Who’s Hot (and not) in college football entering Week 13. Former Big 12 rivals, Oklahoma and Colorado, score the biggest wins on Saturday.
South Florida QB Quinton Flowers
Flowers has been flying under the radar this season, except for the defenses that have had to face him. Without much attention, he’s jumped Marlon Mack as the headliner of the Bull attack, while leading the program to a 9-2 mark entering the finale with rival UCF. Flowers has always been a dangerous scrambler, rushing for more than 100 yards in six of the last eight games. But he keeps blooming as a passer, too, throwing three long touchdowns in Saturday’s win at SMU to bring his season total to 22.
The “other guys” in the Sun Belt title hunt are now the team to beat with two weekends remaining. Troy-Appalachian State was the league’s game of the year a week ago, won by the Trojans. But the Red Wolves, overlooked following an 0-4 start, have roared back with six straight wins. And the latest, 35-3 over ranked Troy on the road, was an absolute stunner. The D has played remarkably well for coordinator Joe Cauthen, guiding ASU to within road wins over Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State from capturing an outright conference championship.
The Yellow Jackets haven’t had much recent success against instate rival Georgia, winning just three times since the turn of the century. But they ought to like their chances this Saturday in Athens. The Bulldogs remain a work-in-progress in Kirby Smart’s first season, despite taking their last three over Kentucky, Auburn and Louisiana-Lafayette. Tech, meanwhile, has rebounded from a rough midseason patch to win four of its last five games. And whether Justin Thomas is running the option or Matthew Jordan comes off the bench, the system is beginning to generate more back-breaking offensive plays.
Christian McCaffrey and Stanford
It’s not easy finishing disappointing seasons, when the bar is perennially set at winning championships. But the Cardinal, with McCaffrey back as the fulcrum, has acquitted itself well since falling out of contention with a 4-3 start. With a visit from Rice upcoming, Stanford is poised to finish the regular season on a five-game winning streak after McCaffrey rushed for a career-high 284 yards to keep the Axe on the Farm. The Cardinal still has a shot at 10 wins for the sixth time in the last seven years. Not bad in what was an unmistakably down year for the program.
Pitt Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada
The Panthers don’t harbor a lot of scary skill position talent, but the numbers say otherwise. Canada has done a brilliant job of play-calling and developing senior QB Nathan Peterman this fall, as Pitt has scored at least 36 points in nine of the last 10 games. A week after stunning Clemson, 43-42, the Panthers slapped 56 points on Duke behind an almost perfectly balanced attack. The way Pitt is moving the ball, this is not a team that anyone with defensive deficiencies will want to face in December.
Boise State RB Jeremy McNichols
Terrific back, that Donnel Pumphrey of San Diego State. But is the nation giving enough credit to that other Mountain West workhorse, McNichols? Doubtful. While McNichols is a little more thunder to Pumphrey’s lightning, he’s been the Broncos’ offensive spine for the past two seasons. In fact, he’s rushed for at least 100 yards in 16 of his last 19 games, including 206 and four scores Friday night versus UNLV. Boise State will ride McNichols this week in Air Force and then again in December.
Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
It’s not uncommon for NFL-ready players to begin covertly tapping the brakes a little this time of year. Cook is not one of those budding Sunday stars. In fact, he used the Carrier Dome as another audition for scouts, rushing for 225 yards and four scores to smash the all-time Seminole rushing mark and tie the school’s career TD record. Cook has been a warrior in Tallahassee. This Saturday, likely his home finale, Cook faces the rugged Gator front, which failed to keep him in check in 2014 or 2015.
