/Winners and Losers from Week 12 of College Football

Winners and Losers from Week 12 of College Football

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    After the hip injury to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a dark cloud hovered over the sport during Week 12.

    Still, play went on, and everybody tried to enjoy what was left of the day when one of the sport’s brightest stars was lost for the season. Alabama dominated Mississippi State. Other top-tier teams such as Clemson and Ohio State took care of business too.

    Plenty of big games dotted the schedule, like Georgia holding off a fourth-quarter rally from rival Auburn, Minnesota dropping its first game of the year against Iowa and Notre Dame pummeling Navy.

    It was a surprisingly interesting late-season slate, and there are still some big games left that we’ll add as the night progresses.

    We had big drives, big responses and big duds. In other words, it was another wacky week in college football. 

    Let’s take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the slate, and please check back throughout the night as we update with more games.


    Top 25 rankings courtesy of the Associated Press

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    When Indiana’s puzzling, failed fake punt happened early in the third quarter, and Penn State’s Journey Brown scored a 35-yard touchdown two plays later to make it a 13-point game, it looked like the sweating was over for the Nittany Lions.

    Little did they know they’d have to battle the pesky Hoosiers the rest of the way. There’s a reason their football team is ranked 24th, during basketball season, no less.

    But IU stuck around and closed the gap—until the fourth quarter. That’s when the kind of drive that can define a season occurred.

    The Nittany Lions reeled off an 18-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up 9:01 and culminated with quarterback Sean Clifford’s one-yard plunge with 1:44 remaining in the game to make it 34-24.

    “Gutsy,” PSU coach James Franklin told ESPN of the drive. “We hadn’t been able to do that in the past, so being able to line up and being able to eat the clock up and run the ball and being able to punch it in at the end was critical, obviously.”

    Even then, the Hoosiers stormed downfield and kicked a field goal on 3rd-and-goal with 13 seconds left and couldn’t recover an onside kick that would have allowed the Hoosiers to throw a Hail Mary into the end zone. That resulted in a 34-27 win for the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions.

    It was that kind of terrific game in Happy Valley as coach Tom Allen’s team couldn’t quite win for the first time ever at Penn State. A major reason was that life-sucking drive by Clifford and Coach Franklin’s offense.

    How methodical was it? Just three plays went for 10 or more yards. Those were a Brown 13-yard run, a critical 10-yard run by Clifford on 3rd-and-9, and a 15-yard completion to Pat Freiermuth.

    That was the kind of epic drive Penn State needed to rebound from last week’s tough loss to Minnesota.

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    As Tua Tagovailoa lay on the ground at Davis Wade Stadium, bleeding from the nose with the Crimson Tide up 35-7 on Mississippi State, you had to wonder why he was still on the field, especially considering he was a game-time decision thanks to an ankle injury.

    When the cart drove onto the field shortly after to take him off and everybody realized Tagovailoa was putting no pressure on his right leg, either, the answer became obvious: Nick Saban stuck with his star far too long in a runaway win.

    Of course, hindsight decisions are always easier than real ones, right?

    After The Athletic’s Aaron Suttles reported Tagovailoa will be out for the year with “a dislocated hip with a posterior wall fracture,” it’s legitimate to wonder whether Alabama’s title hopes were driven into the ground when its signal-caller was brought down by Leo Lewis and Marquiss Spencer.

    ESPN sideline reporter Molly McGrath reported Tagovailoa was “screaming in pain” on the field. But why was he out there when he was already hobbled and Alabama didn’t need him?

    “That was going to be his last series; we were going to do two-minute before the half with him just for practice,” Saban told McGrath at the half. “You know, we got to block them better so he doesn’t get sacked, so too bad.”

    “I don’t worry about players getting hurt,” he said later in the interview, “but certainly don’t want to see anybody get hurt, certainly him.”

    It looked like there was a conversation between Tagovailoa and Saban right before that drive on whether he should go back in. McGrath asked if Tagovailoa lobbied to play, and Saban said he didn’t.

