College football winners and losers Week 13 cover Michigan, Notre Dame

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SportsPulse: Dan Wolken details what the College Football Playoff committee got right and wrong in the first ranking of the season.

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Penn State beat Michigan 27-17 for its first win of the season, snapping the worst start in program history and dropping the hapless Wolverines to 2-4 amid questions over coach Jim Harbaugh’s immediate future.

Those questions may not have any basis in reality: Harbaugh’s contract does not expire after next season, leaving plenty of time for both parties to reconvene and recommit to a longer partnership.

The better question asks whether Michigan and Harbaugh believe there is reason to maintain the relationship long into the future given this year’s slide into irrelevancy.

Losing to previously winless Penn State feels like the lowest point of this already lost season, which had already surfed through a series of low moments — losing to Michigan State, getting blown out by Wisconsin, even needing overtime to rally back and beat Rutgers a week ago.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara talks to coach Jim Harbaugh during the first half against Penn State at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (Photo: Junfu Han, Imagn Content Services, LLC)

Barring a miraculous upset win against Ohio State next month, should that game be played as scheduled, Michigan will finish with a losing record for the first time since 2009 and just the fourth time since 1968. 

As a program, Michigan has ceded enormous ground to the Buckeyes, which have lapped the field, and fallen behind several others in the Big Ten. Is there one missing ingredient that would vault the Wolverines back into the College Football Playoff in 2021? Is the strangeness of this offseason and regular season to blame for the Wolverines’ plummet? 

FINALLY: Penn State gets its first win of season with defeat of Michigan

HISTORY MADE: Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller is first female player in Power Five

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 13, including the games played Friday:

Winners

Buffalo

The Bulls are the class of the MAC and a contender for the Top 25 after beating Kent State 70-41 in a battle of the league’s two best offenses. The win moves Buffalo to 22-9 since the start of the 2018 season under coach Lance Leipold, who will be in the running for Power Five job openings. The biggest star of the day: Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson tied the Bowl Subdivision single-game record with eight rushing touchdowns and ran for 409 yards, 18 shy of the FBS record. Patterson scored more touchdowns Saturday alone than 10 teams have scored this entire season.

Notre Dame

After a fast-paced first quarter, Notre Dame slowed the tempo into its comfort zone against North Carolina and pulled away in the second half to beat the North Carolina 31-17 and remain on track for the College Football Playoff. Another very solid performance on defense — the Irish held UNC to under 300 yards of total offense and held

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Winners and losers from the first College Football Playoff ranking puts Ohio State in a tough spot

For 12 weeks there has been speculation about how the College Football Playoff committee will handle assessing teams in this uncertain season.

The teams at the top seemed clear, but that’s not always to the case with 13 people sitting down and evaluating several metrics to determine who would be No. 1. Big Ten and Pac-12 teams played half the games of most of the Power Five contenders. Cincinnati made a strong early case about possibly being a contender from the Group of Five given its impressive start and the challenges of other potential champions playing a full schedule. 



a group of people riding on the back of a motorcycle: Cincinnati cornerback Sammy Anderson (11) celebrates with running back Cameron Young (25) after the team's defeat of East Carolina at Nippert Stadium.


© Katie Stratman, USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati cornerback Sammy Anderson (11) celebrates with running back Cameron Young (25) after the team’s defeat of East Carolina at Nippert Stadium.

With the first rankings out, there’s some sense going forward about how things will play out. That’s always assuming things go to plan. Rare is the season that does.

From NFL plays to college sports scores, all the top sports news you need to know every day.

But for now, here are the winners and losers from the first ranking

Winners

Cincinnati

The Bearcats debut at No. 7, the highest initial ranking for a Group of Five during the playoff era. That easily puts them in striking distance of what was seen as a unlikely opportunity to make the field. A few things will have to go their way. First, beat Tulsa, ranked No. 25, in the regular-season finale and then in the American Athletic championship game.

There also has to be some help. But nothing too crazy. If Notre Dame beats Clemson again or the Irish lose to North

Read more

Winners and losers from the first College Football Playoff ranking

For 12 weeks there has been speculation about how the College Football Playoff committee will handle assessing teams in this uncertain season.

The teams at the top seemed clear, but that’s not always to the case with 13 people sitting down and evaluating several metrics to determine who would be No. 1. Big Ten and Pac-12 teams played half the games of most of the Power Five contenders. Cincinnati made a strong early case about possibly being a contender from the Group of Five given its impressive start and the challenges of other potential champions playing a full schedule. 



a group of people riding on the back of a motorcycle: Cincinnati cornerback Sammy Anderson (11) celebrates with running back Cameron Young (25) after the team's defeat of East Carolina at Nippert Stadium.


