It was a good week to celebrate Michigan State’s feel-good season. The Spartans were 9-1, in the thick of the playoff hunt, trying to lock up Coach Mel Tucker to a 10-year, $95 million deal and heading to Ohio State for a game with major Big Ten title implications.
Well, maybe that last part wasn’t warm and fuzzy, after all.
As much as Michigan State’s had going for it, this year was still a reemergence after going 16-17 over the last three seasons. And Ohio State is Ohio State, a perennial national title contender and owner of just four Big Ten losses in the last 10 seasons.
Saturday made it clear Ohio State is still Ohio State as the Buckeyes delivered a 56-7 woodshedding that was seemingly over in an instant.
Chris Olave’s 23-yard touchdown catch from C.J. Stroud to cap the first drive of the game. Garrett Wilson’s 77-yard score less than three minutes later. Olave’s return trip to the end zone on a 43-yard strike four plays after Michigan State missed a field goal.
Good morning. Good afternoon. Good night.
Then the Buckeyes had another three-scores-in-three-possessions sequence, and tacked on another touchdown for good measure. All with 97 seconds before halftime to spare. With a 49-0 lead, the second half was all about avoiding injuries and running out the clock.
Stroud (32 of 35, 432 yards, six touchdowns) was just about flawless. He spread the wealth to Olave (seven catches, 140 yards, two scores), Wilson (seven catches, 126 yards, two touchdowns) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (10 receptions, 105 yards, one TD), and the No. 4 Buckeyes (10-1, 8-0 Big Ten) rolled up 655 total yards for the afternoon.
Yes, No. 7 Michigan State (9-2, 6-2) saw its playoff hopes end, and running back Kenneth Walker III (six carries, 25 yards) couldn’t get enough use to make an impression in a spotlight game. The lasting impression, though, was all about the Buckeyes.
Ohio State lost to Oregon in its second game, and needed some time to finish off Penn State and Nebraska in nine-point victories. But for the most part, the Buckeyes have obliterated opponents since their lone stumble. Saturday marked Ohio State’s sixth 50-point game in its last eight outings.
It doesn’t move the needle as much when it happens at the expense of Rutgers or Maryland or even Purdue. But steamrolling Michigan State is different.
It indicates the Buckeyes are plenty ready for a closing stretch that will take them to Michigan next week, potentially the Big Ten title game to open December and almost certainly a playoff berth if they get to 12-1.
Which is nothing new. The setup for Michigan State was all well and good, but Ohio State is the one Big Ten team that usually finds itself feeling good this deep into November.
• Clemson. In the wake of a 48-27 trouncing of Wake Forest, it’s worth asking: Where in the world has this been — at least against someone better than, say, Connecticut?
The Tigers rolled up 543 total yards, while Kobe Pace and Will Shipley combined for 303 yards and four touchdowns on 43 carries. Even down most of his receiving corps, DJ Uiagalelei was 11 of 19 for 208 yards and a touchdown. And Clemson’s defense held up just fine before allowing a couple garbage-time touchdowns.
The Tigers are in the midst of a down season most other programs would envy. They’re 8-3 overall with a meeting with South Carolina still to come. They finished 6-2 in the ACC, and could yet win the Atlantic Division if N.C. State loses one of its last two games and Wake Forest falls to Boston College next week.
And chances are, given Clemson’s relentlessly strong recruiting, this will be a one-year blip.
Dabo Swinney’s bunch has won four in a row since a loss at Pittsburgh, and it has reached 30 points in each of those victories (though getting to that figure against Florida State required a fumble return for a score on the game’s final play). The Tigers are getting better; it may not be in time to do anything more than extend the program’s streak of 10-win seasons to 11, but it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the ACC.
• Notre Dame. The No. 8 Fighting Irish (10-1) can only do so much to help its cause at this point. And Saturday, Notre Dame pretty much maxed out, pummeling Georgia Tech, 55-0, in its home finale.
Brian Kelly’s team scored on all six of its first-half possessions and sneaked in Jack Kiser’s 43-yard interception return for a score for good measure. And while Georgia Tech (3-8) was abysmal in allowing 45 points before the break, Notre Dame deserves credit for its complete performance.
The Irish still needs help to earn a playoff berth, and it will be difficult for Notre Dame to earn a semifinal slot over a Cincinnati team that won in South Bend gets into the barn at 13-0. Still, all the Irish can do now is drub Stanford next week and hope it is enough.
• Texas San Antonio. The Roadrunners’ undefeated run survives another week thanks to a last-minute scoring drive. Frank Harris’s 1-yard pass to Oscar Cardenas with 3 seconds remaining secured a 34-31 victory over UAB, not to mention a Conference USA West Division title.
No. 22 UTSA (11-0, 7-0 Conference USA) isn’t going to be a playoff team. Nor will it end up in a New Year’s Six game. But there is much to be said for a team handling every challenge it faces, and the Roadrunners have done precisely that so far.
Bryce Young. The Alabama quarterback made a strong move in the Heisman race, throwing for 559 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-35 defeat of Arkansas.