Houston DT Ed Oliver
Freshman All-American? Pffff. Oliver is making a serious run at the 2016 All-American Team that includes all classes. The highest profile recruit in Cougar history has performed like the highest profile recruit in Cougar history from the moment he stepped foot on campus. On Thursday night, the true freshman spearheaded an all-out assault on Louisville’s playoff hopes, abusing the Cardinal O-line with his explosive first step for six tackles, three stops for loss, two sacks, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Kudos to Mike Gundy, his staff and his kids. Despite starting 2-2, the Cowboys did not buckle. In fact, they doubled down on their commitment to turn the season around, winning seven straight to enter the pre-Bedlam bye week with a wicked head of steam. Oklahoma State endured a couple of tough battles with Kansas State and Texas Tech the last two weeks, surviving both. But this past Saturday, it went into Fort Worth as an underdog and absolutely schooled TCU, 31-6, behind the running of Justice Hill and Chris Carson.
Football in the Entire State of Oklahoma
The Cowboys were outstanding in Week 12, physically dismissing TCU at Amon G. Carter. But the Cowboys were not the only team from the state that impressed on the road Saturday. Oklahoma crushed West Virginia in Morgantown to remain unbeaten in Big 12 play. And Tulsa earned its eighth win by defeating underrated UCF in Orlando behind the rushing duo of D’Angelo Brewer and James Flanders. With the possibility of multiple openings in the state of Texas, keep an eye on Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery, who’s done a nice job in his second year.
Hats off to the Gators, specifically the defense, which spearheaded a most improbable upset of LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday. And in so doing, Florida is off to the SEC Championship Game as the East Division champ to face Alabama for a second straight year. This is not a great Gator team, particularly when it has the ball. But the D stepped up all game, preventing big plays between the tackles and shutting the door on the Tigers with a walk-off goal line stand to hold on, 16-10.
One. More. Win. That’s all that separates the Buffaloes from wrapping up a remarkable regular season with a Pac-12 South Division title and a date with either Wazzu or Washington in Santa Clara on Dec. 3. Colorado earned its biggest win of the season, toppling the 22nd-ranked Cougars behind the ground heroics of QB Sefo Liufau and RB Phillip Lindsay. If the Buffs can hold serve in Boulder against Utah this Saturday, the journey from last place pick in the preseason to division champ will be complete under National Coach of the Year favorite Mike MacIntyre.
College football's biggest disappointments entering Week 13
For just the second time in the past decade, the Bearcats will not be a part of the postseason. And this rare rocky 2016 campaign looks as if it could cost Tommy Tuberville his job. Cincy began slipping last year, going 7-6 after back-to-back nine-win seasons. This fall, the bottom has fallen out, with just three wins over FBS opponents. The Bearcats were listless and ineffective in Friday’s 34-7 home loss to Memphis, and with a trip to Tulsa up next, they’ll likely tote a five-game losing streak into the offseason.
Okay, so not a lot was expected from the Illini this season. Progress as the regular season wound down, though, wouldn’t have been asking too much. Illinois is suffering through its fifth consecutive losing season, with a trip to Northwestern left to close out 2016. Even worse than the 3-8 record is the fact that the team has regressed under first-year coach Lovie Smith, who by all accounts has not looked comfortable coaching at this level after so many years in the NFL.
There’s still time to qualify for the postseason, Terps. But your margin for error has evaporated. Maryland was once 5-2 after upsetting Michigan State on Oct. 22, within a victory of an important bowl appearance in D.J. Durkin’s first season at the controls. However, the Terrapins still need that victory to qualify for a December bonus game, dropping four in a row and managing just 13 points in the last three. Chin up, Maryland. Rutgers visits College Park this Saturday.
For the second time in the last three years, the Red Raiders will not be bowl-eligible. And this year’s clincher in Ames should make the administration pause and consider whether or not Kliff Kingsbury is the coach to turn things around. Texas Tech was embarrassed from wire-to-wire by Iowa State, a program that entered the weekend with just a pair of victories on the year. But Kingsbury’s swinging gate D was ambushed by the quarterback tandem of Jacob Park through the air and Joel Lanning on the ground. QB Patrick Mahomes deserved better in what is likely his final year in Lubbock.
