By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Alabama – The Crimson Tide making this section of the column has nothing to do with their victory over Georgia Southern. Losses by Oregon, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have cleared the way for Alabama to rematch against LSU in the national title game – provided both teams win out. The Crimson Tide still has to play rival Auburn this Saturday, but is back in the picture for the national title.
Arizona – The Wildcats have had to overcome a lot of obstacles this season. A brutal schedule got Arizona off to a 1-5 start, which also cost coach Mike Stoops his job. The Wildcats could have packed in for the year, but destroyed UCLA 48-12 in Tim Kish's first game as interim coach and beat rival Arizona State 31-27 for their third win of this season.
Arkansas State – Under the direction of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Red Wolves clinched a share of the Sun Belt title with their win over MTSU in Week 12. And they will be bowling for the first time since 2005, as they accepted a bid to play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in early January. Freeze is a hot commodity in coaching searches and may not return to Jonesboro in 2012.
Baylor – Under coach Art Briles and quarterback Robert Griffin, the Bears have made a lot of progress in raising the program over the last few seasons. Baylor earned its first victory over Oklahoma in school history, led by Griffin’s 479 passing yards and four touchdowns on Saturday night. The junior quarterback vaulted back into the Heisman discussion with that performance and should be a lock for a trip to New York. The Bears have not won more than seven games since 1991. But with winnable contests against Texas and Texas Tech remaining, Baylor should have a chance to get to eight or nine victories before its bowl game.
Houston – The Cougars’ offense gets all of the credit for the team’s 11-0 start, but the defense delivered in Saturday’s 37-7 victory over SMU. The Mustangs were without running back Zach Line and have struggled to get consistent quarterback play most of the year, but Houston’s defense did not allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Cougars are going to need both sides to come through on Friday, as they play at Tulsa for Conference USA’s West Division title.
Iowa State – The Cyclones kicked off a crazy college football weekend with a 37-31 upset win over Oklahoma State. The victory likely knocked the Cowboys out of the national title game, but gets Iowa State bowl eligible for the second time in three seasons under coach Paul Rhoads. Lost in the upset talk is a bright future for this team. The Cyclones have two talented playmakers on offense (quarterback Jared Barnett and running back James White), along with a defense that should be solid next season. Rhoads is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches and will continue to pull off upsets like the nation saw on Friday night as long as he stays in Ames.
Louisiana Tech – As the regular season winds down, it’s time to dish out some credit to some of the teams outside of the BCS conferences. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in the second half to upset Nevada 24-20 and take control of the WAC title race. Louisiana Tech is 7-4 entering its last regular season game (New Mexico State), and head coach Sonny Dykes has done a good job of turning this program around in just two years.
Michigan – With losses by Oregon, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, combined with the Wolverines’ blowout victory over Nebraska, Michigan is inching closer to earning a spot in a BCS bowl. It was a complete performance by the Wolverines in the victory over the Cornhuskers. The defense never allowed Nebraska’s rushing attack to get on track, while Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint provided more than enough offense for the victory. Coach Brady Hoke has done a great job in his first season and hopes to lead the Wolverines to a victory over Ohio State this Saturday.
Michigan State – Thanks to Michigan’s win over Nebraska and the Spartans’ 55-3 win over Indiana, the first Legends Division trophy will have a spot in East Lansing. Michigan State took no chances with an upset-minded Hoosiers’ team, pulling away for a 34-3 lead at halftime. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was terrific in his final home game, throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns on 16 completions. Michigan State will play in the first Big Ten title game on Dec. 3 against Wisconsin or Penn State.
NC State – It has certainly been an up and down season in Raleigh. The drama started after spring practice, as coach Tom O’Brien decided Mike Glennon – not Russell Wilson – would be his starting quarterback for 2011. The Wolfpack have wins over Virginia and rival North Carolina, but also own a head-scratching loss to Boston College. NC State crushed Clemson 37-13 on Saturday, moving it within one win of reaching a bowl game. Getting seven wins and into the postseason would certainly ease the pressure on O’Brien.
Penn State – With a world of off-the-field distractions surrounding them, the Nittany Lions went into Columbus and pulled off a 20-14 upset over Ohio State. In an effort to spark a struggling offense, the Penn State coaches dusted off the Wildcat formation, which ended up being a key component to the offensive attack on Saturday afternoon. Interim coach Tom Bradley has done a good job of keeping the team focused, but can the Nittany Lions win the division title in Madison next Saturday? It certainly won’t be easy, but then again, no one expected Penn State to go into Columbus and win.
