It’s rivalry week! Teams have a knack for showing up in ways they haven’t all year when playing their rivals. These matchups often bring out the best in players and coaches, and this week was no different. Michigan thumped Ohio State despite questions about the Wolverines’ real level. South Carolina showed up to Death Valley and broke Clemson’s 7-game win streak in the rivalry. Oregon State rallied in a furious comeback against hated Oregon. Even the disappointing Aggies ruined LSU’s season. A few other teams that we expected to win (Alabama, Illinois, TCU, Maryland, etc.) delivered their most complete efforts of the season. Enjoy my week 13 takeaways, as this is the last week of the regular season. Conference championships are up next!
(2) Michigan Demolishes (3) Ohio State to Reach Big Ten Title Game
With all of the poor opponents faced by Michigan this season and the talk of the supreme offensive talent owned by Ohio State, you’d be forgiven for expecting the Buckeyes to comfortably win this week. To be honest, I thought that might happen myself. In the first half, it felt like that might be the case. Ohio State scored a TD on their opening drive, and then the teams exchanged FGs. After a bit of a cold streak, Michigan finally reached the end zone. QB JJ McCarthy hit Cornelius Johnson for a medium pass, but the OSU CB whiffed on the tackle and let him run all the way to the end zone (69 yards). OSU scored another FG to lead 13-10, but then the secondary had a complete bust, and Johnson was wide open for an easy 75-yard TD.
In spite of that, OSU came back to take a 20-17 lead and then benefitted from clock mismanagement by the Wolverines. With 46 seconds left in the half, Michigan hit an 8-yard pass. The ball was at the 41, but coach Jim Harbaugh curiously didn’t call timeout. He let the clock run all the way down to 17 seconds, at which point OSU took a timeout. Two consecutive false starts short-circuited the weird drive, and Michigan let the clock run out. Momentum seemed to be on the Buckeyes’ side, but their offense shut down for practically the entire second half.
Ohio State punted 4 times, threw 2 INTs, and scored one FG in the second half. The secondary continued to implode, surrendering a 45-yard TD catch to Colston Loveland an 85-yard rushing TD to Donovan Edwards. Michigan didn’t even need star RB Blake Corum, who was barely on the field due to a knee injury. McCarthy wasn’t anything special, and he completed just 50% of his passes. His counterpart, Heisman favorite CJ Stroud, went 31/48 for 349 yards and 2 TDs, but he threw INTs on each of OSU’s final two drives. Michigan was able to blow the game open, winning 45-23 in an embarassing showing for the home team.
Michigan’s path forward is simple: beat Purdue next week, and you’re in the playoff. The Wolverines would earn the 2 seed unless LSU beats Georgia (which would put them at #1). Ohio State may not have a path at all. Conference titles matter, and the Buckeyes won’t be playing for one. A late loss hurts more than an early loss, so their ranking on Tuesday is likely their peak. With a close defeat, OSU had a case to still be one of the best 4 teams, but this debacle could ruin that option. The Buckeyes have actually been shaky for 3 straight weeks, but they were able to salvage two wins. Like last season, a loss to Michigan in the final week of the regular season probably dooms them from a CFP perspective unless USC or TCU collapse.
CJ Stroud is still probably the Heisman favorite based on his overall body of work, but it’s no longer a runaway. Actually, UNC QB Drake Maye might have been able to overtake Stroud, but the Tar Heels have lost 2 straight games to inferior opponents, and the offense failed to show up when needed in either one. With Hendon Hooker injured, the most viable alternative to Stroud is USC QB Caleb Williams. He has quietly produced a monster season, and a win in the Pac-12 championship game could give him some extra credibility. His late games from the perspective of east coast audiences hurts him. Many fans aren’t seeing his best plays. When the votes are cast, Stroud might still take home the hardware.
