Top 25 takeaways: Contenders live on edge where TCU thrives
College football playoff contenders lived on the brink of Week 12, with the top four teams all faltering to varying degrees and at various times. Then Tennessee’s No. 5 fell with a thud.
For TCU #4, it was just another Saturday.
“It looks more frantic than it is,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said of the game-winning game. He could have described horned frog season.
Both TCU and No. 3 Michigan needed last-second field goals to stay undefeated.
No. 1 Georgia went through a road game against Kentucky, never seriously threatened but never really comfortable.
No. 2 Ohio State trailed at halftime against Maryland and weighed on the Terps in the fourth quarter, before shutting them down.
While it seemed a bit wobbly at times, Michigan (11-0) vs. Ohio State (11-0) for the right to go to the Big Ten championship is set. Hopefully the Wolverines will have star tailback Blake Corum (knee) near 100%.
“What more could you ask for?” Buckeyes defensive end Zach Harrison said.
The big upheaval came in the spotlight of Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks, a team that lost 38-6 in Florida last week and was averaging 20 points per game in Southeastern Conference games, broke up Tennessee.
No unranked team had ever scored more points against a top five team. Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns and Tennessee Heisman Trophy contender Hendon Hooker was out in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.
“For us to grow as a program, we need to look at this opportunity and understand what happened,” Vols coach Josh Heupel said.
With the Vols’ loss, several weeks of talk about multiple SEC teams making the playoffs pretty much goes out the window. It could still happen if LSU beats Georgia in the SEC title game. But good luck with that, Tigers.
As for TCU, the Hypnotoads don’t have anyone else to worry about. The final chapter of one of the best stories of the season has yet to be written.
Dykes, who replaced TCU great Gary Patterson after last season, did not make the roster through the transfer portal. He took what he had and turned it into a playoff contender in what is the most competitive conference, top to bottom, in the country.
TCU is a turnaround team led by a quarterback who didn’t even win the job before the start of the season. Chandler Morris was the man coming out of preseason, but an injury paved the way for Max Duggan. The eldest showed flashes of greatness, if not consistency, during his time in Fort Worth, rose to the occasion and became a star.
Duggan passed for 327 yards against Baylor and walked the Frogs within reach as the clock ran out.
“I thought Max did what Max did,” Dykes said.
It looked like a fire drill as TCU led their shooting unit into the field, but Griffin Kell calmly threw a 40-yarder as time expired.
The Frogs have won eight games by 10 points or less. By comparison, Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan have a total of four wins by 10 points less. The Buckeyes don’t have one.
It’s not a knock on TCU, but it’s fair to wonder when the magic will run out. Since the Big 12 went to a nine-game conference schedule in 2011, only one team has gone 9-0 in the league and never has a team entered the championship game undefeated overall.
The Frogs return home next week to take on Iowa State, which sits last in the Big 12 but epitomizes the conference. The Cyclones lost five games by single-digit margins.
Waiting for the frogs in the Big 12 title game, there will likely be 19th Kansas State. The Wildcats must beat Kansas next week to secure a spot. Texas is still alive too.
K-State, you may recall, led TCU 28-10 before the Frogs came back strong — and the Wildcats were forced to play a third-string quarterback due to injury. The Frogs won 38-28.
Among the blue bloods vying for a spot in the CFP, Horned Frogs may be the outliers, but they are definitely worth it.
Lincoln Riley’s Southern California portal stars are now at the center of the college football universe.
The seventh-ranked Trojans beat No. 16 UCLA in exactly the type of back-and-forth that was expected.
Caleb Williams, the quarterback who followed Riley from Oklahoma to USC, had 502 total yards.
Williams and the Trojans have been on a loose schedule, getting a few big games before Saturday. The Pac-12 Rose Bowl showdown between future Big Ten schools was the first of what could be three straight games that could determine a playoff berth and the Heisman Trophy.
If USC can beat No. 18 Notre Dame next week and then win the Pac-12 title game, it will be hard to keep the Trojans out of the playoffs at 12-1 and the brilliant Williams from becoming the eighth Southern Cal player to win the Heisman.
“I just want to say that college football on the West Coast, and here in Los Angeles, is alive and well,” Riley told reporters.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
The Pac-12’s other showpiece game also went to the wire, with a hobbled Bo Nix and Oregon’s No. 12 beating Utah’s No. 10 to put the Ducks in position to face off. the Trojans in Las Vegas. Oregon must beat No. 25 Oregon State next week to set up a Pac-12 title game with first-year coaches Dan Lanning and Riley. … Just as Drake Maye’s Heisman campaign was heating up, the No. 13 North Carolina was shut out in the second half in a surprising loss to Georgia Tech. Maye did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season. … The Tar Heels misstep was not good news for No. 9 Clemson and the ACC. Even with the Tennessee loss, the Tigers are toward the end of the CFP contender lineup. … Somehow, the Mississippi No. 14 rushed for 463 yards and was knocked out by Arkansas. The Razorbacks, behind Rocket Sanders rushing for 232 yards on three touchdowns, were up 42-6 heading into the fourth quarter. … Vanderbilt now has a two-game winning streak in the SEC. A week after the Commodores snapped a 26-game conference skid against Kentucky, they beat Florida at home for the first time since 1988… Indiana won for the first time since mid-September, beating Michigan State in overtime while completing two passes. … Not to be outdone, the Army and Navy both won without making a pass. The contenders finished their non-military portion of the program by upsetting No. 17 UCF. The loss doesn’t eliminate the Knights from the AAC Championship Game, but it does mean the winner of No. 21 Tulane and No. °22 Cincinnati on Black Friday will host it. … Arizona QB Jayden of Laura, a transfer from Washington State, said Saturday’s game against his former team was “personal.” The Cougars have won and intercepted Laura four times. … In the Ohio Valley Conference, a tie for the league championship between Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri State was broken by a coin toss, streamed live online, because they didn’t play in the regular season. SEMO won the flip and an automatic bid for the FCS playoffs. UT-Martin will await Sunday’s draft show and hope for a general offer. … Iowa is inevitable. The Hawkeyes won their fourth straight game in typical Iowa fashion against Minnesota, and now they just have to beat Nebraska on Black Friday to clinch the Big Ten West for the second straight year. … Wisconsin edged Nebraska with a late touchdown to secure bowl eligibility for the 21st straight year. It wasn’t the best 4-2 streak for the Badgers. Will that be enough for Wisconsin to strip Jim Leonhard’s interim tag? Well, Wisconsin released the post, as required by state law, right after the game. A good sign that he will appoint Leonhard after the required seven-day wait.
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TCU square kicker Griffin Kell (39) celebrates with teammates Jake Boozer (47) and Jordy Sandy (31) after scoring a field goal in the final seconds of an NCAA college football game against Bayor in Waco, Texas, Saturday, November 19. 2022. TCU won 29-28. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
TCU square kicker Griffin Kell, center, celebrates with teammates Jordy Sandy (31) and Kee’Yon Stewart after Kell scored a goal in the final seconds of an NCAA college football game against Baylor at Waco, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 19. 2022. TCU won 29-28. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Michigan kicker Jake Moody (13) celebrates after an NCAA college football game against Illinois in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Saturday Nov. 19, 2022. Michigan won 19-17. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)