Competitors live on the edge where TCU thrives

The College Football Playoffs contenders lived at the limit in Week 12, with the top four teams all teetering to varying degrees and at different points. Then went No. 5 Tennessee with a thud to the ground.

It was just another Saturday for No. 4 TCU.

“It looks busier than it is,” said TCU coach Sonny Dykes of the game-winning game. It could have described the Horned Frogs season.

TCU and No. 3 Michigan both needed field goals in the last second to remain undefeated.

No. 1 Georgia trudged through an away game against Kentucky, never under serious threat but never really comfortable.

Trailing at halftime against Maryland, No. 2 Ohio State let the Terps push down in the fourth quarter before closing them.

While things looked a little shaky at times, Michigan (11-0) versus Ohio State (11-0) are in contention for the Big Ten championship. Hopefully the Wolverines have star Stau Blake Corum (knee) at almost 100%.

“What more do you want?” Buckeyes defensive end Zach Harrison said.

The big surprise came under the lights in Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks, a team that lost 38-6 in Florida last week and averaged 20 points a game in Southeastern Conference play, were tearing Tennessee apart.

No unranked team had ever scored more points against a top-five team. Spencer Rattler, the Oklahoma transfer, threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns, and Tennessee Heisman contender Hendon Hooker retired in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.

“In order for us to grow as a program, we need to take this opportunity and understand what happened,” said Vols coach Josh Heupel.

With the Vols’ defeat, several weeks of chatter about multiple SEC teams making the playoffs all but goes out the window. It could still happen if LSU beats Georgia in the SEC title game. But good luck with that, Tigers.

As for the TCU, the Hypnotoads don’t have to worry about anyone anymore. The final chapter of one of the best stories of the season has yet to be written.

Dykes, who replaced big TCU star Gary Patterson after last season, did not recreate the roster through the transfer portal. He took what he had and turned it into a playoff contender at the country’s most competitive conference.

TCU is a turnaround team led by a quarterback who didn’t even win the preseason job.

Chandler Morris was the man to come out of preseason, but an injury paved the way for Max Duggan. The senior has shown flashes of greatness if not consistency during his time at Fort Worth, seizing opportunity and rising to stardom.

Duggan passed 327 yards against Baylor and was marching the Frogs into field goal range when the clock ran out.

“I thought Max did what Max does,” Dykes said.

It looked like a fire drill as TCU executed their field goal unit on the field, but Griffin Kell calmly launched a 40-yarder after time was up.

The Frogs have won eight games by 10 points or fewer. In comparison, Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan all have four wins by 10 points or less combined. The horse chestnuts have none.

That’s not a blow to the TCU, but it’s fair to ask when the magic will be depleted. Since the Big 12 went to a nine-game conference schedule in 2011, only once has a team won 9-0 in the league and never has a team entered the championship game unbeaten overall.

The Frogs head home next week to face off against Iowa State, which is bottom of the Big 12 but embodies the conference perfectly. The Cyclones have lost five games in single digits.

No. 19 Kansas State will likely be waiting for the frogs in the Big 12 title game. The Wildcats must beat Kansas next week to secure a berth. Texas is still alive too.

K-State, you may recall, led TCU 28-10 before the Frogs roared back — and injuries forced the Wildcats to play a third-string quarterback. The Frogs won 38-28.

Among the Blue Bloods vying for a spot in the CFP, the Horned Frogs may be the outliers, but they are unquestionably worthy.

KEEP FIGHTING

The Lincoln Riley All-Stars of Southern California are now at the center of the college football universe.

The seventh-place Trojans beat UCLA’s No. 16 in exactly the kind of back-and-forth points spree that was expected.

Caleb Williams, the quarterback who followed Riley from Oklahoma to USC, had 502 total yards.

Williams and the Trojans have been running a soft schedule, completing a few games on the big stage ahead of Saturday. The Pac-12 Rose Bowl showdown between the prospective Big Ten schools was the first of potentially three consecutive games that could determine a playoff berth and the Heisman Trophy.

If USC can beat No. 18 Notre Dame next week and then win the Pac-12 title game, it will be difficult to keep the Trojans 12-1 out of the playoffs and brilliant Williams from becoming the eighth Southern Cal player Win the Heisman.

“I just want to say that college football is alive and well on the West Coast and here in LA,” Riley told reporters.

THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY

The Pac-12’s other marquee game also got under the skin, with a limping Bo Nix and No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 10 hit Utah to position the Ducks to face the Trojans in Las Vegas. Oregon must beat Oregon State 25 next week to set up a Pac-12 title game that brings together first-year coaches Dan Lanning and Riley. … Just as Drake Maye’s Heisman campaign was heating up, No. 13 North Carolina was shut out in the second half by a surprise loss to Georgia Tech. Maye didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season. … Tar Heels’ misstep wasn’t good news for No. 9 Clemson and the ACC. Despite Tennessee’s loss, the Tigers are ultimately CFP contenders. … Somehow, No. 14 Mississippi ran 463 yards and was blown out by Arkansas. The Razorbacks, behind Rocket Sanders’ 232 yards rushing on three TDs, were 42-6 ahead of the fourth quarter. … Vanderbilt is now on a two-game SEC winning streak. A week after slipping in 26 games against Kentucky, the Commodores beat Florida at home for the first time since 1988… Indiana won for the first time since mid-September, defeating Michigan State in overtime while completing two passes. … Not to be outdone, the Army and Navy both won without completing a pass. The Midshipmen finished their non-Army portion of the schedule by upsetting No. 17 UCF. The loss doesn’t throw the Knights out of the AAC championship game, but it does mean that the winner of No. 21 Tulane and No. 22 Cincinnati on Black Friday will host it. … Arizona QB Jayden de Laura, a Washington State transfer, said Saturday’s game against his former team was “personal”. The Cougars won, intercepting de Laura four times. … In the Ohio Valley Conference, a league championship tie between Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri State was broken by a coin toss streamed live online because they didn’t play in the regular season. SEMO won the flip and an auto bid to the FCS playoffs. UT-Martin will wait out Sunday’s selection show and hope for a general offer. … Iowa is inevitable. The Hawkeyes won their fourth straight game in typical Iowa fashion over Minnesota and now need only beat Nebraska on Black Friday to win the Big Ten West for the second straight year. … Wisconsin defeated Nebraska with a late touchdown to earn bowl eligibility for a 21st straight season. It wasn’t the nicest 4-2 run for the Badgers. Will it be enough to get Wisconsin to take the provisional tag off Jim Leonhard? Well, Wisconsin released the job, as required by state law, right after the game. A good sign that after the prescribed waiting period of seven days it will be called Leonhard.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo below https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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