Sporterberg on CFB: Three storylines from Week 12

Alabama sive lineman Alex Leatherwood (70) checks on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) after he was injured in the first half of an SEC football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday. Alabama won 38-7. Associated Press

By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer

One conference topples, and two more contenders trip up in a wild Week 12. From injuries to comebacks and playoff hopes, there’s a lot to talk about as college football season starts to wind down.

How the mighty fall

No. 13 Baylor is out of the playoff hunt. Its undefeated run came to an end Saturday at the hands of an epic Oklahoma comeback. The Bears were up 28-3 early in the second quarter, but the Sooners ripped off 31 of the next 34 points to claim a 34-31 victory in Waco.

Baylor’s offense looked as good as it has in years throughout the first half before sputtering to its normal stagnation in the second. Oklahoma started holding contain, and Charlie Brewer couldn’t bail his team out of trouble anymore. The Bears rushed with a running back just five times in the entire game, while Brewer took up 17 carries for 65 yards.

That little production on the ground contributed to the disparity in time of possession. While not normally a major feature in deciding who wins games, Oklahoma’s offense was on the field for over 41 minutes, meaning Baylor’s defense was on the field for nearly three full quarters. Throughout the second half, the Bears looked gassed as Sooners ran and juked past them.

It was the best game Baylor has played this season against the best opponent they’ll play this season, and the polls recognized that. The Bears dropped just one spot in the AP poll while dropping three in the Coaches’. The 13th-ranked Bears now head for a matchup with unranked Texas to clinch a rematch with Oklahoma Dec. 7 in the Big 12 Championship game.

The other undefeated team slotted outside of the top four, No. 8 Minnesota, lost 23-19 Saturday to No. 20 Iowa. The defeat doesn’t exactly exclude it from playoff contention, as the Golden Gophers still have No. 14 Wisconsin Nov. 30, and if they win that matchup, they’ll get a date with either No. 2 Ohio State or No. 9 Penn State.

Minnesota repeatedly left points on the table in this one, with one missed field goal and two drives ending within the Iowa 33-yard line. The Golden Gophers outgained the Hawkeyes by 141 yards and were more efficient on third down. The penalties and Tanner Morgan’s game-sealing interception threw away the game, as Iowa just played clean football for 60 minutes at home.

How unforTUAnate

No. 5 Alabama is out. It won, beating Mississippi St. 38-7, but that seems inconsequential at this point. Its star quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, is out for the season with a dislocated hip, and with him went the fanbase’s playoff hopes.

The Crimson Tide scored just three points after their Heisman hopeful headed to the locker room. To put that in perspective, they scored five touchdowns on the five drives he was in for. Mac Jones, the new starter under center, has shown himself to be capable, but he’s not going to win a championship and the voters showed that.

Alabama fell one spot in the AP despite their 31-point rout, indicating to the world Mac Jones just won’t cut it. Backup quarterbacks have led their team to the promised land before, notably Cardale Jones with Ohio State, but he got games against Michigan and Wisconsin, two ranked opponents, to prove his worth.

Mac Jones will get 3-8 Western Carolina Saturday before an away matchup with an Auburn team that will likely be ranked below No. 15. And, unless LSU loses to both 2-8 Arkansas and No. 23 Texas A&M (AP), the Crimson Tide won’t make the SEC Championship game to earn another quality win.

Positions within Power Five

With Tagovailoa’s absence, the SEC’s path to another two-team bid in the playoff seems unlikely. Mayhem would have to incur in the Pac-12, or No. 4 Georgia would have to beat No. 1 LSU.

Neither Oklahoma nor Baylor will get in at this point. There just aren’t enough quality wins on either schedule. The Pac-12 also boasts two one-loss squads, and for whatever reason, they are ranked No. 6 and No. 7. Oregon and Utah don’t have better wins than the one-loss counterparts in Baylor and Oklahoma. In fact, neither team has a win over a current top-25 squad.

The Big Ten’s chances at a dual playoff berth will be decided Saturday, as 9-1 Penn State travels to No. 2 Ohio State. If Ohio State wins and clinches the Big Ten East and Minnesota makes it out of the Big Ten West, that championship game will hold major implications for the Playoff.

My favorite scenario? Clemson somehow loses. It won’t happen, but if it does, mayhem ensues. Then add a Minnesota win over unbeaten Ohio State, a Georgia win over unbeaten LSU and who knows what the committee would do with that on their plate?

It’s not unfeasible to see only two conferences make the playoff, and the other three would be screaming their heads off to change the format to eight teams. Three one-loss conference champions would be left out, and in my mind deservedly so. That just sounds like so much fun.