The best and worst of college football was on display Saturday from thrilling upsets (Stanford over Oregon, Baylor over Kansas State), newfound hope in the national title race (Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia) and unexpected results (Baylor has a defense?).
A thrilling day of college football shook up the national title race, perhaps paved the way for a freshman to win the Heisman and left uncertainty in Eugene and Manhattan. Only a week ago, Kansas State and Oregon were favorites to win the national title, and now neither may win their own conference. Meanwhile, Notre Dame moved from the outside looking in to the clear No. 1 team in the BCS standings. And the SEC, left out a week ago, suddenly has a de facto national championship semifinal in Atlanta once again.
But reports of another conference shift, this time with Maryland and Rutgers in negotiations with the Big Ten, signaled that the off-field machinations never seem to stop.
We’ll save conference realignment for another time, here’s a look at what happened on the field this week.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 12 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM STANFORD 17, OREGON 14 (OT)
Stanford’s run defense was undervalued. Stanford entered the game leading the nation in run defense, but that didn’t seem to be a major talking point before the game at Autzen Stadium. Granted, Oregon didn’t have much trouble running on Stanford in the past two seasons. But Stanford responded by holding Oregon to 195 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry, both the second lowest totals for the Ducks since their 2011 opener against LSU. Led by linebacker Shayne Skov, Stanford made Kenjon Barner (66 yards, 3.1 yards per carry) and Marcus Mariota (21 of 37, INT) look mortal. Oregon’s 14 points were the fewest for the Ducks since a 19-8 loss to Boise State in Chip Kelly’s first game as head coach in 2009.
Taylor/Hogan was the top backfield. The best duo of veteran running back and redshirt freshman quarterback turned out not to be Barner/Mariota, but Stepfan Taylor and Kevin Hogan. Taylor continued to do yeoman’s work by grinding out yards (161 on 33 carries), but the move to Hogan at quarterback sparked Stanford’s season. Hogan had two turnovers, but his poise in his first road start and mobility (37 rushing yards) turned out to be a major asset. With its only losses by 4 to Washington and in overtime to Notre Dame, Stanford has to wonder how the season would have gone if its quarterback played like this all season.
Oregon’s defensive playmakers kept it close. Injuries have cut into the Ducks’ secondary, and their defensive line is young. But defensive plays kept Oregon in the game while the offense sputtered. If not for three Stanford turnovers, including two in Oregon territory, the Ducks may not have even had the game in reach to force overtime. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu forced two fumbles recovered by Oregon, but in the end, Stanford recovering its own bouncing fumble in overtime helped seal the win.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM BAYLOR 52, KANSAS STATE 24
Collin Klein’s not the same, is his shot at the Heisman gone? In one game, Klein doubled his interception total on the season with three against Baylor. The national championship is gone for Kansas State, the Big 12 could be gone, and so could a Heisman for Klein. Since leaving the Oklahoma State game with a possible concussion, Klein is 38 of 71 for 431 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also rushed for three touchdowns in that span.
Baylor has a defense. In the most shocking development Saturday, Baylor found a defense to match its prolific offense. Entering the game, the Bears ranked 120th of 124 in total defense, 118th in pass defense and 96th in rush defense, yet Baylor’s defense was the best unit on the field in Waco. Kansas State rushed for merely 76 yards. Every other Baylor opponent in the Big 12 had rushed for at least 151.
Lache Seastrunk was a factor in the title race. The five-star recruit who couldn’t crack the running back rotation at Oregon and was a key figure of the Willie Lyles controversy ended up impacting the national title race, just not in the way anyone imagined. The Baylor running back rushed for 185 yards against Kansas State, including an 80-yard touchdown that put Kansas State away for good.
MOVING THE CHAINS
UCLA’s future. UCLA has been in the Pac-12 title game before, and the Bruins have upset USC in recent years. That much is true, but the Bruins’ 38-28 win over USC to clinch the Pac-12 South is a signature win for Jim L. Mora and the program. UCLA’s last win over USC, a 13-9 victory in 2006, was a fluke. UCLA’s second win over its rival since 1999 signals a shift in momentum for both Los Angeles schools. As rare as a rainy day at the Rose Bowl -- which occurred Saturday, by the way -- UCLA is L.A.’s top team. The Bruins took a 24-0 lead on USC, and only a fumble of a slippery ball into the end zone for a USC touchdown kept the the Trojans in striking distance late. And redshirt freshman Brett Hundley didn’t wait until Matt Barkley left town to become the city’s top quarterback. Against USC on Saturday, he was 22 of 30 for 234 yards with three total touchdowns (two rushing, three passing).
Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had a handful of reasons this year could have gone the wrong way -- a rebuilding year without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, a struggling defense early in the season, injuries to two starting quarterbacks. But Oklahoma State showed staying power this season with a 59-21 win over Texas Tech for a 7-3 record and 5-2 in the Big 12. Clint Chelf, the third starting quarterback of the season, got the call against Texas Tech despite a healthy J.W. Walsh. Chelf was 11 of 21 for 229 yards with three touchdowns, and Walsh entered the game on a handful of plays to account for a passing score and rushing TD. Keep in mind neither of these two quarterbacks began the season as the starter. Quarterback depth is in strong supply in Stillwater.
Oklahoma. Fourth-quarter wins have been rare for Oklahoma recently. Before Saturday, the Sooners hadn’t had a fourth-quarter comeback since 2007. On Saturday, Oklahoma waited until the final minutes to defeat West Virginia and keep the Sooners’ BCS hopes alive. That’s no thanks to the Oklahoma defense, which allowed 458 rushing yards and 320 passing to West Virginia. Landry Jones passed for 554 yards and six touchdowns including a six-yard TD to Kenny Stills with 24 seconds remaining for a 50-49 win.
Lane Kiffin, USC. How disastrous was USC’s loss to UCLA? Reports asked both Kiffin and his athletic director, Pat Haden, if the could would return next season (the answer from both was yes). The Trojans fell behind by 24 points in the first quarter, turned the ball over three times and had a field goal and a punt blocked. It’s been a fall of historic proportions for the preseason No. 1 (by Athlon and Associated Press). Since the first AP poll in 1936, only four other teams have started No. 1 and lost four games. Before USC dropped to 7-4, the last team to do so was Auburn in 1984. With a game against undefeated USC and a bowl game looming, USC could be the second preseason No. 1 team to lose five games or the first to lose six.
Louisiana Tech. Even with a 59-57 loss to Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech could still cling to a slim hope of a BCS bid if it finished in the top 16 and and ahead of an BCS automatic-qualifying conference champion in the rankings. Now, Louisiana Tech doesn’t seem likely to win the WAC. The Bulldogs battled back from a 41-17 deficit late in the fourth quarter to take Utah State to overtime, but the Bulldogs couldn’t finish the job with a 48-41 loss. Utah State, which entered the season with little fanfare, is a win over lowly Idaho away from an undefeated conference season.
Ole Miss’ fourth quarters.. The Rebels are among the most improved teams in the country under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, but the last two weeks have been excruciating anyway. Ole Miss let a 17-point fourth quarter lead evaporate to a 27-26 loss to Vanderbilt last week. In Baton Rouge, Ole Miss led for the entire third quarter and then with 11:11 remaining before Odell Beckham returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown to tie. In a classic case of whether or not to allow the other team to score, Ole Miss elected to play defense in the final seconds in the red zone against LSU in a tie game. The Rebels stopped Jeremy Hill at the 2-yard line, which allowed LSU to run down the clock and then score the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left. At least the LSU win brought another classic moment from Les Miles:
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. By virtue of Collin Klein throwing throwing three interceptions in Kansas State’s loss to Baylor, Manziel may be in position to be the first freshman to win the Heisman. Even though Texas A&M faced Sam Houston State, Manziel managed to add to his resume. With 267 passing yards and 100 rushing yards, he became the fifth quarterback and first freshman to top 3,000 passing and 1,000 rushing in a season. And with 1,029 rushing yards this season, Manziel also set a record for most rushing yards by a freshman quarterback. .
Marqise Lee, USC. Few are better playmakers than Lee, but the odds of a receiver on a four-loss team finishing high on the list seem slim. Lee caught nine passes for 158 yards with a touchdown in the loss to UCLA, but he also lost a fumble when lined up a tailback.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. The Huskies quarterback isn’t going to be a Heisman finalist, but he may show up in the No. 6-10 range in the balloting. On Wednesday night, Lynch didn’t disappoint with 407 passing yards and 162 rushing yards to clinch the MAC West and a 10-win season in a 31-24 win over Toledo.
CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES CLINCHED
NAMES YOU’LL SEE IN COACHING RUMORS
CRAZY FINAL SCORES
8.Touchdowns for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. In a 62-48 win over NC State, Boyd passed for five touchdowns and ran for three to account for an ACC-record eight. The Wolfpack took a seven-point lead in the second quarter when Boyd accounted for Clemson’s next six unanswered TDs.
351. Rushing yards for Temple running back Montel Harris. The Boston College transfer was in position to set the ACC’s career rushing record, but he’ll have to settle for the Big East single-game record with 351 and seven touchdowns against Army. Harris was held out of practice for most of the week after leaving last week’s loss to Cincinnati with a knee injury.
21, 45. Two records that seem out of place in this high-flying era of college football: Alabama’s A.J. McCarron set a school record with 21 touchdown passes this season. And Penn State’s Matt McGloin set a career record for the Nittany Lions with 45 touchdown passes.
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Sean Mannion’s return. The return of Oregon State starting quarterback Sean Mannion was easy to overlook late Saturday night, but certainly not for Cal. Mannion was 24 of 34 for 325 yards with four touchdowns in the 62-14 rout of the Bears. Mannion was at full strength for the first time since Oregon State’ fourth game of the season, an interesting development for the Oregon-Oregon State game this week.
Kent State clinches division. Kent State’s best season since Don James was the coach could end with a conference championship. The Golden Flashes clinched a MAC title game appearance thanks to two late defensive stands and 241 rushing yards from Dri Archer in a 31-24 win over Bowling Green. At 10-1 Kent State has to wonder what might have been if not for a 47-17 loss to Kentucky in September. The same could be said for MAC West champion Northern Illinois, whose only loss was by one point to Iowa.
Houston, Southern Miss futility. It’s been apparent for several weeks that Houston and Southern Miss wouldn’t sniff the postseason, but things got worse for last year’s Conference USA division winners. Houston was eliminated from bowl contention in a wild 44-41 loss to Marshall. And defending C-USA champion Southern Miss continued a bid for a winless season by losing 34-33 at home to 3-8 UTEP.
THREE DEFENSIVE STANDS
Ohio State. At the time, it seemed like Ohio State’s stop of Montee Ball at the goal line merely denied Ball a chance to set the FBS career touchdown record. It may have cost Wisconsin the game and legitimacy in the Big Ten Leaders race. Ohio State remained undefeated and won the division (at least as far as the actual standings are concerned) when linebacker Ryan Shazier forced a Montee Ball fumble on a fourth-and-1 at the goal line. Wisconsin wouldn’t denied the second time the Badgers attempted to tie from the goal line, but Ohio State won the game 21-14 in overtime.
Northwestern. Finally, the Wildcats didn’t fold. Northwestern flopped in the second half against Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State this season but not against Michigan State. Northwestern held against Michigan State, including a third-quarter interception to clinch the 23-20 win for an 8-3 season.
Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights offense played with fire with red zone turnovers, but the defense held to keep Rutgers’ Big East title hopes intact in a 10-3 win over Cincinnati. Rutgers had two interceptions and held Cincinnati’s George Winn to a 35 rushing yards, 40 fewer yards than Winn had in any game this season. If Rutgers defeats Louisville in the final game of the season, the Scarlet Knights will win their first Big East title.
BEST GAMES NEXT WEEK
Tavon Austin’s record day -- rushing. West Virginia has had trouble running the ball under Dana Holgorsen, so the coach turned to his best offensive threat to take over. Austin, a Biletnikoff Award-contending receiver, rushed for 344 yards on 21 carries in the 50-49 loss to Oklahoma. Austin’s 572 all-purpose yards (including 82 receiving and 146 on kickoff returns) was only six yards short of an FBS record.
Manziel’s extra point attempt. In a game where the outcome was never in doubt, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin shuffled things up by sending his star quarterback out for an extra point attempt in the 47-28 win over Sam Houston State. Manziel can set SEC and freshman offense records, but he’s not going to play special teams -- the attempt sailed wide right.
Michigan starts Gardner and Robinson. Denard Robinson made his return to the starting lineup against Iowa, but as a tailback to Devin Gardner. Nerve damage in his elbow rendered the former quarterback a non-factor in the passing game, but he could still run, leading the Wolverines with 98 rushing yards. However, Gardner was the star of the day by completing 18 of 23 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns. Robinson lined up at running back, receiver and quarterback, but his rushing yards will still add to his Big Ten record for rushing yards as a quarterback, according to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.