College Football, Week 12: Do You Believe in Unlikelihoods?

Sometime around 2 a.m. ET on Sunday, the winless Hawaii Warriors, who’d either led or tied the San Diego State Aztecs for four full quarters, found themselves stalled out near midfield. Time expired on what would have been a game-winning touchdown drive to trigger the team’s first victory of 2013. As the officials reviewed the overtime procedures, we watched from a couch five time zones away, 14 hours into a nonstop college football binge, the 12th such bender in as many weeks. Clusters of adults with jobs and houses and no discernible ties to the University of Hawaii put down their midnight coffees, abandoned their phones, and launched into an animated This Is How We’d Do It armchair coaching session. For a then 0-9 team that plays its home games 4,500 miles away. Why?

There’s a bias-free case for disinterested third parties to cheer on the toppling of every conference front-runner. There’s a perfectly valid reason to raise our glasses every time a relentlessly immobile quarterback lurches free of the pocket for a cartoonish gain. There’s a real motivation behind our obsession with cataloguing every clip of a winded defensive lineman trundling down the field with a purloined football, and why “MYRON PRYOR! 310 POUNDS OF GLORY!” will hold a place in our hearts until the end of days, and it doesn’t stop with “because fat-guy touchdowns are the best.” They are, but that’s not the point. The point is the endless hours of amusement that can be yours for the low, low price of making a habit of taking joy in the unexpected.

Enter Week 12, which featured, among other occurrences, a Duke football team making its way into the Top 25, a Georgia-Auburn finish straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, and Ed Orgeron gunning for a division title. Never mind the bats, the boils, or the rain of frogs in Northwestern alternate jerseys. It’s all part of the plan.

Pac-12

USC 20, no. 4 Stanford 17. On the coast-to-coast bingo card that blankets the college football nation, there is no row-column combination for “LANE KIFFIN FIRED IN SEPTEMBER” and “ED ORGERON–COACHED TROJANS UPSET STANFORD.” Orgeron and his adopted tribe retorted in front of a packed Coliseum crowd, with three scoring drives in USC’s first three possessions, no more scoring until some fourth-down Marqise Lee heroics led to a last-minute game-winning field goal from 47 yards out, precious little defensive rotation, 23 rushing yards to the Cardinal’s 210 (hello again, That Guy Tyler Gaffney), and Stanford’s latest road loss to an unranked opponent.

With the previous one, that midseason defeat at Utah, still haunting the Cardinal, Oregon is back out in front of the Pac-12 North, and all wagging tongues turn to this question: How can Ed Orgeron take the South, and by doing so treat America to more minutes with Ed Orgeron in front of a hot microphone? Simply, albeit not easily: The Trojans must win out, at Colorado and at home versus UCLA; and Arizona State, the enemy squad that got Kiffin fired at the airport, must lose both its remaining games, at UCLA and versus Arizona.

No. 6 Oregon 44, Utah 21. The Cardinal-created hangover that has afflicted so many Stanford opponents this season did not extend to the Cardinal’s most recent victims. Utah traveled without quarterback Travis Wilson, and backup Adam Schulz scored two touchdowns, keeping it close until midway through the third quarter, when this De’Anthony Thomas kick return sent the Ducks on a 27-point scoring spree:

No. 19 Arizona State 30, Oregon State 17. Sean Mannion threw four interceptions, Mike Riley said his team “looked like a junior high team sometimes,” and the Beavers have dropped from 6-1 to 6-4. It’s not going to get any better for Oregon State, which plays Washington and Oregon to wind up the regular season, but the Sun Devils have a great shot at holding on to their Pac-12 South lead.

No. 13 UCLA 41, Washington 31. This was a Friday-night game, but indulge in a little Myles Jacktion. It’s good for you:

Between Jack and Cassius Marsh, repurposed defensive players scored the first five of UCLA’s six touchdowns.

SEC

No. 1 Alabama 20, Mississippi State 7. You know those teams, like Baylor, that always manage to clamber out in short order no matter how deep of a well they find themselves in? For whom no distance between the numbers on the scoreboard is impassable? The Tide are like that, sort of, in that no matter how lackluster they’re playing or how many turnovers they’re committing or how closely they’re being dogged, there’s always this inescapable sense — and it can be a thoroughly depressing sense if you didn’t grow up wearing houndstooth and crimson — that however far ahead the Tide find themselves will be far enough for their purposes.

When Tyler Russell fumbled after a collision with C.J. Mosley, well, it’s C.J. Mosley. That’ll happen. When Charles Siddoway recovered the ball in the end zone for the Bulldogs’ first score of the evening, Bama had only recorded 10 points. It was a 10-7 game, early in the third quarter, and a missed second-quarter field goal could have made it a tie game. Would it have mattered? Maybe. Probably not. A comforting thought, if you count yourself among the Crimson Tide faithful. A haunting one for the rest of us. Tut, tut. Looks like rain.

