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Observations from Week 13 in college football: Better days ahead for Penn State, Oklahoma

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  • Caleb Williams
    US American football quarterback, born 2002

There are no moral victories in college football. If there were, then Penn State might be going to the playoff when bids are announced next week.

Instead, Saturday's frustrating loss to No. 13 Michigan State put the bow on a difficult regular season that ended with the Nittany Lions at 7-5 and those five losses by a combined 21 points. Four of the teams that beat Penn State are currently ranked in the top 13 and the entire quartet could be in the top 10 when the newest USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll is released.

The glass half full crowd would point to how close Penn State was to winning the Big Ten against a tough schedule that also saw them defeat Wisconsin and Auburn when both teams were ranked. The pessimists, of which there are many, are questioning the school's decision to agree to a 10-year contract with coach James Franklin when he has beaten Ohio State once and Michigan and Michigan State three times in eight tries against each. The Nittany Lions are just 11-10 in their past two seasons.

Penn State head coach James Franklin looks on from the sideline during the third quarter of the game against Michigan at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State head coach James Franklin looks on from the sideline during the third quarter of the game against Michigan at Beaver Stadium.

The reality is Penn State and Franklin are tied together going forward with the new contract in place. It's possible Franklin could decide he wants to move on if things go south, though it will be hard for another school to match what he is receiving in Happy Valley.

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The challenge is how to make up the marginal differences that are separating the program from winning the close games. It starts with recruiting and Franklin has lined up an excellent class this fall. Patience might be wearing thin, but Penn State backers would be wise to remember Franklin is the same coach that won 42 games in four seasons before COVID-19. He's proven he can win. The Nittany Lions will again.

There will be better days for Caleb Williams

Perhaps it was too-much-too-soon for the Oklahoma quarterback. He led a monumental comeback against Texas and followed that with impressive efforts against TCU and Texas Tech at home. Williams' name was mentioned among Heisman Trophy contenders. The Sooners were undefeated.

But away from home in games against Baylor and Oklahoma State, the true freshman struggled in two losses that ended Oklahoma's run of six consecutive Big 12 titles. It's not a surprise Baylor and Oklahoma State are the two teams that will be in Arlington, Texas next week while the Sooners miss the game for the first tine since it was reinstituted by the league in 2017.

Williams looked overmatched when the Bears and Cowboys dropped into zone coverages and forced him to make decisions with his receivers only open in narrow windows. He lacked pocket poise and was either too rushed or too slow to react. It's worth remembering, Williams didn't play high school football last year and didn't start taking first-team reps until midway through the year. Defenses caught up to him, but there's an offseason of development ahead. His story is far from being written.

Fitting farewell for Ed Orgeron

Say whatever you want about the outgoing LSU coach, his players never stopped playing for him and he never stopped wanting to coach them. That's a rarity in college football. When coaches are let go, they almost always walk out the door, rather than be a lame duck for the rest of the season.

Orgeron didn't care about that. He remained committed to a program that was his dream job. His players rewarded him with one last victory in Tiger Stadium with an unlikely comeback defeat of No. 14 Texas A&M. LSU avoided its first losing season since 1999 — the year before Nick Saban arrived.

Orgeron said after the game he will not coach the team in a bowl game, leaving his record at the school at 51-20 with one remarkable national championship that should be remembered as one of the all-time great teams.

Who wants the Heisman Trophy?

This might be one of the toughest decisions in recent years for voters as nobody has emerged as a clear contender and the four teams in line to make the College Football Playoff — Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State — all lack an obvious choice.

Bryce Young of Alabama could make things easy by beating Georgia next week in the SEC title game, but that's a hard thing to believe given the strength of the Bulldogs on defense and struggles of Young in recent weeks — the comeback against Auburn notwithstanding.

Young also will be one of the few contenders playing next week. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud's regular season is over after the Buckeyes lost to Michigan. The same is true for Kenneth Walker of Michigan State and Matt Corral of Mississippi. It's hard to imagine Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett winning the award with an impressive game against Wake Forest. Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis — even with an effort like the one Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska had in 2009 that moved him to fourth in the voting — probably can't get enough votes, either.

Which brings us back to Young. His final impression against Georgia has the possibility of being horrific. What happens then? It's anybody's guess.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Penn State, Oklahoma have bright future despite struggles down stretch