(20) Ole Miss Falls in Egg Bowl; 4th Loss in Past 5 Games
We had one college football game on Thanksgiving, and it was a good one. Unranked Mississippi State upset the ranked Rebels, but they made things more complicated than they needed to. Both teams scored on their opening drives, with Ole Miss settling for a field goal while MSST reached the end zone. The Rebels would kick 3 field goals (2 from the red zone) in the first half, and they would miss those points later. Bulldogs QB Will Rogers threw an INT that directly lead to an Ole Miss TD, but MSST scored before halftime to trail just 16-14 at the break. After a scoreless third quarter, the Bulldogs scored 10 points in the 4th, taking a 24-16 lead. Then things got weird.
Ole Miss fumbled on just their 3rd play of the succeeding drive, and MSST had a chance to ice the game. With 5 minutes to go, Rogers kept a zone read but fumbled at the 1, with the Rebels recovering at that spot. Given life, Ole Miss converted two 4th downs and drove 99 yards for a TD. Needing a 2-point conversion to tie, Lane Kiffin called TWO timeouts in succession with 1:25 on the clock. The try (a shovel pass) failed, ending the game. Had Kiffin kept those timeouts, they would’ve had 3 remaining. Ole Miss could have then forced a three-and-out to get the ball back one last time with around a minute left. Instead, they ceded the Golden Egg to the Bulldogs.
It hasn’t been discussed much, but Ole Miss is quietly on a terrible run. Aside from a win over the abysmal TAMU Aggies by just 3 points, Ole Miss has dropped their other 4 most recent games. The loss to Alabama is understandable, and the LSU loss looks much better in hindsight. A blowout loss to Arkansas and a defeat in the Egg Bowl are harder to forgive. QB Jaxson Dart has not completely replaced Matt Corral, and the offense has gone cold for stretches. The defense, while better in 2022, has still given up 24+ points in each of their last 7 games. Kiffin has recently been linked to the Auburn head coaching vacancy and has said he’s staying put. After this ending to the season, however, is Auburn secretly happy he was telling the truth?
South Carolina Does It Again, Finishes Off (8) Clemson and the ACC
For the second week in a row, I’m writing about South Carolina knocking off a CFP hopeful. The offense wasn’t nearly as crisp as it was against Tennessee, but the defense stepped up against the Clemson passing game. Gamecocks QB Spencer Rattler threw a pick 6 and also tossed a horrible ball into the end zone. It was an awful decision, and it too was intercepted. He made plenty of other plays though. Rattler finished 25/39 for 360 yards and 2 TDs, which was critical on a day when his team couldn’t run the ball. Clemson ran effectively as well, finishing with 6.4 yards per carry and 2 TDs on the ground.
Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei had his latest and most painful meltdown. The underperforming starter completed just 8 of 29 attempts for a measly 99 yards. He threw a TD and ran for another, but he also tossed an INT. His teammates didn’t help by coughing up two fumbles, both of which were recovered by S. Carolina. The Tigers’ defense has carried them for two full years, but like last year, it couldn’t carry them to the CFP. Despite the offensive fiasco, Clemson scored 30 points because of their strong defensive play. Down 31-30 with 11 minutes left, Clemson forced 3 straight South Carolina punts. In response, the offense punted twice and threw an INT.
Special teams chipped in with a poor play of their own. After South Carolina’s final punt, Antonio Williams ran 8 yards on the return but fumbled. South Carolina recovered, and the game was over at that 31-30 score. Dabo Swinney should be embarrassed that his team couldn’t come from 1 point behind with 3 possessions to do it. This makes the ACC the first Power 5 conference to be eliminated from playoff contention. It was going to be hard for Clemson to get in anyway given their current (8) ranking, but this loss ends their hopes. UNC’s loss already made their conference championship game opponent weaker, and they would have needed OSU to tumble while having USC and TCU bothlose. Even that might not have been enough.
