- Week 12 didn't do much to alter the college football status quo, but the Iron Bowl and more loom as games that could shake up the playoff picture in the coming days.
As the regular season winds down, we move from cupcake week to a feasting of good rivalry games that will not only settle conference and state bragging rights but also make the playoff picture a little clearer. This week we will focus on one game that could either create chaos or maintain the status quo in the SEC (until the next big game, which will happen the following week): the Iron Bowl.
The SEC West champion has won each of the last eight conference championships, and for Alabama and Auburn, this game could double as a playoff eliminator if the loser is forced to watch Championship Saturday from home and then falls on the wrong side of the committee’s cut line.
Many believe Alabama has just been going through the motions while beating lesser teams to a pulp. The two times they have been challenged in conference play, against Mississippi State and Texas A&M, they prevailed.
An Auburn victory in the Iron Bowl would thrust the Tigers into the thick of the playoff conversation, giving them two wins over No. 1 teams, something no other team in the hunt can even come close to touting when the playoff committee’s attention turns to strength of schedule.
Now on to this week’s Power Rankings:
1. Alabama (11–0, 7–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Mercer, 56–0
Next week: at Auburn
Not much needs to be said about the Mercer game, except that the Crimson Tide got plenty of rest for their starters in preparation for the Iron Bowl and Mercer got plenty of money for an expected and thorough beating.
2. Oklahoma (10–1, 7–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Kansas, 41–3
Next week: vs. West Virginia
In Oklahoma’s 16th straight road victory, Heisman frontrunner (and crotch-grabbing repeat apologist) Baker Mayfield threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns, making easy work of the Jayhawks, whose one win this season apparently compelled them not to shake hands with Mayfield before the game. The Sooners, whose 469 yards of offense against Kansas were a season low, clinched their spot in the Big 12 title game.
3. Clemson (10–1, 7–1 ACC)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat The Citadel, 61–3
Next week: at South Carolina
A glorified scrimmage took place in Clemson as the Tigers ripped apart a Citadel team that was clearly overmatched—in losing by 58 points, The Citadel pocketed a cool $300,000. The season finale against South Carolina looks like a tougher test than it did in the summer.
4. Wisconsin (11–0, 8–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Michigan, 24–10
Next week: at Minnesota
Wisconsin continues to get it done, whether it looks impressive to skeptics or not. Jonathan Taylor had 132 yards and quarterback Alex Hornibrook was his usual steady self, throwing for 143 yards and one touchdown. The competitive portion of the game ended once Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters left with an injury, as backup John O'Korn was completely ineffective in breaking down the Badgers’ stout defense.
5. Miami, FL (10–0, 7–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Virginia, 44–28
Next week: at Pittsburgh
The turnover chain made three appearances in Miami’s victory, but the big one was Jaquan Johnson’s 30-yard interception return, part of a 30–0 Hurricanes run that erased a two-touchdown deficit. Malik Rosier tossed three touchdown passes and Travis Homer added 96 yards rushing for Miami, which ends the regular season on Friday against Pitt before the ACC title game on Dec. 2.
6. Auburn (9–2, 6–1 SEC)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Louisiana-Monroe, 42–14
Next week: vs. Alabama
There is no need to hype how big next week’s game is against Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl. Auburn is two wins away from a conference title and a possible playoff berth. As far as this game, the Tigers overcame a slow start to dispatch the Warhawks. Kerryon Johnson ran for 137 yards and a touchdown, and Jarrett Stidham had 235 yards and two scores through the air.
7. Georgia (10–1, 7–1 SEC)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Kentucky, 42–13
Next week: at Georgia Tech
Georgia didn’t need much to beat Kentucky. The Wildcats have one of the nation’s worst pass defenses, but Georgia stuck to what it does best instead of getting freshman Jake Fromm comfortable in beating a team by throwing the ball. Georgia ran for 381 yards with five touchdowns, so as long as that formula works towards the goal of stacking victories, there will be no argument here.
8. Ohio State (9–2, 7–1 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Illinois, 52–14
Next week: at Michigan
The Buckeyes scored the first six times they had the football to clinch their spot in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin. While the offense had its way with the Illini, the defense also did its part, limiting Illinois to five first downs and 105 yards of offense. A sixth straight win over Michigan would help keep those faint playoff hopes alive.
9. Notre Dame (9–2)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Navy, 24–17
Next game: at Stanford
Commend Notre Dame for doing what it could in the mere 17 minutes it had the ball against Navy. Brandon Wimbush threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns and Josh Adams added 106 yards on the ground as the Fighting Irish bounced back from their brutal performance against Miami to stay in the hunt for a possible New Year’s Six bowl.
10. Central Florida (10–0, 7–0 AAC)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Temple, 45–19
Next week: vs. South Florida
It doesn’t seem like UCF is distracted by all of the talk surrounding its head coach Scott Frost possibly being a candidate for several job openings around the nation. Quarterback McKenzie Milton had five total touchdowns with 208 passing yards, and the Knights’ defense forced five turnovers, quickly turning an early 10–7 deficit around by turning those miscues into 24 points.
11. USC (10–2, 8–1 Pac-12)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat UCLA, 28–23
Next week: Off; next game, Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 1.
UCLA’s Josh Rosen prevailed in the battle of the potential first-round NFL draft pick quarterbacks, throwing for 421 yards and three touchdowns, but Sam Darnold and the Trojans beat the Bruins for the third straight year. Darnold threw for 263 yards and also ran for a score. USC now enjoys its long-awaited bye week to rest up for either Washington State or Stanford in the conference championship game in two weeks.
12. Penn State (9–2, 6–2 Big Ten)
Last week: Beat Nebraska, 56–44
Next week: at Maryland
Saquon Barkley broke out of a prolonged rushing slump with 158 yards rushing and three touchdowns and Trace McSorley threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns for the Nittany Lions, who were outscored 34–14 by Nebraska in the second half. In the process, Barkley broke the school’s career touchdown record with his 39th score.
13. TCU (9–2, 6-2 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Texas Tech, 27–3
Next game: vs. Baylor
All TCU needs to do next week is beat lowly Baylor to earn a rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, after cruising in Lubbock without starting quarterback Kenny Hill, who sat out with an injury. The usually potent Texas Tech offense did nothing all day and the Horned Frogs played it safe with true freshman quarterback Shawn Robinson, who threw it 17 times for only 85 yards but did have a touchdown throw.
14. Washington (9–2, 6–2 Pac-12)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: Beat Utah, 33–30
Next week: vs. Washington State
Anyone that stayed up late to watch this one got a treat. Myles Gaskin had 52 yards and two touchdowns, the final one with 58 seconds remaining to tie the score, setting up Tristan Vizcaino’s game-winning 38-yard field goal at the buzzer. The Huskies now can only play Pac-12 spoiler for their in-state rival next week in the Apple Cup.
15. Memphis (9–1, 6–1 AAC)
This week: Beat SMU, 66–45
Next week: vs. East Carolina
In a game that looked a lot like the defense-optional games native to the Big 12, the Tigers rolled up 664 yards of offense (331 passing, 333 rushing) to clinch the AAC West and now await the winner of Friday’s UCF-USF battle in the conference title game in two weeks. Riley Ferguson threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns for Memphis, which scored at least 10 points in every quarter.
16. Washington State (9–2, 6–2 Pac-12)
Previous ranking: 18
Last week: Off
Next week: vs. Washington
Washington State had the week off to prepare for the Apple Cup, which will give the Cougars a chance to exact revenge on their in-state rivals, wrap up the Pac-12 North and perhaps sneak into a New Year’s Six bowl.
17. Stanford (8–3, 7–2 Pac-12)
Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat California, 17–14
Next week: vs. Notre Dame
Bryce Love ran for 101 yards on a bum ankle and Stanford kept its conference title hopes alive by beating Cal for the eighth straight time to set a record for consecutive wins in the series. Quarterback K.J. Costello went 17 for 26 for 185 yards and one touchdown in the victory, which made David Shaw the winningest coach in program history. The Cardinal will be watching the Apple Cup wearing purple and gold next week: A Washington victory sends them to the Pac-12 title game.