No shame in losing to rival USC these days. Plenty of teams are falling victim to the surging Trojans. But after taking a 14-7 lead in Pasadena early in the second, the 4-7 Bruins went the final 43:28 without registering a single point. It was another poor showing in a dreadful season that won’t be capped with a bowl game for the first time in six years. UCLA needs a facelift, which means an offseason that begins the day after next week’s trip to Berkeley is going to be interesting and likely tumultuous in Pasadena.
Starter Wilton Speight is dealing with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, and is listed as day-to-day according to Jim Harbaugh. Speight’s backup, John O’Korn, struggled to navigate poor weather conditions and the Indiana defense, completing just 7-of-16 for 59 yards, no touchdowns and no picks. If the Wolverines are going to defeat Ohio State in Columbus this week, they need to somehow get TE Jake Butt and receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh more involved. Whether that’s O’Korn or Speight at less than full-strength, it’ll be a very tall order against the Buckeye secondary.
Tennessee Versus the Run
The Vols impressed against Mizzou, scoring 63 points in a dual-threat extravaganza from QB Joshua Dobbs in his final game in Knoxville. But all of the fireworks in Tennessee can’t hide how feeble the defense has been against the run. The Vols have surrendered at least 400 rushing yards in three of their last four SEC games, getting gashed Saturday by Tigers Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter. Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb will be licking his chops this week, as he looks to improve his chances for all-league honors.
Good Coaches Having Rough Years
David Cutcliffe in Durham. Mark Dantonio in East Lansing. Gary Patterson in Fort Worth. Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Brian Kelly in South Bend. Hugh Freeze in Oxford. It’s been a humbling season for a handful of the game’s really good veteran head coach, each of whom lost on Saturday. There’s at least one game left for each of the humbled coaches, but all of them are already contemplating what changes can be made to right the ship in 2017.
With control of its own destiny in the Pac-12 South, Utah was unable to get past 3-7 Oregon in Salt Lake City. And this defeat is going to sting right through the bowl. The Ducks entered Week 12 having dropped seven of their last eight games, their postseason chances obliterated by one of the worst Power Five defenses. On Saturday, though, they dealt the Utes a crushing third defeat, scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns, capped by the game-winner from Justin Herbert to Darren Carrington with two seconds left.
West Virginia vs. the Oklahomas
It’s taken all year to definitively determine the two best teams in the Big 12—Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who’ll square off in Norman on Dec. 3. The Sooners and Cowboys outclassed the Mountaineers, who wound up being little more than pretenders in the race for a league title. West Virginia showed some late life Saturday night, but was never really competitive against the Sooners, resulting in a mass fan exodus shortly after halftime. The Mountaineers better be careful this week in Ames, because Iowa State is confident and eager to amass a tailwind before the regular season ends.
So much for No. 5 Louisville giving the playoff committee a tough choice in two weeks. The Cardinals were manhandled at the point of attack, falling to Houston Thursday night, 36-10. It was an embarrassing performance from a team that also needed to rally to defeat Wake Forest at home a week earlier. By allowing 11 sacks, Louisville damaged the ACC brand, while allowing fissures in Lamar Jackson’s Heisman firewall. The playoff hunt is over, as will the New Year’s Six bowl chase if the team fails to turn things around before Saturday’s visit from rival Kentucky.
Coaches in Texas
Charlie Strong’s tenure in Austin neared an end following an inexcusable loss to Kansas. Reports are surfacing that Kevin Sumlin was back on the hot seat in College Station. Jim Grobe will be a one-year stopgap in Waco. Kliff Kingsbury is not the answer in Lubbock. Gary Patterson’s worst season in Fort Worth continued with a listless 31-6 loss to Oklahoma State. Oh, and Houston’s Tom Herman is lurking in the shadows, poised to usher in a new era at the Power Five program of his liking. Rough time to be a head coach in Texas, with the obvious exception of Herman, who is about to be the beneficiary of a bidding war for his services.