© Katie Stratman, USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati cornerback Sammy Anderson (11) celebrates with running back Cameron Young (25) after the team’s defeat of East Carolina at Nippert Stadium.

With the first rankings out, there’s some sense going forward about how things will play out. That’s always assuming things go to plan. Rare is the season that does.

From NFL plays to college sports scores, all the top sports news you need to know every day.

But for now, here are the winners and losers from the first ranking

Winners

Cincinnati

The Bearcats debut at No. 7, the highest initial ranking for a Group of Five during the playoff era. That easily puts them in striking distance of what was seen as a unlikely opportunity to make the field. A few things will have to go their way. First, beat Tulsa, ranked No. 25, in the regular-season finale and then in the American Athletic championship game.

There also has to be some help. But nothing too crazy. If Notre Dame beats Clemson again or the Irish lose to North

Read more

College Football Playoff ranking winners, losers include Cincinnati

CLOSE

SportsPulse: Dan Wolken details what the College Football Playoff committee got right and wrong in the first ranking of the season.

USA TODAY

For 12 weeks there has been speculation about how the College Football Playoff committee will handle assessing teams in this uncertain season.

The teams at the top seemed clear, but that’s not always to the case with 13 people sitting down and evaluating several metrics to determine who would be No. 1. Big Ten and Pac-12 teams played half the games of most of the Power Five contenders. Cincinnati made a strong early case about possibly being a contender from the Group of Five given its impressive start and the challenges of other potential champions playing a full schedule. 

With the first rankings out, there’s some sense going forward about how things will play out. That’s always assuming things go to plan. Rare is the season that does.

But for now, here are the winners and losers from the first ranking

Winners

Cincinnati

The Bearcats debut at No. 7, the highest initial ranking for a Group of Five during the playoff era. That easily puts them in striking distance of what was seen as a unlikely opportunity to make the field. A few things will have to go their way. First, beat Tulsa, ranked No. 25, in the regular-season finale and then in the American Athletic championship game.

Cincinnati cornerback Sammy Anderson (11) celebrates with running back Cameron Young (25) after the team’s defeat of East Carolina at Nippert Stadium. (Photo: Katie Stratman, USA TODAY Sports)

There also has to be some help. But nothing too crazy. If Notre Dame beats Clemson again or the Irish lose to North Carolina this week, that would eliminate a second ACC representative. Alabama beating Florida would knock out the Gators. It’s possible Cincinnati could also move ahead of Texas A&M without help, but an Aggies loss to Auburn would make things easier. That’s really it. Among the teams behind, only Northwestern seems positioned to pass the Bearcats and that would come with an Ohio State loss.

Northwestern

There was no thought given to the Wildcats before last week’s defeat of Wisconsin. They debut at No. 8, five spots ahead of their position in the Amway Coaches Poll, which removed any doubt about their situation. All Pat Fitzgerald’s team must do is win four games and it will be in the playoff.

The rest of the regular season looks manageable – Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois. That leaves the Big Ten championship game – likely against Ohio State – standing in the way of Northwestern being an unlikely participant in the final four.

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The Big 12

For a league that effectively was written off before September, the first rankings actually provided a glimmer of hope for the Big 12. Two-loss Oklahoma was an unexpected No. 11, ahead of Indiana, Brigham Young and

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College football winners and losers for Week 12

No, Northwestern’s 17-7 victory over No. 10 Wisconsin didn’t create as many splashy highlights. But it encapsulated the defense-first nature of the two best teams in the Big Ten West.

The No. 19 Wildcats (5-0) are not just assured a winning season a year after a miserable, offense-deficient 3-9 trek, but they’re also in stellar shape to reach the Big Ten title game for the second time in three years. Still to come are games against Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois. Win two, and they’ll probably match up with the Buckeyes come Dec. 19 in Indianapolis.

They’re in this spot because of turnovers. Namely, five Wisconsin turnovers, the most committed by the Badgers (2-1) since they had five against — you guessed it — Northwestern in 2015, exactly five years to the day of this victory.

The Wildcats needed a late goal-line stand to claim a 13-7 victory on a miserably cold late afternoon and early evening in that one. This time, Wisconsin came to Evanston, and the Wildcats bottled up the Badgers even as their own offense punted 10 times (seven of them via a three-and-out).

The central figures were linebackers Blake Gallagher (14 tackles) and Paddy Fisher (13 tackles), seniors who were welcome bright spots a year ago. Safety Brandon Joseph had two interceptions, the second of which set up a go-ahead touchdown just before halftime.

