Kickers save TCU and Michigan (college football winners and losers)

TCU kicker Griffin Kell (39) and Michigan kicker Jake Moody (13) each made game-winning field goals Saturday to keep their teams unbeaten. (LM Otero/AP and Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It was a good afternoon for #CollegeKickers.

Well, two of them delivered when it mattered most for playoff contenders, at least.

Any look at the penultimate weekend of this college football regular season has to include a nod to Griffin Kell of TCU and Jake Moody of Michigan, whose closing-second kicks preserved undefeated seasons for their respective teams.

There was at least a teensy bit less pressure on Moody, who drilled a 35-yard field goal with 9 seconds remaining to secure a 19-17 defeat of Illinois. The No. 3 Wolverines (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) always had next week’s game against Ohio State to claim the Big Ten East. Win that and the conference title game, and Michigan was going to have some playoff hopes.

Caleb Williams and USC catch a wave and ride it to a comeback win over UCLA

Besides, the harrowing part for the Wolverines started long before Moody’s star turn. Michigan kicked off to the Illini (7-4, 4-4) after Moody’s previous field goal with 3:14 to go, and the Wolverines had to burn off their timeouts to get the ball back with 2:15 remaining. The ensuing eight-play drive included a fourth-down conversion before Moody put things to rest.

Even with a replay booth review of a second-down completion, things were downright orderly for the Wolverines compared to how No. 4 TCU escaped Baylor with a 29-28 victory.

The Horned Frogs were stymied on third down with 18 seconds remaining, and without the benefit of a timeout had to scramble the field goal team onto the field. TCU got the play off with three seconds to spare, and Kell striped a 40-yard field goal to keep Team Hypnotoad undefeated.

TCU (11-0, 8-0 Big 12) will close the regular season at home against Iowa State, then play for the Big 12 title the next week in Arlington, Texas. Its playoff hopes hinge largely on maintaining an unblemished record, and a loss would have opened the door for the likes of Southern California to improve their postseason position.

Instead, Kell — like Moody only about a half-hour later — handled things calmly and kept the current playoff pecking order unruffled as the end of the season draws closer.

Tennessee (loser)

Here’s the thing about giving up 63 points with your playoff hopes at stake: There are no what-ifs.

The Volunteers aren’t going to wonder whether Hendon Hooker’s injury had anything to do with their 63-38 loss at South Carolina (they were already down 18 when he got hurt). They won’t be asking about a random penalty or play call or whatever.

When you give up nine touchdowns in 10 drives that didn’t conclude with the end of a half, then the problem is clear. You simply didn’t stop your opponent nearly enough.

That’s what No. 5 Tennessee (9-2, 5-2 SEC) will have to grapple with as it watched its playoff hopes disintegrate. At 11-1, the Vols could have hoped the playoff committee fell in love with its own magical hanging of half-a-hundred (52 to be exact) — which it did to Alabama last month — and gave it the benefit of the doubt. After all, a team whose only loss was to Georgia might have gotten a pass.

But the committee will not abide a team with two losses and without a conference title to its credit. This was a year that brought some fun back to Knoxville, but the Vols will rue getting bulldozed in Columbia for quite some time.

South Carolina (winner)

The Gamecocks have been plenty pesky this season, in an opportunistic way. They picked off Kentucky and Texas A&M and also locked up bowl eligibility by the first weekend in November. It was going to go down as a solid year, even if a random home loss to Missouri and a no-show at Florida were sprinkled in.

Then came Saturday night. South Carolina wasn’t pesky against Tennessee. It was downright ornery, beating the Volunteers at their touchdown-or-bust game while rolling to a 63-38 rout at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

Spencer Rattler threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns for the Gamecocks (7-4, 4-4 SEC), who now have the opportunity to spoil a playoff hopeful’s season in consecutive weeks. After all, they head to Clemson next weekend to close out the regular season.

Southern California (winner)

The dream is still alive after the Trojans’ rollicking 48-45 defeat of UCLA. It took Korey Foreman’s late interception to preserve it, but Southern Cal (10-1, 8-1 Pac-12) remained in the national title picture with a memorable victory in the Rose Bowl.

