennessee and LSU to close out the regular season.
Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish put on a stellar defensive display in a 31-17 victory at No. 19 North Carolina, allowing the Tar Heels just 151 total yards and three points over the final three quarters.
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell? Bottled up to a manageable 211 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, the Tar Heels’ touchdown twins in the backfield? They combined for 19 carries and 85 yards and no trips to the end zone.
No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0, 8-0 ACC) is a victory away from sealing a place in the ACC title game, and it will almost surely clinch a berth next week at home against Syracuse. Just this month, it has won with offense (against Clemson) and defense (against North Carolina). It is experienced, tested and not to be trifled with.
And with any two more wins (against Syracuse, at Wake Forest and an ACC title game against Clemson or maybe Miami), the Irish should be playoff-bound for the second time in three years.
Oregon State (and especially Jermar Jefferson). First, the basics on the Beavers (2-2). They trailed by 12 early in the fourth quarter, scored two touchdowns in 63 seconds, then lost the lead before Chance Nolan — called on to take a fourth-and-goal snap perhaps two inches from the end zone when quarterback Tristan Gebbia was injured — plunged in with 33 seconds left to claim a 41-38 victory.
It’s only the second victory in 13 years in the rivalry formerly known as the Civil War, and it came against an Oregon team perceived to be good (which the Ducks most certainly weren’t while going 4-8 in 2016, the last time Oregon State knocked them off).
Now on to Jefferson, who has emerged as the best reason to stay up late watching Pac-12 football this season. He rushed for three touchdowns in the Beavers’ opening loss to Washington State, rumbled for 196 yards (on 10.9 yards a carry) last week against California and steamrolled Oregon for a rivalry-record 226 yards on Friday.
Jefferson is up to 675 rushing yards in four games, putting him on pace for a 1,000-yard campaign over a six-game regular season. He may not win the Pac-12’s player of the year award if that winds up in “best player on the best team” territory, but he’d be a fine choice based on his output to date and belongs in the conversation after roasting the Ducks.
Iowa State. Yes, the same team that looked so lost in its opening setback against Louisiana-Lafayette solidified its place in the Big 12 catbird seat with a 23-20 defeat of No. 17 Texas. There are ways the No. 13 Cyclones (7-2, 7-1 Big 12) could get bumped out of the conference title game, but it involves going deep into the tiebreakers.
That might not be necessary, since an Iowa State win (over West Virginia), an Oklahoma loss (to Baylor or West Virginia) or an Oklahoma State loss (Texas Christian or Baylor) makes things clear-cut.
But never mind the details for the moment. Iowa State has now won at least seven games in four consecutive seasons, a program first. It is on the edge of a Big 12 title game appearance, which would be a program first. It has defeated Oklahoma and Texas this season, another program first.
Coach Matt Campbell has created at least a glimmer of staying power in Ames, a noteworthy accomplishment at a school that had back-to-back winning seasons just twice in the 37 years before Campbell took over in 2016. Whether the Cyclones finish the job and win their first conference title since 1912 is almost beside the point. They’ve already taken another step forward in 2020.
Iowa. Won its sixth in a row against Nebraska, a 26-20 decision behind four Keith Duncan field goals. And if you’re the Hawkeyes (4-2), that’s something to clap about.
Texas A&M. The Aggies showed some rust in their first game in three weeks after dealing with a pair of postponements. But their defense was still on point, keeping Louisiana State off the board until the final minute of a 20-7 victory.
Texas A&M (6-1) needs style points to improve its playoff hopes, but realistically it is also at the mercy of Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Ohio State. If the only loss those four account for the rest of the way is a Notre Dame stumble against Clemson in the ACC title game, the Aggies will be settling for the consolation prize of going to a non-playoff game in the New Year’s Six structure (the Cotton Bowl would make sense).
Still, there was never much doubt of who was in control. Even with Kellen Mond anything but sharp, Texas A&M led 10-0 after a quarter. And in its 16 possessions before its late score, LSU punted 11 times, committed three turnovers, handed it over on downs once and missed a field goal. The Tigers had 166 yards in the first three quarters.
