PLAYOFF PULSE: Like it or not, Iowa 1 win away from playoff

Iowa is a victory away from the College Football Playoff.

You can question it if you want. You can rail against it. You can hate it and call it unfair, but the third-ranked Hawkeyes are 12-0 heading to the Big Ten championship game after beating Nebraska 28-20 on Friday.

Iowa has been a polarizing team as it climbed to No. 4 in the playoff rankings. Coach Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes have unquestionably benefited from a schedule that hasn't included any high-profile games.

The Hawkeyes' best victories: Wisconsin, Northwestern and Pittsburgh. All solid teams. But the Hawkeyes missed playing any of the Big Ten East big boys such as Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. That will change next week. If Michigan State beats Penn State on Saturday, the Spartans (10-1, No. 5 CFP) will play Iowa. If Michigan State is upset, the Ohio State-Michigan winner goes to Indianapolis.

The Hawkeyes have an excellent tailback in Jordan Canzeri, who had two long touchdown runs against Nebraska, as the lynchpin of a solid offense. A tough defense is led by stellar cornerback Desmond King, who is tied for the national lead with eight interceptions. But it's fair to ask whether the Hawkeyes really stack up against the nation's best teams.

The Massey composite ranking of 45 computer models used to rate teams had Iowa No. 8 coming into this weekend's games. The Sagarin Ratings, another popular computer model, is not so fond of the Hawkeyes. Iowa was No. 17 before beating Nebraska. Sagarin's strength of schedule rating for Iowa was 62, one spot behind Ohio State and three ahead of Baylor. Of the current playoff top four, Alabama's schedule ranks eight toughest in the country, Oklahoma's is 32nd and Clemson's is 47th. The Tigers are the only other unbeaten team in FBS and have been the playoff committee's No. 1 in each of its rankings.

Advance-metric models are even less impressed. The F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders.com, which use play-by-play and possession-by-possession data to determine a team's efficiency, have Iowa 25th.

But winning is hard and usually if a weak schedule is the best thing a team has going for it that team will find a way to lose to someone of that weak schedule.

The Hawkeyes have avoided a stumble that so many thought was inevitable - they were only one-point favorite against the Huskers (5-7).

Now they head to the postseason very much in the mix for the national championship.

Whether you like it or not.

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DOWN TO BEDLAM

A torrential downpour turned the rematch of last season's wild, point-a-minute TCU-Baylor game into a muddy stalemate and now the Big 12 will have a championship game after all.

TCU's 28-21 double-overtime victory over the Bears (9-2) means Oklahoma at Oklahoma State on Saturday will determine the conference title and maybe a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Earlier Friday, Sooners Bob Stoops announced quarterback Baker Mayfield had practiced all week and would be good to go for Bedlam. Oklahoma was third in the latest playoff rankings and one more victory could very well be good enough to lock up a spot in the final four a week before the last rankings are released. It's not so clear cut for Oklahoma State (10-1), which was 11th in the rankings.

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NO OT REQUIRED

There will be no overtime necessary for the College Football Playoff selection committee this season. Coach Tom Herman and his Houston Cougars made sure of that.

The Cougars wrapped up a spot in the first American Athletic Championship game by beating Navy 52-31 on Friday, eliminating the Midshipmen from contention for a New Year's Six bowl bid. The Midshipmen came into the weekend 15th in the playoff rankings, best among teams from the Group of Five conferences.

The highest ranked champion from the Group of Five in the final rankings is assured of a berth in the Fiesta or Peach bowls this year. If Navy had been that team on Dec. 6, the day after championship Saturday, the committee would have waited a week until after the Midshipmen played Army on Dec. 12 to complete the New Year's Six matchups. Only the bowl matchups affected by Navy would have been delayed, and it would have had a trickle-down effect to other teams and even smaller bowls that would have to wait to set their pairings.

Now that won't be a problem and the entire bowl lineup, all 40 matchups, should be completed Dec. 6 as scheduled.

Houston and the American are in prime position to grab that Group of Five spot in the New Year's Six. The Cougars dropped out of the last playoff rankings but should have no problem getting back in this week. Houston will host next week either Temple, which can clinch the AAC East with a victory at UConn on Saturday, or USF, if the Owls lose. Temple was No. 25 in the latest playoff rankings.

A Houston-Temple game would likely settle the Group of Five's New Year's Six spot. If USF (8-4) were to win the American, that could give Bowling Green and Northern Illinois out of the Mid-American Conference and maybe even Air Force from the Mountain West a chance to get into the New Year's Six discussion.

Toledo missed out on a great opportunity to be considered for the New Year's Six when it lost 35-30 on Friday at home to Western Michigan. The Rockets beat Arkansas and Iowa State earlier this season, but lost to Northern Illinois and won't play in the MAC title game.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAp

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Online: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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