College Football Recap: A Frenetic Week 12

It’s Sunday night, and I literally just stopped hyperventilating from the frenetic action of Week 12. I’ve got a paper bag next to me just in case. This was the classic “forget everything you know” chaos-fest, with results that look and feel wrong up and down the scoreboard. When Oklahoma State lost Friday night, it felt like a crazy fluke. Turns out it was a harbinger of things to come, and not even the strangest loss of the weekend. In fact, if you had to boil the insanity down to a short blurb, here’s one good option:

With a loss to Iowa State on Friday night, the Oklahoma State Cowboys completely destroyed any chance they had of making the BCS title game. Just 24 hours later, the chance was back.

And really, could things have gone any different after Lee Corso’s hilarious … incident … at the tail end of Gameday Saturday morning? Maybe that was the true harbinger. Nothing could follow form after that. (Also, am I the only one who likes Corso even more now?)

I honestly don’t know where to begin, so let’s just count down the 10 craziest games.

10. No. 9 Stanford 31, Cal 28

Right now, you’re probably reading this and thinking, “Huh, didn’t know that game was so close.” I didn’t either, really, which was a sign of how intense everything else was. In the first half, Cal’s Zach Maynard outplayed Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck in the rain and gave the Bears an early lead. Stanford recovered after halftime, but Cal got within striking distance with a late touchdown before failing to recover an onside kick. Coming into the game, Cal was just 3-4 in the Pac-12. But this was typical of Saturday; even when teams won games they were supposed to win, it was very difficult. And after last week’s loss to Oregon, it’s starting to become evident that Stanford isn’t the elite team we might have thought. But after Saturday, it is a national title contender. Seriously.

9. No. 8 Virginia Tech 24, UNC 21

Virginia Tech was playing at home Thursday night for a chance to reach the ACC title game (with a Virginia loss to Florida State), and its opponent was … well, UNC. The same UNC that scored zero points the weekend before against NC State and had dropped three of its last four. But David Wilson, the nation’s leading rusher coming into the game, only managed 82 yards total for Virginia Tech. The star in his stead was quarterback Logan Thomas. I think coach Frank Beamer’s postgame quote really says all we need to know about Thomas: “I think he doesn’t do crazy things with the ball. There’s a lot to be said for that.” So, I guess credit goes to Thomas for not spinning the ball around on his finger, or pretending it was a telephone, or any number of other crazy things he could have tried that would hurt the team. Instead, he hit on a lot of short passes, didn’t throw a pick, and watched while Carolina’s last pass fell incomplete. This was a really narrow victory against a mediocre team for the Hokies. And by the way, they are are now national title contenders. Yeah, seriously.

8. No. 21 Penn State 20, Ohio State 14

Huge, huge missed opportunity for the Buckeyes at home. And frankly, this is probably the nail in coach Luke Fickell’s coffin (if Ohio State was ever going to keep him in the first place). He took over for Jim Tressel under rotten conditions and he’s had a nice year, but back-to-back losses against Purdue and Penn State have turned a very good season into something more mediocre. On the flip side, it’s a unexpected recovery from the Nittany Lions, who were underdogs despite their ranking. And it gives them some small amount of hope going into next weekend’s game against Wisconsin. The winner of that game makes the Big Ten Championship against Michigan State. And guess what? The Nittany Lions are now a national title contender.

OK, they’re not. I just desperately wanted to keep the theme going. Moving on …

7. No. 14 Georgia 19, Kentucky 10

It was almost nightmare time in Athens. Georgia, facing one of the worst teams in the SEC, just needed a win to secure a spot against one of the SEC West triumvirate in the conference title game. But if there’s one team with the ability to blow a great opportunity like that … well, it’s Clemson. But Georgia is probably top five. Just ask any Bulldog fan; with Kentucky leading for most of the first half, and trailing by just two until the fourth quarter, it felt like another impending disappointment. Aaron Murray led off the final quarter with a touchdown pass, providing the final margin of victory, but it was still puzzling to see the close score flashing on my screen all afternoon. When was Georgia finally going to blow the Wildcats out? It never happened, but by game’s end, the football-watching nation began to get a sense that something was amiss in the wider landscape. Ugly or not, Georgia was fortunate to come away with a win. For the rest of the ranked teams on this list, fate wouldn’t be so kind.

6. University of Alabama-Birmingham 34, no. 20 Southern Miss 31

The real bummer here is that Houston, which will likely play Southern Miss in the conference title game, won’t be able to jump up in the BCS by beating a ranked opponent. Again, this was a match-up of a very good team and a very poor one. UAB came in 2-5 in C-USA, which is like going 0-300 in a major conference. Maybe Southern Miss’ close call with UCF last week was a sign, but the Golden Eagles were still three-touchdown favorites. Whatever the case, a late field goal was enough for UAB to pull off the upset, and probably end any last vestige of national title hope for Houston. On the other hand, they had a really sweet lateral jamboree on the final play, featuring a cross-field pass and a lineman making a deft running back move. 50-second mark:

By the time I’m old, I plan to be an eccentric collector of desperation lateral videos. There’s just nothing better, and it really doesn’t matter if they succeed or fail. After I have enough, I’m going to make a two-hour movie of just those videos, and then I’ll be a billionaire.