Young, who completed 31 of 40 passes, helped the Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 SEC) clinch the SEC West and lock up a showdown with undefeated Georgia for the conference title in two weeks in Atlanta. And while it wasn’t a full-fledged rout, it still keeps No. 2 Alabama in the playoff hunt with two games to go.
- Pittsburgh. The Panthers (9-2, 6-1 ACC) are Coastal Division champions after a 48-38 defeat of Virginia. The star of the afternoon was Jordan Addison, who had 14 catches for 202 yards and four touchdowns as the Panthers sealed a trip to Charlotte with a week to spare.
That’s two trips to the ACC title game in four years for Pittsburgh, which closes the regular season next weekend at Syracuse.
Malik Cunningham. The Louisville quarterback was resplendent in a 62-22 blowout of Duke on Thursday, throwing for 303 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 224 yards and two scores. It was certainly one way for the Cardinals (6-5, 4-4 ACC) to clinch bowl eligibility.
Cunningham became only the second player in FBS history with 300 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in a game, joining Washington’s Marques Tuiasosopo, who did it in 1999 against Stanford.
- Northern Illinois. From 0-6 in an abbreviated 2020 to MAC West champions, the Huskies (8-3, 6-1) are quietly one of the season’s better stories. They locked up a trip to Detroit with a 33-27 overtime victory at Buffalo as Clint Ratkovich scored on a 25-yard run in the extra period to end it.
It ensures Northern Illinois will make its first bowl trip under program alum Thomas Hammock. He took over a program that reached the postseason a combined 10 times in 11 years under Jerry Kill, Dave Doeren and Rod Carey. After a 5-13 mark over his first two seasons, Hammock has to be one of the favorites for MAC coach of the year honors.
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- Texas. Another week, another loss for the Longhorns. The 31-23 setback at West Virginia was the sixth in a row for Texas (4-7, 2-6 Big 12), whose first season under Steve Sarkisian has progressively gotten worse.
The skid is the program’s longest since 1956, and it’s ensured the Longhorns will be home for the holidays this year. Texas fans aren’t known for their patience or tolerance for subpar seasons, so Sarkisian could well find himself in for a long offseason of external chatter as he goes about trying to improve his program.
- Florida. In the latest chapter of the Gators’ lost season, they dropped to 5-6 with a 24-23 overtime defeat at Missouri. The Gators have careened from relevance with four setbacks in their last five games, and in their one victory, they gave up 52 points to Samford. Coach Dan Mullen paid for this nosedive with his job as he was dismissed Sunday.
Now comes an unexpectedly dicey situation: Florida plays host to Florida State (5-6) with bowl eligibility at stake for both teams next Saturday. Only the Seminoles are headed in the opposite direction, having won five of seven and played Clemson tough on the road in one of their two losses in that span. Mullen turned down the opportunity to coach this game. Assistant Greg Knox will serve as the Gators’ interim coach.
- Southern California. Speaking of teams playing out lost seasons, the Trojans look like they’ll miss the postseason after a humbling 62-33 loss to UCLA at home.
USC (4-6), which finishes with games against Brigham Young and California, had never given up 50 points to the Bruins (7-4) in a series that stretches back to 1929. At least not until Saturday.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 349 yards and Zach Charbonnet rushed for 167 yards en route to UCLA’s most lopsided defeat of the Trojans since a 34-0 victory in 1954.
- Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons must wait another weekend to lock up a spot in the ACC title game. Their 48-27 loss at Clemson was a matter of bad timing — the Tigers were going to play their Super Bowl eventually — but also serves as a bit of a thud for No. 10 Wake Forest (9-2, 6-1 ACC).
A three-turnover day surely didn’t help, but Wake Forest also was a bit worn down from a rigorous November that started with a nonconference loss to North Carolina and continued with a shootout defeat of N.C. State.
There’s still a lot to play for with a visit to Boston College coming up. A win puts the Demon Deacons in the ACC title game for the first time since 2006 and locks up a 10-win season. But earning a victory to close the regular season means Wake must regroup after a taxing stretch. It’s no sure thing the Demon Deacons will bring a division title back to the Dash next weekend.
- Iowa State. The Cyclones haven’t been taken to task this season despite starting the season in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. Part of that is because they haven’t gotten blown out, even if their turnover troubles against Iowa made that September loss fairly anticlimactic.
Some of it is because the Big 12 has largely been out of sight and out of mind in a season when Georgia’s dominance, Cincinnati’s unbeaten run, the quality of the Big Ten East and Oregon’s tethering of itself to Ohio State have taken precedence.
And some of it, if we’re being honest, has to do with the fact that Iowa State hovering above .500 is still pretty darned good relative to the program’s history. Hey, Matt Campbell’s team even dealt Oklahoma State its only loss so far.
But with a 28-21 loss to No. 13 Oklahoma on Saturday, the Cyclones fell to 6-5. It’s their fourth one-possession loss of the season, their second in a row and third in four weekends. Iowa State isn’t that far away from being 8-3 or 9-2, and instead is a midpack team in the Big 12. What could have been a special year turned into an afterthought. There are worse teams out there, but it still stands out as a missed opportunity in Ames.