Southern California’s No. 4 Friday night loss to No. 12 Utah has already put No. 5 Ohio State back in the college football playoff mix. Saturday afternoon, No. 6 Alabama reentered the playoff debate as No. 10 Kansas State threatened to extend an already double-digit lead in the Big 12 Championship game against TCU. #3.
But this is TCU, and one thing we’ve learned on this wildly unexpected march to an undefeated season is to never count Max Duggan and the Horned Frogs.
By reversing Kansas State’s 21-10 lead in the third quarter and forcing overtime, TCU might have done enough to keep the Crimson Tide at bay and stay in the playoffs. The 31-28 loss still creates a stressful waiting period until Sunday morning as the Horned Frogs prepare for the head-to-head comparison with the Crimson Tide.
That the Horned Frogs came back strong is fitting in the most memorable regular season in program history. Only once since the second week of October have the Frogs won, in last week’s 62-14 game against Iowa State.
The story of the year was a tight one: TCU won five games by possession, most recently beating Baylor 29-28 on a last-second field goal, and outscoring seven Big 12 opponents by a 6.9 average margin. dots.
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The overtime loss could give Duggan the edge over Caleb Williams in the Heisman Trophy race. He finished with 251 passing yards, 110 rushing yards and two scoring, and led one of the most memorable drives in program history, a three-minute 80-yard walk to tie the game at 28-28 with just under two minutes to play.
While Alabama and the SEC will be defending the Crimson Tide, the fact that the Frogs lost in overtime to one of the best teams in the country — a team they defeated earlier in the regular season — should bring some backside. calm and clarity in a race that threatened to descend into total anarchy at the gates of the final classification.
If it isn’t officially knocked out of the competition — as has been predicted dozens of times since November’s loss to 13 LSU — Alabama still doesn’t have the resume to match TCU, which wins the argument in four important categories:
More wins. Alabama has seven Power Five wins against the Horned Frogs’ 10.
Better win. The Tide Five wins against bowl-eligible opponents. TCU has eight.
Stronger wins. Alabama’s best win is probably against Texas, edging out Mississippi and No. 25 Mississippi State. That’s eclipsed by the Frogs’ win over Kansas State.
Texas victory. Comparing the only common opponent, No. 21 Texas, is a good reflection of the TCU. Neither team dominated, but Alabama escaped with a 20-19 win over the Longhorns, who had to rely on backup quarterback Hudson Card. TCU beat Texas 17-10 thanks to the Longhorns’ meaningless touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The fourth-team playoff debate is likely to focus on USC and OSU instead, with the Buckeyes poised to reach the semifinals for a likely rematch with Michigan’s No. third seed. But the committee was given the opportunity to reevaluate Alabama as an option; anything is possible once Crimson Tide enters that conversation.
The Horned Frogs and Wildcats are at the forefront of the latest regular season winners and losers:
No. 2 Michigan will enter the playoffs as the second seed after knocking out Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game. Without running back Blake Corum, out for the rest of the year with an injury, the Wolverines relied on Donovan Edwards, who rushed for 185 yards and a score after setting a new career high with 216 yards in the win over No. 5 Ohio State. The 43-22 victory also included a solid but unspectacular game from JJ McCarthy: 11 completions on 17 throws for 161 yards and three touchdowns. Back-to-back Big Ten champions for the first time since 2003-04, Michigan have entered a new stratosphere under coach Jim Harbaugh and must be considered Georgia’s biggest threat to the national championship.
The Wildcats’ first conference championship since 2013 sets the stage for even greater success in the future under coach Chris Klieman. Boosted by quarterback Will Howard, who went undefeated as a starter after replacing Adrian Martinez in November, Kansas State will finish in the top seven or eight of the playoff standings after avenging this year’s loss to TCU. Ultimately, the Wildcats were kept out of the playoff debate due to the 17-10 loss to No. 18 Tulane in a non-conference game.