    The junior quarterback went 14-of-18 for 256 yards and a pair of scores before being carted off, and Alabama scored touchdowns on its first five drives. Still, this is a season-changer.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The South’s oldest rivalry renewed itself once again on Saturday, and Auburn looked nothing like the SEC West powerhouse it appeared to be early in the season. Until the fourth quarter, at least.

    Most of that was thanks to a Georgia team that isn’t flashy in the least on either side of the ball but is finding ways to win games in a dominant fashion. No, the Bulldogs aren’t blowing anybody out, but they are beating teams into submission.

    Next on the list was rival Auburn, and UGA did the same thing to the Tigers it did to Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and others, winning the game 21-14. The Bulldogs built a three-touchdown lead before their opponent nearly came all the way back in the final frame.

    Tigers quarterback Bo Nix couldn’t duplicate his early-season heroics as the Bulldogs stopped two drives on fourth down in the final minutes to secure a win and move to 9-1. Yes, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s offense has major issues, but UGA’s defense is improving every week. It was downright nasty on Saturday, beating the Tigers at their own game in their own house.

    The Bulldogs swarmed Nix, forcing him into poor decisions for three quarters and smothering Auburn’s vaunted running game to the tune of just 84 yards.

    Nothing about UGA quarterback Jake Fromm’s performance was particularly incredible. Though when the final horn sounded, he’d thrown for just 110 yards but three touchdowns. Running back D’Andre Swift didn’t get into the end zone, but he still finished with 106 yards.

    Earlier this week when the College Football Playoff rankings came out, there were plenty of people who scoffed at coach Kirby Smart’s team being ranked fourth ahead of Alabama. But with the Crimson Tide now facing life without Tua and UGA smothering Auburn, that ranking looks prophetic.

    A date with LSU in the SEC Championship Game looms, but this is a Bulldogs team capable of staying in the playoff conversation for the rest of the year.

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    Matthew Holst/Getty Images

    When the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out and Minnesota was No. 8 following last week’s upset of Penn State, it showed the committee was paying attention to P.J. Fleck’s team despite a soft schedule.

    All that went up in a puff of black and gold smoke on Saturday in Iowa City.

    The previously 9-0 Golden Gophers fell behind by 17 points to the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes, who displayed more offensive firepower than they have for much of the season. And though Iowa sputtered in the final half, it was able to hang on for a major 23-19 victory over Fleck’s upstart program.

    This matchup featured two good teams going at it, but Iowa had a terrific game plan and showed everybody just how good it can be when the defense is ruling the day. Back-to-back close losses to Penn State and Michigan and a 24-22 setback against Wisconsin last week were disappointing for coach Kirk Ferentz’s team. But they have been very close to being very good all year and aren’t that far from being undefeated, either.

    Minnesota found that out the hard way. The Hawkeyes kept them out of the end zone in a crucial early second-quarter stand. 

    Then, as Minnesota threatened late in the first half, Fleck elected to go for the field goal rather than the touchdown on 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line down 20-3 with four seconds left in the half.

    The Gophers chipped away throughout the second half, but they never could quite solve the Hawkeyes’ D, led by defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who had a monster day living in the offensive backfield. It was a tough loss for Fleck’s team, but the program’s trajectory is still soaring.

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The biggest stories in the Big 12 this season have been how Oklahoma’s prolific offense has been brought down by its horrific defense and how Baylor has found a way to keeps its undefeated record afloat.

    Everybody knew one of those things would relent when the Sooners and Bears got together.

    But what you perhaps aren’t paying enough attention to is the balanced attack of Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys.

    This isn’t your older brother’s pass-happy Big 12 team. The No. 25 Cowboys can beat you in a lot of ways, and they’ve been doing it to a lot of teams this year. The latest victim for the 7-3 Cowboys was Kansas, which fell 31-13 without much of a fight.

    Oklahoma State built a 31-0 lead with a stingy defense that stifled coach Les Miles‘ better-than-expected offense until the fourth quarter when the Jayhawks closed the game with 13 points. It was far too late to matter.

