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College football winners, losers, overreactions: playoff contenders survive, make it through Week 12 Tests

All the drama usually revolves around Rivalry Week when it comes to deciding the final stretch of the regular season. This year, however, the top college football playoff contenders found themselves on thin ice against tricky competition in Week 12. Michigan No. 3 and TCU No. 4 needed wonderful field goal drives to win games against Illinois and Baylor, respectively. No. 2 Ohio State had to withstand a late charge from Maryland while No. 1 Georgia sauntered through the fourth quarter against Kentucky. USC’s No. 7 also stayed alive in the national title race by surviving an angry bid from UCLA’s No. 16 to take control of the Pac-12 title race.

As Week 12 action wound down, the Trojans joined the Bulldogs, Horned Frogs and the winner of next week’s showdown between the Buckeyes and Wolverines as overwhelming favorites to field the College Football Playoffs. USC has a slightly tougher road than the others with No. 18 Notre Dame and likely No. 12 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game on the schedule, but win both and the Trojans are a suspension.

Clemson, meanwhile, remains on the periphery, but his best wins are dropping like flies. No. 13 North Carolina became the last upcoming Tiger opponent to fall to Georgia Tech. Aside from the absolute mayhem that fades away in the last week of the regular season, five teams are battling it out for four spots.

The only team not to receive the survival and progression memo was No. 5 Tennessee, who were destroyed on the unranked South Carolina road as the Vols watched their CFP hopes dwindle in the process.

Here are more winners, losers, and overreactions from the college football world in Week 12.

winner

USC quarterback Caleb Williams: Williams has been one of college football’s most tested players over the past two seasons, but his skill showed in the greatest performance of his career. The sophomore threw for 470 yards, rushed 32 yards, and landed a total of three touchdowns in a massive 48-45 win over UCLA to effectively secure a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. Williams had to be perfect against a lively UCLA offense and delivered two touchdown passes in the last two periods. The performance could earn him a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony if USC finds a way to win the Pac-12 for the first time since 2017. Regardless, it’s been a special season for the former five-star prospect.

Oklahoma Coach Brent Venables: Perhaps no one in college football needed a win more than Venables. The Sooners already have their first conference game loss record since 1998 and most regular-season losses since 2009, but the Bedlam winning streak is back after the Sooners beat Oklahoma State 28-13. Oklahoma unleashed some demons in the first quarter, jumping out to a 28-0 lead it would never give up. Things got a little hairy down the stretch when the Sooners’ offense completely collapsed, but the lead was large enough for the Venables’ Sooners to earn the win and a bowl appearance. There are many problems to be fixed, but Oklahoma will happily win the state championship trophy in an otherwise miserable season.

loser

Tennessee: After beating Alabama and LSU, the Vols established themselves as the surefire next in the CFP ladder if things got crazy. After Oregon lost to Washington, Tennessee became the favorite, slipping in when loser Ohio State-Michigan fell out. Unfortunately, no one told Shane Beamer’s South Carolina Gamecocks. Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler threw five touchdowns in perhaps the best game of his career as South Carolina defeated Tennessee 63-38 and dropped the Vols to 10-2. Worse, quarterback Hendon Hooker walked out with an apparent knee injury. It’s hard to imagine him interfering in the Heisman conversation now that the backdoor college football playoff race in Tennessee has come to an end.

North Carolina QB Drake Maye: The redshirt rookie had the best opportunity to make his mark on the Heisman Trophy race with a strong performance against Georgia Tech. Instead, Maye put together the worst game of his young career as the Tar Heels lost 21-17 to Georgia Tech. Maye completed just 53.3% of his passes for 202 yards and one interception, well below his season tally of nearly 400 total rushing yards and four touchdowns per game. UNC had one last chance to survive the game, but star wide receiver Josh Downs dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone. North Carolina can still win the ACC championship game against Clemson, but any chances of a Heisman or college football playoff case with a dark horse are likely out the window.

overreactions

The Heisman Trophy will be decided next week: All eyes will be on The Game as No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 3 Michigan with a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game at stake and while a berth in the College Football Playoffs also up for grabs is, further hardware could be added a player from the winning side.

This remains one of the darkest Heisman races in a while, but it will be decided on the field at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud remains the betting favorite to win the award despite a volatile season, according to Caesars Sportsbook. If the Buckeyes recover and avenge last season’s loss, Stroud will take home the coveted trophy. However, if Michigan running back Blake Corum is healthy and the Wolverines win, the award will be his.

The Game already raked in massive stakes last season, but the 2022 iteration will go down in history books as one of the greatest college football games of all time — for a number of reasons.

Massive contracts continue to cause regret: The new era of incomprehensible college football contracts began last season when Jimbo Fisher, Mel Tucker and Mario Cristobal signed $250 million in contracts. A year later, these three coaches with a combined 14-19 record look like the worst investments this side of FTX. Miami and Michigan State lost embarrassingly to Clemson and Indiana, respectively, on Saturday. Texas A&M defeated UMass (the team currently bottom of the CBS Sports 131 rankings) but scored the fewest points of any Minutemen’s FBS opponent.

However, the massive guarantee contracts raise a more existential question: What happens with a coach needs get fired? Under normal circumstances, Fisher’s likely 4-8 record in Year 5 would mark the end of his tenure. Will Texas A&M Swallow $85M in Buyout Funds? Does the sports department have any influence at all?

There are few truly unprecedented situations in college football history, but the amount of guaranteed coaching money flying around in the sport will put that to the test. All eyes will be on College Station to see how Texas A&M handles the Fisher situation — and it could be a cautionary tale that holds back the money, at least for a moment.

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