Welcome back to The Professor, a weekly guide to what we learned in college football. For more from Week 13 in college football, catch up on scores here and check out our five takeaways from Saturday night.
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Alabama finds itself in a strange position as the calendar gets set to flip to December: The Crimson Tide have no control over their postseason fate.
Auburn beat Alabama 26-14 in Saturday's Iron Bowl, sending the Tigers to the SEC championship game for what will almost certainly be a playoff play-in game against Georgia. Alabama will stay home after four trips to Atlanta in five years. The last time the Crimson Tide didn't win the SEC West, it came as a result of the Kick Six loss to Auburn in 2013. They dropped to fourth in the BCS standings after that, with little hope of leaping into the top two, even though did end up third.
There is more hope this time because of the creation of the four-team College Football Playoff, which makes the situation different for the 2017 Tide. And thus Nick Saban found himself in an unfamiliar position after the game on Saturday: A few weeks after labeling media positivity about his team "rat poison," Saban went to work himself advocating on behalf of the Crimson Tide's overall body of work.
"I think this team deserves the opportunity to get into the playoff by what they have been able to accomplish and what they have been able to do," Saban said after the game.
It's not hard to agree with Saban's point of view. After all, this is Alabama. It has one road loss to a red-hot Auburn team that also blew out Georgia on its home field two weeks earlier. Alabama is 11-1 and outscoring opponents by an average of four touchdowns per game. It ranks 10th nationally in yards per play on offense and second in yards per play allowed on defense. Even if you somehow ignore the recent history that says Alabama is probably one of the four best teams, there's plenty of evidence to look at this season that says the Crimson Tide are one of the top four teams right now. They're still first in the Sagarin ratings, fourth in the Massey composite ratings and second in Football Outsiders' S&P+.
But based on the way the College Football Playoff selection committee evaluates the "best" teams -- it typically leans toward "most deserving," no mater what it says -- Alabama's case gets murkier. It does not have a resume that provides playoff security. Through no fault of Alabama's, the win over Florida State isn't in the same ballpark as what it was thought to be at the time (the Seminoles went from preseason No. 3 to a 5-6 record). The SEC as a whole has also weakened, and Alabama drew Vanderbilt (5-7) and Tennessee (4-8) as its cross-division opponents. The Tide's best wins are against LSU (9-3, lost to Troy) and Mississippi State (8-4, got blown out by Auburn and Georgia). It doesn't have a bad loss like Oklahoma (Iowa State), Clemson (Syracuse) or Miami (Pitt), but its marquee wins are clearly lacking.
Comparisons will naturally be made to 2016 Ohio State, another prestigious one-loss team that didn't win its division and made the playoff anyway. But the Buckeyes had a much stronger resume. Their loss was closer, at Big Ten champion Penn State, and they owned top-10 wins over Oklahoma, Michigan and Wisconsin. Those three wins are more impressive than anything Alabama has accomplished this season, putting the Buckeyes in position to become the first team to make the playoff without winning a conference title.
Of course, there may not actually be an Alabama debate. The winner of the SEC championship game between Auburn and Georgia is all but guaranteed a playoff spot. The winner of the ACC championship game between Clemson and Miami appears to be a lock, too. If Wisconsin beats Ohio State in the Big Ten and Oklahoma beats TCU in the Big 12, there may be no room for arguments. However, if the Sooners and/or Badgers lose, we're heading for an avalanche of debate. There's certainly a plausible scenario in which Ohio State beats Wisconsin to set up a debate between 11-1 Alabama (12-point loss at Auburn, no SEC title) and 11-2 Ohio State (15-point loss vs. Oklahoma, 31-point loss at Iowa, Big Ten title), which has an opportunity to earn both a conference championship and an impressive victory against an undefeated, top-five team on Saturday.
Regular-season Alabama losses have been rare, with only nine total in the past 10 seasons. In several cases, Alabama has had a chance to bounce back: It played for the national championship or made the playoff after losses to LSU in 2011, Texas A&M in 2012, Ole Miss in 2014 and Ole Miss in 2015, responding to those defeats by getting a little help but also doing what it needed to do to play its way back into the national title conversation.
This week presents a rare instance of Alabama having to sit back with no control. It can't play its way back after a loss. The team that is known for dictating the conversation and controlling its own fate is left to wait for the results on championship Saturday and wonder about the thoughts of 13 people in a boardroom in Texas.
Not playing this weekend could actually help -- Alabama is the only playoff contender that can't lose a game on championship Saturday -- but it can't help but feel like an uncomfortable position for the Crimson Tide, because there are no more arguments on the field for Alabama to make.