Neither offense did much after the sun went down. Northwestern managed a field goal in the second half, but also accounted for only 24 rushing yards for the day. Four of the Badgers’ last six drives stalled in Northwestern territory — but none closer than the Wildcat 33. They had scoring threats, just not serious ones.

That’s apt. Wisconsin led the country at the start of the day in total defense; Northwestern was 11th. The Badgers were first in scoring defense; the Wildcats were seventh. (They were giving up a combined 23 points a game, pretty much on the nose). Wisconsin was fifth against the run, Northwestern was seventh.

Considering how Northwestern and Wisconsin separated themselves from the rest of the Big Ten West, this was the perfect way for control of the division to be determined. The Wildcats and Badgers delivered exactly what was expected of them on a late November Saturday.

Winners

Oregon. The Ducks weren’t exactly dominant, but figured out how to survive Chip Kelly’s return to Eugene. No. 11 Oregon (3-0) took the lead for good on Jordan Happle’s interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the first half, then traded touchdowns in the second half to earn a 38-35 victory over UCLA.

Style points wouldn’t hurt Oregon, which isn’t going to get in more than seven games before the playoff selections. But the most important thing for the Ducks is keeping a zero in the loss column. They’ll get Oregon State in the rivalry-formerly-known-as-the-Civil War on Friday.

Tristan Gebbia. Speaking of Oregon State, Beavers quarterback not only had a touchdown via the

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College football winners and losers from Week 9 include Notre Dame, Michigan and Big 12

By battling back from an 18-point deficit to beat Boston College, Clemson dodged the sort of random, seemingly avoidable loss that could’ve severely damaged the team’s resume for the College Football Playoff.

Clemson holds on to the top spot in the latest Amway Coaches Poll

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Not that one loss would’ve eliminated the Tigers, who have made five straight appearances in the playoff. Even had the Eagles pulled off the upset, Clemson could have secured a spot in the semifinals by running the table, which would have included at least one and possibly two wins against Notre Dame.

Losing to the Eagles simply would’ve forced Clemson to win out — which the Tigers may very well do anyway.

From NFL plays to college sports scores, all the top sports news you need to know every day.

The takeaway from Saturday may not be that Clemson survived. Instead, the bigger story was the play of freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who completed 30-of-41 attempts for 342 yards and three touchdowns, one on the ground, as the replacement for Trevor Lawrence, who missed the game after this week’s positive test for COVID-19.

Viewed as the heir apparent to Lawrence since signing with Clemson this past winter, Uiagalelei easily secured his place as the Tigers’ future starter and may have even made a case for being included among the top Heisman Trophy contenders heading into the 2021 season.

Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers:

Winners

Ohio State

It may be that Penn State is the best team Ohio State will face all season. If so, the Buckeyes are going to cruise through the Big Ten and into the playoff. Tested only in brief spurts by the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes’ 38-25 win included 318 passing yards from quarterback Justin Fields and a strong performance from running back Master Teague, who finished with 110 yards on 23 carries. The teams capable of beating OSU reside in the ACC and SEC. For 0-2 Penn State, the focus shifts to salvaging a successful season from a poor start. 

Cincinnati

No. 7 Cincinnati shrugged off a challenge from another AAC contender and beat Memphis 49-10, riding an outstanding performance from a defense that’s making a case for being considered the best in the country. This is a no-brainer: Cincinnati is the best team in the Group of Five. The Bearcats might even be good enough to reach the playoff.



a woman holding a football ball: Cincinnati celebrates after scoring in its victory vs. Memphis on Saturday.


© Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer
Cincinnati celebrates after scoring in its victory vs. Memphis on Saturday.

Coastal Carolina

The No. 21 Chanticleers keep making it look easy. With freshman quarterback Grayson McCall back under center, Coastal Carolina blanked Georgia State 51-0 to move to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in Sun Belt play. After missing last week’s 28-14 victory against Georgia Southern, McCall threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 15 scores against just one interception on the season.

Notre Dame

Beating Georgia Tech 31-13 keeps Notre Dame perfect heading into next

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Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan big winners as Big Ten kicks off season

Check out the top 10 things we learned during the college football weekend:

1. Welcome to 2020, Penn State

Penn State found out what everybody else in college football already knew — during a COVID-19 season, anything can happen. The Nittany Lions outgained Indiana in every category except the scoreboard as the Hoosiers pulled off a furious comeback. Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. leaped toward the end zone pylon and the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime was ruled successful by officials on the field. A replay appeared to show the ball hit out of bounds before it touched the pylon, but replays were deemed inconclusive and Indiana escaped with its first win over a top-10 opponent in 33 years.

