USC Usurps Pac-12 Title Chances

We’re nearly through the 2022 college football regular season. But there are still a couple more weeks of action left to go. Looking back at Week 12, here are the teams that see their stock on the move.

Stock Up: USC Trojans

USC is the Pac-12’s new hope. And much like the inaugural Star Wars episode released in 1977, they lit up their opponent with awe-inspiring titular characters and an overwhelming laser light show in Week 12.

Caleb Williams racked up over 500 total yards and effectively took control of the Heisman race as the Trojans bested the 16th-ranked UCLA Bruins in a 48-45 thriller. The Trojans’ defense still remains suspect at times. But they can generate turnovers. They can generate pressure. And Williams is arguably the best player in college football on the other side.

USC won, and other results also won the day for them. Tennessee lost. LSU has a likely loss on deck against Georgia. And one of Michigan and Ohio State will have their first loss after next week. As long as USC keeps the momentum going against Notre Dame and in the Pac-12 championship, they could secure a playoff spot by winning out.

Stock Down: Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee’s playoff chances were admittedly on life support heading into Week 12 — but they were still in that “so you’re saying there’s a chance” tier. Now, however, they’re officially out after suffering a 63-38 blowout loss at the hands of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

This is just as much a “Stock Up” mention for South Carolina and quarterback Spencer Rattler, who re-emerged with 436 yards and six touchdowns against a hapless Volunteers secondary. But the headliner is how underwhelming this conclusion is for Tennessee — a team that was once 8-0, averaging over 50 points a game and drawing parallels to the 2019 LSU squad.

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Tennessee will still get a high-quality bowl game. And 10-2 — assuming they don’t lose to a Vanderbilt team hoping to become bowl eligible — is nothing to scoff at. But compared to what the expectations once were, it’s a letdown. There’s no getting around that.

Stock Neutral: TCU Horned Frogs

For a committee that’s consistently been skeptical of TCU’s nature of winning, Week 12 isn’t going to quell any doubts. But as close as the Horned Frogs have cut it against several Big 12 opponents, the 11-0 record is something you simply can’t dispute this late in the year.

It took a hasty last-second field goal with the clock running, but TCU managed to sneak past Baylor 29-28, positioning themselves to remain in the playoff field for the time being.

TCU still has to beat Iowa State in Week 13 and then win their conference championship game to remove all doubt. But they did what they needed to do in Week 12: Stay afloat.

Stock Up: Iowa Hawkeyes

There’s still room for Iowa to screw it up with a loss to Nebraska next week. But things are looking a bit clearer in the Big Ten West now that Iowa has bested Minnesota.

Coming into Week 12, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, and Illinois were all still in the conversation to be the division winner. But Iowa and Minnesota were the only two teams with a head-to-head matchup remaining. Iowa won that matchup 13-10.

All four teams are still 7-4. But Iowa is one of just two to be 5-3 in conference play. The other 5-3 Big Ten West team is Purdue, whom Iowa has a head-to-head win against as well. The only team in the pack to beat Iowa is Illinois, but after a loss to Michigan, they’re effectively out of the running — unless Illinois wins and all three others lose next week.

Simply put, Iowa is now the comfortable front-runner to take home the Big Ten West title and earn a place alongside the winner of Ohio State-Michigan in the title game.

Stock Down: North Carolina Tar Heels

Just a week ago, North Carolina was a rising one-loss ACC team, with that one defeat coming to a ranked Notre Dame squad. They were poised to potentially challenge Clemson at 11-1 in the conference title game and maybe keep their hopes alive as a fringe playoff contender.

Nevertheless, the football gods brought other ideas to the table in Week 12 — notably, a shocking upset loss at the hands of a 5-6 Georgia Tech team that likely won’t even be bowl eligible. Drake Maye — previously a Heisman candidate — completed just over 50% of his passes and threw a pick. Brutalized by a GT defense led by Keion White, the Tar Heels limped to 9-2 instead.