Caleb Williams (Gonzaga High) threw for 470 yards and accounted for three touchdowns as the Trojans climbed out of an early 11-point hole and three times went up by 10 before the Bruins (8-3, 5-3) managed an answer. But USC had the last word, and it can still make a push for a spot in the College Football Playoffs if it beats 8-3 Notre Dame next weekend and wins the Pac-12 title game.

Would that be enough to jump over the 11-1 loser of next week’s Michigan-Ohio State game? Or a possible one-loss TCU team, should the Horned Frogs lose to Iowa State or in the Big 12 title game? Those are questions to keep an eye on over the next two weeks.

Georgia (winner)

Didn’t play great, but played well enough to beat Kentucky, 16-6. That’s sufficient for the No. 1 Bulldogs (11-0, 8-0 SEC), who are victories over Georgia Tech and LSU (the latter in the conference title game) away from locking up a playoff berth. Even a victory next week might be enough.

Georgia didn’t get into the end zone in the first half, leaning on its redoubtable defense to maintain a 9-0 lead. A Kenny McIntosh touchdown run — the highlight of his 143-yard day — bumped the advantage to 16-0 before Kentucky (6-5, 3-5) got on the board with 9:52 to go.

This is the sort of triumph Georgia has specialized in during the Kirby Smart era, and picking one up here handled the task in front of the Bulldogs.

Ohio State (winner)

A lot like Georgia, really, except the Buckeyes’ 43-30 defeat of Maryland had the benefit of being entertaining.

It wasn’t a statistically gaudy day for C.J. Stroud (18 of 30, 241 yards, one touchdown) and the No. 2 Buckeyes (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) couldn’t put the Terrapins (6-5, 3-5) away until a strip sack produced a fumble return for a touchdown with 9 seconds remaining.

But style points didn’t matter as much for Ohio State, which will be graded on how it fares against fellow unbeaten Michigan next week in Columbus.

Maryland keeps it close, but No. 2 Ohio State finishes the job

North Carolina (loser)

The Tar Heels’ offense picked a bad time for the wheels to come off the wagon. Seemingly in control after scoring the first 17 points at home against Georgia Tech, North Carolina got nothing out of its last six possessions and absorbed a 21-17 loss to the Yellow Jackets.

No. 13 North Carolina (9-2, 6-1 ACC) is still the Coastal Division champ, and the inclusion of Mack Brown’s team as a playoff possibility was the stretchiest stretch possible. But the Tar Heels were still a one-loss team in a power conference, and there probably was some possibility rooted in complete chaos that could get them into a semifinal if they got to 12-1.

That’s not happening, but there’s still some fun things to play for — rivalry bragging rights against North Carolina State, and then the chance to claim an ACC title and perhaps spoil Clemson’s playoff chances in the ACC title game.

Svrluga: At Virginia, a football team and its coach confront the unimaginable

Clemson (winner)

Whatever playoff hopes the No. 9 Tigers (10-1, 8-0 ACC) possess ride on them plowing through their remaining schedule.

With that in mind, Clemson did what was necessary Saturday, drilling Miami, 40-10. It was a stellar day for the Tigers’ defense, which held the feeble Hurricanes (5-6, 3-4) to 98 total yards and six first downs. Miami’s only touchdown came on a 10-yard drive following a Clemson fumble.

Next up for Clemson: South Carolina in its regular season finale, and North Carolina in the ACC title game. The Tigers still need help — and a lot of it — but they remain on the fringes of the playoff picture for another week.

Mississippi (loser)

It’s hard to imagine how a team that rolls up 700 yards of offense and produces two 200-yard rushers can face a 36-point deficit at any point in a game. But the Rebels’ defense didn’t make the trip to Fayetteville in a 42-27 loss to Arkansas that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.

No. 14 Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3 SEC) clearly didn’t have much left in the tank defensively after last week’s loss to Alabama. That game ended the Rebels’ SEC and national title hopes, but it didn’t end their season — even if there was some evidence to the contrary Saturday.

The Razorbacks (6-5, 3-4) had a 200-yard rusher of their own in Raheim Sanders (232 yards, three touchdowns), and he scored the last three touchdowns as Arkansas built a 42-6 lead. The Rebels capped three long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but the loss — which could knock Ole Miss out of the New Year’s Six structure — was long since assured by that point.

