Week 12 College Football Roundup
Welcome back to the last rendition of the college football roundup before we go on break. There will be one last issue after break, where we summarize the end of the season — conference championships, bowls, and playoffs. But for now, we can go through an eventful week. Former #5-seed Oregon fell out of the Top 10 with a crushing loss to Utah, and Ohio State blew the doors off of Michigan State to advance in the rankings.
1 Georgia (11-0)
2 Ohio State (10-1)
3 Alabama (10-1)
4 Cincinnati (11-0)
5 Michigan (10-1)
6 Notre Dame (10-1)
7 Oklahoma (10-1)
8 Oklahoma State (10-1)
9 Baylor (9-2)
10 Ole Miss (9-2)
Unsurprisingly, #1 Georgia remains atop the pack once again, with a dominant 56-7 win over Charleston Southern. They remain the frontrunners to win the SEC and have clinched the SEC East, guaranteeing their spot in the conference championship.
Right below Georgia, though, Ohio State jumps over Alabama for the #2 spot. The Buckeyes have been stellar since their loss to Oregon, and prove it week after week. Despite their narrow win at Nebraska two weeks ago, their last two games have been extraordinary, beating Purdue by four touchdowns and then crushing former #6 Michigan State on Saturday in a game that ended 56-7.
None of this is to say that the Crimson Tide, still in the playoffs at #3, have been any less good. Despite being taken to task by a very good Arkansas team — one that Georgia shut out earlier in the season — Alabama pulled out a win 42-35 to preserve their one-loss record. With their win today, Alabama clinched the SEC West, guaranteeing that they will face #1 Georgia for the conference crown.
Outside the top-three, the rankings get a little bit dicier. After blowing out SMU in what may have been their biggest test since Notre Dame, #4 Cincinnati keeps their spot. Similarly, #5 Michigan jumped two spots from #7 after crushing Maryland 59-18, and the two teams separating them from the Bearcats — Oregon and Michigan State — both got blown out. #6 Notre Dame has quietly amassed a very good season after their Cincinnati loss; after shutting out Georgia Tech 55-0, they can make a case for the playoffs. The only issue against the Fighting Irish is that, as independents, they don’t play a conference championship game, meaning they don’t really have an opportunity to break out and jump into the top-four. Their best chance is for two of Alabama, Cincinnati, or Michigan to tank, and for the Irish to slip into the fourth spot.
After that, the remaining teams have very narrow paths to the playoffs. Three Big 12 teams come in at the seventh, eighth, and ninth spots, each with a credible path to win the conference. Oklahoma, at #7, and Oklahoma State, at #8, are the two frontrunners, each with one-loss conference records, while #9 Baylor lags behind with two. However, Baylor is guaranteed a spot in the conference championship if they beat Texas Tech tomorrow; the winner of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game next week will take the other slot. The winner of that game will have a shot at the playoff, but it will be narrow. Finally, the SEC’s #10 Ole Miss rounds out the picture despite having virtually no shot at the playoffs.
1 Georgia vs. Georgia Tech
2 Ohio State at #5 Michigan
3 Alabama at Auburn
4 Cincinnati at East Carolina
5 Michigan vs. #2 Ohio State
6 Notre Dame at Stanford
7 Oklahoma at #8 Oklahoma State
8 Oklahoma State vs. #7 Oregon
9 Baylor vs. Texas Tech
10 Ole Miss at Mississippi State
Chaos will reign next week, with four teams facing other Top 10 sides, Alabama playing the Iron Bowl at Auburn, and a host of other same-state rivalries. The two games with the biggest playoff implications, by far, are Ohio State playing Michigan and the two Oklahoma teams squaring off. Whoever wins in Ann Arbor will win the Big Ten East, and probably play either Iowa or Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Likewise, whoever wins the matchup in Oklahoma will most likely face Baylor for the conference crown.
After that, it is off to the conference championships. Georgia, Ohio State, and Alabama could punch their tickets to the playoff by winning their conference championships, but nobody else has such an easy path. Cincinnati should make it if they win out, but an unimpressive record might make that difficult. Michigan, by beating OSU, can take the Buckeyes’ spot as the team to beat for a playoff slot. If one of the top-four fares particularly badly, one could imagine a Big 12 team jumping in to grab one of the slots.
As of now, though, we are in a unique situation — one where it is possible that three of the five Power Five conferences (the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12) could be shut out of the playoff entirely. This week confirms what we already knew: that the SEC and Big Ten are the conferences to beat in college football.