The regular season is just about over and the conference championship games are fast approaching. Week 13 saw yet another wave of upsets and a few divisions (and even a conference) clinched. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.
You can check out last week’s rankings here.
Best of the Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners
After an incredibly exciting edition of the Revivalry down in Fort Worth between Baylor and TCU on Friday night, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State dueled for the Big 12 Championship in Stillwater Saturday night in prime time. It’s been a fantastic year for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys, but Oklahoma was just too much, taking down the ‘Pokes in Bedlam 58-23. Baker Mayfield continues to show why he should certainly be a contender for the Heisman Trophy, while Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon proved yet again why they are arguably the best 1-2 punch of running backs in the entire country (the duo combined for 267 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 31 carries Saturday). The defense also showed how powerful they can be, as the Zack Sanchez-led Sooners D held OK State to their lowest point total of the season.
OU is now officially the conference champion and deservedly so. The best Big 12 team in the S&P+ rankings by a wide margin both overall and defensively, Oklahoma has put together as impressive of a resume as anyone since their shocking loss to Texas earlier this year. With a strong defense and an offense which can destroy both through the air and on the ground, the Sooners are a bonafide national title contender.
Playoff scenario: If Oklahoma is left out of the College Football Playoff then the system is flawed beyond repair. Yes, they fell to Texas is one of the most ridiculous (in retrospect and at the time, frankly) upsets of the entire year, but they have wins over five ranked teams this season (three of which are still ranked). They’ve taken down some the best programs in the country and, if you’re only assessing them by the eye test, have looked better than any team in the country in the last seven weeks. Assuming there’s not a mental lapse of epic proportions by the committee when they release their final rankings, the Sooners will be in the playoff.
Best of the SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide
The most surprising thing about Alabama this week is the fact that they didn’t obliterate Auburn in this year’s edition of the Iron Bowl. Jacob Coker played fine, which is about the most that Bama could ask for from the veteran quarterback. The workhorse of the offense (and the team as a whole) Derrick Henry continues to annihilate everyone in his path, as he galloped all over the Tigers this Saturday on his way to 271 rushing yards. Auburn hung around for a while but Alabama, as is often the case, was just too much down the stretch.
Despite it being one of their seemingly hardest-fought performances of the season, the Crimson Tide took care of business in their final regular season game and now just have to win the SEC Championship Game to appear in the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year. Bama is not a perfect team this year, they certainly can be beaten; the question is if any one team is up to the task. The key to containing Alabama is limiting the effectiveness of Derrick Henry. Obviously this is much easier said than done, but limiting the ability of the running game applies more pressure to Jacob Coker, who has the weapons around him to be successful passing the ball but is clearly not a top-tier passer by any metric. Defensively Alabama is another whole animal that has been nearly impenetrable this season, but an opponent must stop the Tide from scoring in order to create more pressure on the rest of the team. TO be quite honest, however, everyone knows this and nobody can implement an effective system. Good luck to whomever faces Bama going forward, they’ll need it.
Playoff scenario: Alabama controls their own destiny. All they have to do is win the SEC Championship Game and they are effectively guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff. They’ll be facing Florida this coming Saturday, and the Gators are likely the worst 10-win team in the country. A weak offense and a solid-yet-beatable defense, coming from a terrible division, Florida is going to need some sort of a miracle to upset the Crimson Tide and prevent them from another playoff appearance.
Best of the Big Ten: Iowa Hawkeyes
Neither Iowa nor Michigan State, the two teams in contention for this top spot, played very difficult opponents this week. Iowa handled Nebraska 28-20 in Lincoln on Friday afternoon, while Michigan State embarrassed Penn State 55-16. CJ Beathard is one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks, not only as a passer (his 97 yard, 1 touchdown performance was not the most impressive outputs of Week 12) but as a team leader. Of course, it’s always helpful to have a stellar running back like Jordan Canzeri, who racked up 140 yards on the ground against the Cornhuskers. Canzeri is averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season and has been a key factor in Iowa’s powerful offensive system. Iowa also deserves credit for winning two games (versus Maryland, at Indiana) while their best player was out in the middle of the season.
Despite not having the strongest schedule this season, Iowa is still undefeated and that carries a lot of weight. Ohio State has still had a very good season and they battered their arch-rival Michigan this past weekend, but they lost in their biggest game of the season while facing a system of backup quarterbacks. Michigan State, who was the team that beat the Buckeyes, lost to a depressingly bad Nebraska team several weeks ago. Iowa hasn’t lost a game, and any Power 5 conference team which has accomplished that feat deserves a lot of credit. People have doubted the Hawkeyes all season long, but the fact of the matter is that they are easily one of the best programs in the country this year.