5. USC 38, no. 4 Oregon 35

It says a lot about Week 12 that this was only the fifth-most surprising result. But it might well be the most costly. With Oklahoma State falling Friday night, Oregon was one of three remaining teams (Alabama and Oklahoma were the others) with a chance to make the title game against LSU by winning out. Apparently the allure wasn’t very strong for the Ducks, who came out flat at home and dug themselves a 24-7 hole. The offense finally clicked in the third quarter, and a USC fumble gave the Ducks one last chance to march down the field. On the final play of the game, Alejandro Maldonado lined up from 37:

For the record, this is about the 40th amazing game Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit have called this season. It’s getting to the point that the NCAA might have to investigate them for scripting games.

4. Virginia 14, no. 25 Florida State 13

Needing a win to stay alive in the ACC Coastal Division, the Cavaliers managed to hold Florida State to just one touchdown despite giving up 5.6 yards per rush. Trailing 13-7 with 1:53 left in the game, and the Seminole crowd in full throat, Virginia QB Michael Rocco needed only five plays to leads his team to the go-ahead touchdown. The highlight was this 34-yard strike to Tim Smith, which set up an eventual 10-yard run by Kevin Parks.

It was a gutsy, unlikely drive by Rocco and the Cavaliers (weird band name alert), and it gives them a chance to make the ACC title game with a home win against Virginia Tech next weekend. For the Seminoles, it’s another disaster after five straight victories. For their sake, I hope they don’t spend much time thinking about their top 5 ranking from way back when they faced Oklahoma in mid-September. I think that was the last time I heard Jimbo Fisher’s name on TV all year.

3. no. 22 Baylor 45, no. 5 Oklahoma 38

Give Robert Griffin III the Heisman. Or at least reduce the field to two — Griffin and Houston quarterback Case Keenum. All year long, I’ve been saying that despite his excellent statistics, Griffin needed a signature win against an excellent team to legitimize his candidacy. Well, here it is. With 479 yards passing, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and 72 yards rushing thrown in for good measure, Griffin was a superhero. By QB rating, it was his best game against a Big 12 opponent. The final drive was quintessential Griffin; with 51 seconds left (after a running play), he scrambled for 22, scrambled for 8, passed for 12, and threw the game-winning 34-yard touchdown to Terrance Williams. It was as close to a one-man show as you can get in a sport that features 22 on the field at once. Also, Griffin is the only quarterback who has mastered the art of using his own receiver’s hands for trick deflections to create long touchdowns:

It was a bad, bad loss for Oklahoma, which would have been the likely second team in the national title game if it had won out.

2. NC State 37, no. 7 Clemson 13

If this weekend was a movie, this is the part where you’d be like, “screw this, it’s too unbelievable.” I have no explanation for what happened in Raleigh. That score is absurd. Technically, the loss didn’t matter for Clemson. The Tigers are already in the ACC title game, and they’ll have their shot for a BCS bowl. But then again, with games against ranked opponents in South Carolina and (probably) Virginia Tech coming up, could a one-loss Clemson have made the title game? Doesn’t sound too crazy, does it? This embarrassing setback could end up being more costly than we think.

1. Iowa State 37, no. 2 Oklahoma State 31

The game was in Ames, Iowa, and there we were again, with a weak opponent taking on a team who would have made the national title game had they won out. I don’t know if Oklahoma State got caught looking ahead to the final game of the season against Oklahoma, but I do know the Cowboys offense scored zero points in the final 27 minutes of the game. It would be hard for the best defense in the country to accomplish that feat, but to see the Iowa State Cyclones neuter Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and their high-powered attack was stunning. Oklahoma State’s drives over that barren stretch went like so: fumble-punt-interception-punt-punt-missed field goal. To their credit, the Cyclones did well to chew up clock with long drives and keep the Cowboy offense off the field, and another interception off Weeden in double overtime sealed the deal on the massive upset.

One thing that will linger in the memories of Cowboys’ fans is Quinn Sharp’s 37-yard field goal miss with just over a minute remaining. Sharp is one of the country’s best kickers (17-20 field goals on the year, 69-70 extra points), and his field goal went over the right upright:

Rule 8-4-1-b in the official rule book states that the “the crossbar and uprights are treated as a line, not a plane, in determining forward progress of the ball.” Basically, that means if the ball is perceived to go directly over the upright, the field goal is no good. It’s also not reviewable. I’ve watched the replay possibly 20 times, and I still can’t tell. Mostly, it’s impossible to see because the camera angle is poor. In any case, there’s a decent chance that the field goal was actually good, but we’ll never know. Tantalizing.

