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|Did that really just happen? Michigan beats Ohio State for the first time in eleven thousand years. NCSU makes a miracle comeback to beat UNC. Penn State falls victim to weather in a loss to MSU.|
Michigan 42, Ohio State 27
O-H-N-O. I still can hardly believe it.
Ohio State had won 26 straight conference games coming into this, including 21 straight over ranked conference opponents. They had beaten Michigan in the last eight meetings, and in 15 of the last 16. They were the #1 offense in the country in almost every category.
Michigan did everything right. Its offense, which seemed unimaginative at times this season, opened up the entire playbook and unleashed a juggernaut of a rushing game that befuddled the Ohio State front seven. Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo made the Ohio State star-ridden offensive line look ordinary: Hutchison had three sacks, Ojabo one. The defensive backs rose up and clamped down on OSU's NFL-ready fleet of receivers. The Ohio State players and coaches had a look of bewilderment, as if they simply could not understand how this was happening to them.
To be sure, Ohio State shot itself in the foot at times, in particular with false start penalties that took them off schedule in down-and-distance. We can thank the raucous home crowd for that, in part. And a bit of soggy weather helped slow down the OSU passing attack. But still, this was no fluke. Michigan absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Ohio State was the team that needed miraculous receptions and fourth down conversions just to stay alive; Michigan, meanwhile, seemed able to gain yards and first downs at will.
With the win, Michigan has risen to #2 the AP poll and will likely be #2 or #3 in the CFP. If Michigan beats Iowa in the Big Ten championship game, a CFP spot is assured. It's a long way from the 6-6 or 7-5 season I had predicted, and every bit of credit should go to the new Michigan coaching staff. Rookie DC Mike Macdonald brought NFL-level ingenuity to the defensive scheme; OC Josh Gattis seems to be maturing as a play-caller and has been willing to integrate power running schemes that fit Harbaugh's style into his "speed in space" mentality. The level of player development across every position is incredible. Absolutely no one thought this would happen... save, perhaps, Harbaugh himself.
I don't think this is necessarily the start of a Michigan streak over OSU. For all we know, Michigan might lose the next eight games to the Buckeyes. But on the other hand, as I've said before, success breeds success. If Michigan ends up in the CFP, recruits will come flocking. And Michigan has found an identity now. If they can maintain some stability in the coaching staff, maybe this year's formula will be repeatable. At the very least, the monkey is off Harbaugh's back, and he'll have fewer distractions going into next year.
Michigan vs. Iowa, Big Ten Championship, 8:00 PM Fox
Jim Harbaugh brought up the 1980 USA hockey team in a press conference. "The thing that hits me, hits me a lot, I think of the 1980 Olympic hockey team. They had a great game but that wasn’t the gold medal game." And yes, that's an apt analogy. The Ohio State game was the big win of the year, but Michigan needs to beat a pretty solid Iowa team to pay off the season. Personally, I'm happy no matter what. But for the team, and the future of Michigan, getting into the CFP is still important.
Iowa is... well, how on earth are they 10-2 when they've only been gaining 299 yards per game on offense, and giving up 316? They beat a terrible Northwestern team 17-12, they beat a Clifford-less Penn State 23-20, and they were crushed by Wisconsin 27-7 in a game where they only managed 156 yards. This is not an elite team by any stretch.
They survive mostly on the strength of their defense, which is legit. They held a potent Nebraska offense to 327 yards, including just 3.0 YPC on the ground. But Michigan's OL is only getting better, and Iowa is also gettable through the air. The useful comparison is the Purdue game, which Iowa lost badly, thanks to a 375 yard passing performance by Purdue QB Aidan O'Connell.
I just don't see how Iowa keeps pace. They'll try to keep the scoring low, but if they fall behind at some point, their offense is just not built for comebacks.
Prediction: Michigan 38, Iowa 16.
Penn State 27, Michigan State 30
We can definitely say the weather played a role in this loss. A field that accumulated several inches of snow negated Penn State's primary advantage in this game, which was Jahan Dotson running wild against MSU's porous secondary. Meanwhile, the conditions favored the team with the better power running attack, and that was clearly MSU with Kenneth Walker III. Penn State RB Keyvone Lee made a valiant effort, picking up 79 yards on 15 carries, but no one else on the Lions squad was able to run at all.