The Green Wave heads to the Cotton Bowl after beating Central Florida’s No. 23 45-28 to pull off a remarkable turnaround and win the American Athletic. After winning just two games in 2021, Tulane has only lost twice in the regular season: by a field goal against Mississippi South and a touchdown against UCF. In addition to beating Kansas State and the Knights, the Green Wave won five other bowl teams in Houston, East Carolina, Memphis, SMU and Cincinnati. This success made coach Willie Fritz one of the top contenders for the Georgia Tech job, which eventually went to interim coach Brent Key. Keeping Fritz on the sidelines is a huge win for Tulane.
In another year, Troy might have been the representative of the Group of Five in the New Year’s Six. The Trojans will settle for one of the best years in the Bowl Subdivision program’s existence after beating Coastal Carolina 45-26 for the Sun Belt Championship. While Troy shared the conference crown in 2010 and 2017, this is the Trojans’ first outright since the 2009 team led the league table. At 11-2, Troy should make the final playoff standings and be the second-best team in the group of five behind Tulane.
New Mexico State
Bowl-eligible before Saturday thanks to an NCAA waiver granted earlier this week, the Aggies ended an impressive six-game winning streak under new coach Jerry Kill by beating Valparaiso 65-3 in a rescheduled season finale. Bowl games are rare: New Mexico State has only played four, most recently winning the 2017 Arizona Bowl. The same is true for six-win seasons, which the Aggies never have. done only six times since 1968.
All of the intrigue surrounding the SEC championship game was erased by the Tigers’ loss last Saturday to Texas A&M, leaving No. 1 Georgia entrenched in playoff win or loss and LSU competing for the Six in New Year, not the first four. Playing for the seeding and the chance to avoid another loss in the championship game, the Bulldogs took a 35-7 lead in the second quarter and clinched a 50-30 win. The program’s second SEC crown under Kirby Smart will leave Georgia as the playoff seed and keep LSU out of one of the major bowls, likely sending the Tigers to the Citrus Bowl.
Once on the sidelines of the playoff race at 9-1, North Carolina will stumble and fall into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak, the latest a 39-10 decision to No. 11 Clemson in the ACC championship game. Back in the game for the first time since 2015, another loss to the Tigers, the Tar Heels haven’t won the ACC since 1980. Beyond Clemson’s dismissal in the New Year’s Six, the game has was notable for Dabo Swinney’s quarterback change from a struggling DJ Uiagalelei to true rookie Cade Klubnik. Walking for Uiagalelei after just five pass attempts, Klubnik completed 20 of 24 attempts for 279 yards and had two touchdowns, one on the ground. UNC redshirt rookie Drake Maye threw two interceptions, giving him four for a single touchdown during that three-game losing streak.
Klubnik was so in control, in fact, that it begs the question of whether Swinney’s quarterback change came a week too late. If he was under center against South Carolina, does Klubnik mean the difference in a one-point loss? And if the Tigers beat the Gamecocks, are they in the playoffs instead of Ohio State? The move to Klubnik has paced Clemson’s ACC championship and sets the stage for a return to more consistent quarterback play next season. But the Tigers could have used Klubnik before Saturday.
The Broncos’ conference championship drought hits three years after losing 28-16 to Fresno State in the Mountain West championship game. It marks a very disheartening end to a regular season saved by seven wins in eight games after a difficult start in September. On the heels of a strong run as the Broncos’ starter after taking over in October, quarterback Taylen Green threw just 17 of 38 for 175 yards and two interceptions as Boise State ignored a running game averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Fresno State was no better at 245 yards of offense, but the Bulldogs scored on a punt return in the first quarter and had an 87-yard touchdown in the fourth to put the game aside.
The best team in the MAC since the conference started in October, the Bobcats couldn’t survive the absence of quarterback Kurtis Rourke and lost 17-7 to Toledo in the conference championship game. Out since late November with a season-ending injury, Rourke led the MAC in every major category: completion percentage, yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns and efficiency rating. His replacement, CJ Harris, passed for 163 yards and one interception as the Rockets won a second conference championship under coach Jason Candle. The long drought continues for Ohio, which has won five division crowns since 2006 but hasn’t won the MAC since 1968.
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