The business end of the college football season is well and truly here. Stakes are high. College football coaches, players and fans know that a loss can end their dreams of a place in the College Football Playoff or a conference championship game. Here's what happened in Week 12...
Game of the Week...
No.5 Tennessee 38-63 South Carolina
The old Spencer Rattler is alive and well in Columbia, South Carolina. The much-vaunted high school prospect's star dimmed in the bright lights of Norman, Oklahoma, in the shadow of Caleb Williams, and had failed to sparkle following his transfer to South Carolina. Against Tennessee, he reminded college football fans and critics of his talents last Saturday.
Rattler completed 30 of 37 passes for 438 yards and 6 touchdown passes, adding another score as he slipped into the end zone to catch a pass from wide receiver Dakereon Joyner. Having averaged 300 yards offense in recent games, South Carolina exploded for 606 total yards and scored touchdowns on their first five possessions.
Volunteers quarterback and Heisman contender Hendon Hooker threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns but looked a little off form before a leg injury ended his game, and effectively, Tennessee's chances of making the College Football Playoff. It later transpired that Hooker tore an ACL ligament in his left knee, ruling him cruelly out of the end of a spectacular season. South Carolina's renaissance under coach Shane Beamer continues, they face Clemson this weekend in a rivalry game with real momentum behind them. Rattler commented: "This game and the next one could change the narrative of this program forever."
"We got a tough bunch and I love coaching them... we're just getting started here in Carolina." - South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer.
The Playoff Places
Illinois 17-19 No.3 Michigan
The biggest winner from South Carolina's game against Tennessee might yet be one of Michigan or Ohio State. It means the loser of this weekend's huge Big Ten clash in Columbus could still make it into the season ending playoff as a one-loss team, Tennessee now having two losses on their resume.
Michigan survived a tight game against Illinois in Ann Arbor, holding on to their unbeaten record and No.3 ranking. 17-16 down, the Wolverines relied on a 35-yard field goal from Jake Moody to get them over the line against the Fighting Illini. Quarterback Chase Brown ran for 140 yards and a touchdown, leading Illinois to a 17-16 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Michigan's offense stuttered, especially after star back Blake Corum left the field with a knee injury after another 100 yard-rushing performance. At time of writing, there was no update on whether Corum would take the field this weekend for the showdown against the Buckeyes. Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy was asked if his team can beat Ohio State again this weekend:
"Because we're better than last year, we're hungry and want it more than anything so we're going to give it everything we got." - Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy
No.2 Ohio State 43-30 Maryland
A late defensive stop for a touchdown flattered Ohio State in a jittery win over Big Ten rivals Maryland. Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa pulled his team back to 33-30 with just six minutes left in the fourth quarter, throwing for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
Ohio State's running game had not fired but freshman back Dallan Hayden ran for 146 yards and three second-half touchdowns. The 5'10" 190lb back gives the Buckeyes some optimism ahead of the crunch game with Michigan but Ohio State will recognise that they, like their big rivals, have work to do ahead of this weekend's crunch game.
No.4 TCU 29-28 Baylor
High drama at McLane Stadium in Waco as TCU squeaked past Baylor, courtesy of a 41-yard field goal from Horned Frogs kicker Griffin Kell in the dying seconds, with the clock still running. TCU quarterback Max Duggan completed 24 of 35 yards for 357 yards and ran for a further 50, dragging his team back into the game.
Running back Emeri Demercardo scored a 3-yard touchdown to bring TCU back to 28-26 but couldn't make the catch on a two-point conversion attempt. His 23-yard break to Baylor's 23-yard line, leaving TCU infield with no time outs left sent the field-goal unit scrambling on to the field before Kell coolly slotted over the winning field goal.
TCU moves to 11-0 for the first time since 2010, remaining in the tight race for a College Football Playoff berth.
No.1 Georgia 16-6 Kentucky
Already in the SEC championship game and looking good to hold on to their No.1 spot unless they suffer a huge upset, defending national champions Georgia edged past Kentucky in Lexington. The Bulldogs ran for 247 yards, 143 of them from Kenny McIntosh.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis drove the Wildcats to within touching distance of Georgia's goal line but was picked off by Georgia's outstanding defensive back Kelee Ringo and Kentucky's only offensive points came from field goals.
Georgia faces Georgia Tech this weekend ahead of their SEC championship match up with LSU, while Kentucky hosts state rival Louisville for The Governor's Cup.
In the Pac-12...
No.10 Utah 17-20 No.12 Oregon
A huge win for Oregon moves the Ducks into the Pac-12 championship game with their win over Utah. Utes quarterback Cameron Rising threw three interceptions and just 170 yards while Oregon quarterback Bo Nix threw for 287 yards and a touchdown. Ducks receiver Donte'e Thornton caught four passes for 151 yards.
