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Week 13 college football winners and losers: Michigan thrives, while Ohio State and Clemson dive

USA TODAY SPORTS 11/27/2022 Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY
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No. 3 Michigan pounded away at No. 2 Ohio State until the Buckeyes crumbled.

For the second straight season, the rivalry game painted the Wolverines as the tougher, stronger, better coached and more consistent team and program — and if once could be pitched as a fluke, two blowouts in a row strongly suggests a trend has developed.

Ahead 31-23 midway through the fourth quarter, Michigan scored on a 75-yard touchdown run by Donovan Edwards, who ran for a career-best 216 yards. After intercepting Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, the Wolverines added an 85-yard run by Edwards to win 45-23.

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For Michigan, another win in this series and the high possibility of another conference championship and College Football Playoff berth means it's time to redraw the Big Ten power structure. Until proven otherwise, the Wolverines are the league's best.

For the first time in decades, the Buckeyes and everyone else in the Big Ten is chasing Michigan. Eight seasons into his tenure and just two years after facing a very uncertain future at his alma mater, Jim Harbaugh has delivered on the lofty expectations placed onto the program upon his arrival in 2015. 

Michigan players celebrate on the field after their defeat of Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, Saturday Nov. 26, 2022. © Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press Michigan players celebrate on the field after their defeat of Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, Saturday Nov. 26, 2022.

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And for Ohio State, this loss opens up serious doubts about the program's place in the broader Bowl Subdivision. While the Wolverines spent most of this season under scrutiny for feasting on an unimpressive schedule, the Buckeyes escaped that spotlight and were celebrated as the team most capable of beating Georgia.

The final score matters for the Buckeyes, which might've pitched the playoff selection committee on making the semifinals with one competitive loss. The 22-point defeat ends those postseason hopes and opens up a series of questions about the state of the program, the play of both lines and, maybe most of all, whether coach Ryan Day has what it takes to wrestle back control of this rivalry.

If not, pencil in more of the same from the Buckeyes until Michigan says otherwise. With the victory, the Wolverines paint themselves as the top-ranked Bulldogs' biggest threat and top the list of winners and losers from rivalry weekend:

Winners

Southern California

The Trojans were not supposed to be this good, this soon — the thought that this team would be a win away from the playoff entering the Pac-12 championship game would've been laughed away in August, September and even early October. What's behind this smashing debut for coach Lincoln Riley? Don't look much farther than Caleb Williams, who continued one of the top runs by a quarterback in Pac-12 history and probably locked down the Heisman Trophy with 267 yards total offense and four touchdowns as No. 5 USC beat No. 15 Notre Dame 38-27. Instead of being tested physically by the Fighting Irish, the Trojans got into an early rhythm and controlled the pace of play with a balanced offense — 232 yards passing, 204 running — and some terrific work on third down. And as always, USC won the turnover battle. The Trojans were plus-two against Notre Dame and now a ridiculous plus-22 on the season.

J.J. McCarthy

Edwards delivered Michigan's knockout blow, but not until McCarthy loosened up the Ohio State defense. In the face of heavy criticism after a dreadful game last weekend against Illinois, the sophomore threw for 278 yards and three scores on 11.1 yards per attempt, delivering multiple explosive plays and avoiding any costly turnovers as the Wolverines racked up 530 yards of offense. McCarthy had three completions of 45 or more yards, including two long touchdowns to Cornelius Johnson, and ran for a touchdown to give Michigan a 31-20 lead in the fourth quarter.

TCU

After a regular season full of close calls and razor-thin wins, No. 4 TCU was able to stretch out and relax in a 62-14 win against Iowa State that concludes a perfect run into the Big 12 championship game. How rare is a 48-point win? That gap matches the combined margin of victory from the Horned Frogs' past seven wins. Up next is No. 13 Kansas State and the possibility of locking down a playoff berth, though the odds have risen dramatically that TCU could lose that game and still reach the semifinals.

South Carolina

Ranked among the middling also-rans of the SEC as recently as two weeks ago, South Carolina has spent the last seven days as the Bowl Subdivision's ultimate giant slayer. Last weekend, the Gamecocks poured 63 points on No. 11 Tennessee to knock the Volunteers out of the playoff. And against No. 8 Clemson, they climbed out of a 14-0 disadvantage in the first quarter and three different nine-point deficits — at 16-7, 23-14 and 30-21 — to beat the Tigers 31-30 and earn the program's first win in this series since 2013. This is how you win rivalry week: not just by beating your hated rival but by destroying your rival's season.

Kansas State

Running away from Kansas for a 47-27 win in this unpredictably meaningful rivalry sends Kansas State to the Big 12 championship game for the first time since 2003 — there was no such game when the Wildcats won the Big 12 in 2012 — and essentially locks down a spot in the New Year's Six. That's because the Wildcats will either beat TCU and earn the league's bid as the conference winner or lose to TCU and still land the league's automatic spot in the Sugar Bowl by virtue of the Horned Frogs reaching the playoff. No matter how you cut it, this has been the program's best year in a decade and a sign of the Wildcats' ultimate potential under coach Chris Klieman.