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Lessons Learned in Week 13
A wild week on the college football coaching carousel
Pitt continues to torment national championship contenders
The two worst Pitt football seasons of the 21st century featured wins over teams ranked No. 2.
The Panthers finished 5-7 in 2007 but beat rival West Virginia in the season finale, knocking the Mountaineers out of the BCS title chase. On Friday, the Panthers capped a 5-7 season with a 24-14 win over Miami, spoiling the Hurricanes' undefeated season. Miami can still make the playoff with a win over Clemson, but it was nevertheless another instance of Pitt rising above its typical level of play to pull off a massive upset.
The Panthers have now won four straight games as an unranked team against an AP top-three opponent: No. 2 Miami on Friday, No. 3 Clemson last year, No. 2 West Virginia in 2007 and No. 3 Virginia Tech in 2002. The Panthers also beat Penn State in 2016, before anybody knew the Nittany Lions would go on to win the Big Ten title.
According to Pitt, Friday's win was the Panthers' first home upset of a top-three team since beating Fordham in 1941. Those Panthers finished 3-6 with losses to No. 1 Minnesota and No. 3 Duke, but they dealt Fordham its only loss of the season, 13-0.
Chris Petersen owns the Apple Cup
The Apple Cup has featured two teams ranked in the AP poll only seven times ever. The past two years have been the first time it's happened in back-to-back meetings, but, unfortunately, neither game has lived up to the hype.
With the Pac-12 North on the line last year, Washington beat Washington State 45-17. With Washington State's Pac-12 North title hopes on the line on Saturday, Washington beat Washington State 41-14, sending Stanford to the Pac-12 championship game. The Huskies dominated the game at the line of scrimmage, as Myles Gaskin rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns and the Washington defense pressured Luke Falk relentlessly and came away with three interceptions and five sacks.
Mike Leach has done a great job at Washington State, which has won 26 games over the past three seasons, but the Cougars are 0-4 against Petersen's Huskies, losing by an average of 27 points.
Notre Dame may have played itself out of the New Year's Six
Notre Dame went from aiming for a playoff bid after blowout wins against Michigan State, N.C. State and USC to potentially being left out of all the major bowls altogether. Two weeks after getting blown out by Miami, Notre Dame turned a 20-17 lead at the end of the third quarter at Stanford into a 38-20 loss. The Cardinal scored three touchdowns in less than four minutes early in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on an interception and a fumbled kick return.
This has still been an impressive turnaround for Notre Dame, as it has a chance to win 10 games for the second time in three years, sandwiched around last year's 4-8 record. To get to 10, it will have to win a bowl game. It might not be as high-profile as hoped. All the New Year's Six games would love to have the Fighting Irish, of course, but their major bowl hopes are at the mercy of the selection committee rankings. The Citrus Bowl or Camping World Bowl in Orlando may be more likely now.
The War on I-4 shows off its potential
Central Florida and South Florida were floated as possible Big 12 expansion candidates for many reasons: They are both large schools with up-and-coming football programs in relatively big markets in a talent-rich state. If the Big 12 were to expand, investing in two Florida teams would make sense.
UCF is in only its 22nd season of FBS play, and South Florida is in its 18th. Despite their proximity, Friday's game was only their ninth meeting. The American Athletic Conference got exactly what it wanted: a raucous atmosphere at Spectrum Stadium with a crowd of nearly 50,000 watching a game that decided the AAC East title and served as an elimination game for a New Year's Six bowl bid. The Knights beat the Bulls 49-42 in arguably the most exciting college football game of the 2017 season, a thriller that included three touchdowns in less than a minute late in the game. Mike Hughes won it with a 95-yard touchdown on a kick return after the Bulls had just tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion.
South Florida losing Willie Taggart to Oregon last year and UCF potentially losing Scott Frost this year reinforces the AAC's status in the middle of the 10 FBS conferences, but Friday was nevertheless a banner day for its conference and two teams that can help it grow in status … at least until the Big 12 comes calling.
Michigan's quarterback carousel continues
Ohio State seamlessly shuffled from senior J.T. Barrett to redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins after Barrett exited Saturday's win at Michigan with a knee injury. The Buckeyes trailed by six when Barrett left in the third quarter, but Haskins stepped in and led a touchdown drive, and Ohio State ultimately won 31-20 behind its backup quarterback.