18. Virginia Tech (8–3, 4–3 ACC)
Previous ranking: 17
This week: Beat Pittsburgh, 20–14
Next week: at Virginia
Pittsburgh had four opportunities to score from the one-yard line with less than a minute to go and failed, handing Virginia Tech another close win. Josh Jackson had 218 yards passing and two total touchdowns as the Hokies were again inconsistent on offense, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Jackson threw 20 incomplete passes and an interception but added 32 yards rushing to help Tech break a two-game losing streak.
19. Mississippi State (8–3, 4–3 SEC)
Previous ranking: 24
This week: Beat Arkansas, 28–21
Next week: vs. Ole Miss
Nick Fitzgerald’s six-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds left lifted Mississippi State past struggling Arkansas. Fitzgerald had 153 yards and ran 22 times for 101 yards, his sixth game with 100-plus yards both passing and rushing. The Bulldogs were sloppy with the ball, fumbling four times and losing two. State bragging rights are on the line next week against Ole Miss, which has split the last four meetings with State.
20. LSU (8-3, 5–2 SEC)
Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Tennessee, 30–10
Next week: vs. Texas A&M
The weather in Knoxville was ugly—as was the special teams play—but it was LSU’s running game that made the difference. The Tigers ran for 200 yards on the backs of Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams and shut down Tennessee’s offense for their fifth win in six games. LSU has beaten Texas A&M six straight times heading into Saturday’s home finale.
21. Oklahoma State (8–3, 5–3 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 15
Last week: Lost to Kansas State, 45–40
Next week: vs. Kansas
Oklahoma State decided that Saturday was the day not to show up until it was down by 25 points in the third quarter. Its defense let Kansas State wide receiver Byron Pringle run free through the secondary, and Pringle responded with three touchdown catches and kick return TD. The Cowboys squandered their opportunity as a potential playoff team this season by losing three games at home.
22. Michigan State (8–3, 6–2 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 23
Last week: Beat Maryland, 17–7
Next week: at Rutgers
Michigan State completed two passes all game against Maryland, but no one will blame the Spartans for not trying to force the ball downfield in rain and a snowstorm. The Spartans did run for 271 yards—the first time in four games that the Spartans ran for more than 100 yards as a team—led by L.J. Scott, who rumbled for 147 on 29 carries. The finish the regular season at Rutgers, then can hope for an invite to one of the Big Ten’s more prominent bowls.
23. South Florida (9–1, 6–1 AAC)
Previous ranking: 22
Last week: Beat Tulsa, 27–20
Next week: at Central Florida
The Bulls’ tune-up contest before their game of the year against UCF was not an exercise in fundamentally sound football. USF turned the ball over twice, wasn’t very efficient passing and needed a last-minute stop in the fourth quarter to beat a two-win Tulsa squad. Quinton Flowers had 261 total yards in his final home game and was helped out by a defense that had 13 tackles for loss.
24. Boise State (9–2, 7–0 MWC)
Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat Air Force, 44–19
Next week: at Fresno State
Brett Rypien had 300 yards and three passing touchdowns to lead Boise State to its seventh straight win. The Broncos, who held Air Force’s triple option attack to 181 yards and forced three fumbles, will now play Fresno State two weeks in a row—first in their regular season finale and then the very next week in the Mountain West championship.
25. Northwestern (8–3, 6–2 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Minnesota, 39–0
Next week: at Illinois
Northwestern’s longest winning streak in more than 20 years continues, thanks to a dominant effort by the defense. The Wildcats forced five turnovers, quarterback Clayton Thorson had three touchdown passes and Justin Jackson added 166 yards rushing. With a victory next week against Illinois, they can stake a claim that they deserve to be in a top-tier bowl.
Out: West Virginia, Michigan. Maybe next week: Florida Atlantic.