Three of the top seven teams in the nation won by three points or fewer in nail-biting finishes. The No. 1 team, Georgia, battled against a Kentucky squad with five losses. The No. 2 team, Ohio State, was challenged by the poor Maryland squad.
Then came the clincher: No. 5 Tennessee, well ensconced in the playoff picture entering the day, had its doors blasted off by South Carolina and Spencer Rattler, allowing Clemson and the Michigan-Ohio State loser to make the playoffs. If USC prevails, and it narrowly defeated UCLA 48-45 in a battle, it looks likely that the Trojans will give the Pac-12 its first playoff team since Washington in 2017.
In a season filled with surprising outcomes and tremendous upsets, this may be the most remarkable. Rattler has thrown nine more interceptions than touchdown passes and was averaging 198 passing yards per game. Before losing his job to Caleb Williams and transferring to South Carolina, he was expected to be a major star at Oklahoma last season.
Then, in one spectacular performance, he reminded everyone of his tremendous arm talent, putting an end to Tennessee’s postseason dreams with a 438-yard, six-touchdown masterpiece.
It was a remarkable outcome. Despite being underdogs by 22 points, the Gamecocks defeated the Volunteers 63-38. A week before, they had been routed by Florida by a score of 38-6. They had provided no sign such a seismic outcome was likely. South Carolina’s last home game was a double-digit loss against Missouri. Tennessee’s opponent at Williams-Brice Stadium was a different team. Rattler led South Carolina to the most points ever scored by an unranked opponent against a top-five team, guiding the Gamecocks to nine touchdowns on 11 possessions. The 63 points were the highest Tennessee had ever surrendered in an SEC game, and South Carolina was granted an unbelievable 606 yards of offense.
It was a stunning day in a season where very nothing has gone according to plan. Last Saturday, Alabama, the preseason favorite, was eliminated from winning the SEC West. Notre Dame’s reconstruction annihilated Clemson. There is no apparent frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. The one consistency has been Georgia’s unbeaten record.
Two weeks remain, and only Georgia and the winner of The Game between Michigan and Ohio State next Saturday are certainties for the playoff. Two Big Ten bids remain in play. LSU can become the first team with two losses to qualify for the postseason by defeating Georgia in the SEC championship game. Clemson’s dream is not dead, but TCU or USC must lose in order for the Tigers to advance.
Spencer Rattler somehow morphed into the LSU version of Joe Burrow on a day that will live in infamy as a result of South Carolina’s stunning victory.
TCU and Michigan were both on the ropes, trailing late in the fourth quarter, and their respective opponents, Baylor and Illinois, possessed the ball with the opportunity to seal the victory. However, rather than being aggressive and going for the win, these teams played defensively and consequently lost.
Baylor’s coach, Dave Aranda, and Illinois’s coach, Bret Bielema, attempted to run the ball to eat up time, despite the fact that all spectators anticipated this outcome. Three-and-outs resulted, giving TCU and Michigan another opportunity.
Both strong favorites survived with last-second field goals, mostly due to the fact that the rival coaches played it safe when aggression could have made the difference. The Baylor and Illinois players deserved better. Bielema had the nerve to blame the officials when his play-calling was most detrimental to his team’s performance.
The Game begins
It is a game. Michigan versus Ohio State. The Big Ten East and a playoff berth will be at stake. And, in truth, it is difficult to foresee the outcome of this confrontation. Neither club is performing very well at the moment, as they are both coming off victories against unimpressive opponents.
Michigan may be without standout running back Blake Corum, who suffered a left knee injury during the close victory over Illinois. Ohio State may be without key playmakers Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Miyan Williams, while top running back TreVeyon Henderson may have aggravated a foot injury he suffered on Saturday. With so much at stake, this sets the stage for a meeting in Columbus that will be tremendously riveting.