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College Football

College football Week 12 winners and losers: Georgia dominates, USC ends with flop

The No. 1 team in college football is playing like the No. 1 team.

You'd say that's obvious, but it's not always the case. It is with Georgia, though, which continues to dominate against ranked SEC competition and put a headlock on the top spot in and the College Football Playoff rankings.

After rolling past Mississippi 52-17 last weekend, the Bulldogs controlled Tennessee for nearly every second of a 38-10 win. The Volunteers scored on a 75-yard run on the game's opening play; from there, it was all Georgia.

You're beginning to see a program has won the past two national championships round into form just in time to win a third and make college football history. Georgia may have looked vulnerable after some questionably close games to start SEC play and losing tight end Brock Bowers to an ankle injury, but those doubts have been put to rest as the Bulldogs hit another gear near the finish line of the regular season.

Bowers returned from his ankle injury before last week's game against the Rebels and has picked up where he left off, with another touchdown against the Volunteers on 60 yards receiving. One constant has been the increasingly productive play of quarterback Carson Beck, who completed 24 of 30 throws for 298 yards and three scores. Beck now has 21 touchdowns and five interceptions and is completing nearly 73% percent of his throws.

Georgia wide receiver Dillon Bell (86) celebrates a touchdown during the first half against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Georgia is coming together. The rest of the FBS better watch out — especially Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama and the other blueblood programs in the mix for the national championship.

The Bulldogs top Saturday's biggest winners and losers:

Winners

Washington

Washington's 22-20 win against Oregon State locks the Huskies into the Pac-12 championship game and makes a statement. The Huskies have been casually dismissed by the playoff selection committee, which has ranked them last among unbeaten Power Five teams despite owning the best single win in the country, earlier this season against Oregon. The physical nature of the win and the fact that it came against one of the top teams in the country could be enough to get Washington up to No. 4 in the playoff rankings and make the playoff math very easy to explain: win and you're in. The Huskies also sneaked out the road win despite an uncharacteristically poor game from quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who completed just 13 of 28 throws for 162 yards but did have two touchdowns without an interception and a key third-down conversion to clinch the win in bad weather conditions. Before Saturday, Oregon State was 5-0 at Reser Stadium this season and 17-1 since the start of the 2021 season.

Kansas State

Down 11 points in the third quarter, Kansas State came back and topped Kansas 31-27 to remain alive in the Big 12 chase and extend the winning streak in the rivalry to 15 games. Trailing 27-16, the Wildcats capped an 87-yard touchdown drive with the two-point conversion to cut their deficit to 27-24 heading into the fourth and then took the lead on Will Howard's 15-yard score with just over 10 minutes left. The Jayhawks did a nice job setting up a game plan for third-string quarterback Cole Ballard, who had 217 yards of total offense and averaged 10.2 yards per pass attempt, though he was intercepted twice. Running back Devin Neal added 138 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. But it wasn't enough to get the Jayhawks past Howard, who also had two touchdown passes. Winners of eight games for the fourth time in five years under Chris Klieman, the Wildcats could reach the conference championship game with a win next Saturday against Iowa State and some help.

Arizona

Jedd Fisch is the Pac-12 coach of the year and should be one of the top names for national hardware after Arizona's eye-opening 42-18 rout of Utah secured the Wildcats' first eight-win season since 2014. The Wildcats had one touchdown via a blocked punt and then scored on a garbage-time touchdown pass with under a minute left, inflating the final margin of victory a touch. But this was dominance: Arizona had four scoring drives of 60 or more yards, didn't turn the ball over, held Utah to 3.2 yards per carry and averaged 7.7 yards per play, the most the Utes have allowed in a game this season.

Louisville

Another top-line contender for national coach of the year is Louisville's Jeff Brohm, whose homecoming debut with the Cardinals should go down as one of the most memorable years in program history. After winning 38-31 at Miami (Fla.), the Cardinals are an incredible 10-1 heading into the rivalry against Kentucky and are locked into the ACC championship game against Florida State. Everyone expected immediate improvement under Brohm, a tremendous offensive coach, but no one could've seen this coming: Louisville has a small but recognizable path to the playoff with wins against the Wildcats and Seminoles.

SMU

SMU has quietly been one of the best teams in the Group of Five since September. This can be partly attributed to a schedule that included high-profile matchups against Oklahoma and TCU but missed Tulane and Texas-San Antonio during American Athletic play. Beating Memphis 38-34 on the road is easily the most impressive result of the season for the Mustangs, who are now in line to finish with an unbeaten record in conference play and play for the AAC crown with a win next week against Navy. What will be interesting to see on Tuesday night is whether the playoff committee ranks the Mustangs — not that it matters, but being ranked before the AAC championship game guarantees that SMU would reach the New Year's Six with the win.