2. Ohio State, Justin Fields make early statement

After spending the past eight weeks watching Clemson and Alabama get touted as the best teams in the country, Ohio State finally got the chance to show it deserves to be in the conversation. Quarterback Justin Fields scored three touchdowns as the Buckeyes scored on six of their first seven possession during a season-opening win over Nebraska.

3. Michigan passes early test thanks to a new QB

Joe Milton threw for a touchdown and ran for another as the junior quarterback guided Michigan to an impressive season-opening win over No. 21 Minnesota. The Wolverines rushed for five touchdowns and the defense was physical up front, sacking Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan five times as No. 18 UM snapped a two-game losing streak against ranked teams.

4. Cincinnati makes the case its the best Group of 5 team

No. 9 Cincinnati shook off some early rust after being sidelined for 21 days due to COVID-19 issues and relied on its defense during dominant 42-13 win over No. 16 SMU Saturday. The Bearcats, who have allowed five touchdowns this season, represent the best chance for a Group of 5 teams to finally make the College Football Playoff.

5. Defense could catapult Oklahoma State to a Big 12 title

The Big 12 and defense have never been synonymous, but that could change thanks to Oklahoma State, which ranks in the top 20 nationally in both scoring and total defense. The No. 6 Cowboys, who earned a 24-21 win over No. 17 Iowa State Saturday, are allowing 12 points per game through their first four games and have yet to allow a 300-yard passer this season.

6. Clemson’s biggest challenge could be itself

Clemson has been on cruise control so far this season, winning by an average of 36 points per game, but Syracuse reminded the Tigers they can still lose. A pick-six by Trevor Lawrence and some defensive lapses saw the Orange get as close as any team has come to upsetting No. 1 Clemson so far this season before Dabo Swinney’s team pulled away late for a 47-21 win.

7. Alabama losing its top player could hamper its title hopes

For the second consecutive year, No. 2 Alabama must overcome the loss of arguably its

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College football Week 8 winners, losers include Rutgers and Alabama

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Ohio State helped usher the Big Ten into the regular season with a 52-17 victory against Nebraska, which hung around for much of the first half but proved unable to slow down quarterback Justin Fields and the Buckeyes offense.

Already one of three teams receiving first-place votes in this week’s Amway Coaches Poll, the Buckeyes showed little signs of the sluggishness that has hobbled even the nation’s best teams after a unique offseason.

Fields completed 20 of his 21 attempts for 276 yards and had a team-high 54 rushing yards with three combined touchdowns as OSU racked up nearly 500 yards of offense.

Stressed early by Nebraska’s tempo — the Cornhuskers have improved depth and overall talent up front, which bodes well for the offense in Scott Frost’s third season — the Buckeyes’ performance from late in the second quarter through the final whistle painted the picture of a team capable of running the table and reaching the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields runs for yardage against Nebraska during the first half at Ohio Stadium. (Photo: Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

And Penn State? 

The Big Ten’s second playoff contender lost 36-35 in overtime to Indiana, dealing a tough blow to the Nittany Lions’ playoff hopes. Ahead 28-20 with over a minute left in the fourth quarter, Penn State allowed the Hoosiers to score and convert the two-point conversion to force overtime. Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. completed the two-point try in the bottom of the extra frame for one of the best wins in program history.

The loss removes much of the luster from next weekend’s prime-time matchup with the Buckeyes. It also seems to remove much of the intrigue: Ohio State will be the significant favorite on the road. 

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Finally, the loss opens up room for Michigan, Minnesota or Wisconsin to stake claim for second place in the conference, which dictates where teams fall in the postseason pecking order. But only second place seems up for debate after one week — Ohio State might be too good to unseat from atop the Big Ten.

Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers:

Winners

Oklahoma State

Quietly one of the few remaining unbeaten teams in the Bowl Subdivision heading into the weekend, Oklahoma State bolstered its credibility and took a step toward claiming the top spot in the Big 12 with a 24-21 victory against Iowa State. This could be the Cowboys’ year: Oklahoma, Texas and TCU have struggled and Baylor has taken a step back, almost paving a path for OSU to win the Big 12 and build a case for a spot in the national semifinals.

Michigan

For Michigan, the best development to come out of a 49-24 win at Minnesota was the play of first-year starting quarterback Joe Milton, who provided an immediate spark for an offense that has produced less-than-optimal results for

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College football Week 7 winners and losers include Clemson, Notre Dame

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Conference-only schedules continued to chew up several of the leading contenders in the SEC, leaving the league hinging its College Football Playoff hopes on a select few only four games into the regular season.

