The College Football Playoff breathed a huge sigh of relief Saturday. In reality, so did the Big 12.
No one with the CFP or Big 12 will ever say this. They cannot, nor should they. Despite the fallout still occurring from Baylor's sexual assault scandal, the 2016 Bears should have always been judged as a playoff team by their on-field performance, which frankly wasn't that good.
But Texas 35, Baylor 34 spares the CFP from the uncomfortable conversation, even though the Bears were never good enough to go undefeated. The Bears' first loss spares the Big 12's last playoff hope being its most scandalous athletic program. You better believe virtually no one in college football wanted to hear weekly CFP Rankings talk of Baylor while sexual assault stories keep coming out.
Thanks for playing, Big 12. See you in 2017 with your conference championship game and One True Division. Is it too late for the Big 12 to expand and add someone in November?
Coupled with West Virginia's loss to Oklahoma State, the Big 12 is essentially out of the CFP for the second time in three years. Think about how down the Big 12 was to become a Power Five conference that's knocked out of the playoff race before Halloween.
The Big 12 didn't get eliminated in 2014 until selection day during the great Ohio State/TCU/Baylor debate. The Pac-12 got knocked out in 2015 on Nov. 14 when Stanford lost to Oregon and Utah got clipped by Arizona in double-overtime. The Big 12 was so down in 2016 that it's irrelevant nationally for the final five weeks of the season.
Oklahoma resumes its traditional position as the Big 12 favorite. But with losses to Houston and Ohio State, both of which look shakier by the week, the Sooners can't get into the playoff race given the quality of the Big 12.
Next year, the Big 12 will stick to no divisions when adding a championship game. The top two teams after a round-robin schedule will play for the title in a rematch.
If the new rule was in place previously, the Big 12 championship games would have been Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (2015), TCU-Baylor (2014), Baylor-Texas (2013), Kansas State-Oklahoma (2012) and Kansas State-Oklahoma State (2011). Two of those hypothetical championships would have been rematches from the final week of the regular season, and another would have been a rematch from Nov. 5.
That's hardly ideal to play again so soon. But the Big 12 needs money and thinks it needs another data point with a quality game for the playoff. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn't. No divisions almost certainly prevents the Big 12 from putting two teams in the playoff. But these days, the Big 12 just wants one team to stop being irrelevant.
A large part of the irrelevance is directly tied to Baylor, which was supposed to be a playoff-caliber team. As awkward as it is discussing the horrific way Baylor handled sexual assault complaints in relation to football results, the reality is the Bears were severely impacted on the field by the scandal. Players fled when Art Briles deservedly got fired.
Any chance Briles has to coach again in college likely ended Friday by a damaging story from The Wall Street Journal. Baylor regents said Briles was fired after 17 women reported sexual or domestic assaults against Baylor players, including four alleged gang rapes, since 2011. In one case, the regents said, Briles knew about an alleged incident and didn't report it to police, the school's judicial affairs staff, or Baylor's Title IX office. (The story said the victim viewed Briles as supportive of her claim and hoped she would go to police, but he didn't notify appropriate people at Baylor.)
The Wall Street Journal reported Baylor football players were involved in 10.4 percent of Title IX-reported incidents from 2011-15. While it's true Baylor's inadequate handling of sexual assault complaints extended throughout campus, 10.4 percent is a disproportionate number. Football players comprised less than 1 percent of Baylor undergraduates in 2014-15.
Finally, some Baylor board members showed they are human and released additional information, although it's still not enough transparency. Briles can't coach again in college. He was the CEO. These were his players that he recruited that put other students' safety in jeopardy. Football coaches do more than just draw up plays.
Perhaps uncomfortable conversations about Baylor in the playoff wouldn't have been the worst dialogue to have. Reducing sexual assaults on campuses is a major issue nationally, and that includes determining which football players to bring to campus and how to handle complaints. The CFP might have provided an awkward but important platform to discuss the issue.
Now, the CFP can avoid playoff talk about what happened at Baylor through the prism of football fandom. The CFP Selection Committee members and Big 12 will never say it, but they're breathing a huge sigh of relief.
What We Learned This Week
1. Clemsoning now means always winning tight games. It's easy to forget, but there was a day when Clemson consistently blew games. It was called "Clemsoning." The term means something much different now: Poise in tight games. All the Tigers do is win. They survived Florida State's best shot on the road for a 37-34 win. Since 2011, Clemson is 16-2 in games decided by one touchdown or less.
Clemson won its ninth straight road game to break a school record. That the record got set in Tallahassee, a personal house of horrors for the Tigers, was extra special. Clemson won at Florida State for only the second time since the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992. The other win came in 2006.
Ultimately, the deciding factor Saturday was Clemson's defensive line overwhelming Florida State's offensive line late. Dalvin Cook could only do so much. The Seminoles' line had two critical false-start penalties on the final drive and couldn't protect Deondre Francois, who got buried repeatedly. Deshaun Watson and the Tigers' offense generate headlines, but their pass rush with Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins is relentless and a big reason "Clemsoning" continues to be redefined.