Playoff scenario: Just like with Alabama, Iowa needs to win and they’ll be in. They’re facing Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, one of the most anticipated games of Week 14. It’s hard to imagine the Big Ten being left out of the College Football Playoff, so one (read: I) would think that the winner of this game will receive a (much deserved) playoff berth.
Best of the Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal
Stanford won their final game of the regular season, edging out Notre Dame on a game-ending field goal, thus destroying the Fighting Irish’s hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff. I’ve been declaring Stanford’s chances at the playoff dead for several weeks now (same goes for the entire conference), and while I still think they’ll miss out, regardless of the result of the Pac-12 Championship Game, they are still a very good and entertaining team. Kevin Hogan is surely not a flashy quarterback but is an effective one, while the Cardinal’s defense is still solid, if not quite as strong as it has been in prior years.
Truthfully, the most disappointing part about Stanford’s season at this point is likely going to be the fact that Christian McCaffrey won’t get nearly enough Heisman consideration, even if he makes it to New York as a finalist. Averaging over 6.4 yards per touch this season with 10 total touchdowns, McCaffrey has been the conference’s best player and is easily one of the finest in the nation. Unfortunately for his Heisman candidacy, the fact that he often plays late at night for most of the country will likely hurt him. Unfortunately for the team, losses to Oregon and Northwestern already killed their playoff hopes.
Playoff scenario: If Florida and North Carolina win their respective conference championship games, maybe Stanford will get a little consideration. The more likely scenario is that Stanford is left playing for the Rose Bowl in their title game because there are too many strong candidates at the top this late in the year. Stanford’s a good team no doubt, but they’re not good enough (or qualified enough) to reach the playoff this year.
Best of the ACC: Clemson
No change here and nobody is surprised. What was surprising was the result of the Clemson/South Carolina game this past weekend. The result itself, the Tigers defeating their in-state rivals, was unexpected by only the most willfully ignorant homers, but the fact that they won by just five points over a terrible Gamecocks team. I mentioned last week how rivalry games always seem to ignite chaos, and that was certainly the case in Columbia in Week 13. That being said, Clemson still won, Deshaun Watson still played well (279 passing yards, 1 passing touchdown, 114 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns) and Clemson is still the team to beat not just in the ACC but in the entire nation.
It has been weeks since Clemson has had a real test, as they’ve played one of the easiest schedules of any top-tier team the last few weeks of the season. It’s only uphill from here though, as the Tigers will face a strong (and still somewhat underrated) North Carolina team in the ACC Championship Game before a likely trip to the playoff. If Deshaun Watson continues to play well, then it is going to take disastrous performances by several other units for Clemson to fall. Watson is a good passer and is very capable on the ground too, which can make up for running back deficiencies and can take some pressure off of the defense.
Playoff scenario: North Carolina deserves more credit for the season they’ve put together (even with their absurd loss to South Carolina in the season opener), but I’d be floored if they were able to upset Clemson. All Clemson needs to do is win the ACC Championship Game and they’ll likely be the the top team in the playoff.
Best of the G5: Houston Cougars
After being usurped by the Navy Midshipmen for the G5 conferences’ top spot, Houston downed Navy on Friday to take home the top spot this week. I have a passionate love for the wishbone option offense but it is flawed in the sense that it is not built for comebacks. Houston got out early and was able to finish off Navy by a three touchdown margin. Greg Ward had a huge game, netting nearly 400 yards of total offense and accounting for four touchdowns on the afternoon.
Houston would likely never have lost their top spot among the G5 schools had they not succumbed to UConn a couple of weeks ago. Nonetheless, they are still a very good team, especially when Greg Ward is playing up to his abilities. Houston’s the “front-runner” for a New Years Six bowl at this point, but that game, whichever one it may be, will likely be awarded to the winner of the Cougars’ contest with Temple this coming weekend in the AAC Championship Game. That being said, Houston is the best of the bunch for now.
Top of the Charts: Week 13
- Clemson Tigers (NC)
- Oklahoma Sooners (+2)
- Iowa Hawkeyes (NC)
- Alabama Crimson Tide (-2)
- Michigan State Spartans (NC)
- Ohio State Buckeyes (+2)
- Stanford Cardinal (New)
- North Carolina Tar Heels (New)
- TCU Horned Frogs (New)
- Northwestern Wildcats (New)
Just missing the cut: Oklahoma State Cowboys, Baylor Bears, Florida State Seminoles, Houston Cougars
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Featured photo courtesy of saturdayblitz.net.