Northwestern

Think way back to August, when Pat Fitzgerald was fired amid allegations of hazing within the program, and think about the rock-bottom expectations around Northwestern and first-year defensive coordinator David Braun, Fitzgerald's interim replacement. Who saw a bowl game coming? Well, here we are: Northwestern will reach the postseason after getting 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Cam Porter to beat Purdue 23-15. In addition to the summer's turmoil and the ensuing coaching change, don't forget that Northwestern had won four games in the previous two seasons and lost at least nine games in three of the past four. So what the Wildcats have done is incredible, and explains why Braun was named this week as the team's permanent coach.

Arkansas State

Butch Jones was fired by Tennessee in 2017, spent a few years learning new tricks as an off-field assistant at Alabama and then landed the job at Arkansas State in 2021 in an effort to rekindle his coaching career. His first two teams were terrible, posting just a combined five wins, and this year seemed like more of the same after the Red Wolves gave up 70 points in a humbling non-conference loss to Oklahoma. About two months later, Arkansas State will land in bowl play after using four takeaways to score a 77-31 blowout of Texas State. Remarkably, none of the Red Wolves' nine touchdowns came through the air, with seven on the ground — three from Ja'Quez Cross and two apiece from Zak Wallace and Cedric Hawkins — and the remaining two coming on interception returns in the fourth quarter.

Losers

Florida State

Florida State dropped down 13-0 to North Alabama before getting back on track and cruising to a 58-13 win. But here's the bad news: Star quarterback Jordan Travis went down with a serious lower-body injury late in the first quarter, likely ending the Heisman Trophy contender's season and putting the Seminoles' championship hopes in dire straits. Tate Rodemaker stepped in for Travis and looked good, throwing for 217 yards and two scores, and the former three-star recruit could give FSU enough to land wins against Florida and Louisville to clinch a perfect regular season. But there's getting to the playoff and then there's winning once or twice when you get there, and losing Travis drastically impacts the Seminoles' chances on college football's biggest stage.

MISERY INDEX: Florida State's season in doubt after injury to Travis

Southern California

The only good thing you can say about the Trojans' regular season is that it's over. Thank goodness. The ending was predictable: UCLA took advantage of mistakes, controlled the line of scrimmage and was just the better team, period, in a 38-20 win that extends the Chip Kelly era for at least one more week. As they've had to do all season, the Bruins maximized some minimal returns on offense and let the defense lead the way; the defense responded with three takeaways and consistent pressure on Caleb Williams. After making last year's Cotton Bowl and beginning the year as one of the trendiest picks for the playoff, USC heads into the postseason at 7-5 and one of the biggest disappointments in the country. And they'll have to regroup fast with Williams likely headed to the NFL.

Florida

Brutal. Brutal. This has already been an ugly year for Florida, which went 6-7 in Billy Napier's first season and was 5-5 heading into games against Missouri and Florida State to end the regular season, needing at least one win to reach a bowl and two wins in three possible games to avoid back-to-back losing seasons to start Napier's tenure — something that would be very, very hard to overcome. Despite losing quarterback Graham Mertz to injury in the second half, the Gators led Missouri 31-30 with 1:34 left and were in position to earn bowl eligibility with one defensive stand. Instead, Missouri went 62 yards in 12 plays, including a ridiculous fourth-and-17 conversion to star receiver Luther Burden, and then kicked a 30-yard field goal with five seconds left to win 33-31. That’s brutal.

Auburn

Now, to be clear: This isn't your dad's New Mexico State, or even your older brother's New Mexico State. The Aggies are a different bunch under the great Jerry Kill, who led the program to a bowl game in his debut last season and has his second team in the Conference ӣƵ championship game. But maybe you should sit down for this: New Mexico State 31, Auburn 10. One week after whipping Arkansas to reach bowl eligibility under Hugh Freeze, the Tigers were held in total check by a ball-control offense that held possession for almost 39 minutes and helped the Aggies outgain Auburn 414 yards to 213. This was the first win against the SEC after 27 losses in a row for New Mexico State, which was paid $1.85 million to come to Auburn and beat the Tigers like a drum. Nice return on investment, guys!

Nebraska

Once 5-3, the Cornhuskers head into the finale against Iowa in real danger of missing the postseason in coach Matt Rhule's first season after losing to Wisconsin 24-17 in overtime. In a larger sense, falling a win short of bowl eligibility doesn't make Rhule's debut an unsuccessful one, especially given the situation Rhule inherited from former coach Scott Frost. But Nebraska has spent most of a month knocking on the door of the program's first bowl bid since 2016. To not get there would be not only tough to swallow but pretty damaging given how important the extra bowl practices would be for Rhule, the staff and the roster.

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