North Carolina is still locked into the ACC championship, and this season is still a success, all things considered. But any hopes of making a Cinderella playoff run are now dashed. And seeing how the Yellow Jackets’ pressure affected UNC’s offense, they’ll have their work cut out for them against Clemson.

Stock Neutral: Ohio State and Michigan

We couldn’t get to this point without each team making it interesting. Michigan nearly lost to an upstart Illinois squad in Week 12, barely inching past the Fighting Illini 19-17. And Ohio State staved off an inspired effort from an upset-minded Maryland team, outscoring the Terrapins 33-17 in the second half to overcome a deficit at intermission.

Both games were close. Both had us steeped in anticipation. But Ohio State and Michigan both remain undefeated at 11-0 with the dust settled. And now, the matchup we’ve been waiting all season for is on deck: Michigan versus Ohio State in Week 13.

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Both teams are in the playoff field at the moment. However, the winner of this game gets not only a head-to-head win against a top-four opponent but also a chance to compound momentum in the Big Ten championship game. And with teams like USC and TCU surging, any slip-up could be costly.

Looking ahead, Ohio State appears to be the better team. Michigan’s offense struggled mightily with consistency in Week 12, and the Wolverines don’t have the same kind of pass rush they had last season when they beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor. It’ll be a tall task in Columbus, but for now, the story remains unwritten, and the stock unchanged.

Stock Up: Tulane Green Wave

Tulane came into Week 12 in must-win mode if they wanted to keep their conference championship hopes alive. Coming off a loss to UCF, the Green Wave now snuck toward a potential postseason whirlpool in SMU.

The Mustangs’ high-octane offense has been a problem for teams all season, but it didn’t phase Tulane in the slightest. On Thursday night, primetime, Tulane beat SMU 59-24. Michael Pratt and Tyjae Spears combined for eight touchdowns, and the Tulane defense held star receiver Rashee Rice to six catches for 41 yards.

Now, Tulane remains in control of its destiny. And if they beat Cincinnati next week, they host the AAC championship game.

Stock Down: UCF Golden Knights

The chaotic nature of college football always claims at least one ranked victim per week. This week, UCF was taken by surprise in a 17-14 conference loss to the Navy Midshipmen. Navy completed just one pass and carried the ball 61 times, and yet, they were able to outlast a UCF squad struggling to find answers.

This loss came at a bad time for UCF, but luckily, it’s not a deal-breaker. UCF is no longer tied at one conference loss with Cincinnati and Tulane. But Cincinnati and Tulane do play each other next week, and UCF has tiebreaker wins against both of them.

Thus, as long as UCF beats South Florida, the Golden Knights will play the winner of Cincinnati-Tulane in the AAC championship game. They’re still in it, but this loss to Navy does take away home-field advantage for them. That could be a big disadvantage, and one they brought on themselves.

Stock Neutral: Georgia Bulldogs

In all too familiar fashion, the Georgia Bulldogs are the one team on the throne, waiting patiently and in silence for a legitimate challenger to approach. It was the same way last year during Georgia’s national championship-winning season. And it remains that way in 2022.

On the heels of a routine 16-6 victory against Kentucky, Georgia has a matchup against Georgia Tech in their final regular season game. Then, they take on LSU in the conference championship — just as many expected they would two weeks ago.

Nothing has changed for the Bulldogs. They’re still waiting and watching. In all likelihood, their first real challenge won’t come until the playoffs or even the final game.

Stock Up: Vanderbilt Commodores

Years of being the SEC’s doormat have scuffed up Vanderbilt’s reputation. But perhaps it’s time to give the Commodores more respect, as they’re stringing together quality wins down the stretch in 2022.

Over the past two weeks, Vanderbilt has victories against Kentucky and Florida — both teams with first-round quarterback prospects. They’re up to 5-6 on the year now, having accrued their first two wins in conference play, and they’re one game away from bowl eligibility.

Now, will Vanderbilt become bowl eligible? That’s another story. Next week, they have a tough matchup in Tennessee. Even if they don’t win that one, being on the doorstep is a step in the right direction for Clark Lea. But if they do somehow upset the Volunteers, the Commodores will earn their first bowl bid since 2018.

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