Oklahoma State (loser)

The Cowboys threatened to turn Bedlam into Boredom with one of the season’s worst quarters, allowing 299 yards and 28 points to erratic rival Oklahoma in the first 15 minutes.

That was all the Sooners (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) would generate, but No. 22 Oklahoma State (7-4, 4-4) struggled to muster a comeback in a lackluster 28-13 defeat. The porous defense combined with three Spencer Sanders interceptions (he would finish with four) produced a hole too big for the Cowboys to climb out of — even while running a ridiculous 103 plays.

And with that, a season that began with some serious hype in Stillwater will come to an end without a conference title or a victory over its biggest rival. Oklahoma underachieved more, and Iowa State had a low-key disappointing year (the Cyclones fell to 4-7 with their loss to Texas Tech on Saturday), but Oklahoma State’s unremarkable year warrants a mention as well.

Bijan Robinson (winner)

The Texas running back amassed 243 yards and four touchdowns as the Longhorns blasted Kansas, 55-14.

Robinson’s updated numbers for the year include 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, and he has a pair of 200-yard rushing games this month. He and the Longhorns (7-4, 5-3) can still claim a spot in the Big 12 title game with a victory over Baylor and a Kansas State loss to Kansas in the season’s final weekend.

Vanderbilt (winner)

A week ago, the Commodores were simply happy to end a 26-game SEC losing streak. Now, they’ve won back-to-back games entering next week’s in-state meeting with wounded former playoff contender Tennessee.

Mike Wright threw three touchdown passes and Ray Davis rushed for 122 yards as the Commodores (5-6, 2-5 SEC) defeated Florida, 31-24, to keep their bowl hopes alive.

The Gators (6-5, 3-5) had won eight in a row in the series, and hadn’t lost at Vanderbilt since 1988. That’s an accomplishment for second-year Commodores coach Clark Lea to tout as progress regardless of how the season finale unfolds in Nashville.

Two-loss LSU moves up to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings

Michigan State (loser)

The path to bowl eligibility got a whole lot harder for the Spartans, who squandered a 17-point lead — at home — in a 39-31 overtime loss to Indiana.

Michigan State (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) had won back-to-back games and three of its last four to even things out after a rough start. And it appeared the Spartans were on their way to turning next week’s trip to Penn State into a game without a ton of pressure — a postseason berth all but assured, with the guarantee of a winning season a nice bonus to play for.

But after Michigan State took a 31-14 lead in the third quarter, Jaylin Lucas brought back the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. The Hoosiers tacked on a field goal moments later after an interception, tied it early in the fourth quarter and then won it in the second overtime.

And now? The Spartans have to win in Happy Valley to extend their season beyond November, a distinct step back for a program that went 11-2 and won the Peach Bowl last season.

Navy (winner)

It hasn’t been the most enjoyable season in Annapolis. The Midshipmen are already out of bowl contention. They opened with a loss to Delaware, which in retrospect could play a big part in keeping Navy out of the postseason. And they have their share of close losses — Air Force, SMU and Notre Dame by a combined 12 points.

But Saturday illustrated how Navy can still be a major nuisance, as it derailed No. 20 Central Florida, 17-14, in a tailor-made-for-the-Mids 11 a.m. kickoff in Orlando.

Navy didn’t do anything it doesn’t normally do. It threw the ball only once. It chewed up clock (39:36). It limited penalties (four for 25 yards).

And then the Mids did some things that usually portend victory for them. They held Central Florida to 3 of 12 on third down. It limited big plays on the ground. And it cashed in a third-quarter fumble recovery for Bijan Nichols’s go-ahead 45-yard field goal that ultimately provided the final margin.

Navy (4-7, 4-4 American) now has three weeks to get ready for Army, which — let’s face it — is a far more significant barometer for success in Annapolis than how a mid-October conference game unfolds. The Mids won’t have a destination to visit around Christmas, but they still have a major neutral-site game in December to look forward to.

Fun (loser)

C’mon, man. Isn’t it bad enough to have to play in late-November conditions in traditional Big Ten precincts?

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