No.7 USC 48-45 No.16 UCLA
Facing Oregon will be USC, who clinched their place in the Pac-12 championship game, outlasting UCLA in a thriller in L.A.. Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams threw for 470 yards and two touchdowns, adding another score on the ground, lifting his prospects for the Heisman Trophy. USC racked up 648 yards of offense, welcoming back star receiver Jordan Addison who caught 11 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. The running game, in the absence of the injured Travis Dye, didn't miss a step. Austin Jones came in and rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 309 yards, ran for 75 and accounted for six touchdowns. Unfortunately, his three interceptions, the last seeing him picked off on a 3rd down-and-8 with 1:26 left, effectively sealing the game for the Trojans.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, California scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to beat Stanford 27-20.
In the SEC...
Before and after Ole Miss's disappointing loss 42-27 loss to Arkansas, rumours were circulating that head coach Lane Kiffin was potentially heading to Auburn to assume their head coaching role. Responding to a journalist breaking the rumoured story, Kiffin quickly responded on Twitter, but the rumours are still circulating. Liberty coach Hugh Freeze is also reportedly a target.
On the field, Ole Miss rushed for 463 yards but couldn't convert those gains in to points. The Rebels found themselves 42-6 down in the third quarter, too big a gap to close. At time of writing, Kiffin remains in charge at Ole Miss, but watch this space.
Elsewhere in the SEC, No.8 Alabama shut out Austin Peay 34-0 with an extraordinarily balanced attack. The Crimson Tide passed for 264 yards and ran for 263. In Gainesville, Florida were upset 31-24 by a surprising Vanderbilt team who are building a head of steam at the end of the season, winning their second conference game in a row having beaten Kentucky last week. Mike Wright threw three touchdown passes to give Vandy their first home win over the Gators since 1988.
Auburn's interim coach Cadillac Willams is warming the seat nicely. He led the War Eagles to a 41-17 win over Western Kentucky, a welcome boost ahead of this week's Iron Bowl game against Alabama.
In the Big 12...
The race to meet TCU in the Big 12 championship game is on. No.15 Kansas State scored 41 points in the first half, beating West Virginia 48-31 in Morganstown. Texas thrashed Kansas 55-14, largely thanks to four touchdowns and 243 rushing yards from Bijan Robinson.
Kansas State will secure their berth if they beat Kansas this weekend. Texas is in if they beat Baylor and Kansas State lose. All to play for.
In the annual Bedlam battle, No.22 Oklahoma State lost 28-13 to Oklahoma who scored all their points in the first half, salvaging something from a disappointing season.
In the ACC...
Places in the ACC championship game have already been decided. Clemson will face North Carolina in Charlotte on December 3rd. No.9 Clemson built momentum with a 40-10 win, their 40th straight at home, over a poor Miami team that gained just 8 yards in the first half. No.13 North Carolina will have to pick their momentum up. They suffered a 21-17 upset to Georgia Tech in Chapel Hill, Josh Downs dropping a certain touchdown catch with 4;11 left in the fourth quarter. Boston College were thrashed 44-0 by No.18 Notre Dame in South Bend. The Fighting Irish forced five turnovers in snowy conditions in Boston.
In the Big Ten...
Outside of Michigan and Ohio State, No.11 Penn State thrashed Rutgers 55-10 with their Manny Diaz-led defense picking up three turnovers.
Iowa recorded their eighth straight win over Minnesota, winning 13-10 despite 263 yards' rushing from Golden Gophers back Mo Ibrahim. Wisconsin beat Nebraska, with whom Matt Rhule has been linked for the head coach role, 15-15 and Purdue beat Northwestern 17-14.
Montana State beat Montana 55-21 to win the 306lb Great Divide Trophy, symbolizing the mountainous Continental Divide, the heart and soul of Montana.
Yale won the Ivy League Championship, beating Harvard 19-14. College football's most-played rivalry and the longest uninterrupted, saw Lafayette beat LeHigh 14-11, their 158th meeting since 1884.
No change for the Top 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings this week. Georgia remain at No.1, followed by Ohio State, Michigan and TCU.
Tennessee drop to No.10 after their shock loss to South Carolina, while Utah, down to No.14, fall after their Pac-12 crunch loss to Oregon. The Ducks move into the Top 10, climbing to No.9. LSU and USC lurk just outside the Playoff places at No.5 and No.6 respectively.
The Utes' Pac-12 rivals Oregon are the big fallers, down six places to No.12 after their loss to Washington. North Carolina State are down to No.24 while Ole Miss, UCLA and Tulane slip down the rankings, to No.14, No.16 and No.21 respectively.
Moving into the Top 25 are Texas, at No.23, and Louisville, at No.25.
UK & Ireland Top 25
I am fortunate to be part of a UK and Ireland media group who cast their vote on a Top 25 from this side of the pond, put together by Owain Jones. Here are our rankings from Week 12: