The year-end edition of Eleven Warriors’ stock report is a sad one for Buckeye supporters.
Not that Ohio State’s stock dropped significantly over the weekend. If anything, the Peach Bowl proved the Buckeyes can hang with the best in the country, and were only a bad break or two away from a shot at a national championship.
But with no more Buckeye football until next fall, the stocks will go into hiatus following a round-up of the latest in the ongoing College Football Playoff picture and bowl season at large.
Without further ado, let’s give ‘er one last go.
Stroud stood tall on Saturday, even as his chances to win a national championship in the college ranks likely came to a close. The Peach Bowl wasn’t the gaudiest statistical performance of his career. After all, we’re talking about a quarterback who threw for nearly 600 yards in last year’s Rose Bowl. But Stroud proved more in those four quarters than in any other contest at Ohio State, completing 23 of his 34 pass attempts for 348 yards and four touchdowns against arguably the best defense in the country.
Stroud even addressed one of the most persistent complaints about his game as he rushed for 70 yards (excluding sack yardage) on eight attempts. By the end, Stroud was without his two top wideouts, two top running backs and even his top tight end, but still nearly powered the Buckeyes into the national championship game.
Georgia’s chances to repeat
The Bulldogs entered the CFP as the favorites to win the whole thing once again, and although Ohio State had them on the ropes for much of Saturday’s semifinal, their path to a second straight national championship is even clearer than before. And only part of that has to do with surviving against Ohio State. With TCU’s win over Michigan, either team that came out of the Peach Bowl would’ve felt pretty good about their chances to secure a natty next week. But now in a matchup that pits the perceived top team in the four-team tournament against the perceived weakest link – at least before Saturday – Georgia has opened as a 13-point favorite to repeat as national champion.
Michigan’s ticket to the national championship game was all but punched ahead of the Fiesta Bowl. Most assumed the Wolverines would await the winner of Georgia-Ohio State, which was considered the more contentious semifinal matchup of the two.
But nobody told TCU that.
Max Duggan and the Horned Frogs just kept making big plays on both sides of the ball in a back-and-forth barnburner that saw 69 combined points scored in the second half alone. The contest wasn’t without some controversial calls (what CFP semifinal isn’t these days?) and TCU was outscored by nine points in the final two quarters. But the Horned Frogs stopped the Wolverines from notching a go-ahead score on their final possession and edged out a 51-45 win in a wild affair. TCU did what neither Ohio State nor any other Michigan opponent could this season in handing the Wolverines a loss, and Sonny Dykes and company could give the program its first national championship since 1938.
Excitement in the CFP semis
Let’s be honest, the semifinal round of the College Football Playoff has produced more than its fair share of stinkers since its inception in 2014. In fact, 12 of the 16 semifinal matchups entering this season finished in victories of at least 14 points for the winning side. In 2020 and 2021, neither losing team came within 20 points of its opponent.
Mercifully, the 2022 semifinals flipped the script. Each game was a razor-close, high-scoring affair that came down to the final seconds of play, and the two contests were decided by a total of seven points. TCU-Michigan and Georgia-Ohio State delivered to the highest order, bringing excitement and unpredictability back to the first round of the CFP and giving fans two of the most memorable semifinal matchups in playoff history.
B1G bowl performances
Before the first CFP semifinal kicked off, the Big Ten was cooking with gasoline in its bowl matchups. The conference started 4-0 with several middle-of-the-pack programs putting forth stellar efforts to earn bowl wins. Wisconsin knocked off Oklahoma State, Minnesota beat Syracuse, Maryland toppled NC State and Iowa blanked Kentucky in a series of games that showed the Big Ten might have been deeper than many realized this season. Penn State scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to pull away from Utah in a 35-21 Rose Bowl win on Monday.
OK, OK, I know. Purdue got the bloody hell beaten out of it by LSU, Illinois lost and both Big Ten teams lost in the CFP. But alas, silver linings.
The Seminoles might be back.
Florida State endured five straight seasons of seven wins or less entering 2022, but with a 35-32 win over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl, the Seminoles notched their first 10-win campaign since 2016. Holding the No. 13 spot in the AP poll entering bowl season, Florida State is sure to finish with a ranking in the final AP Top 25 for the first time in six years. All three of Florida State’s losses this season came by 10 points or fewer and to teams that were ranked at the time. In year three under head coach Mike Norvell, things seem to be turning around in Tallahassee.
The Ohio State offense showed up in the CFP semifinal. The defense, not so much. Not when it counted most, anyway. It was clear the Buckeye defense had issues last season when Ohio State gave up a combined 87 points in its last two games. Jim Knowles appeared to make significant improvements in his first year as defensive coordinator, but ultimately Ohio State allowed the exact same amount of points in its final two games of 2022. In fact, the 117 points scored against the Buckeyes in their last three games of the season are the most they’ve ever allowed in their final three games of a season.