As if Michigan didn't have enough reasons to be frustrated -- an 8-4 record, 13 losses to Ohio State in 14 years -- the disparity in quarterback play couldn't help but stand out. Jim Harbaugh has a reputation as a quarterbacking guru and did a terrific job with Iowa transfer Jake Rudock in 2015, but results have been mixed since then. This year, incumbent starter Wilton Speight was hurt in the fourth game and hasn't played since then. John O'Korn replaced him but was ineffective, and redshirt freshman Brandon Peters attempted only 63 passes in four games before getting hurt at Wisconsin. That put O'Korn back behind center, and after a stellar start, inaccuracy and a late interception held back the Michigan offense against the Buckeyes.
Speight announced on Sunday that he will transfer for his senior season. O'Korn is a senior and will be gone. That will leave Peters as the lone returning player with experience in 2018, and he'll get competition from freshman Dylan McCaffrey and others in what could prove to be a pivotal year for the program's growth under Harbaugh.
Oklahoma and Memphis offenses reach rare levels of explosiveness
With Baker Mayfield not starting, Oklahoma backup quarterback Kyler Murray picked up 66 yards on a run on the first play of the Sooners' win over West Virginia. It set the tone for the entire game, as Mayfield came in and completed 14 of 17 passes for 281 yards and three TDs, averaging 16.5 yards per attempt. Oklahoma scored 59 points and racked up 646 yards on only 54 plays, good for an average of 11.96 yards per play.
According to Sports-Reference, it was the 11th-best single-game yards per play average since 2000. And yet it wasn't even the highest mark of the weekend.
In a 70-13 win over East Carolina, Memphis ran 49 plays for 635 yards, an average of 12.96 yards per play. That's the fourth-most of any team in a game since 2000. Riley Ferguson threw what turned into an 89-yard touchdown to Anthony Miller on the first play of the game, and he ended up completing only nine passes for 299 yards.
Nine more teams achieve bowl eligibility
Congratulations to the nine teams that won bowl play-in games in Week 13, reaching six wins to earn possible postseason trips: Duke (31-23 over Wake Forest), Texas Tech (27-23 over Texas), Purdue (31-24 over Indiana), UCLA (30-27 over Cal), Utah (34-13 over Colorado), Temple (43-22 over Tulsa), Louisiana Tech (20-6 over UTSA), Middle Tennessee (41-10 over Old Dominion) and Buffalo (31-24 over Ohio).
Those nine teams took the number of bowl-eligible teams from 70 to 79, meaning that all 78 bowl spots will be filled by teams that won at least six games in the regular season. Florida State, Louisiana-Lafayette and New Mexico State can still get to bowl eligibility next week.
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All-America Team of the Week
QB: Lamar Jackson, Louisville. The Cardinals built a 31-10 halftime lead against Kentucky and cruised. Jackson completed 15 of 21 passes for 216 yards and two TDs and rushed 18 times for 156 yards in a 44-17 win.
RB: Myles Gaskin, Washington. Gaskin had his biggest game of the season in the Apple Cup, rushing 25 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns.
RB: Markell Jones, Purdue. Jones became Purdue's first 200-yard rusher since 2009, rushing 31 times for 217 yards to help the Boilermakers win the Old Oaken Bucket and attain bowl eligibility.
WR: Jordan Lasley, UCLA. The Bruins reached bowl eligibility with a win over Cal in which Lasley hauled in 12 catches for 227 yards and a TD
WR: Ryan Davis, Auburn. Davis was a constant thorn in the side of Alabama, which entered Saturday ranked No. 1 nationally in defensive passer rating. He had 139 yards on 11 catches, tied for the second-most receptions any player has had against a Saban-coached Alabama team.
TE: Mike Gesicki, Penn State. Gesicki had five catches for 35 yards in Penn State's 66-3 blowout win at Maryland. He makes this list because he hauled in two touchdowns, including a fantastic diving one-handed grab in the end zone:
OL: Washington. The Huskies have struggled up front at times, especially after losing OT Trey Adams to an injury, but against a disruptive Washington State defensive front, they allowed just one sack and four tackles for loss and paved the way for 328 rushing yards in a blowout win.
DL: Ed Oliver, Houston. The Cougars contained Navy's option attack in a 24-14 win, and Oliver, a tackle, racked up 14 tackles and 3 ½ tackles for loss. The Midshipmen didn't score in the second half.
DL: Mat Boesen, TCU. Boesen racked up 5 ½ sacks -- the most any FBS player has had in a game this year -- and 10 tackles in TCU's 45-22 win over Baylor.
DL: Cedric Wilcots, New Mexico State. As the Aggies pursue bowl eligibility, Wilcots had another huge game. He had a total of one sack in the first eight games. He has 6 ½ in the past three after finishing with 3 ½ in a 17-10 win over Idaho.
