College football Week 12 winners and losers: Oklahoma, Clemson, Florida State orchestrate key wins
With one Saturday left until conference championship weekend, it's come down to this:
Ohio State walloped Michigan State, Michigan did the same to Maryland and the two will face off in seven days to decide who wins the Big Ten East and plays for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Alabama eventually pulled away from Arkansas to secure the SEC West and lock down a spot against Georgia, where the question will become whether the conference will send one or two teams into the semifinals.
Oklahoma gutted out a close win against Iowa State, bouncing back from last Saturday's ugly loss to Baylor, and will take on Oklahoma State in what may be the most anticipated meeting in the history of the rivalry.
Cincinnati pushed around SMU in the sort of balanced performance that will only impress members of the playoff selection committee.
And after weeks of flirting with disaster, Oregon finally drew its second loss in a 38-7 drubbing at Utah, ending any shot the Pac-12 had of ending an extended playoff drought.
Here are the winners and losers from a crucial Week 12 slate:
The Buckeyes put on a show in Saturday's marquee game, bulldozing Michigan State 56-7 and taking a big step toward the Big Ten championship in one of the most impressive performances of the season. Quarterback C.J. Stroud added to his Heisman Trophy credentials by completing 32 of 35 throws for 432 yards and six touchdowns, while the Buckeyes' star receiver duo of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave combined for 14 grabs for 266 yards and four scores. The loss eliminates the Spartans from playoff contention. For the Buckeyes, the win sets up another make-or-break game next Saturday against Michigan.
Playoff selection committee
After being criticized for ranking Michigan State behind the Wolverines in each of the past two rankings despite the Spartans' head-to-head victory last month, the committee can take a victory lap after the Buckeyes' lopsided win — unless we decide to "set aside watching the games," as committee chairman Gary Barta suggested Tuesday evening.
After months near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision in most major categories, the offense broke through with 543 yards, including a season-high 333 on the ground, as Clemson beat Wake Forest 48-27. Before the win, Clemson hadn't scored more than 30 points in a game against Power Five competition. Amazingly, given the team's issues all season, the Tigers could win the ACC Atlantic should the Demon Deacons lose next weekend to Boston College and North Carolina State fall to North Carolina.
What was supposed to be Cincinnati's biggest test since Notre Dame was anything but: SMU was swallowed by the Bearcats' defense and Desmond Ridder hit the scoring trifecta — passing, rushing and receiving — in a stylish 48-14 win that should carry weight with the selection committee. Cincinnati next takes on a sneaky test at East Carolina before meeting Houston in the American championship game. A playoff berth may very well be on the line in early December.
It wasn't the prettiest win, but this hasn't been the prettiest season for Lincoln Riley and the Sooners. For the second game in a row, quarterback Caleb Williams struggled through the air, completing just 8 of 18 attempts, but the freshman had a 74-yard touchdown run to help OU pull off a 28-21 win against Iowa State and head into next week's game at Oklahoma State at 10-1.
Quarterback Jordan Travis threw for three touchdowns without an interception and FSU held off a late Boston College charge to beat the Eagles 26-23 and move within one win of bowl eligibility — a remarkable turnaround for a team that lost four straight to open the year. That sets up a huge season finale against rival Florida, with a win sending the Seminoles into the postseason and feeding the sense of optimism around the program and coach Mike Norvell.
Georgia's Kirby Smart should be the SEC Coach of the Year — and the national coach of the year — for constructing this year's juggernaut. If selectors wanted to go with the coach who best exceeded expectations, however, the nod would go to South Carolina's Shane Beamer, who led the Gamecocks to a 21-17 win against Auburn and has his first team in bowl play. Picked to finish last in the East and as the second-worst team in the conference, ahead of only Vanderbilt, USC is the story of the year in the SEC, non-Georgia edition.
The reason why Oregon isn't included among the best teams or programs in the country even after beating Ohio State earlier this season is because of losses like the one on Saturday night, which would be surprising if not for its pure predictability. After spending most this season playing down to competition and failing to look the part of a playoff contender, the 31-point loss to the Utes signals the end of the Ducks' playoff hopes. And that Oregon couldn't avoid multiple losses in conference play in a year when no other Pac-12 team will have fewer than three losses in the regular season is a major disappointment.
What was lost in Saturday's loss: the Big Ten East, a shot at winning the Big Ten and a chance at reaching the playoff. Worse yet, the thrashing at the hands of Ohio State increases the chances of MSU not even reaching a New Year's Six bowl even if the Buckeyes end up finishing in the top four. On an individual level, running back Kenneth Walker III had just 25 yards and is lagging behind Stroud and Alabama quarterback Bryce Young in the race for the Heisman. Still, one important thing to keep in mind: At 9-2 heading into the final game of the regular season, this is still a hugely successful year for the Spartans and coach Mel Tucker.
It keeps getting worse for Texas, and you'd think it couldn't get any worse after last week's overtime loss to Kansas. Let's make it six losses in a row for Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns, the latest a 31-23 decision against West Virginia that drops UT to 4-7 and out of bowl play. The six-game losing streak is the program's longest since 1956, which is also the last time the Longhorns lost more than seven games in a season. With Kansas State up next, the streak is expected to hit eight before a long, cold, dark and dismal offseason in Austin.
Notre Dame took a 45-0 lead at halftime and won 55-0 against the hapless Yellow Jackets, in an utter embarrassment of a showing from a team mired in a five-game losing streak. Georgia Tech hasn't won a game since Oct. 9, hasn't held an opponent under 26 points since Sept. 25 and is now 1-7 in games against teams with a non-losing record. Coach Geoff Collins was given the runway to rebuild Tech in a more modern image after inheriting the program from Paul Johnson three years ago. But you can't ignore the records: 3-9 in 2019, 3-7 last year and now 3-8 in 2021, with a ninth loss looming next Saturday against Georgia.
After losing 24-23 in overtime to Missouri, Florida is 2-9 in its last 11 games against the Power Five, 5-6 on the year and in danger of missing out on postseason play in Mullen's fourth season. The loss to the Tigers might be the worst of the lot: In addition to a pair of baffling fourth-down calls, Mullen decided to play for overtime with a minute left in regulation instead of trying to gain the roughly 40 yards needed to attempt a field goal. This plummet from SEC contention has Mullen on the hot seat and potentially out of a job should the Gators lose to Florida State to end the year 5-7.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg