All of the drama typically centers around Rivalry Week when it comes to deciding the final phase of the regular season. This year, however, top College Football Playoff contenders were on thin ice against tricky competition in Week 12. No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 TCU needed miraculous field goal drives to clinch games against Illinois and Baylor, respectively. No. 2 Ohio State had to withstand a late charge from Maryland, while No. 1 Georgia ambled through the fourth quarter against Kentucky. No. 7 USC also stayed alive in the national title race by surviving an upset bid by No. 16 UCLA to take control of the Pac-12 title race.
So as the Week 12 action wrapped, the Trojans joined the Bulldogs, Horned Frogs and the winner of next week's showdown between the Buckeyes and Wolverines as overwhelming favorites to make up the College Football Playoff field. USC has a slightly more difficult path than the others with No. 18 Notre Dame and likely No. 12 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game on the schedule, but win both and the Trojans are a lock.
Clemson, meanwhile, remains on the periphery, but its best wins keep dropping like flies. No. 13 North Carolina became the latest upcoming Tigers opponent to fall against Georgia Tech. Short of absolute chaos, which is becoming less and less as the final week of the regular season looms, there are five teams fighting for four spots.
Here are more winners, losers and overreactions from around the college football world in Week 12.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams: Williams has been one of the most scrutinized players in college football over the past two seasons, but his ability shone through in the biggest performance of his career. The sophomore threw for 470 yards, rushed for 32 yards and posted three total touchdowns in a massive to effectively clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Williams had to be perfect against a feisty UCLA offense, and delivered with a pair of touchdown passes in the final two periods. The performance might earn him a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony if USC can find a way to win the Pac-12 for the first time since 2017. Regardless, it's been a special season for the former five-star prospect.
Oklahoma coach Brent Venables: Perhaps no one in college football needed a win more than Venables. The Sooners already clinched their first losing record in conference play since 1998 and most regular season losses since 2009, but the Bedlam winning streak is back after the Sooners shellacked Oklahoma State 28-13. Oklahoma let out some demons in the first quarter, jumping out to a 28-0 lead it would never relinquish. Things got a little hairy down the stretch as the Sooners offense completely collapsed, but the lead was large enough that Venables' Sooners clinched the win and a bowl appearance. There's plenty of issues to clean up, but Oklahoma will happily take the state championship trophy in what has otherwise been a miserable season.
Tennessee: After beating Alabama and LSU, the Vols established themselves as the surefire next-in-line in the CFP Rankings if things got crazy. After Oregon lost to Washington, Tennessee became the favorite to slide in when the loser of Ohio State-Michigan fell out. Unfortunately, no one told Shane Beamer's South Carolina Gamecocks. Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler threw for five touchdowns in perhaps the best game of his career as the South Carolina demolished Tennessee 63-38, dropping the Vols to 10-2. Even worse, quarterback . It's hard to see him moving into the Heisman conversation now as Tennessee's backdoor College Football Playoff race has come to an end.
North Carolina QB Drake Maye: The redshirt freshman had a prime opportunity to put his stamp on the Heisman Trophy race with a strong performance against Georgia Tech. Instead, Maye put together the worst game of his young career as the Tar Heels lost 21-17 against Georgia Tech. Maye completed just 53.3% of his passes for 202 yards and an interception, well below his season numbers of nearly 400 yards of total offense and four touchdowns per game. UNC had one last chance to survive the game, but star wide receiver Josh Downs dropped a wide open pass in the end zone. North Carolina can still win the ACC Championship Game over Clemson, but any chances of a dark horse Heisman or College Football Playoff case are likely out the window.
The Heisman Trophy will be decided next week: All eyes will be on The Game as No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 3 Michigan with a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game on the line, and while a College Football Playoff spot is also up for grabs, more hardware could be coming to a player from the winning side.
This remains one of the murkiest Heisman races in a while, but it will be decided on the field at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud remains the betting favorite -- according to Caesars Sportsbook -- to win the award despite an inconsistent season. If the Buckeyes recover and avenge the loss from last season, Stroud will take home the coveted trophy. However, if Michigan running back Blake Corum is healthy and the Wolverines win, the award will be his.
The Game has carried massive stakes before, even as recent as last season, but the 2022 iteration will go down in the history books as one of the biggest college football games ever -- for a few reasons.
Massive contracts continue to stir regret: The new era of incomprehensible college football contracts kicked off last season as Jimbo Fisher, Mel Tucker and Mario Cristobal signed contracts worth a reported $250 million. One year later, those three coaches look like the worst investments this side of FTX with a combined 14-19 record. Miami and Michigan State lost in embarrassing fashion to Clemson and Indiana, respectively, on Saturday. Texas A&M defeated UMass (the team currently at the bottom of the CBS Sports 131 Rankings) but scored the fewest points of any of the Minutemen's FBS opponents.
The massive guaranteed contracts bring up a more existential question, however: What happens when a coach needs to be fired? Under any normal circumstances, Fisher's likely 4-8 record in Year 5 would mark the end of his tenure. Will Texas A&M eat $85 million in buyout money? Does the athletic department have any leverage at all?
There are few truly unprecedented situations in college football history, but the amount of guaranteed coaching money flying around the sport will put that to the test. All eyes will be on College Station to see how Texas A&M handles the Fisher situation -- and it could be a cautionary tale that slows down the money, at least for a moment.