DL/LB: Jeff Holland, Auburn. His stats don't show it -- two tackles, zero sacks -- but Holland relentlessly disrupted the Alabama backfield, once again generating constant pressure to help contain the Crimson Tide.
LB: Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech. The Hokies shut out Virginia for their 14th straight rivalry win. The defense was led by Edmunds, who had a team-high nine tackles with three tackles for loss.
LB: Roquan Smith, Georgia. The nation's best linebacker shined again as Georgia shut down Georgia Tech's option attack. Smith had nine tackles and three tackles for loss, and the prolific Yellow Jackets' ground game finished with 188 yards.
LB: Josey Jewell, Iowa. Nebraska's running game went nowhere, and Jewell had a team-high eight tackles with a tackle for loss, three pass breakups and an interception in the Hawkeyes' 56-14 win.
LB: Ryan Connelly, Wisconsin. The Badgers shut out Minnesota, and Connelly led a dominant defensive effort with six tackles and three tackles for loss, including a 12-yard sack.
DB: Levonta Taylor, Florida State. Taylor intercepted two passes, returned one 18 yards for a touchdown, in the Seminoles' win over Florida.
DB: Avonte Maddox, Pittsburgh. Maddox led the charge on defense in Pitt's upset of Miami, with two pass breakups, two sacks and a forced fumble to seal the win.
Avonte Maddox, who forced the final Miami fumble, is really wearing this chain pic.twitter.com/go7UefBIDg— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) November 24, 2017
DB: Mark Gilbert, Duke. The Blue Devils reached bowl eligibility by stopping the hot streak of Wake Forest QB John Wolford. Gilbert intercepted Wolford twice, including one to seal the win on the Demon Deacons' final possession.
AP: Mike Hughes, UCF. In addition to finishing with two pass breakups and an interception on defense, Hughes won Friday's game against USF for the Knights, returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown with 1:28 left after the Bulls tied the game on the previous play.
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Report Card: Grading The Week In College Football
A+: Georgia, Clemson and Wisconsin. The Bulldogs, Tigers and Badgers were all expected to take care of business in heated rivalry games to ensure that next week's conference championships are playoff play-in games for them. They all did just that. Georgia clobbered Georgia Tech 38-7, holding the Yellow Jackets to just 4.1 yards per play. Clemson got an early pick-six from Ryan Carter and cruised to a 34-10 win over South Carolina. And Wisconsin beat Minnesota for the 14th straight season, shutting out the Golden Gophers 31-0.
A: Penn State. The Nittany Lions finished off their second straight double-digit-win regular season with a 66-3 demolition of Maryland -- the same 63-point margin of victory as their last trip to College Park in 1993. Falling short of another Big Ten title and the playoff may be disappointing, but Penn State is the only team that currently ranks in the top 10 of points and points allowed and it lost two games to ranked teams on the road by a total of four points. It's still be an excellent season, one that will end in another New Year's Six bowl game.
A-: LSU. At the end of September, there was talk about whether Ed Orgeron could even make it to a second full season as LSU's head coach. The Tigers got blown out by Mississippi State and lost at home to Troy, creating a potentially ugly situation. So credit to Orgeron and the Tigers for bouncing back: They lost to Alabama, but they won six of their final seven games, including Saturday's 45-21 rout of Texas A&M in Death Valley. The pain of the Troy loss is impossible to erase, but a bowl win would get LSU to a 10 wins and set the stage for greatly increased optimism about the direction of the program under Orgeron.
B+: Oklahoma State, Northwestern and Michigan State. Three there-loss teams played some of the worst Power Five teams and did exactly what they're supposed to do Oklahoma State routed Kansas 58-17. Northwestern routed Illinois 42-7. Michigan State routed Rutgers 40-7, holding the ball for 47:50, as the Scarlet Knights ran only 31 plays on offense -- the fewest of any team in a game since at least 2000.
B: Kansas State. The season didn't go as expected for Kansas State, which was ranked 20th in the preseason AP poll, but the Wildcats ended it on a high note. First they upset Oklahoma State last week. This week, they beat Iowa State 20-19 when Skyler Thompson threw a one-yard TD pass to Isaiah Zuber on the final play of the game.
B-: Virginia Tech. It didn't look pretty, but the Hokies will continue to take wins over Virginia however they come. This time, in their 14th straight Commonwealth Cup victory, the Hokies scored only 10 points but shut out the Cavaliers. Struggles to sustain and finish drives didn't matter. Virginia Tech still hasn't lost to Virginia since 2003, and its within reach of another double-digit-win season.
