College football winners and losers from Week 12: Cyclones, Sooners charging ahead to rematch for Big 12 title
Indiana intercepted Justin Fields twice, sacked Fields twice and struck on a 68-yard completion.
With the score tied 7-7 in the second quarter, the Hoosiers looked capable of pulling off a mammoth upset in the Big Ten, one that would've stood as perhaps the best victory in program history — easily the program's most important victory in decades — and rewritten the College Football Playoff debate just days before the selection committee meets to unveil the first rankings of the regular season.
Ohio State's next three drives: 24 plays, 244 yards and three scores. The Buckeyes' opening drive of the second half traveled 75 yards on six plays to make it 35-7.
Left in the dust, IU climbed back behind quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who threw for 495 yards and five touchdowns to bolster a growing case for the Heisman Trophy, before losing 42-35. The Hoosiers are the first Big Ten opponent to play OSU within 10 points since Maryland on Nov. 17, 2018.
There may be several teams in the Big Ten and elsewhere capable of trading blows with Ohio State for a quarter or so — heck, even Nebraska drew even at 14-14 about midway through the second quarter last month. An opponent who is capable of hanging around for 60 minutes is harder to find.
The Hoosiers played well. The running game sputtered, as it has all season, but the offense took advantage of an Ohio State secondary that has failed to meet expectations through four games. Fields ended up tossing three interceptions, tying his career total across 476 attempts heading into the weekend.
Most of all, IU was not intimidated by an opponent that has lapped the field in the Big Ten and owned the series for more than a half-century.
In the end, Indiana had the ball with a chance to tie on the game's final full possession. That's less a remark on OSU, which is still the team to beat in the conference and a favorite for the playoff, than a statement to Indiana's development under coach Tom Allen and the program's chances of making a major bowl for the first time since the 1967 season.
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Here are the rest of Saturday's winners and losers:
Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers scored the game's final 12 points and beat Appalachian State 34-23 to remain unbeaten and in the mix for the New Year's Six bowl bid given to the best team from the Group of Five. The victory also signals a shift in the Sun Belt, which has been owned by Appalachian State. If not the prettiest performance of his terrific freshman season, Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall threw for 200 yards, ran for 69 yards and accounted for three touchdowns.
Army: Down 21-7 at halftime to Georgia Southern and trailing 27-21 after three quarters, Army scored the go-ahead touchdown with eight minutes left in the fourth and held on for a 28-27 victory. This is by far the Black Knights' best win of the season, which before Saturday consisted of victories against Middle Tennessee State, winless Louisiana-Monroe, Texas-San Antonio and three opponents from the Championship Subdivision. Army won despite making just one pass attempt, the fourth time the program has done so under coach Jeff Monken.
Cincinnati: Credit Central Florida for doing what no team had done this season: make Cincinnati sweat. After weeks of sailing past overmatched competition, with no win of seven coming by fewer than 14 points, the Bearcats had to come out of 14-3 hole at the end of the first quarter and a 25-22 deficit heading into the fourth to win 36-33. The matchup of an elite defense and an elite offense went the defense's way: Cincinnati held UCF to 359 yards of offense, 260 yards below the Knights' per-game average heading into the weekend. Where the Bearcats will land is one of the most interesting subplots in Tuesday's playoff rankings.
Northwestern: In beating Wisconsin 17-7, Northwestern grabs firm control of the West division and sets up the potential for a winner-take-all matchup with Ohio State next month to determine the Big Ten title and a playoff berth. Not bad for a team fresh off a 3-9 finish. But it's not like this year's success should come as a surprise: Northwestern went 8-1 in Big Ten play and reached the championship game just two years ago. (Not to mention the program has been a postseason fixture throughout coach Pat Fitzgerald's tenure.) The Wildcats' defense held Wisconsin scoreless in the second half and forced five turnovers, the most for the Badgers in a single game since committing five giveaways in a loss to Northwestern in 2015.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide showed no signs of rust after an extended layoff by beating Kentucky 63-3, Alabama's seventh victory in as many tries this season by 17 or more points. Junior quarterback Mac Jones threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns while running back Najee Harris added 83 yards and two scores, one coming even as the Wildcats were flagged for having an extra defender on the field.
Iowa State: The Cyclones took another step toward securing a spot in the Big 12 championship game with a 45-0 thumping of rival Kansas State, which has now dropped three in a row in conference play. Running back Breece Hall ran for 135 yards, his eighth straight game cracking the 100-yard mark, and quarterback Brock Purdy played his best game of the season with 236 passing yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Oklahoma: Is it a rivalry if one side owns the series? Oklahoma's 41-13 win against Oklahoma State was the program's sixth in a row against the Cowboys and drops longtime OSU coach Mike Gundy to 2-14 against the Sooners. Redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler threw for 301 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 22 on the season, as OU won its fifth in a row and inches toward securing a spot in the Big 12 title game.
Georgia: Not for beating Mississippi State 31-24, since struggling to put away MSU is a bad look for any team with New Year's Six aspirations. But the Bulldogs should feel very positive about the play of new quarterback JT Daniels, who finally ascended to the starting job and threw for 401 yards and four scores, becoming the first Georgia quarterback to reach the 400-yard mark since 2013. The Southern California transfer changes the entire complexion of the offense. So where has he been all season? The safest assumption is that Daniels was still working his way back from last year's knee injury and wasn't physically ready to handle the starting job.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have hit a series of new lows in the nearly 20 years since the program was last nationally relevant. Saturday's 41-23 loss to Illinois is the latest rock-bottom moment for Nebraska and the clear low point of coach Scott Frost's tenure, which four games into his third season is completely devoid of the hype and optimism that greeted his arrival. With no identity, a sputtering offense and a consistently underachieving defense, Nebraska's immediate future looks dim.
Justin Fields: The Buckeyes' march to a Big Ten championship and spot in the national semifinals continues. What about Fields' odds at the Heisman? They shouldn't take a huge hit after Saturday, but he didn't help his case by throwing those three interceptions. Not that he played poorly: Fields still had 378 yards of offense and three touchdowns. That's a poor game only when compared to how the junior had looked in wins against the Cornhuskers, Penn State and Rutgers.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are 0-5 for the first time in program history after losing 41-21 to Iowa. (Penn State football debuted in 1887, by the way.) Another ugly tidbit: PSU has given up at least 30 points in six straight games after doing so just once in the previous 16 games. And the offense? There wasn't much of one. Back to alternating between quarterbacks Will Levis and Sean Clifford, the Nittany Lions gained 62 yards rushing and averaged 4.7 yards per play.
Tennessee: Beating Vanderbilt but losing to Florida and Texas A&M to finish 3-7 isn't only possible but probable at this point for Tennessee, which now sits at 2-5 after losing 30-17 to Auburn. Think Penn State has it bad? Think about this: Tennessee has lost five straight by double digits for the first time in program history. (The program started in 1891.) Even in this odd season when coaches are given more leeway than ever — with former South Carolina coach Will Muschamp the one exception — this year feels like a major flop and missed opportunity for Tennessee, raising the temperature on Jeremy Pruitt heading into 2021.