Everything you need to know in college football following Week 13
From playoff contenders to the coaching carousel, Steve Palazzolo has all of the biggest takeaways from rivalry week.
Everything you need to know in college football following Week 13
Rivalry Week. College Football Playoff implications.
There’s nothing better than this in college football as some of the nation’s most heated rivalries meant just a little bit more in a number of cases across the country. While the playoff is a four-team showdown, Week 13 was an elimination week for many teams, perhaps showing that regular season drama is still alive and well in college football.
Here are the top takeaways from the last true regular season week of the year:
- Ohio State to the playoffs with double overtime win over Michigan
The Game lived up to the hype.
From the defensive struggle to the late drama, the slow buildup to an epic finish rivaled that of a classic championship fight. There were pick-sixes, fourth down conversions, chip-shot missed field goals, and of course, two overtimes that kept over 110,000 people on the edge of their seats at the Horseshoe. As expected, the defenses made it difficult to move the ball, with Ohio State’s defense shutting down Michigan’s rushing attack (2.7 yards per carry) while the Wolverines’ defense made the Buckeyes earn every one of their 126 passing yards, putting pressure on QB J.T. Barrett on 24 of his 43 dropbacks. In the end, Ohio State’s 4th-and-1 conversion by mere inches will be discussed for years while RB/WR Curtis Samuel became the hero with the game-winning touchdown. Samuel has been Ohio State’s best offensive weapon all season and it’s fitting that in addition to the game-winner, he also had a another key run on the final drive.
The irony of the situation is that Ohio State’s win ensures Penn State gets to represent the Big Ten East in the Big Ten Championship. While it certainly felt like we watched the two top teams in the conference, neither Michigan nor Ohio State will be conference championships. With only one loss, but no conference title, Ohio State will still likely make the College Football Playoff, but it certainly puts the committee in quite a bind to possibly include two Big Ten teams in the final four. Michigan will likely be out of the top four, though with such a close loss and championship week yet to happen, we could see them hold onto the four spot for one more week before a conference champion slides into the official final four the following week. Regardless, we witnessed an epic game from two evenly-matched teams and the drama of a potential national championship opportunity made it that much more dramatic in a game that will go down as one of the best of the season or perhaps even recent history.
- Washington reminds the nation that they’re still a contender
After a Week 11 loss to USC may have moved Washington down a tick in the playoff standings, they made a strong statement in the Apple Cup with a dominant 45-17 win over Washington State. They move on to the Pac-12 Championship next week against Colorado where a win should give the Huskies a ticket to the College Football Playoff but they’ll be right in the middle of a debate with a two-loss Big Ten Champion in either Penn State or Wisconsin and of course the one-loss Buckeyes who will be sitting at home next weekend.
Against Washington State, Washington showed just how good they can be with an all-around effort that featured their top players making plays on both sides of the ball. Backup running back Lavon Coleman stole the show on offense with an 85.9 game grade while safety Budda Baker turned in one of his best games of the year with an 86.5 overall grade in which he was a big part of the Huskies’ ability to limit a high-powered Washington State passing attack. While Washington is still lacking the pass rush missed from injured edge rusher Joe Mathis, they have the offensive pieces, run defense and secondary to make things interesting in a potential matchup against Alabama in the playoff.
- Penn State and Wisconsin take care of business, will meet in the Big Ten Championship
While Michigan-Ohio State certainly felt like the Big Ten Championship, Penn State and Wisconsin will meet in the title game with the winner laying a strong claim for inclusion into the College Football Playoff. Both teams have only two losses, with Penn State falling to Pittsburgh and Michigan while Wisconsin lost to Ohio State and Michigan. Regardless of the outcome, the playoff committee will face a philosophical decision to include one-loss Ohio State in the playoff despite their not winning the conference title or perhaps pitting a two-loss Big Ten Champion against the merits of a one-loss Pac-12 champion in Washington.
As for the game –that should be played outdoors, perhaps in Chicago in order to get a true “Big Ten” feel rather than playing it in the dome in Indianapolis – it will feature two strong defenses as Penn State has one of the nation’s best pass rushes while Wisconsin has one of the best group of linebackers in the country. It may just come down to which quarterback can make enough plays and Penn State QB Trace McSorley has been on a roll in recent weeks and he’s coming off one of his best games of the year against Michigan State at 76.5 overall. The winner of this matchup earns the right to be discussed as one of the College Football Playoff entrants, but even with a championship in the nation’s top conference this season, there’s no guarantee that the Big Ten Champion will be included in the final playoff picture.
- Clemson shows true potential, faces big challenge against Virginia Tech in ACC Championship
All season we’ve lamented Clemson’s inability to live up to their offensive potential behind Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson at quarterback and a plethora of talented players at the skill positions, but they put together a complete game in their 56-7 trouncing of South Carolina. Watson had his best game of the season throwing the ball as his 92.8 game grade would indicate and WR Mike Williams showed his big-play potential with three scores to give him six in the last four games. Watson has now graded as the No. 2 quarterback in the nation since Week 9, making a similar late-season run as he did in 2015 when he graded as the top quarterback from Week 9 through the national championship game. If he continues to make good decisions and drop the ball in a downfield buckets, Clemson’s offense has the potential to be the best that steps onto the field in the College Football Playoff. However, getting through Virginia Tech will be no easy task as the Hokies represent one of the best defenses Clemson has faced all season. Their cumulative coverage grade ranks third in the nation in PFF grading and their capable of throwing a wrench in Clemson’s playoff plans in what should be a great game for the ACC title.