In the end, just a few plays made the difference: a 4th-and-15 touchdown pass from MSU (because neither team wanted to kick field goals in the snow); two other fourth-down conversions by MSU; and a Keyvone Lee fumble in the fourth quarter, which led to an MSU touchdown. Little things here and there in sloppy conditions do a lot to affect the outcome. I don't think you can criticize the Penn State team too heavily for this loss.
It's a disappointing season, of course. Finishing a 7-5, Penn State is probably looking at the Pinstripe Bowl or perhaps the Las Vegas Bowl, though they might luck into a decent opponent like Utah or UNC.
N.C. State 34, UNC 30
N.C. State looked great, then terrible, then great in a wild game with a storybook finish for the Wolfpack. After going up 14-0, UNC scored the next 24 points. N.C. State scored to close the gap to 21-24, but after two three-and-outs and two UNC field goals, the situation looked bleak as UNC led 30-21 with just 2:12 remaining in the game. At that point, State fans started to stream out of the stadium (most of them inappropriately dressed for the below-freezing weather).
But on the ensuing drive, after what seemed like a hope-ending sack on the first play, Devin Leary found an inexplicably open Emeka Emezie open for a 64-yard touchdown pass. Even more improbably, NCSU then recovered the on-side kick, and then scored on another touchdown drive aided by two huge UNC penalties (one for roughing the passer and another for pass interference). With 1st and 10 on the UNC 24, Leary found Emezie again for a touchdown. I remarked at the time that State might have been better off trying to bleed the clock down and kick a game-ending field goal, but I guess it's hard to turn down a touchdown when the opportunity presents itself.
UNC had a chance on a Hail Mary from the NCSU 30 at the end of the game, but the ball was intercepted in the end zone.
Neither team looked great in this game. Both offensive lines were terrible in pass protection, but somewhat better in the running game. The difference through the second and third quarter, though, was that UNC committed to the running game and found success with it, whereas NCSU seemed to abandon it at times. That should have been enough to tilt the contest in favor of UNC; it was only the wild heroics and crippling UNC penalties that saved the day for NCSU.
With Wake Forest also winning, NCSU fails to make the ACC championship, but is in line for perhaps the Holiday Bowl against UCLA or perhaps even the Gator Bowl against Auburn.
Iowa beat Nebraska 28-21, and Wisconsin lost to Minnesota 23-13. That means Iowa will play Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game, a matchup that Michigan probably likes better.
Alabama needed a bunch of heroics and four overtimes to beat Auburn 24-22. They remain alive in the CFP hunt.
Oklahoma State beat Oklahoma 37-33, meaning OU is eliminated from the Big 12; OSU will play Baylor in the championship game. OU coach Lincoln Riley announced today that he is leaving OU to coach at USC.
Oregon jumped to an early lead against Oregon State and held on to win 38-29. Oregon will face Utah in the Pac-12 championship, but neither team faces much hope of getting into the CFP.
Wake Forest clinched its spot in the ACC championship, beating Boston College 41-10. They'll face Pitt.
Championships and Playoff Picture
Georgia is likely in the CFP even if they lose in the SEC championship game, unless they get absolutely blown out.
Michigan, Cincinnati, and Alabama are likely in the CFP if they win, and likely out if they lose.
Oklahoma State needs to beat Baylor and have one of Michigan, Cincinnati, or Alabama lose. Notre Dame is in a similar situation, but since they don't have a championship game to play, they're unlikely to pass Oklahoma State, so they'll need the Cowboys to lose also.
For the 2-loss also-rans, the scenarios aren't favorable. If Michigan, Cincinnati, and Alabama all lose, then you could have Georgia, the Big-12 champion, Notre Dame, and then perhaps Ohio State, Ole Miss, or Oregon sneaking into the picture.
The Pac 12 championship between Oregon and Utah is on Friday at 8:00 PM on ABC.
The Big 12 championship between Baylor and Oklahoma State is on Saturday at noon on ABC.
The SEC championship between Georgia and Alabama is on Saturday at 4:00 PM on CBS.
The AAC championship between Cincinnati and Houston is on Saturday at 4:00 PM on ABC.
The Big Ten championship between Michigan and Iowa is on Saturday at 8:00 PM on Fox.
The ACC championship between Pitt and Wake Forest is on Saturday at 8:00 PM on ABC.
Posted by Ken in: sports
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