C+: Florida State. Florida State beat Florida 38-22 on Saturday, meaning that it can get to bowl eligibility if it wins a rescheduled game against UL Monroe. But the Seminoles had 216 total yards and averaged 3.9 yards per play. There were no real winners in the least essential FSU-Florida rivalry game in ages.
C: AAC Saturday endings. Friday's UCF-USF game was specular. Saturday's Cincinnati-UConn and SMU-Tulane games also went down to the wire but had quite different, excruciating results. After falling behind by seven with 1:28 left, UConn went on a 12-play, 93-yard touchdown drive, scoring from the two-yard line on the final play. However, it was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and it missed the ensuing 35-yard extra point that would have sent the game to overtime. Meanwhile, Tulane needed to beat SMU to attain bowl eligibility, but officials ruled quarterback Jonathan Banks short of the end zone on a run on the final play of the game, even though it appeared as though he might have gotten in. The call was upheld upon review, and thus an inch will keep the Green Wave home for the holidays after a 41-38 loss.
ABSOLUTE CHAOS. pic.twitter.com/C1bvaAYeT3- CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 25, 2017
C-: Boise State. The Broncos lost a Mountain West game for the first time this season, 28-17 at Fresno State. But beyond likely dropping them out of the selection committee's top 25, the result didn't matter in the slightest: The two teams will meet again in the Mountain West championship game on Saturday. And despite the fact that they are both 7-1 in league play and Fresno State just won the head-to-head regular-season game, Boise State will host the title game, based on computer ratings.
D+: Kentucky. There's no shame in losing to Lamar Jackson, but this season nevertheless felt like a missed opportunity for the Wildcats to take a step forward. They started 5-1 with a heartbreaking one-point loss to Florida. After losing to Louisville 44-17, they're 7-5, meaning that they've lost at least five games 33 seasons in a row. The ceiling on the program just can't be broken through.
D: Arkansas. The Razorbacks fired coach Bret Bielema minutes after a 48-45 loss to Missouri in which the Tigers kicked a game-winning 19-yard field goal with five seconds left. The defeat dropped the Razorbacks to 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the SEC. Their only wins in the past 14 games have come against Ole Miss, Florida A&M, Coastal Carolina and New Mexico State, and Bielema finished his Arkansas tenure with an 11-29 SEC record in five seasons.
D-: Tennessee. The Volunteers have now lost four of six to Vanderbilt, a team that beat them only once between 1983 and 2011. Vanderbilt's 42-24 win in Knoxville sealed a winless SEC season for Tennessee and the first eight-loss season in school history. The news for the Vols only got worse as the weekend progressed thanks to the coaching hire fiasco on Sunday.
F: Nebraska. Mike Riley was fired Saturday morning after a 56-14 loss to Iowa dropped the Cornhuskers to 4-8 in his third season. It marked the third time in a row Nebraska gave up at least 54 points, joining losses to Minnesota and Penn State. By doing that, Nebraska became just the 16th team since the legalization of the forward pass in 1906 to allow 54-plus points in three straight games, according to Sports-Reference. This will go down as Nebraska's worst season since before Bob Devaney arrived in 1962 to build the Huskers into a powerhouse.
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Week 14 Syllabus
1. Clemson vs. Miami. The Hurricanes will play for the ACC championship for the first time, with a playoff bid expected to go to the winner.
2. Ohio State vs. Wisconsin. The last Ohio State-Wisconsin Big Ten title game was a 59-0 Buckeyes win that launched them to the 2014 national title.
3. Auburn vs. Georgia. For the first time, the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry will stage a rematch in the SEC championship game.
4. Oklahoma vs. TCU. Oklahoma would be a lock for the playoff if the Big 12 didn't bring back the championship game. Now it has to beat TCU again to be guaranteed a spot.
5. USC vs. Stanford. USC already beat Stanford once and is trying to give the South Division its first Pac-12 title game win in seven tries.
6. Memphis at UCF. A rematch of UCF's 40-13 win over the Tigers will decide the AAC championship and the Group of Five's New Year's Six bowl bid.
7. North Texas at Florida Atlantic. These teams are a combined 15-1 in Conference USA play. The only loss came in Florida Atlantic's 69-31 win over North Texas.
8. Fresno State at Boise State. The Bulldogs and Broncos finished with identical 7-1 Mountain West records, and Fresno State won their regular-season matchup on Saturday. And yet computer ratings dictated that Boise State will host the conference title game anyway.
9. Toledo vs. Akron. Toledo entered the season hoping to win its first MAC title since 2004. It already beat the Zips once this season, 48-21.
10. Troy at Arkansas State. There is no official Sun Belt championship game, but the winner of this matchup will, at minimum, share the league title with Appalachian State.