- Alabama rolls, takes another step toward all-time great season
Even in a game that Alabama could have technically lost without losing any status for the College Football Playoff, the Crimson Tide managed a 30-12 win in the Iron Bowl against Auburn. The game may have lost some of its national luster given Alabama’s dominance this season, but it still means plenty within the state of Alabama and the Crimson Tide took care of business as they turn their attention to Florida in the SEC Championship. Alabama held a strong Auburn rushing attack to just 71 yards on 25 carries (2.8 yards per attempt) and they head into the postseason as the strongest favorite we’ve seen in the College Football Playoff era with a chance to cap one of the most dominant seasons of all time with three more wins.
- Colorado caps best story of the regular season with a win and a trip to the Pac-12 Championship
In a wild season where many of the top teams fell flat, Colorado rose from obscurity to win the Pac-12 South in one of the best turnarounds we’ve seen in recent years. The Buffaloes had only 10 wins over the last three years, but here they sit at 10-2 with a chance to take home a Pac-12 Championship if they can upset Washington in the title game. The secondary is one of the nation’s best as they lead in PFF’s cumulative coverage grades behind a talented unit that features good length and a number of playmakers. CBs Ahkello Witherspoon (86.8) and Chidobe Awuzie (85.9) rank among the top 20 at the position while Isaiah Oliver has shown great potential with a 78.8 overall grade. Safety Tedric Thompson seems to make big plays every week and his 85.8 overall grade now ranks sixth among the country’s safeties. They should give Washington all they can handle next week, but regardless of the outcome, Colorado’s re-emergence is one of the great stories of the season.
- Louisville loses again, but Lamar Jackson should still be your Heisman Trophy winner
The Heisman Trophy has been Lamar Jackson’s to lose since early September and while his November hasn’t necessarily been Heisman-worthy, his entire body of work should still leave him the favorite to hoist the trophy. The Heisman can often be about big moments and recency bias, and Louisville losing their last two games was not the best way to make a lasting impression on the voters, but Jackson has been the most dynamic player in college football this season and his team’s lack of success down the stretch cannot take that away. Perhaps Jackson set the standards too high in the early going as he was on pace to score 70-plus touchdowns for much of the season, but he still finished with 30 passing and 21 rushing while carrying the Louisville offense on a weekly basis. Jackson is not the most polished passer, but his 97.8 rushing grade leads all quarterbacks and he’s rushed for an incredible 1,802 yards. Jackson’s worst games have been better than other top contenders’ worst games this season, so he should still be the pick for the Heisman Trophy.
- ACC makes statement
Rivalry week features a number of ACC-SEC showdowns every year and this round was certainly won by the ACC. They went 3-1 in head-to-head competition Saturday as only Kentucky managed a win over Louisville among SEC teams while Georgia fell to Georgia Tech, Clemson dominated South Carolina, and Florida State won handily against Florida. This caps a terrible year of SEC East football in which no team truly wanted to win the division and a flawed Florida team will head to Atlanta next weekend to play the best team in the land in Alabama. On the other side, the ACC has been extremely competitive all season and they capped a strong year with a statement in the final regular season weekend. Clemson heads to the ACC Championship against Virginia Tech in what could be their most difficult challenge of the season while Louisville and Florida State wait to hear their names called for top bowl bids as a consolation prize.
- Coaching Carousel is in motion
Ed Orgeron is in at LSU. Tom Herman goes to Texas. Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly may be exploring his options, while Louisville has some kind of “major coaching announcement” scheduled for Sunday. The carousel is in motion and it should be a wild one as there are still plenty of jobs that can open up and of course Les Miles and Charlie Strong are now on the open market. We’ll have more from our conference analysts as more hires fall into place, but on the surface, it appears as if Orgeron will lose some top talent to the NFL draft while Herman inherits a young, talented team at Texas that could surprise next year whether it was him or Strong at the helm.
- Odds and Ends
- Navy continues to roll with a 75-31 win over SMU, just one week after scoring 66 points against East Carolina. Their triple-option attack takes on Temple in the AAC Championship next weekend
- Western Michigan rowed the boat once again with a 55-35 win over Toledo to complete a 12-0 regular season. They play Ohio for the MAC Championship next Friday while Head Coach P.J. Fleck gets thrust into the coaching carousel rumors.
- A goal-line stand by Air Force thwarted Boise State’s Mountain West title hopes, opening the door for Wyoming to play San Diego State for the championship next Saturday night.
PFF Stats of the Week
- Clemson QB Deshaun Watson completed 26-of-32 passes with four of his six incompletions being dropped. That was good for a 93.8 percent adjusted completion percentage that led the nation’s quarterbacks this week.
- Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes threw for 335 yards and five touchdowns on deep passes alone (20-plus yards in air) as he completed six of his nine attempts against Baylor.
- With 193 yards on only 23 pass routes, Boise State WR Cedric Wilson gained 8.39 yards/route to lead all receivers this week.
- Kansas State edge defender Jordan Willis has been one of the nation’s best his season and he picked up three sacks, two QB hits, and 10 hurries in an incredible effort against Kansas.
- While Illinois’ season is over, edge defender Dawuane Smoot leads all defensive linemen with 837 snaps this year.
- Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis finished the regular season with eight pass breakups and two interceptions, totaling the same number of catches he allowed on 34 targets (10).