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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

After Further Review: Pac-12 takes major CFP hit after UCLA loss, leaving USC as conference’s lone hope

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There are so many games over the course of a college football weekend that some slip through the cracks and others require further examination the next day. Before we turn the page to Week 12, here’s a closer look at some of the most interesting outcomes of Week 11.

Arizona 34, UCLA 28UCLA’s playoff hopes disappeared into the darkness on Saturday night as the Pac-12’s Week 11 took a bad turn in the weekend’s final hours.

The Bruins somehow lost at home after entering the game as a three-touchdown favorite. UCLA trailed 14-0 in the first quarter but came back to take a 28-24 lead on a Zach Charbonnet TD run with just over 10 minutes to go. Arizona then scored the final 10 points of the game, though UCLA had a great shot for a game-winning score on the final play.

UCLA had a fourth down at the Arizona 28 with seconds to go. Dorian Thompson-Robinson escaped the pocket and found Jake Bobo open at the back of the end zone. But Bobo was unable to make the diving catch as he tried to stay inbounds and Arizona held on for the win.

UCLA’s loss came hours after Oregon lost to Washington at home. The Ducks fell 37-34 after Noah Whittington slipped on a late fourth-down conversion attempt in Oregon territory with the game tied. Whittington’s slip put Washington in position for a go-ahead field goal in the final minute and the Huskies held on for the win.

Had Oregon and UCLA won, the Pac-12 would have been in line for an epic Week 12 with the Ducks hosting Utah and the Bruins hosting USC with everyone but Utah still in contention for a College Football Playoff berth. And while the weekend is still pivotal to determine the Pac-12 title game participants, USC is now the only team with a shot of making the playoff.

The results of Week 11 are a microcosm of the trouble the Pac-12 has had trying to get a team into the four-team playoff since Washington qualified in 2016. In 2018, a one-loss Washington State lost in the final week of the regular season to lose out on a Pac-12 title game berth. And in 2019, a one-loss Oregon team lost to Arizona State in Week 12 before beating a one-loss Utah team in the Pac-12 title game two weeks later.

If USC loses over the next three weeks, the Pac-12 trend of teams coming up short of the playoffs will continue for a fifth straight full season.

– Nick Bromberg

Washington 37, Oregon 34Michael Penix Jr. turned in one of the best performances of the season in Washington’s massive upset in Eugene.

Penix threw for 408 yards and two touchdowns in the win, overcoming a bad goal-line interception with an incredible 62-yard touchdown to Taj Davis. Very few people on the planet can make that throw.

Penix, a lefty, was standing on the right hash mark when he looked deep down the left sideline and somehow perfectly fit his throw between the cornerback and safety and into the waiting arms of Davis, who took it to the house to tie the game at 34-34 with 3:07 to play.

Penix has topped the 300-yard mark in all but one of Washington’s 10 games this season. Saturday night’s 408-yard effort was his second-highest of the season, trailing only his 516 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Arizona in October.

Penix leads the nation in passing yards. He has thrown for 3,640 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions while completing 67.1% of his throws. And on a broader scale, it has been a remarkable comeback for a player who was plagued by injuries during his time at Indiana.

Penix had some highs with the Hoosiers, particularly in 2020, but also suffered three season-ending injuries at Indiana. That included an ACL tear in 2021, the second of his career.

After such a tough road in Bloomington, Penix sought a fresh start for his fifth season and found it at Washington under Kalen DeBoer. DeBoer was the offensive coordinator at Indiana in 2019, so the two had a relationship. Once DeBoer got the UW job, it was a natural landing spot for Penix.

And after a disastrous 4-8 season for the Huskies in 2021, it has proven to be a fruitful match for both sides.

– Sam Cooper

Auburn 13, Texas A&M 10Saturday night’s game between the Tigers and Aggies was a bowl elimination game. The winner got to keep its slight chances for a bowl game alive while the loser was guaranteed no postseason opportunity. And the Aggies are now set to miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

Star running back Devon Achane missed the game because of a foot injury and if you ever wondered just how important he was to an impotent Texas A&M offense, you got your answer Saturday night. The Aggies had 215 yards of offense and averaged 3.4 yards per pass and 3.9 yards per carry.

Just look at A&M’s second-half drives before the Aggies scored a TD with 93 seconds to go.

3 plays, 0 yards

3 plays, 0 yards

3 plays, 0 yards

3 plays, -2 yards

3 plays, -14 yards

4 plays, 8 yards

4 plays, 12 yards

That’s the stuff of nightmares. And it only emphasizes further the need for an offensive overhaul ahead of the 2023 season. Jimbo Fisher’s offensive style clearly can’t keep up in the SEC any longer. A&M’s 21.5 points per game are the fewest it has averaged since the 2000 season. And it’s not out of the question that A&M could have its most sluggish season since 1983 if things don’t get better over the final two weeks of the season.

The 2000 Aggies team averaged 20.7 points per game. If A&M scores 33 or fewer combined points against UMass and LSU, its scoring average will dip below that mark and make the 2022 season the lowest-scoring one since A&M scored 19.8 points per game under Jackie Sherrill in 1983.

The loss means the Aggies are the seventh team to start the season in the top six of the preseason AP poll and finish with a losing record.