Rutgers – Coaching staffs at Louisville, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are certainly going to be thanking Greg Schiano this week. With the Scarlet Knights’ 20-3 win over Cincinnati, the race to win the Big East is wide open. Five teams, including Rutgers, have two conference losses entering Week 13. The Scarlet Knight offense has been inconsistent throughout the year, but running back Jawan Jamison gashed the Bearcats for 200 yards, while quarterback Chas Dodd completed 21 of 35 throws for 182 yards. Rutgers need to beat Connecticut this Saturday, while getting a loss by West Virginia and Louisville to win the conference outright.
USC – It’s really a shame the Trojans are ineligible for a bowl game this season. After pushing Stanford and beating Oregon, USC is one of the top 10-15 teams in the nation. The 38-35 victory over the Ducks has to be coach Lane Kiffin’s best win at USC and sets the table for what could be a big season in 2012. If quarterback Matt Barkley and tackle Matt Kalil return, the Trojans could be picked among the top five in the preseason.
Utah – Despite losing quarterback Jordan Wynn to a season-ending shoulder injury in October, the Utes haven’t quit in the Pac-12 title race. Utah has won four games in a row, largely due to the play of running back John White and a defense that is allowing only 19.1 points a game. The Utes need losses by Arizona State and UCLA to play for the conference title, but a win over Colorado this Friday could land Utah in the Alamo Bowl. Not bad for a team in its first season of Pac-12 play.
Virginia – With Virginia Tech winning on Thursday night against North Carolina, the Cavaliers knew they had to knock off Florida State to keep their ACC Coastal hopes alive. Mission accomplished. Virginia shocked Florida State 14-13, setting up a de-facto playoff game next Saturday against the Hokies. Head coach Mike London has done a great job in just two seasons, and the victory in Tallahassee likely earned him the ACC Coach of the Year award.
Wyoming – Let’s give a little credit to a team that has flown under the radar this year. The Cowboys got bowl eligible with a 31-10 victory over New Mexico, which also improved their record to 7-3. Wyoming has quality conference wins over San Diego State and Air Force and lost a close game to TCU (31-20). Freshman quarterback Brett Smith is having a solid season, throwing for 2,226 yards and 15 scores, while adding 518 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Arizona State – What in the world is going on in Tempe? The Sun Devils appeared to have complete control of the South Division entering the final month of the season. Since a 48-14 victory over Colorado, Arizona State has lost three straight games. And none of the opponents were elite competition – UCLA, Washington State and Arizona. Despite the lackluster finish, the Sun Devils still have a chance to make the Pac-12 title game if they beat California and UCLA loses this Saturday against USC. Coach Dennis Erickson has denied rumors he will be leaving at the end of the year, but questions still exist about whether he will be on the sidelines next season.
Cincinnati – The loss of quarterback Zach Collaros is likely going to cost the Bearcats a shot at the Big East title. Backup Munchie Legaux was unable to generate much offense in the 20-3 loss to Rutgers, allowing the defense to focus on stopping running back Isaiah Pead. Cincinnati’s two-game losing streak has erased its commanding lead in the conference. The season isn't over for the Bearcats, but they need a lot of help to get back into the No. 1 spot in the Big East.
Clemson – A week after clinching a spot in the ACC title game, the Tigers came out flat in a 37-13 loss to NC State. Receiver Sammy Watkins did not play with a shoulder injury, but the offense struggled to generate anything on the ground, while quarterback Tajh Boyd looked out of rhythm and tossed two picks. Clemson’s defense allowed the Wolfpack to dominate the time of possession, while allowing nearly 400 yards of offense. The Tigers play at rival South Carolina this Saturday, before the ACC title game against Virginia or Virginia Tech on Dec. 3.
Florida State – The Seminoles and Virginia combined for one of the strangest endings to an ACC game in recent memory. Florida State had a last-second opportunity to win, but kicker Dustin Hopkins missed the kick, giving the Cavaliers a 14-13 victory. The loss snapped the Seminoles’ five-game winning streak and only added to a disappointing season in Tallahassee. Florida State has the talent to be a national title contender, but will everything come together in 2012?