    If you don’t know about running back Chuba Hubbard, you should check out his game. He’s college football’s top running back and has a legitimate chance to be a Heisman Trophy finalist. Though he wasn’t quite as electrifying Saturday, he finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. 

    Dual-threat quarterback Spencer Sanders continued his steady season with 168 passing yards, 37 rushing yards and a touchdown through the air, and the Cowboys defense was strong.

    With consecutive wins over Iowa State, TCU and Kansas, Oklahoma State has set itself up for a nice season and has a game against West Virginia coming up next week. Win that one, and the November 30 showdown against rival Oklahoma becomes very interesting.

    Gundy’s team is showing it will be tough for the Sooners to handle either way.

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The evidence that coach Mack Brown is turning around North Carolina’s program is abundant, even if it’s not tangible next to a 4-6 record.

    But he missed yet another golden opportunity for the Tar Heels to pull an upset Thursday in a 34-27 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on the road.

    For a time, it looked like the Heels may end the close-game doldrums when freshman quarterback Sam Howell worked his fourth-quarter magic in bringing them back from a 14-point deficit to tie the game. Instead, it took at extra session for UNC to notch is 18th consecutive loss when trailing by that margin.

    The Panthers scored a touchdown first in overtime, though, and then stopped Carolina from doing the same in securing their seventh win and keeping their slim ACC Coastal hopes alive. They need to win out and for Virginia Tech to beat Virginia.

    There will be no title-game for the Heels, but they’re oh so close to being an ACC contender. Yes, they have slim bowl hopes with winnable games remaining against Mercer and North Carolina State, but a closer look shows just how maddening this year has been.

    Nine games have been decided by seven points or fewer. UNC is 3-6 in those with close losses to Wake Forest (24-18), Appalachian State (34-31), Clemson (21-20), Virginia Tech (43-41 in six overtimes), Virginia (38-31) and Pitt.

    Howell’s fourth-quarter prowess has shown glimmers of being special; he’s thrown for 858 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions in that quarter, according to the ESPN broadcast. But that hasn’t resulted in many wins.

    The Heels are close, but they simply aren’t there yet.

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Michigan State’s forgettable season got a lot less memorable in the Big House on Saturday as the Wolverines had little trouble in a 44-10 beatdown of the Spartans.

    Yes, Michigan State held the Wolverines’ resurgent running game to just 83 yards on 34 carries, but Michigan didn’t need it. It had quarterback Shea Patterson, who had the type of game everybody expected would be commonplace when he transferred from Ole Miss before last season.

    Michigan perhaps hasn’t lived up to massive expectations the past couple of years in part because of Patterson’s inconsistency, but he was brilliant against the Spartans in the largest margin of victory for either team in the series since 2002.

    Patterson completed 24 of 33 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns in the annihilation of MSU’s secondary. Ronnie Bell had nine catches for 150 yards, and Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Cornelius Johnson and Nick Eubanks all had scoring grabs.

    To put Patterson’s game (and Michigan State’s misery) into perspective, Spartans starting quarterback Brian Lewerke has thrown for 326 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in three career starts against the hated Wolverines.

    Patterson bested all those numbers Saturday in a massive win.

    While the Wolverines might seem like a long shot to beat Ohio State at the end of the year, they’ve played at a high level recently, including when they stormed back in the second half during a close loss to Penn State.

    If Patterson plays like this, Michigan can give the Buckeyes a run at the end of the year. This is a positive development in Ann Arbor, regardless.

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Don’t look now, but after a stunning 21-20 survival win against North Carolina on September 28, the Clemson Tigers have every element of their football team clicking. 

    This looks like a squad that could repeat as national champion.

    The offense that sputtered to start the season had scored at least 45 points in five consecutive games leading up to Saturday, beating Florida State 45-14, Louisville 45-10, Boston College 59-7, Wofford 59-14 and NC State 55-10.

    That continued against what was the Tigers’ biggest remaining test, Wake Forest. They cruised to a 52-3 win over coach Dave Clawson’s team, which lost star receiver Sage Surratt for the season (undisclosed injury) a week ago.

