That Ohio State beat Michigan State by 40 points is no surprise to anyone aware of where these two program stand in the Big Ten power rankings: The Buckeyes at the top, the Spartans somewhere around the bottom in coach Mel Tucker’s first season.
Junior quarterback Justin Fields completed 70.8% of his attempts for 199 yards and four combined scores, two coming on the ground. Fields eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the first time at Ohio State and the second time in his college career. The Buckeyes’ defense held Michigan State to 261 yards of offense and forced four turnovers.
After being unable to play last Saturday’s game against Maryland as scheduled due to COVID-19, OSU once again looked the part of one of the nation’s best teams and one of the select few capable of winning the national championship.
And that’s why the win against the Spartans was so important. More than the win itself — predictably smooth even with several key players unavailable — the math is beginning to favor OSU, which is now 5-0 with the chance to add two more wins before the College Football Playoff selection committee issues the final rankings on Dec. 20.
The Buckeyes have already received the benefit of the doubt from the committee. Fourth in each of the first two rankings despite playing only four games, OSU was ahead of two SEC teams with more wins overall and stronger individual wins in Florida and Texas A&M, though the Gators and Aggies also have one loss.
“The more games a team brings to the committee, the more we have to evaluate,” selection committee chairman Gary Barta, the athletics director at Iowa, said last week.
The committee already believes Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country. As we get closer to the final weekend of the regular season, every game played brings the Buckeyes one step closer to cementing a spot in the national semifinals.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:
The No. 6 Aggies are looming in the playoff debate and ready to fill the void should one of the current top four stumble before the end of the regular season. A&M beat Auburn 31-20 in a nice bounce-back from last week’s sluggish win against LSU to move to 7-1 and lock up a second-place finish in the SEC West. Senior quarterback Kellen Mond had 256 yards of total offense and two scores after struggling last week.
Herman’s best chance at returning to Texas in 2021 demands the Longhorns run the table from here and develop momentum after a spotty regular season. (All the other stuff, including whether or not Texas can convince a certain ex-coach to return to the sidelines, is out of Herman’s control.) Texas played its best game of the year in a 69-31 dismantling of Kansas State, which has plummeted from Big 12 contention to the bottom half of the conference standings. Now 6-3, Texas will move to 7-3 against Kansas next week and enter the postseason with a shot at winning eight games for the third time in Herman’s four seasons.
Notre Dame started slowly and trailed Syracuse 7-3 earlier in the second quarter in the final tune-up before the rematch against Clemson to decide the ACC championship. But the Irish would go on a 21-0 run to end the first half and pulled away for a 45-21 win against the hapless Orange, the only 10-loss team in the Power Five. Quarterback Ian Book threw for 285 yards with five touchdowns, two on the ground, and the Irish ran and threw for at least 250 yards in the same game for the second time in three games.
After securing a spot in the Big 12 championship game before kickoff, Iowa State went out and beat West Virginia 42-6, bullying an opponent which had been increasingly competitive in coach Neal Brown’s second season. The Cyclones landed another terrific game from quarterback Brock Purdy, who threw for 247 yards and three scores to continue his second-half charge from a disappointing start to the regular season. Coach Matt Campbell has ISU on the verge of the most successful year in program history.
MAKING HISTORY:Iowa State headed to first Big 12 championship game
Meanwhile, another longtime Power Five pushover made another move toward securing a spot in the New Year’s Six. Indiana’s 14-6 win against Wisconsin came without quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and needed a late defensive stand after Wisconsin drove within yards and a two-point conversion of forcing overtime. The Hoosiers’ replacement under center, redshirt sophomore Jack Tuttle, averaged only 5.9 yards per pass attempt but threw two touchdowns without an interception.
Down 47-40 to Missouri with 4:47 remaining, Arkansas went on a 13-play, 75-yard drive capped by a successful two-point try — off the hands of a Missouri defender and into the arms of receiver Mike Woods, but it counts — to take a 48-47 lead with 43 seconds left. But the Razorbacks allowed the Tigers to march 60 yards and kick a 32-yard field goal as time expired to win 50-48, handing Arkansas its third loss on the season by three or fewer points. The two teams combined for 1,219 yards of total offense and 71 first downs.
Oklahoma State is now eliminated from the Big 12 championship game after losing 29-22 to TCU, the Cowboys’ third loss in five games after starting 4-0. They do have one good Big 12 win: 24-21 against Iowa State, so far the Cyclones’ only loss in conference play. But the Cowboys have been largely unimpressive since, with losses to Texas, Oklahoma and the Horned Frogs joining narrow wins against Kansas State (20-18) and Texas Tech (50-44). There may be only two Big 12 teams in this week’s playoff rankings.
Marshall’s 20-0 loss to Rice is one of the most shocking results of the regular season. Marshall was 7-0 and No. 15 in the Amway Coaches Poll, the program’s highest ranking since 2002. The Owls came into the weekend at 1-2 after having six games canceled or postponed due to COVID-19, including an earlier matchup with the Thundering Herd scheduled for early October. (Rice also had just seven wins combined since the start of the 2018 season.) Here’s why they play the games: Rice held the Herd to 245 yards and made five interceptions for the program’s best win in years.
The Volunteers are now 2-6 and questions abound over coach Jeremy Pruitt’s future amid six consecutive losses, the latest 31-19 to rival Florida, and his team’s consistently underwhelming performance in the second half. Hey, at least Tennessee scored in the second half against Florida — unfortunately, the two meaningless touchdowns came with the Gators already up 31-7 in the fourth quarter. The Volunteers have been outscored 122-26 in the second half during this losing streak and have scored more than 21 points in a game just once this season.
The Warhawks moved closer to a dubious achievement after failing to lead for even a second of a 48-15 loss to Arkansas State. ULM has now trailed for all but 538 minutes and 12 seconds of its 600 minutes played this season — 10 games at 60 minutes each — and been tied for the remaining 61 minutes and 48 seconds. No team since at least 1999 has gone an entire season without once holding a lead at any point.
Not to be outdone, Bowling Green lost 31-3 to Akron, in the Zips’ first win since Oct. 27, 2018. Like ULM, the Falcons haven’t led this year and were only briefly tied 3-3 with Akron before giving up 28 unanswered points. Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler is now 3-14 overall and 2-11 in the MAC since taking over before last season.