Central Florida

Rivalry games are unpredictable. Case in point: UCF needed a miraculous touchdown grab by tight end Alec Holler with 20 seconds left to beat South Florida 46-39. The Knights had to win to earn a spot in the American Athletic championship game; the Bulls were playing out the string in a one-win that had already cost third-year coach Jeff Scott his job. By escaping the USF upset attempt, the Knights earn bragging rights and a second game in a month against Tulane, with the winner heading to the New Year's Six.

Other rivalry winners

If not at the same level as Ohio State and Michigan nor with the same national impact as Clemson and South Carolina, Saturday's slate included a run of meaningful rivalry games beginning with No. 1 Georgia's 37-13 win against Georgia Tech. And there's more. Take a deep breath ... Kentucky beat Louisville 26-13, No. 7 Alabama rolled Auburn 49-27 in the Iron Bowl, Minnesota defeated Wisconsin 23-16 to tie the all-time series at 62-62-8, Purdue topped Indiana 30-16 to win the Old Oaken Bucket and the Big Ten West, No. 10 Penn State got past Michigan State 35-16 to maybe book a New Year's Six bowl, UNLV held off Nevada 27-22 and No. 25 Texas-San Antonio sneaked in a late field goal to beat Texas-El Paso 34-31.

Nebraska

The program's most successful 24-hour stretch in years began with a win Friday afternoon against rival Iowa, snapping a seven-game losing streak in the series, and continued with Saturday morning's official hiring of former Temple and Baylor coach Matt Rhule. Since being fired by the Carolina Panthers in early October, Rhule had been the top coach on the open market and a contender for several current and projected FBS openings. The hire gives Nebraska a proven rebuilder with the recruiting connections and overall blueprint to bring the program back to respectability.

Losers

LSU

With a win against Texas A&M, the No. 6 Tigers would've entered the SEC championship game with a clear road to the playoff: win against the Bulldogs, go to the semifinals. But that equation changes after the 38-23 loss, which makes it difficult to see any realistic scenario where the committee can sell a three-loss team ahead of multiple one-loss or two-loss candidates from the Power Five. While the defeat doesn't change the sense of accomplishment in Brian Kelly's debut — this team did win the SEC West, after all — there is a sense of a missed opportunity. Luckily, similar opportunities almost certainly await LSU in the next few years.

Clemson

A bad day for Clemson doubles as a bad day for the ACC, which has been eliminated from playoff contention with the Tigers' second loss. What was on display against South Carolina has been lurking for most of this season, including ineffectiveness at wide receiver, unpredictability at quarterback and an unstoppable rash of turnovers. Another three giveaways against the Gamecocks gave the Tigers 15 in the past five games, compared to just five in the year's first seven. Worse yet was the play on defense: Clemson gave up 414 yards of offense, 360 through the air to Spencer Rattler. The only quarterbacks to throw for more yards on Clemson in the past decade are Justin Fields in 2020 (385 yards), Joe Burrow in 2019 (463), former South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley (510) in 2018, Jameis Winston in 2013 (444), former North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon in 2012 (493) and former Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel in 2012 (380).

Oregon

Given the chance to get back on the playoff map against No. 22 Oregon State, the No. 9 Ducks blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost 38-34 in what ranks easily among the most painful losses in program history. Oregon outgained the Beavers by 142 yards, were plus-three in turnovers, held the ball for nearly 35 minutes but were guilty of legendarily bad game management: OSU had fourth-quarter touchdown drives spanning 36, 2 and 28 yards thanks to the Ducks' failures on special teams and two unsuccessful fourth-down tries deep in their own territory. Those baffling decisions to not punt the ball away will leave a stink on coach Dan Lanning well into the offseason.

Miami (Fla.)

The Hurricanes' season ended with a disaster worthy of Mario Cristobal's disastrous debut: Pittsburgh ran for 237 yards on 7.2 per carry, forced three turnovers and led 28-0 at halftime in a 42-16 romp. That drops Miami to 5-7 and out of bowl play for reasons unrelated to NCAA probation for the first time since 2007, and brings up a number of concerns about the state of the program and whether next season will yield a drastically different result. In Cristobal's defense, he's been given the job security to carefully build the Hurricanes back into an ACC contender; his track record as a head coach also says this year is an aberration. But he and Miami will be under pressure to deliver in 2023.

Other big disappointments

Mercifully, the regular season is over for some of college football's biggest disappointments. That includes Michigan State, which will fall short of bowl eligibility after competing for the Big Ten crown in 2021, and Wisconsin, which tried to jumpstart a new era under interim coach Jim Leonard but sputtered into a six-win finish. Also of note: Oklahoma State was crippled by injuries and fell from 5-0 to 7-5, Iowa State finished with a losing record for the first time since 2016 and Arkansas went 6-6 after beginning the year ranked No. 22 in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. And you can't discuss this year's disappointments without mentioning Texas A&M, which despite the win against LSU ranks among the biggest flops in recent Power Five history.

Liberty

After popping onto the national radar with an 8-1 start and wins against Brigham Young and Arkansas, the Flames will limp into the postseason with losses to Connecticut, Virginia Tech and New Mexico State. Facing off against the Aggies, Liberty fell down 28-7 at halftime and eventually gave up 214 rushing yards in a 49-14 loss. And it gets worse: Hugh Freeze is expected to become the next coach at Auburn, ending an extremely successful run that included at least eight wins in each of his four years.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Week 13 college football winners and losers: Michigan thrives, while Ohio State and Clemson dive

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