    He wouldn’t have mattered against a Clemson squad that hasn’t played a difficult schedule but still looks like it is improving every week and humming right along at everything it’s doing.

    Star quarterback Trevor Lawrence has shaken early-season turnover troubles and is distributing the ball to all his weapons the way he was expected to entering the year as a top Heisman Trophy contender. Travis Etienne has been a steadying force and was again against the Demon Deacons.

    Lawrence finished with 272 yards and four TD tosses, and Etienne had 121 rushing yards. Receiving weapons Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross haven’t gotten a lot of buzz regarding accolades, but they are capable of breaking out every game.

    The defense is dominant too.

    Plenty of questions surround Clemson because of a schedule that has more cupcakes than a wedding shower, but there shouldn’t be any doubts about the talent and ability of coach Dabo Swinney’s team. It’s dominating everybody every week. Wake was just the next name on the schedule.   

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Nebraska announced Saturday morning second-year coach Scott Frost received a two-year contract extension through 2026 after he originally signed a seven-year, $35 million contract.

    Then, his Cornhuskers got trounced by Wisconsin.

    On one hand, you’ve got to give it to Nebraska for still believing in the former Huskers quarterback who the program tabbed as its savior before last season after his brilliant run at Central Florida. On the other, it’s puzzling to reward a coach whose team’s been downright bad.

    Nobody expected Nebraska to beat Wisconsin on Saturday, but plenty expected the Cornhuskers to make a large leap in year two of Frost’s tenure. They were ranked entering the season, after all.

    Instead, Saturday’s 37-21 setback against the Badgers dropped them to 4-6 on the year and 2-5 in the Big Ten. Now, Frost’s record throughout his first two seasons in Lincoln is 8-14.

    This was always going to be a complete rebuild, which is why Nebraska’s preseason buzz was puzzling at best. Yes, the Huskers had dynamic, playmaking quarterback Adrian Martinez and some pieces on both sides of the ball, but this season has been a disappointment all the way around.

    Keeping Frost in the fold is understandable. As a matter of fact, it would rightfully be questioned if the Huskers parted ways with him this soon, the way Florida State did with Willie Taggart a couple of weeks ago.

    But extend him two more years? That decision is questionable at best. It may not be as puzzling as Saban’s decision to keep Tagovailoa on the field, but it wins the award for the second-most debatable call of the day.

    There have been few redeeming qualities to the way Nebraska played this year, and there needs to be some glimmers at least at this point, right? Frost has plenty to prove as the coach of his alma mater, and Saturday’s decision by the university ensures he’ll probably have plenty of time to do it.

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Every year, you hear questions and read articles about whether Notre Dame should renew the annual rivalry with Navy.

    The Midshipmen are routinely underdogs, and there’s little to gain for the Fighting Irish if they win the game. It’s also always such a unique, challenging showdown for the Irish because of Navy’s archaic option attack.

    Nobody else really runs that offense besides the service academies anymore, so you’ve got to take extra time in the midst of the season to prepare for something you don’t see again all year.

    When you’re also playing at the highest level and have been challenging for championships the way the Irish have the past two years, it’s maybe an unwanted sidebar.

    When you handle it the way coach Brian Kelly‘s Irish did in Saturday’s 52-20 domination over the No. 21 Midshipmen in South Bend, it becomes a bit of a respite during a schedule that’s rife with potential stumbling blocks rather than a problem.

    Ian Book ripped off four first-half passing touchdowns as Notre Dame built an insurmountable 28-0 lead on its way to a 38-3 halftime advantage. While Book hasn’t shown his passing prowess much this season, he was exceptional.

    The Midshipmen simply aren’t built to come back from a large deficit with their run-oriented, methodical offense, so once things snowballed, it got ugly. They’ll almost certainly drop from the rankings after their second loss of the season.

    There’s no shame in losing to Notre Dame; a lot of teams have done so over the past couple of years. But this was exactly the type of effort you hope to see for such a funky, difficult late-season test. The Irish passed it with flying colors.