College football’s Week 12 winners and losers
There’s very little that’s pretty about Wisconsin. Superb in space and nearly unmovable at or around the line of scrimmage, the defense has a strong case for being considered the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The offense can run the ball on anyone but remains one-dimensional, with a passing game that may hit on one or two big plays every Saturday but continues to battle against turnovers.
But there’s one beautiful thing about Wisconsin: that 11-0 record.
Saturday’s 24-10 win against Michigan almost ensures that Wisconsin will enter the Big Ten Conference title game in early December unbeaten (the Badgers visit 5-6 Minnesota on Saturday), and in turn means that this team needs just one 60-minute showing against Ohio State (which also has clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game) to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State — which plays at Michigan on Saturday — won’t be an easy matchup for Wisconsin. But this team has found a way to win every Saturday, and might have put together its most impressive performance to date in the second half against Michigan. Tied at 7-7 at halftime and down 10-7 with under four minutes left in the third quarter, the Badgers scored the game’s final 17 points — including a 14-point run within a three-minute span to end the quarter.
They’ll need to replicate that level of play to get past the Buckeyes. But it’s not like Michigan is a pushover; the Wolverines may struggle offensively but the defense is one of the best in the country, and any offense that finds room against this unit can do the same against Ohio State.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:
Miami (Fla.). It didn’t look good when Virginia took a 28-14 second-half lead against Miami, with the Hurricanes struggling to stop UVA quarterback Kurt Benkert and the Cavaliers gaining in confidence. Then the Hurricanes showed up, scoring the game’s final 30 points to notch a 44-28 win that probably doesn’t reflect how well UVA played for much of the first three quarters. But wins are wins for Miami at this point, and moving to 10-0 moves the program one step closer to a winner-take-all ACC championship game against Clemson in early December.
TCU. In the very general sense, winning at Texas Tech isn’t cause for celebration. But it was a nice win for TCU, which entered the game dealing with injuries — including one to starting quarterback Kenny Hill — but put the clamps down on the Red Raiders’ offense in a 27-3 victory. It had the makings of a trap game but turned out to be anything but. TCU maintained its path toward a rematch with Oklahoma to decide the Big 12.
Northwestern. The Wildcats have won six games in a row, the latest Saturday’s 39-0 blanking of Minnesota. One week after scoring 54 points in a rout of lowly Nebraska, the Golden Gophers accounted for just 183 yards and had more interceptions, three, than completions, two. Northwestern closes with Illinois and is nearly a lock to end the year with a national ranking.
Texas. The Longhorns clinched their first bowl berth since 2014 with a 28-14 win against West Virginia. There may be a portion of the Texas fan base that expected more from Tom Herman’s debut, which was unfair: Herman may have come with an impressive résumé but this was never going to be an immediate fix. Getting six wins with the potential for eight would be a positive sign for 2018 and likely yield a strong close on the recruiting trail.
The American. It was a good weekend for the American Athletic Conference, which by landing wins from its three frontrunners moved one step closer to ensuring a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. It wasn’t pretty for South Florida, which barely escaped past Tulsa on Friday, but UCF handled a road test with a 45-19 win against Temple and Memphis outscored SMU 66-45. The Knights are unbeaten; the Tigers and Bulls have just one loss.
Brigham Young. You wouldn’t think this season could get any worse for BYU. And then it does. Maybe the 16-10 loss to UMass was rock bottom? One can only hope. BYU failed to crack the 100-yard mark for total offense until three minutes left in the third quarter in suffering its ninth loss on the year, and needs a win against Hawaii next Saturday to avoid the program’s first season with double-digit losses since 1949.
Bret Bielema. Arkansas’ 28-21 loss to Mississippi State capped a terrible week for Bielema, the Razorbacks’ embattled head coach. On Wednesday, the university fired athletics director Jeff Long, who hired Bielema away from Wisconsin in 2013. That’s not good. Then came Saturday’s loss, which secured Arkansas’ second losing finish under Bielema and its first since his debut season. A coaching change is almost inevitable.
Baker Mayfield. The Heisman front-runner — by a wide margin — is incredibly fun to watch: Except when he is tossing off crotch grabs and curse words to Kansas fans. Kansas went low, and Mayfield went even lower. Regardless of any misbehavior by Kansas players — who declined to shake his hand at the start of the game — and fans, there really isn’t much excuse for Mayfield’s antics. Planting a flag midfield after a huge win at Ohio State is cocky and boisterous … but also fun and fair game. Saturday’s maneuver was just bad. Mayfield apologized immediately, and sincerely, after the game, saying once again he got caught up in the heat of the moment.
South Alabama. It’s one thing to lose by 52 points, as South Alabama did Saturday, and another to lose by 52 points to Georgia Southern, which entered the weekend as one of just two winless teams in the country. Even worse: It was a 52-0 shutout. Not good, Jaguars.
Bob Diaco. Once the subject of an offseason bidding war between Nebraska and Arkansas, the former UConn head coach has seen his stock take a major hit with the Cornhuskers’ woeful defensive performance since the start of the regular season. The matchup with Penn State was always bad for Nebraska, but come on: PSU was the second team this fall to score 42 points in the first half against Diaco’s 3-4 defense.
Oklahoma State. It was just two weeks ago that Oklahoma State saw a clear road to the Playoff. Even after a loss to rival Oklahoma to start November, the Cowboys could still earn a spot in the Big 12 title game by winning out and having TCU lose once. After a furious comeback against Kansas State fell short in a 45-40 loss, however, Oklahoma State has played its way out of Playoff and New Year’s Six contention and into a secondary bowl.
Georgia Tech. It wasn’t too long ago that Tech was 4-2 with both losses coming by a single point, the latter to Miami. Four games and three losses later, the Yellow Jackets need to beat Georgia in the finale just to secure a bowl berth. What happened? Blame the defense, which allowed four touchdown drives spanning 69 or more yards in a 42-30 loss to Duke and took a major step backward after keying a 28-22 victory against Virginia Tech a week ago.
Iowa. Iowa has lost two in a row since its 55-24 win against Ohio State to start November, making that shocking upset look like quite the aberration. Maybe getting swamped by Wisconsin was understandable, even if the Hawkeyes looked pitiful in that 38-14 setback last Saturday. That was nothing compared to a 24-15 loss at home to Purdue, which was simply embarrassing.