Knowles’ scheme may simply require more time to take root, as it did at previous stops at Duke and Oklahoma State, but that won’t make this year’s end-of-season results any easier to stomach for Buckeye fans.
OH MY ARIAN SMITH pic.twitter.com/3mXPlf5vCq— Barstool UGA National Champions (@ugabarstool) January 1, 2023
Fake punt execution
The Buckeyes were kicking themselves after botching a fake punt against Michigan, when long snapper Mason Arnold snapped the ball to Jesse Mirco instead of Mitch Rossi. On Saturday, it looked as though Kirby Smart foiled Ohio State’s efforts to make good on that mistake when he called a timeout just before Rossi picked up a fourth-down conversion on the same exact play. But upon further inspection, Ohio State had 12 men on the field on the fourth-quarter special teams play, which might have negated the first down even if Smart hadn’t called timeout.
In the end, Smart’s decision may have saved Ohio State from shooting itself in the foot directly, even if the end result would’ve been the same.
They really had 12 players on the field on the fake punt call.— Colton Denning (@Dubsco) January 2, 2023
A game after they messed up the fake punt call twice in a row. Parker Fleming is stealing money. pic.twitter.com/Y1NUIa3UvI
Understanding of targeting rule
This weekend in college football confirmed what we already knew: Nobody knows what targeting is. Javon Bullard’s concussion-causing hit on Marvin Harrison Jr. in the back of the end zone was called such on the field, but to the surprise of many, was overturned upon review. That decision proved costly for the Buckeyes, who lost out on a chance at a touchdown and had to go the rest of the way without their top playmaker on offense.
TCU’s hit on Michigan’s Colston Loveland on the Wolverines’ final drive of the Fiest Bowl was similarly controversial. While a targeting call would have seemed circumstantially inappropriate given the situation of the game, plenty would argue that the hit looked like textbook targeting. Ohio State fans certainly didn’t protest the no-call, though, as it put the nail in the coffin of Michigan’s national championship hopes.
This play at the end of the 4th quarter was reviewed and the play was not called for targeting. pic.twitter.com/fzVUgISaag— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2023
If there’s one thing that might blunt the pain of Ohio State’s loss, it’s the fact that Michigan won’t be hosting the national championship trophy this season either. With its upset loss to TCU, Michigan made it a full quarter-century since its most recent national title, and even that one was split with Nebraska in the pre-BCS era. J.J. McCarthy came crashing down to earth after his performance against Ohio State by throwing two pick-sixes in the Fiesta Bowl, and the Wolverines gave Buckeye fans another “trouble with the snap” moment to revel in for years to come.
trouble with the snap pic.twitter.com/RqdGp2h1wh— Barstool Spartans (@BarstoolMSU) January 1, 2023
It doesn’t make up for Ohio State’s Nov. 26 rivalry defeat, but at least fans can take solace in Michigan going out on a low in the CFP semifinal for the second straight season.
Big Ten in the CFP
Despite everything I mentioned earlier about the success of Big Ten teams this bowl season, the conference racked up two more CFP losses to set its record at 3-7 in playoff action. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have now lost a combined four straight CFP games since Ohio State beat Clemson in the 2020 Sugar Bowl.
Dabo Swinney’s season went out with a whimper as the Tigers suffered their third loss of the year, all of which came in their final six games. An ACC championship feels like a bit of a hollow prize for Clemson, which missed the CFP for the second straight year after making the field in each of the previous six seasons. The post-D.J. Uiagalelei era didn’t kick off with any marked improvements for the Clemson offense, which mustered just one touchdown in a 17-point loss to the Hendon Hooker-less Volunteers.
On the doorstep of a CFP berth entering conference championship weekend, the Trojans closed out their resurgent first season under Lincoln Riley with back-to-back losses to Utah and Tulane. USC was only a slight favorite entering both of those games as the Utes and Green Wave both had stellar seasons, but it certainly wasn’t a glamorous finish for Caleb Williams and company – Heisman Trophy aside – as the Trojans ended the year with two straight disappointing losses.
Hey, at least the Longhorns made a bowl this season. Not that it did them a whole lot of good, considering the lasting image from Texas’s 27-20 loss to Washington will be Steve Sarkisian’s profanity-laden blowup at a production assistant. The Longhorns finish the year with at least five losses for the eighth time in the last 10 years, and while 2022 was an improvement on the previous season, Texas still didn’t sniff a double-digit win total.
Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian with that Get your hands off me, bro energy before the Alamo Bowl pic.twitter.com/SkDfNcwPQW— Anwar Richardson (@AnwarRichardson) December 30, 2022