On Saturday in Waco, Texas, TCU quarterback Max Duggan lined up behind his center with 94 seconds remaining in the game and his team trailing 28-26. He had no timeouts at his disposal, as the Horned Frogs used all three on defense to get the ball back with a chance to win the game. Their undefeated record was on the line, as was a possible College Football Playoff berth.
The stakes were high.
After a few passes and scrambles, TCU moved into Baylor territory and field-goal range. A handoff to running back Emari DeMercado got the Frogs to the Baylor 26. With no timeouts, Duggan and the TCU offense hurried to the line and spiked the ball with 22 seconds left. It was third down. TCU then did something that surprised everybody. It called another run play. DeMercado picked up another 3 yards that set off a fire drill. TCU's offense sprinted off the field as its field-goal unit sprinted on, needing to get lined up, snap the ball, and kick a field goal that would save their season all before the ticking clock reached zero. Somehow they managed to pull it all off, as Griffin Kell's 40-yard attempt split the uprights.
When asked about it immediately afterward, TCU coach Sonny Dykes said he wasn't nervous about the final sequence. Fox analyst Brock Huard felt differently. "I'm shaking," he said. "I can't believe what Sonny Dykes just did!"
Put me in the same camp as Huard. Dykes might say he wasn't nervous, but I was, and I had no immediate reason to be. I am not a TCU fan. I didn't have money riding on the outcome. I was just a person watching a football game who felt his entire life depended on the outcome simply because of what was at stake.
Meanwhile, another unbeaten team in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was in a similar spot. No. 3 Michigan lost its star running back, Blake Corum, to an injury in the first half of its game against Illinois and found itself trailing in the fourth quarter for the first time all season. Down 17-10, the Wolverines put together three field goal drives to hold off defeat. Jake Moody drilled his fourth kick of the day with nine seconds left to improve the Wolverines to 11-0. Unlike the Baylor-TCU game, I had a personal connection to this one as an Illini. As an Illini fan, I did not appreciate Michigan's comeback! As a college football fan, I understood the moment's importance for Michigan and what it meant for the Wolverines' Big Ten hopes and its College Football Playoff resume.
Later that evening, in a Saturday that wasn't supposed to provide much drama, No. 1 Georgia struggled to get past Kentucky 16-6 while No. 2 Ohio State found itself in a rough ride during a 43-30 win over Maryland.
The night ended with No. 5 Tennessee falling in a shocking 63-38 defeat to South Carolina and with No. 7 USC beating No. 16 UCLA 48-45 in a thriller. It was one of the most exciting Saturdays of the season.
It wouldn't have been nearly as memorable in a world with a 12-team playoff.
Instead of upset losses possibly costing these teams a CFP berth, it would've simply affected their seeding. That doesn't carry quite the same drama, does it? The argument many make for expansion is that it will give us more meaningful games late in the season, but we just had a weekend that wasn't supposed to offer much drama provide plenty of meaningful games with high stakes. The truth is, an expanded playoff will give us more meaningful games for teams ranked between No. 8 and No. 20 in the polls during a given week, but it'll make nearly every game for the top teams meaningless.
Tennessee's loss to South Carolina knocked it out of the playoff. In a 12-team playoff, it would still have a shot, as would the two-loss Alabama team it upset earlier this season. Alabama's losses to Tennessee and LSU would've been meaningless. Any loss Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan or TCU suffer in the season's final weeks would be meaningless.
I understand arguing against the expansion of the College Football Playoff is a hopeless venture. It'd be like staring at the eastern horizon every morning, threatening the sun if it dares to rise. Expansion's coming, but when it does, and you don't experience another Saturday like the one you just had in November, don't say you weren't warned.
Underrated Environment of the Week
Something about Williams-Brice Stadium at night has always appealed to me. Maybe I'm just a massive fan of "Sandstorm." Williams-Brice and South Carolina got Tennessee on Saturday night. "Sandstorm" blared from the speakers, the crowd went into a rapture, and Tennessee never did anything to get them out of it. Spencer Rattler had the game South Carolina fans dreamed he'd have when he transferred from Oklahoma, throwing for six touchdowns and 438 yards, and coach Shane Beamer got his biggest win with the Gamecocks. It was South Carolina's first win over a ranked team since upsetting No. 4 Georgia 20-17 in 2019.