No. 7 Auburn 43, no. 25 Georgia 38. The reviews are in for the latest iteration of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry:

• “I didn’t know what to say after that.” —Mark Richt
• “That one aged me. I’ve lost some years off my life.” —Gus Malzahn
• “It’s like a nightmare.” —Aaron Murray
• “I thought I was going to drop it, for real.” —Ricardo Louis
• “I still don’t know what happened. God just blessed us.” —Tre Mason

If you haven’t seen the ending, we won’t spoil it for you now. Go watch. Note the down and distance, the time, and the score, and watch what happens. We’ll wait.

When you come back, you’ll either be lashed with your whole heart to this revival tent, ride-or-dying for the Auburn Family and the particularly potent Plains strain of that je ne sais quoi that every team, to some degree, believes makes its own culture Just Different, Somehow, or you’ll find yourself in possession of an indelible belief in the complete and eternal absence of a benevolent higher power and having faith only in a cold, unfeeling, aggressively random universal order. Both are valid choices.

“Just a whale of a game, I guess,” said Richt afterward. He couldn’t be more correct, in that Georgia is the plummeting bowl of petunias in this scenario. Oh, no. Not again.

Auburn-Celebrates

Big 12

No. 5 Baylor 63, Texas Tech 34. A little over a year ago in Morgantown, we watched the Bears throw up a perfectly round 700 yards of offense and lose. The starting quarterback at the time, Nick Florence, threw 581 yards’ worth of completions and five touchdown passes, rushed for another score — and lost. We asked Florence how on earth he reconciled that. Florence pointed out the one interception he’d committed.

Baylor opponents nowadays have to hold themselves to the same standard or risk incineration, and no lead is safe: More than halfway through the first quarter, Texas Tech led 14-0. At the end of the first quarter, Baylor led 21-20. The Bears won by 29 points without two of their top three running backs and minus a star receiver. That Guy Bryce Petty scored five touchdowns, abetted by Antwan Goodley’s sixth triple-digit receiving performance of the year, Levi Norwood’s first such feat, and a combined 287 rushing yards from Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin, who are freshmen. Hang all your food from trees, y’all; these Bears are gonna be a while.

No. 12 Oklahoma State 38, no. 24 Texas 13. Here’s a word we don’t think we’ve seen before in a postgame press conference, from Mike Gundy on his starting quarterback: “Clint managed the game really well and continues to be a nifty runner for us.” Chelf was pretty keen in the Pokes’ swell stomping of the Longhorns, throwing for nearly 200 yards and rushing for close to 100 more, and accounting for four touchdowns without the services of favorite target Josh Stewart. The Cowboys now return home to get ready for Baylor and what’s looking like the can’t-miss Big 12 tilt of the season.

Kansas 31, West Virginia 19. Like the Mountaineers, the Jayhawks have a Sims at running back who should be touching the ball at all times. James of Kansas doubled up Charles of West Virginia and then some with a 22-carry, 211-yard, three-touchdown performance that led KU to its first Big 12 win since 2010. Remember how the team that lost to the team that hadn’t won a conference game since 2010 is the reason Oklahoma State isn’t 10-0?

ACC

No. 2 Florida State 59, Syracuse 3. Week 12 brought many bad beatings of mismatched teams, but you can find surprises here, too, if you know where to look. In this case, look to Florida State’s sideline, where a lively game of Hangman broke out between starters at loose ends while their backups finished league play for the Seminoles. Jameis Winston completed 19 of 21 pass attempts for 277 yards and two touchdowns — in the first half. The Noles seem the furthest gone of several foregone conclusions atop the BCS standings; look for coaches eager to continue team-building exercises during downtime to set up a ropes course for FSU’s first string at next week’s Idaho game. In happy Syracuse news, Orange corner Julian Whigham is out of the hospital and headed home, per Julian Whigham.

Duke 48, no. 23 Miami 30. We usually wait until Thursday’s column to use a team’s new ranking, but that seems a long time to wait to celebrate the fact that Duke is, as of Week 13, a Top-25 football team, and not through any sorcery of Steve Spurrier’s. The Blue Devils clock in at no. 25 in this week’s AP poll, being ranked for the first time since the postseason 1994 rankings. The Blue Devils are also 24th in the Coaches’ Poll, and have a good shot at finishing the season even higher, with back-to-back road trips to Wake Forest and UNC rounding out the season. DUKE!