A&M also needs to beat UMass and LSU over the final two weeks of the season to avoid the school’s first eight-loss season since 2008. That 2008 campaign was the first year of Mike Sherman’s run in College Station. Sherman made it four years as the Aggies’ coach before he was fired at the end of the 2011 season as A&M headed to the SEC.

Sherman’s firing paved the way for Kevin Sumlin, a tenure that looks really good compared to what has been happening under Fisher. A&M was 51-26 in Sumlin’s time with the school. The Aggies are 37-21 in the Fisher era and need to go 15-5 over Fisher’s next 20 games to have a better record under Fisher than they did under Sumlin. That sure looks like a pipe dream at the moment.

– Nick Bromberg

North Carolina 36, Wake Forest 34North Carolina deserves to make a significant jump in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night.

UNC came in at No. 15 last week after improving to 8-1 with a road win over Virginia. The Tar Heels were the lowest-ranked one-loss team from a Power Five conference and came in behind four two-loss teams — No. 7 LSU, No. 9 Alabama, No. 13 Utah and No. 14 Penn State.

Three of the one-loss teams ahead of North Carolina last week suffered their second loss this weekend. Oregon lost to Washington, Ole Miss lost to Alabama and UCLA lost to Arizona.

Meanwhile, North Carolina improved to 9-1 with a road win over Wake Forest and wrapped up an ACC Coastal title in the process. UNC’s only loss was a home defeat to Notre Dame in September. Since then, UNC has reeled off six consecutive wins behind star freshman quarterback Drake Maye.

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) has led the Tar Heels to a berth in the ACC championship game. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Maye threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns while adding 71 yards and a score on the ground in Saturday night’s win over Wake Forest. And UNC’s much-maligned defense shut out a potent Wake Forest offense in the fourth quarter in order to eke out a win. In fact, the winning field goal was set up by a Cam’Ron Kelly interception of Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman.

UNC has allowed just seven fourth-quarter points in its past three games. The defense is improving and Maye is playing at a Heisman Trophy level in his first year as a starter.

The Tar Heels are ascending with two more regular-season games remaining — Georgia Tech and NC State at home — and then an ACC title game showdown with Clemson.

UNC’s schedule hasn’t been the most difficult and six of the team’s nine wins have been decided by one possession. But it will be hard to justify if the CFP selection committee keeps UNC out of the top 10 on Tuesday.

– Sam Cooper

Extra PointsFlorida State 38, Syracuse 3: The Seminoles are quietly playing at a very high level. After a 4-0 start, FSU endured a three-game losing streak in October. After a needed bye week, FSU has come back invigorated and posted three straight blowout wins over Georgia Tech, Miami and Syracuse. With Louisiana and Florida remaining, FSU has a very good chance of going 9-3 in Mike Norvell’s third season on the job. FSU hasn’t topped seven wins since 2016, so that would be a notable step forward for the program.

Iowa 24, Wisconsin 10: Only Iowa could win a game in which it averaged 2.1 yards per play. And Iowa didn’t just beat Wisconsin, it won by two touchdowns. How Iowa is that? The Hawkeyes had just 146 yards of offense, posting touchdown drives of 17 and 18 yards. Both were set up by special teams plays — a blocked punt and a long punt return. Iowa also added a pick-six and a field goal after a Wisconsin turnover on downs. Oh, and if you were wondering, Iowa is no longer dead last in total offense. It ranks No. 130 out of 131 FBS teams, slotting ahead of New Mexico.

Penn State 30, Maryland 0: Mark it down now. Penn State is going to be one of the most-hyped teams of the offseason. The Nittany Lions, now 8-2 and trending toward a 10-2 regular season, are leaning heavily on underclassmen this season, particularly freshmen running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Linebacker Abdul Carter and defensive tackle Zane Durant have stood out as well. And there’s also QB Drew Allar, the former five-star recruit who is set to take the reins from Sean Clifford next year. Whether this group is capable of competing with Ohio State and Michigan remains to be seen, but the talent upgrade on the roster is already noticeable.

Penn State running back Nicholas Singleton (10) scores a touchdown in a rout of Maryland on Saturday. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Oklahoma State 20, Iowa State 14: Let’s give a quick shoutout to Spencer Sanders. The veteran Oklahoma State quarterback missed last week’s game vs. Kansas with a shoulder injury and was not expected to see the field vs. Iowa State. But with the Cowboys trailing 14-10 in the third quarter, Sanders entered the game and led his team to victory. He threw a touchdown pass to Jaden Nixon and later led a field-goal drive as the OSU defense held off the Cyclones in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys are somehow still alive in the race for a spot in the Big 12 title game.

Miami 35, Georgia Tech 14: Freshman QB Jacurri Brown threw for three touchdowns as Miami got a much-needed win. The Hurricanes have not lived up to expectations in Year 1 under Mario Cristobal but are now a win away from bowl eligibility. In Saturday’s win, Kamren Kinchens had three interceptions and Jaylan Knighton rushed for 118 yards. Miami is a significant underdog at Clemson next week (19.5 points at BetMGM) and will likely need to get a win against Pitt in the final week of the season to make the postseason.

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