After a tough Saturday, the SEC has just four teams with fewer than two losses and a dwindling list of options for the national semifinals.

This isn’t to say the SEC champion isn’t a lock for the top four, or even that the conference won’t again have a case for making up half of the playoff field, especially during this unique regular season. 

And the SEC still has a monopoly on the college football spotlight. Saturday night’s meeting of No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia is one of the most anticipated games of the regular season and perhaps the most important matchup in terms of its impact on the playoff. 

In advance of the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs, however, Auburn and Tennessee fell to 2-2 after losing as favorites against long-suffering opponents — the Tigers to South Carolina and Tennessee at home to Kentucky.

The Tigers and Volunteers join LSU, Florida and others in struggling with the conference-only scheduling model that eliminated the warm-up period of non-league games against pushovers and forced teams to step right into more demanding matchups against SEC opponents.

Saturday wasn’t a complete disaster. Texas A&M moved to 3-1 after beating Mississippi State 28-14, the Aggies’ second win in a row after a lopsided loss against Alabama to start October. Arkansas is now a very impressive and unexpected 2-2 after beating Ole Miss 33-21.

Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:

WINNERS

Clemson

The list of eye-popping numbers from Clemson’s 73-7 rout of Georgia Tech includes 17 players who made at least one reception, which is absolutely ridiculous. (Both of coach Dabo Swinney’s kids, Will and Drew, made a catch.) Behind Trevor Lawrence’s 404 passing yards and five touchdowns, the Tigers remained unbeaten and made a case for staying at No. 1 in the Amway Coaches Poll.

Kentucky

The Wildcats have followed two close losses, to Auburn (29-13) and Ole Miss (42-41), with back-to-back wins against Mississippi State and Tennessee. Both wins have been paced by the defense. The Wildcats returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the game’s first five minutes and held Tennessee to just 287 yards of offense in winning 34-7, the program’s first victory in Knoxville since 1984.

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Miami

There was understandable concern over how well the Hurricanes would bounce back after losing to Clemson, especially against a motivated opponent in Pittsburgh looking to rewrite its season after losing two straight games by a single point. Not that it was a banner performance: Miami’s 31-19 win didn’t include much from the running game (2.6 yards per carry) and saw quarterback D’Eriq King throw two

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College football week 7 winners and losers

The Ghost of Pandemic Present has a hand, too, with the high-profile LSU-Florida game shelved Wednesday because of a covid-19 cluster on the Gators’ roster. To be fair, LSU (1-2) did its part to diminish the impact of this contest with its play to date, though this is usually a pretty entertaining pairing. Likewise, Oklahoma State-Baylor also was pushed back due to contagion.

Considering these postponements are an understandably every-week occurrence in the sport, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 not-so-understandably didn’t bother to build an open date into their schedules, it’s about time to think about the Ghost of Pandemic Future. Namely, how much longer can things go without rearranging the end of the season?

This is a different question than whether the season actually reaches its endpoint without shutting down. That’s a valid concern which never really left the minds of those who value public health, safety and well-being over entertainment and money throughout the last seven months.

Setting that aside, the ACC, Big 12 and SEC sagely built wiggle room into their schedules in the form of Dec. 12, a projected extra week before a conference title game. Those leagues have already combined to push five games into that window (Notre Dame-Wake Forest, Virginia-Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt-Missouri, as well as LSU-Florida and Oklahoma State-Baylor).

How long will it be before a team gets a second postponement and Dec. 19 looks increasingly unrealistic for a league title game (it could very well happen if there’s a single outbreak on a Big Ten team by month’s end)? In turn, how long will Jan. 1 remain a viable date for the playoff semifinals? And how deep into winter are college football’s powers that be willing to push games, even a national title?

These aren’t questions with clear-cut right or wrong answers. In a weird season with unusual conditions and a clear push to keep going — which, depending on your point of view, can be viewed as determination or recalcitrance — they nonetheless might require some sort of answer.

The sport’s power brokers shouldn’t be expected to have every contingency sorted out at this point, in part because firm plans are antithetical to the present reality. But it’s probably time to start publicly floating some ideas for how much college football is willing to juggle and how long it is willing to wait to achieve closure on this season.

Five with the most at stake

1 and 1a. Alabama and Georgia. There’s a possibility this is merely the first of three rounds between the two SEC heavyweights. Considering the state of the rest of the league, there’s an even better chance it’s at minimum a preview of the SEC championship game. The winner in Tuscaloosa emerges as the SEC’s last unbeaten team and owner of the best victory on the board to date.

2. Clemson. It’s the same story every week for the No. 1 Tigers; bank another victory and move a week closer to a sixth consecutive

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