Would you like some Duke football highlights? We have those, because those are now real things that exist. Quarterback Brandon Connette, running counterpart to Anthony Boone and red zone touchdown enthusiast, scored four rushing touchdowns just for you:

What does this do to the Coastal division? Patrick Stevens is glad you asked. The (possibly mildly insane, and are we ever thankful for him) ACC scribe has broken down all 32 possible tiebreaker scenarios that could play out over the final two weeks of conference play.

Boston College 38, North Carolina State 21. As in Week 10, we’re back to talking about a Boston College team that will have no bearing on how the ACC divisional races shake out.

And once again, it’s because of Andre Williams.

Big Ten

No. 3 Ohio State 60, Illinois 35. The Buckeyes were savoring a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter and maybe got a little too relaxed, as that scoreboard margin evolved into a 35-21 third-quarter lead and a 47-35 fourth-quarter lead. Carlos Hyde to the rescue, doing Carlos Hyde things: Touchdown runs of 51 and 55 yards in the final five minutes of play got Ohio State to 60 points, which is only the Buckeyes’ third-highest offensive total of the season. It’s a nice problem to have. Certainly nicer than Illinois’s:

No. 16 Michigan State 41, Nebraska 28. Mark Dantonio broke this one down pretty straightforwardly: “You’ve got an opportunity to come up with five turnovers. That’s tough to lose a football game when that happens.” MSU running back Jeremy Langford led the way with 151 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, but take a moment to toss an imaginary game ball to punter/holder Mike Sadler for this charming bit of deception:

Undefeated in league play, the Spartans remain the Legends favorites to meet the Leaders-leading Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game.

No. 22 Wisconsin 51, Indiana 3. Looking likelier all the time for yet another BCS game invitation: The Badgers, who trail only Ohio State in the Leaders division, lost by a touchdown to the Buckeyes and two points to Arizona State in a tour de force performance from Pac-12 officials, and romped gleefully past the Hoosiers with 554 rushing yards in one game — 459 from the White-Gordon-Clement triumvirate.

AAC

No. 17 Central Florida 39, Temple 36. Time slowed to syrup during Week 12’s flight of noon games, during which the best available entertainment was watching an AQ conference front-runner stave off an upset at the hands of a one-win Owls squad. Temple, you may recall, lost to Fordham and Idaho this season, so in the peculiar way of Week 12, OF COURSE Central Florida needed a last-second field goal to win.

Say this for Knights-Owls, however: This was a treat.

No. 20 Louisville 20, Houston 13. Nearly two years after Kevin Sumlin left Houston for Texas A&M, it’s time to again be mindful of the Cougars. Houston has dropped two straight, but look beyond the W-L tally: Those losses came on the road at then–no. 21 Central Florida and then–no. 20 Louisville, by five and seven points, respectively.

Profiles in Profiteroles

No. 15 Northern Illinois 48, Ball State 27. Almost a week ago at this point, Jordan Lynch flipped on the afterburners late to turn a fourth-quarter tie into a two-touchdown lead, which was then augmented by a last-minute Joe Windsor interception return to make the year’s finest #MACtion outing look like a minor blowout. And you have already heard about this, but we needed the excuse to repost this Lisa Franked GIF of Diesel, NIU’s excellent mascot, high-fiving a human during a touchdown celebration. Thank you for your time.

Still between the Huskies and another undefeated regular season: a game at Toledo on Wednesday in what will likely be an excellent matchup, then a game at home versus Western Michigan the following Tuesday in what will likely not.

Boise State 48, Wyoming 7. Despite being without the services of quarterback Joe Southwick for a month now, the Broncos still look like the best bet to face Fresno State in the Mountain West title game. Standing between Boise and a rematch with the Bulldogs: San Diego State and New Mexico.

San Diego State 28, Hawaii 21 (OT). Right, so the Warriors are 0-10, but those uniforms sure are swoon-worthy. Hawaii’s remaining chances to avert a winless 2013 season: at Wyoming next Saturday and at home versus Army the Saturday after that.

Grape Job: Will Muschamp

Grape-Job

Following a 19-14 loss at no. 10 South Carolina, the Gators are likely out of bowl contention, seeing as they’re 4-6 and have two remaining games, one of which is against Florida State. But sure, Coach Boom, let’s talk self-awareness:

Runner-up: This first tackling attempt on BooBoo Gates.

Stay Tuned

Alabama and Florida State are headed into pre-rivalry-game hibernation mode, hosting Chattanooga and Idaho, respectively. But the Week 13 schedule isn’t entirely bereft of meaningful contests: No. 16 Northern Illinois at Toledo highlights the weeknight slate, while Saturday brings no. 17 Arizona State at no. 14 UCLA, no. 12 Texas A&M at no. 22 LSU, no. 19 Wisconsin at no. 25 Minnesota, no. 8 Missouri at no. 24 Ole Miss, and, in prime time, that all-important no. 4 Baylor at no. 10 Oklahoma State tilt.

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