Despite the loss, Oklahoma State still has a shot to make the BCS title game. A win over Oklahoma — especially an emphatic one — could propel them ahead of the other one-loss teams. But Oklahoma’s loss to Baylor hurts the Cowboys too, because the strength of the victory will be diminished.

The Remaining Undefeateds

It’s down to two.

1. LSU. The Tigers overwhelmed Ole Miss to the tune of 52-3. They’ll have Arkansas this Friday, and a win there will pit them against Georgia in the SEC title game.

2. Houston. Case Keenum continued to break records in Saturday’s 37-7 win over SMU, setting the mark for career completions in the FBS. It’s been three straight weeks of excellent football for the Houston defense, and the offense is as good as any in the country. The Cougars finish with Tulsa next week (undefeated in conference themselves), and with Southern Miss in the conference championship game if they win.

BCS Title Game Drama

After everything that transpired Saturday, it’s looking very much like Alabama and LSU, should they both win out, will meet for a rematch in the BCS title game. The latest BCS rankings have Bama second, and it’s not even close. A win against Auburn in the season finale this weekend should seal the deal for the Crimson Tide. Only two teams can throw a kink into the mix.

1. Oklahoma State. With a win against the Sooners, the Cowboys may do enough to overtake Alabama for second.

2. Arkansas. By beating LSU, the Razorbacks could potentially put Alabama or themselves into the SEC West title game, at which point who knows what could happen. Here’s one scenario: Arkansas wins the tiebreaker to go to the SEC title game, loses to Georgia, and all other contenders around the country lose, meaning LSU and Alabama play for the BCS title despite the fact that neither team won its division, much less its conference. It’s unlikely, sure, but it just shows how screwy the title picture is right now.

If Alabama loses to Auburn, on the other hand, it opens things up for Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, and Stanford.

There are two ideas that appeal to me at the moment. The first, which came from Lou Holtz, is that unless there’s a legitimate one-loss team left after the conference championships, just give LSU the title. The second is that if none of those teams emerge as real challengers, say “screw it,” and let Houston play LSU. Sure, maybe Houston will get killed, but at least it would get a shot. Neither of these things will happen, of course, but a dude can dream. Stay tuned.

The Heisman Watch

Crazy Dark Horse Candidate: Shawn Powell, Florida State. He leads the country with 47.58 yards per punt, and I’ve got a sneaky feeling the era of punter appreciation is about to begin.

Defensive Hopeful Who Will Never Win: Sammy Brown, Houston. He has 26 tackles for loss, which tops the FBS. If only that glory-hog Case Keenum played for a different team …

Top 5:

5. Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky. As always, this spot is reserved for the nation’s leading rusher. Rainey, with 1,468 yards to his name, has exactly two more than Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, and 24 more than David Wilson of Virginia Tech. It’s coming down to the wire.

4. Jordan White, Western Michigan. A lackluster showing by LaMichael James against USC means I’m going out on a limb and picking a receiver for the fourth spot. White has 1,389 receiving yards and 108 receptions to lead the nation, and those totals could actually be higher. In Western Michigan’s first game of the year, against Michigan, the game was called in the third quarter due to lightning. At that point, White had 12 catches for 119 yards. Some outlets count those stats, giving him over 1,500 yards on the year. Others, including the NCAA, do not.

3. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. He’s still the nation’s leader with a 199.3 QB rating and 10.8 yards per attempt, and has five rushing touchdowns to boot. His 26:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio is also particularly impressive. Plus, he’s on the verge of leading his team to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth.

2. Case Keenum, Houston. He’s second for the first time all season because of the man below, but it’s a tight, tight race. He’s the last Heisman candidate with an unbeaten record, and his statistics are excellent across the board. He’s now third in QB rating and yards per attempt, first in total yards and touchdowns, and the runaway leader in touchdown-to-interception ratio (38:3).

1. Robert Griffin, III. After the Oklahoma win, he’s my top dog. He moved ahead of Keenum in QB rating and yards per attempt, and he’s the only guy on this list with a win over a top-5 opponent. Throw in his rushing stats — 550 yards, five touchdowns — and his 33 touchdown passes (fourth in the country), and Griffin is the man.

It’s a turkey-shortened blog week here on Grantland, so check back for the preview of Arkansas-LSU and the rest of the Week 13 action later this week.

Previously by Shane Ryan:
Andrew Luck Should Not Win the Heisman (Then or Now)
College Football Preview: Drama in the Big Ten?
Fantasy Fantasy Football: The Experts’ Week 10 Picks


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Shane Ryan is a contributing writer for Grantland. His book about the young stars of the PGA Tour will be published by Random House in early 2015.

Archive @ ShaneRyanHere