Throughout the first seven years of the College Football Playoff’s existence, Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma were responsible for 20 of 28 available appearances and six of the seven national championships. As the regular season comes to a close in Week 13, it’s highly likely that none of those four stalwarts will be represented as contenders in the 2022 College Football Playoff field.
Instead, welcome new money to the table: Georgia and Michigan. The No. 3 Wolverines shocked rival Ohio State on its home field thanks to a breakout performance from quarterback J.J. McCarthy and now will join the short list of consecutive playoff participants. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are the reigning national champions and should be overwhelming favorites to repeat.
College football has always been cyclical, but we’re witnessing the sport cycle in real time. Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State still rank among championship contenders, but the stranglehold has been loosened as new programs have an opportunity to crash the oligarchy for the first time in years. Lincoln Riley’s USC and Sonny Dykes’ TCU are programs with an immediate chance. Brian Kelly’s LSU, Josh Heupel’s Tennessee and Dan Lanning’s Oregon are programs that could be making their cases sooner rather than later.
Granted, it’s technically possible for Ohio State or Alabama to sneak their way into the field. A second loss for USC in the Pac-12 title game could cause chaos in the No. 4 spot. Regardless, the new era is clearly upon us.
Here are more winners, losers and overreactions from the Week 13 action in college football.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh: Most of the attention has shifted to Ohio State’s collapse over the past two years, but Michigan’s rise is impossible to ignore. The Wolverines had not beaten Ohio State since 2011 before Harbaugh and his team shocked the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last season. Michigan had not beaten Ohio State in consecutive seasons since 2000. Now that’s over. Harbaugh was saddled with nearly impossible expectations for a Michigan program that has not put together consistent Big Ten dominance in 20 years, but after six seasons, Harbaugh has evolved and transformed this program into one that is ready for the national stage.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders took a chance by hiring former high school coach Joey McGuire, but the decision has quickly paid dividends. Texas Tech shocked Oklahoma 51-48 in overtime to beat the Sooners and Texas Longhorns in the same season for the first time in program history. The Red Raiders had not beaten Oklahoma since 2011 and lost the last three games by a combined 104 points. Texas Tech quarterback Tyler Shough threw for 436 yards and two touchdowns in the win, while running back SaRodorick Thompson added two rushing scores. Oklahoma finished with 672 yards of offense, but it wasn’t enough to survive the Lubbock, Texas, atmosphere. The Sooners finished 6-6 in the first year of the Brent Venables era.
Tulane: The Green Wave came into the season picked seventh in the preseason AAC poll after missing a bowl game. After beating two-time defending AAC champion No. 24 Cincinnati in the first ranked victory for Tulane since 1984, the Green Wave are set to host the AAC Championship Game and play for just their second conference crown since 1949. Running back Tyjae Spears was huge with 181 yards rushing and two scores in the narrow 27-24 victory, and now Tulane will host UCF with a trip to the Cotton Bowl on the line. This has a chance to end as one of the most successful seasons in program history.
LSU: No. 5 LSU was right on the edge of the College Football Playoff heading into an easy matchup against last-place Texas A&M. Unfortunately for the the Tigers, the Aggies had other plans. Texas A&M finally put together a 30-point performance against FBS competition with a 38-23 shellacking of LSU to hand the Tigers their third loss of the season. Texas A&M running back Devon Achane bruised LSU to the tune of 215 yards and two touchdowns to give the Aggies a little bit of hope entering a bitter offseason. LSU should still wind up with the SEC’s Sugar Bowl slot, but a brutal one-point loss to Florida State in the opener and this performance will stick in first-year coach Brian Kelly’s mind for an entire offseason.
Memphis: The Tigers were recently one of the most dominant programs at the Group of Five level with three division titles and two conference championships since 2014. But three years into the Ryan Silverfield era, Memphis is careening in the wrong direction. After a 30-11 record in the final three years of the Mike Norvell era, Silverfield sits at 20-14, including back-to-back 6-6 seasons following a disappointing loss to SMU. The two-year stretch is the worst at Memphis since 2013. The struggles could not come at a worse time as the program prepares to enter a new era of the AAC after getting left out of Big 12 expansion. There has perhaps never been a more important offseason for Memphis athletics under athletic director Laird Veatch.
This is Caleb Williams’ sport: When Ohio State vs. Michigan ended with C.J. Stroud struggling and Blake Corum injured, the Heisman race was officially up in the air. Luckily for voters, USC quarterback Caleb Williams was perfectly happy to make a few of his miraculous plays and take center stage.
Williams completed 18 of 22 passes for 232 yards, rushed for 35 yards and posted four touchdowns in a decisive 38-27 win over No. 15 Notre Dame. That doesn’t even come close to describing the magic Williams showed with countless highlight plays in a highly efficient performance against the defense that shut down Clemson.
Remember, the Heisman Trophy is a narrative award, and there isn’t a better narrative in college football than Williams transferring to a 4-8 USC team and taking them to the door of the College Football Playoff in his first season.
CFP is a four-team race: There are four teams separating themselves from the rest of college football: No. 1 Georgia, No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 TCU and No. 6 USC. Michigan stole No. 2 Ohio State’s lunch money for the second straight season, this time on the Buckeyes’ home field. Georgia overcame a slow start to shoot past Georgia Tech. TCU obliterated Iowa State 62-14 to nearly quadruple the Cyclones’ previous worst loss.
On the other side, No. 5 LSU was shellacked by a last-place Texas A&M squad. No. 8 Clemson and No. 9 Oregon hit the dirt against lesser opponents, while No. 7 Alabama’s best win might fall out of the rankings after No. 20 Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State on Thursday night.
TCU and USC have difficult matchups ahead against competitive opponents in conference championship games. Georgia has a manageable LSU squad, while Michigan has a lackluster Purdue team on the other side. Regardless, these are the four most deserving teams in America. Anyone other than these four getting in on Nov. 4 would be a tremendous disappointment.