A spectacular drubbing would have been better, but simply collecting victories keeps the Aggies in the playoff picture for another week.
Northwestern. The absence of a rushing game didn’t cost the Wildcats last week against Wisconsin. It did Saturday against Michigan State. Go figure.
The Wildcats’ 29-20 loss in East Lansing — a game closer than its margin since the Spartans recovered a fumble in the end zone on the final play — serves as a routine reminder of the inconsistencies of most college football teams. This stands regardless of whether a game is played in normal times or during a pandemic.
There’s usually a 5-0 team in typical years quite a bit like No. 8 Northwestern. It is really good on one side of the ball, and adequate enough on the other. It wins some close games, and it’s convincing enough with the quality of at least one of those triumphs to generate some attention. Usually, there’s a dose of reality waiting. Occasionally, a team just enjoys a charmed season even if the underlying numbers don’t suggest greatness.
The stats suggested Northwestern (5-1) was an excellent defensive team, but it also hadn’t topped 27 points since its opener. Eventually, someone will catch a team like that flat-footed and do just enough to win. Michigan State (2-3) scored the first 17 points, allowed the next 20 and then scraped together enough to pull the upset and end the Wildcats’ playoff hopes well before Ohio State received the chance.
Michigan. Somebody was going to the lose the Disappointment Bowl between the Wolverines and Penn State. That somebody turned out to be Michigan.
Granted, previously winless Penn State showed some spunk in a 27-17 victory in Ann Arbor. But the Wolverines (2-4), fresh off a three-overtime victory at Rutgers, couldn’t muster much in redshirt freshman Cade McNamara’s first career start.
While the worst start in school history is over for the Nittany Lions (1-5), the path for Michigan to avoid a losing season now requires victories over Maryland, Ohio State and whichever West Division team the Wolverines draw on Dec. 19. Good luck with that.
Texas Tech. From the “That’s not what the coach told them to do” department:
No. 23 Oklahoma State never trailed again, eventually collecting a 50-44 victory over Texas Tech. In addition to Jason Taylor II’s 48-yard return of an onside kickoff for a score, the Cowboys (6-2, 5-2 Big 12) got 235 yards and three touchdowns on the ground from Dezmon Jackson to bounce back from a Bedlam loss to Oklahoma.
Ohio State. The No. 4 Buckeyes (3-0) didn’t technically lose, because they didn’t play. A coronavirus outbreak within their program led to the cancellation of Saturday’s game against Illinois, which leads to a far more serious conundrum than missing out on a choose-your-own-score rout.
The Big Ten’s rules for the season require a team to compete in no fewer than two games less than the average played in the league or else be ineligible for the conference title game. Coupled with Ohio State having its game against Maryland wiped out, the Buckeyes have no more wiggle room on that front unless the average number of games in the league is reduced to seven per team.
Is the Big Ten keeping Ohio State on the shelf in lieu of, say, Indiana if it ends up at 5-0? And would the playoff committee — which, given the conditions, is more likely than ever this season to manufacture an explanation of its process to fit its conclusions rather than reach conclusions that flow from how it explains its process — leave such a team outside the semifinals.
It’s all moot if Ohio State rolls through Michigan State, Michigan and the Big Ten West champ (probably Northwestern) in the next three weeks. But it’s not a given.
California special teams. Did football’s third phase cost the Golden Bears the Big Game? You decide.
California (0-3) muffed a punt in the second quarter, setting up Stanford’s three-play, 16-yard touchdown drive. The Golden Bears had a 32-yard field goal blocked just before halftime, and an extra point blocked after pulling within 24-23 with 58 seconds to go. The Cardinal then ran out the clock after a failed onside kick.
So, yes, special teams were a disaster as Stanford (1-2) beat its Bay Area rival for the 10th time in 11 years.
Texas. No Big 12 title for you this year, Longhorns (assuming Oklahoma manages at least a split of its final two games against Baylor and West Virginia). That’s 11 seasons and counting without a league title for Texas (5-3, 4-3), which fell 23-20 to Iowa State for its first home loss to the Cyclones since 2010.