But in a conference filled with electric environments (how many times do you hear about LSU's Tiger Stadium at night?), South Carolina and Williams-Brice fly under the radar. I need to get out there for a night game at some point. Preferably on the same weekend as the state fair.
Heisman Contender of the Week
Last week I marveled at a throw by Washington quarterback Michael Penix that was one of the most impressive throws I've ever seen a player make at any level. It was a pure display of arm strength few can match. USC's Caleb Williams is one of many who cannot, though that's not to say Williams doesn't have a strong arm. He does. You can't make the throw in that highlight he made without one. While Williams' arm doesn't have the overall power to it as Penix's, Williams is the more well-rounded prospect, and every bit of his ability was on display Saturday in USC's 48-45 win over No. 16 UCLA. Williams threw for 470 yards and rushed for 33, accounting for three touchdowns. In a matchup that felt destined to be decided by which team or QB blinked, it was UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson who blinked repeatedly, throwing three interceptions.
Williams established himself as a legitimate candidate for the Heisman, a USC defense that has forced turnovers all season long continued with four more, and the Trojans kept their Pac-12 and playoff hopes alive. It was everything that had to happen to launch Williams into the Heisman debate. If he has a similar performance against Notre Dame to close the regular season, he has a legitimate shot at becoming the latest USC QB to win the award.
Oh, and this throw was pretty cool too.
The Other Crazy Finish of the Week
TCU's late comeback against Baylor certainly had higher stakes, but it didn't quite match the zaniness of the finish between Boise State and Wyoming. There were three turnovers in the game's final two minutes as Boise State hung on to win 20-17 and clinch a spot in the Mountain West Championship Game. The Broncos got off to a slow start to the season, but they've been the best team in the Mountain West by a mile. They're 7-0 in conference play and have outscored MWC opponents by an average of 20.6 points per game. I expect they'll make an appearance in the CFP Rankings Tuesday night, and should they beat Utah State next week and Fresno State in the MWC Championship, there's a chance they could pip the New Year's Six spot from the American Athletic Conference champion.
Young College Football Fan of the Week
Start em early! This young Iowa State fan doesn't want there to be any confusion about his feelings toward the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately for him, he had to sit in bitterly cold temperatures to watch his beloved Cyclones lose 14-10 to Texas Tech and eliminate themselves from a bowl game this season. They did beat Iowa, though, and beating your rival is worth more than a bowl game.
Cursed Snowman of the Week
As you can see, when this snowman was shown on the broadcast, Michigan State led Indiana 24-7 early in the second half. From this point on, Indiana would outscore the Spartans 32-7 to win in double-overtime.
Long Snapper of the Week
Long-snapping is about so much more than snapping the ball. You've then got to run down the field with everybody else and make a play, and that's what Vanderbilt's Wesley Schelling did here. He ran over 60 yards downfield and ended up being the lucky recipient of a football, emerging from the scrum with the ball to score a touchdown that helped Vanderbilt upset Florida 31-24.
Vanderbilt has gone from a team that lost 26 straight SEC games to a team on a two-game SEC win streak. Clark Lea's squad is a win over Tennessee next week away from getting to a bowl game.
Worst Beat of the Week
Stanford kicker Joshua Karty is one of the best kickers in the country. He hasn't missed a kick all season, drilling all 16 of his field goal attempts and all 24 of his extra points. One of the field goals he kicked was the longest kick of the season.
Karty kicked a 61-yard field goal to end The Big Game against Cal on Saturday. The kick meant nothing to the outcome, as Cal still won 27-20. Still, while it was an excellent display of Karty's ability (he'll be in the NFL), just because it didn't impact the final result didn't mean the kick wasn't significant.
The total in this game closed at 46 points. It was an exhilarating moment for those who dared to bet the over, but for those geniuses like me who bet the under, it was nothing but pain.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
It's possible the committee gets bored and shakes things up for fun, but the No. 5 spot is the most interesting place in the rankings this week, so let's project the top-five this week.
- Ohio State
Until the next Monday After!