Oklahoma – Oklahoma State’s loss to Iowa State spoiled some of the anticipation for the Bedlam matchup on Dec. 3, but the Sooners still had a chance to enter that matchup with a lot on the line. However, Oklahoma’s 45-38 loss to Baylor has knocked it out of the national title picture for good. The Sooners had no trouble moving the ball, but their defense had no answer for stopping Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin. If Oklahoma beats the Cowboys on in two weeks, they will win the Big 12 and make another trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Oklahoma State – Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Cowboys to play for the national title. However, Oklahoma State fell victim to an upset-minded Iowa State team and lost in the second overtime 37-31. The Cowboys still have a chance to get to the national championship, but need a lot of help. Despite the setback, Oklahoma State still has a lot to play for with a Dec. 3 date against Oklahoma in the Bedlam series. If the Cowboys beat the Sooners, they will claim the Big 12 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oregon – After watching Oklahoma State fall to Iowa State on Friday night, the Ducks had to know the opportunity at hand on Saturday night. Despite the opening to inch closer back to the national title game, Oregon fell 38-35 to USC. The Ducks were down 38-14 in the third quarter before rallying within a field goal. Oregon can still win the Pac-12, but any hope of playing for the national championship again is over.
Southern Miss – The Golden Eagles had their eight-game winning streak snapped with a 34-31 loss to UAB. Although the Blazers are a rival to Southern Miss, there’s no excuse to lose to a 2-8 team. The loss dropped the Golden Eagles from the top 25 and ended any outside hopes they had of making an at-large spot in one of the BCS games.
Texas – The Longhorns are better than they were last season, but still not close to contending for the Big 12 title. Developing any consistency on offense has been an issue all season and that was showcased in Saturday’s 17-13 defeat to Kansas State. Quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash combined for only 119 yards and tossed two picks on 32 attempts. Getting running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron back to 100 percent will help the offense, but the Longhorns still need a lot of work.
The SEC’s non-conference games – Georgia Southern, Citadel, Furman and Samford. That’s the competition scheduled by South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn and Florida in Week 12 of the season. Considering the upcoming rivalry games and SEC Championship, it’s understandable teams would want a bye week this late. However, Week 12 was a mostly unwatchable week of games in the SEC.
Looking Ahead to Week 13
A small sample of what's ahead
Texas at Texas A&M (Thursday)
With the Aggies moving to the SEC, this is the final matchup between these two schools for the foreseeable future.
Iowa at Nebraska (Friday)
The first matchup between these two border states since 2000.
Houston at Tulsa (Friday)
The stakes are high for the Cougars, as a loss to the Golden Hurricane will eliminate any shot of making a BCS game.
Pittsburgh at West Virginia (Friday)
The loser of this game is likely eliminated for the Big East title.
Arkansas at LSU (Friday)
The Tigers will clinch the SEC West with a win over the Razorbacks.
California at Arizona State (Friday)
Despite their recent slide, the Sun Devils are still very much in the mix for the South Division crown.
Clemson at South Carolina
Gamecocks need a big effort from their defense to knock off in-state rivals.
Georgia at Georgia Tech
Will the Bulldogs get caught looking ahead to the SEC title game?
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest
Can the Commodores knock off the Demon Deacons and get bowl eligible?
Virginia Tech at Virginia
The winner of this one will clinch a spot in the ACC title game against Clemson.
Florida State at Florida
Usually a big game, but both teams have been a disappointment this season.
Ohio State at Michigan
Wolverines look to snap a seven-game losing streak in this series.
Penn State at Wisconsin
Can the Nittany Lions find a way to slow down Wisconsin’s offense?
Alabama at Auburn
A win by the Crimson Tide likely secures a spot in the national championship.
Oregon State at Oregon
With a win over the Beavers, Ducks will claim the Pac-12 North title.
Notre Dame at Stanford
The Irish can derail the Cardinal’s BCS at-large hopes with a win on Saturday night.
UCLA at USC
Don’t adjust your vision: With a win over the Trojans, the Bruins clinch a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Injuries from Week 12
Georgia RB Isaiah Crowell (ankle) - probable for Week 13
Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Miami OT Seantrel Henderson (knee) - doubtful for Week 13
North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard (concussion) - questionable for Week 13
Notre Dame RB Jonas Gray (knee) - out for the remainder of season
Oklahoma WR Jaz Reynolds (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Oklahoma DE Ronnell Lewis (knee) - out for Week 13
Oregon State WR James Rodgers (ankle) - questionable for Week 13
South Carolina DE Jadevon Clowney (concussion) - questionable for Week 13
South Florida QB B.J. Daniels (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Texas A&M RB Cyrus Gray (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Texas Tech WR Alex Torres (knee) - questionable for Week 13
Washington State QB Connor Halliday (lacerated liver) - out Week 13