Regarding the team on the other sideline, I demand to see South Carolina ranked on Tuesday. They were ranked one week and then lost, but they’ve rebounded wonderfully. Coach Shane Beamer has done a fantastic job with this team. He has kept Rattler confident despite some poor stretches. His team has now beaten back-to-back CFP contenders ranked in the top 10. Neither game has looked fluky. The Gamecocks have earned themselves a much more prestigious bowl, and I certainly wouldn’t want to play them right now.
Weekly CFP Update and Analysis
Another week, another stable top 4. I wholeheartedly agree with that. There were 4 undefeated teams remaining in the FBS as of Tuesday, and so those teams should have held the CFP spots. I said the same thing about Cincinnati last year; even if you’re a group of 5 team, if you’ve beaten every team on your schedule this late in the season, you’re clearly good. My biggest gripe is the placement of LSU at #5 over USC. The Trojans have only 1 loss, a 1-point heartbreaker against a good Utah team that went for 2 in a very bold decision. LSU had two losses, including a blowout against Tennessee. I felt that until they beat Georgia for the SEC title, they shouldn’t be so highly ranked.
LSU’s stunning no-show against Texas A&M is the biggest story of the week. I would’ve given it its own section like I did for Clemson, but there really isn’t much to talk about. Both offensively and defensively, LSU was outplayed handily by a team that was considered the most underachieving squad in the FBS. The Tigers proved that they’re as overrated as I thought they were. Their ranking was unjustified, but that matters little now. USC will move to #4 and control their own destiny. Other than that, not much changes. I still can’t see 2-loss Alabama or Clemson making it in any scenario because at worst TCU and USC would be 1- and 2-loss conference runners-up, respectively.
Ohio State has new life after LSU’s loss despite the nature of their loss to Michigan and the fact that they aren’t playing for a conference title. I’m thus inclined to say that 5 teams (Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and USC, and OSU) are fighting for 4 spots. To me, Georgia belongs in the top 4 whether they win or lose next week, just like last year. Michigan is heavily favored over Purdue, so I’ll pencil them in for now. If TCU wins the Big XII, they’re in. Should TCU or USC lose, you’d be choosing between Ohio State and a team that is not a conference champion. I’d personally go with TCU no matter what and then USC, but I don’t think the committee would. We’ll find out next week, and I’ll list my final top 4 before the big reveal on Sunday.
What are Ohio State QB CJ Stroud’s NFL Prospects?
Sticking with the OSU-Michigan theme (it was “The Game” after all), let’s talk about another highly touted QB. While a few people prefer Alabama’s Bryce Young, the majority of draft experts feel that Stroud is the #1 QB in this class. I would advise extreme caution if someone is thinking about spending a first-round pick (especially the #1 overall pick) on him. Most of my concern isn’t actually specific to Stroud but rather Ohio State QBs in general. If you look at the data, QBs coming from the Urban Meyer/Ryan Day offense do not translate well to the NFL. This seems to hold regardless of the QB’s style of play or college production.
Think about players such as Troy Smith. Terrelle Pryor. Braxton Miller. JT Barrett. Cardale Jones. Dwayne Haskins (RIP). Justin Fields. None of those players amounted to much as pros (at least thus far in Fields’ case). Turnovers and struggles reading defenses have been their main problems, and that can be directly traced to their college offense. Without experience playing with a pro style, these QBs are forced to learn on the fly in the NFL. Teams may not be willing to wait for their development, or the players might be overwhelmed by all that they have to learn. That can lead to mechanical breakdowns, reckless throws, and damaged confidence.
In two seasons as the starter, Stroud has thrown for over 7500 yards with 81 TDs and just 12 INTs. His accuracy and arm strength are considered excellent, but I don’t know much about his decision making. The OSU offense is like a cheat code, constantly giving its QBs easy reads and simple throws. To determine how Stroud will perform at the next level, you’d have to project with a lot of variance. That feels much too risky to me if you’re taking him with a premium pick. First rounders are supposed to be surefire starters and Pro Bowl players. Someone WILL take Stroud at the top of the draft. Teams talk themselves into QBs all the time. I’m merely here to say that they will be doing so at their own peril.