Penn State beat Michigan 27-17 for its first win of the season, snapping the worst start in program history and dropping the hapless Wolverines to 2-4 amid questions over coach Jim Harbaugh’s immediate future.
Those questions may not have any basis in reality: Harbaugh’s contract does not expire after next season, leaving plenty of time for both parties to reconvene and recommit to a longer partnership.
The better question asks whether Michigan and Harbaugh believe there is reason to maintain the relationship long into the future given this year’s slide into irrelevancy.
Losing to previously winless Penn State feels like the lowest point of this already lost season, which had already surfed through a series of low moments — losing to Michigan State, getting blown out by Wisconsin, even needing overtime to rally back and beat Rutgers a week ago.
Barring a miraculous upset win against Ohio State next month, should that game be played as scheduled, Michigan will finish with a losing record for the first time since 2009 and just the fourth time since 1968.
As a program, Michigan has ceded enormous ground to the Buckeyes, which have lapped the field, and fallen behind several others in the Big Ten. Is there one missing ingredient that would vault the Wolverines back into the College Football Playoff in 2021? Is the strangeness of this offseason and regular season to blame for the Wolverines’ plummet?
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 13, including the games played Friday:
The Bulls are the class of the MAC and a contender for the Top 25 after beating Kent State 70-41 in a battle of the league’s two best offenses. The win moves Buffalo to 22-9 since the start of the 2018 season under coach Lance Leipold, who will be in the running for Power Five job openings. The biggest star of the day: Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson tied the Bowl Subdivision single-game record with eight rushing touchdowns and ran for 409 yards, 18 shy of the FBS record. Patterson scored more touchdowns Saturday alone than 10 teams have scored this entire season.
After a fast-paced first quarter, Notre Dame slowed the tempo into its comfort zone against North Carolina and pulled away in the second half to beat the North Carolina 31-17 and remain on track for the College Football Playoff. Another very solid performance on defense — the Irish held UNC to under 300 yards of total offense and held quarterback Sam Howell in check — was joined by the latest strong showing from Ian Book, who threw for 279 yards and added another 48 yards on the ground.
Here are the two latest achievements for the Cyclones under Matt Campbell, who for all his recent accomplishments might remain the most underrated coach in college football. The first: Iowa State has now beat Texas twice in a row for the first time in program history. Like last year’s 23-21 win, which came via a field goal as time expired, Friday’s 23-20 victory was sealed late in the fourth quarter on running back Breece Hall’s short touchdown run and the Cyclones’ ensuing defensive stand. And the second likely achievement: Campbell will have Iowa State in the Big 12 championship game, playing for the program’s first conference title of any kind since 1912.
A poor second half in a loss to Tulsa on Nov. 14 carried over to the first half of a surprising 52-38 loss to East Carolina, putting SMU into too deep a hole to pull of a ferocious comeback. Down 45-7 after 30 minutes, the Mustangs scored on five of their first six drives to open the second half to draw within 14 points midway through the fourth quarter. A pair of interceptions allowed ECU to hold on, dropping SMU to 7-3 and into the bottom half of the American standings.
Syracuse football in a nutshell: Down 36-29 to North Carolina State but inside the red zone, facing a fourth down with seconds left but with time enough to run one more play, the Orange … spiked the ball. Game over. N.C. State wins. Syracuse is now 1-9. Yikes. That 10-3 season in 2018 seems like a long time ago.
The pressure is higher than ever on coach Tom Herman after Friday’s loss shattered the Longhorns’ hopes of reaching the Big 12 championship game. Herman is now 30-18 overall and 21-13 in league play since his debut in 2017 with increasingly diminishing returns since a 10-4 finish in 2018, which was viewed in some corners as the beginning of the program’s return to national prominence. Texas should rebound to beat Kansas State and Kansas to finish the year 7-3 and might even sneak into the Amway Coaches Poll, but the 2020 season feels like another missed opportunity.
The Cornhuskers have now lost six straight to rival Iowa, the last three by single digits. Nebraska had a shot in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 26-20 loss but failed to capitalize on two scoring opportunities, the first by fumbling away a punt return and the second via an interception. This has become the painful expectation: Scott Frost’s teams will surround bursts of energy with long stretches of sloppiness. With as many as three games left to play this season, Nebraska’s 19 losses since the start of 2018 tie for the program’s most over a three-year span since 1957-59.