2. Washington passes a huge test. Washington is the best team you're not watching. How do I know? Judging by Twitter on Saturday, not many of you tuned into one of the day's best games when the Huskies passed a big test by winning 31-24 at Utah. Chris Petersen probably enjoys staying under-the-radar, but it's time to pay more attention to the Huskies.
Surprisingly, Utah's normally brilliant special teams gave up the winning touchdown. Utah out kicked its coverage on a punt. That allowed Washington's Dante Pettis to bring the punt back 58 yards for the winning score with 3:25 left -- perhaps aided by a couple blocks in the back that could have been penalized.
USC and Washington State will be challenges, but the Pac-12 Championship Game could be a rematch against Utah. Still, Utah was the last team on Washington's schedule that is currently ranked. This is a very good team. Ignore the Huskies, if you so choose. You may have no choice when the semifinals roll around.
3. Lamar Jackson can rescue Louisville with his arm. For most of Saturday, Louisville played pitifully as a 32-point favorite over Virginia. The Cardinals dropped passes, couldn't run the ball, got called for a bunch of holding penalties, and had Bobby Petrino moan on TV about the officiating at halftime. What a creative way for America to watch Heisman Trophy frontrunner Lamar Jackson all day during the early TV window.
Through it all, Jackson kept his cool. He threw a gorgeous 29-yard touchdown to Jaylen Smith with 13 seconds left to keep the Cardinals' playoff hopes alive. Even in Louisville's least-impressive game of the year, Jackson still thrived with 361 yards and four touchdowns passing and 90 yards rushing. If Jackson needed a so-called Heisman moment for his candidacy, he got one in the closing seconds.
4. Wisconsin lurks as a two-loss playoff contender. The Badgers just went 3-2 through a grueling five-game stretch against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska. Sure, Michigan State and Iowa aren't what they were last year, but that's still a formidable stretch given that the Badgers' only losses were close defeats to the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
Wisconsin's offense isn't anything special, but its defense is so fun to watch. After beating Nebraska in overtime, the Badgers will control their Big Ten West destiny if the Cornhuskers lose again, such as next week at Ohio State. If you're Ohio State or Michigan, Wisconsin would be a dangerous team to face a second time for the Big Ten championship. A two-loss Wisconsin that wins the Big Ten would have to be in the playoff conversation.
5. Kentucky could win the SEC East. Every year, the SEC East seems to reach a new low. The pinnacle would be if Kentucky -- yes, that Kentucky -- somehow reaches the SEC Championship Game for a brutal mismatch against Alabama. Might Nick Saban rest some starters if he played Kentucky for the SEC title? After Tennessee lost to South Carolina, Kentucky now sits alone in second place in the SEC East despite a Week 1 loss to Southern Miss and a 45-7 loss first-place Florida a week later.
If the Wildcats win their last two SEC games (vs. Georgia, at Tennessee) and Florida loses two of their last three (at Arkansas, vs. South Carolina, at LSU), Kentucky would go to Atlanta. Is that likely to happen? Perhaps not. But it's not as far-fetched as it may sound. The decision to move Florida-LSU from Gainesville to Baton Rouge could have major SEC East implications that no one could have imagined: Kentucky in Atlanta.
Score of the Day
Wyoming 30, No. 13 Boise State 28. Wyoming enjoyed its highest-ranked victory since beating No. 13 BYU in 1981. Boise State's loss means Western Michigan becomes the frontrunner for the lucrative New Year's Six bowl by a Group of Five team. Western Michigan will likely be the highest-ranked Group of Five school in the first CFP rankings on Tuesday ... and then take the field one hour later for a game. Western Michigan's remaining opponents: Ball State (4-4), Kent State (3-6), Buffalo (2-6), Toledo (6-2) and a possible MAC Championship Game. P.J. Fleck may row the boat to the Cotton Bowl.
Stat of the Day
In a week filled with ranked teams on the road, four undefeated teams lost on Saturday: Nebraska, Baylor, West Virginia and Boise State. And then there were five unbeaten left in FBS: Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, Washington and Western Michigan. The first CFP rankings will be pretty simple on Tuesday. But be careful getting too accustomed to them. Only three of the eight teams in the first CFP rankings from 2014 and 2015 reached the playoff.
What Was He Thinking?
Mark Dantonio wasted everyone's time by going for two points with Michigan State trailing 30-23 and one second left. Jim Harbaugh countered by calling timeout. Fittingly, Jabrill Peppers returned Michigan State's botched two-point conversion the other way for two. Dantonio wanted to lessen the pain of Michigan's first win at Michigan State since 2007 after the Spartans had won seven of eight overall in the series. While the Spartans played competitively, the reality is they're a year removed from the CFP and now a 2-6 team on a six-game losing streak for the first time since 1981-82. Good thing Michigan State played Furman and Notre Dame this year.
Quote of the Week
"It's just a fact of business -- fact, f-a-c-k, fact." -- Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, misspelling "fact" before correcting himself, on the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.