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  • Championship weekend is the last chance for many playoff hopefuls to make a major statement. Where do things stand going into the pivotal week?
By Scooby Axson
November 27, 2017

As the season winds down, there will be a debate on the résumés of the potential playoff teams versus what we actually see with our eyes. The eye test doesn’t mean much if not looked at objectively and the committee has a big task on its hands, especially if another chaotic weekend unfolds over the course of the conference championship games.

Let’s compare the résumés of the top four teams in this week’s power rankings.

Clemson
Best wins: Auburn, Virginia Tech
Bad loss: Syracuse

Clemson has been stacking quality wins all season, capping things off with a destruction of South Carolina on Saturday. The loss to Syracuse is very bad, and the excuse that quarterback Kelly Bryant played hurt before leaving with a concussion doesn’t cover for it entirely. Still, the Tigers are in great shape to make another appearance in the playoff and become the first repeat champion since Alabama in 2011–12.

Oklahoma
Best wins: Ohio State, TCU, Oklahoma State
Bad loss: Iowa State

The Sooners and their top-ranked offense could put up 45 points on any of these teams, so their defense could be the difference between another disappointing ending and a championship. The sting of the Iowa State loss in October has returned after the Cyclones closed the season by losing three of their last four.

Wisconsin
Best win: Michigan
Bad losses: None

It’s not Wisconsin’s fault that its schedule has been less than stellar. Its play sometimes is hard to look at too, but the Badgers have beaten every team in front of them, so that has to count for something. This point becomes moot if they beat Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

Auburn
Best wins: Georgia, Alabama
Bad losses: None

The Tigers boast two of the best wins of the season in defeating two teams that were ranked at the top of the playoff rankings at the time they came to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn also has lost to Clemson and LSU, the latter after blowing a 20-point lead on the road. Again, it means nothing if the Tigers beat Georgia again on Saturday.

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Now on to this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Oklahoma (10–1, 7–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat West Virginia, 59–31
Next week: Big 12 championship vs. TCU

Baker Mayfield came off the bench after not starting the game because of his antics last week and threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns, all but sealing up the Heisman Trophy in the process. Kyler Murray got the start in place of Mayfield and threw for a touchdown and ran for 80 yards for the Sooners, who scored each time they had the ball in the first half. Oklahoma had 646 yards of offense, its seventh time this season having 600 or more yards in a game.

2. Clemson (11–1, 7–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat South Carolina, 34–10
Next week: ACC championship vs. Miami

Clemson racked up another quality win on the road, this time dispatching South Carolina. Kelly Bryant had 272 yards passing and two touchdowns—both to Hunter Renfrow—to put the Tigers in line to make a third straight trip to the playoff. Clemson had 469 total yards and held South Carolina to 81 yards rushing and 10 first downs.

3. Wisconsin (12–0, 9–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Minnesota, 31–0
Next week: Big Ten championship vs. Ohio State

Alex Hornibrook threw three touchdown passes and Jonathan Taylor ran for 149 yards as Wisconsin kept its tight grip on Paul Bunyan’s Axe with a dominant performance over Minnesota. The Gophers could only manage 133 yards and eight first downs all day and attempted only nine passes.

4. Auburn (10–2, 7–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Alabama, 26–14
Next week: SEC championship vs. Georgia

Auburn is the nation’s only team to beat two No. 1 teams. Does that mean it’s the nation’s the best team? Absolutely not. There is still a two in the loss column for Auburn, but make no mistake about it: The Tigers dominated an Alabama squad that in previous years routinely took the heart out of teams. Jarrett Stidham had 237 yards passing and the Tigers ran the ball for 168 yards on the nation’s leader in total and scoring defense.

5. Georgia (11–1, 7–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Georgia Tech, 38–7
Next week: SEC championship vs. Auburn

Georgia outrushed Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, and true freshman Jake Fromm threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs now must avenge their loss to Auburn three weeks ago to make the playoff.

6. Alabama (11–1, 7–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Lost to Auburn, 26–14
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Alabama better hope that the committee thinks back to last season, when Ohio State made the playoff despite winning neither its division nor conference. The simple mistakes the Crimson Tide made and the way they were dominated on both sides of the ball at times were jarring rarities. Alabama’s résumé will be under the microscope this week.

7. Ohio State (10–2, 8–1 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Michigan, 31–20
Next week: Big Ten championship vs. Wisconsin

Dwayne Haskins came off the bench to replace an injured J.T. Barrett and completed six of his seven passes for 94 yards to extend Ohio State’s domination of Michigan. Barrett hurt his knee in the third quarter and did not return, but running back J.K. Dobbins helped pick up the slack with 101 yards and a touchdown. Barrett said after the game he will be good to go against Wisconsin.

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8. Central Florida (11–0, 8–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat South Florida, 49–42
Next week: AAC championship vs. Memphis

In a game that packed as much action into the last five minutes as you will see in some full-length games all year, Central Florida inched closer to a New Year’s Six berth with an exciting victory over rival USF. The Knights scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, capped off by a Mike Hughes 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 1:28 left. McKenzie Milton completed 29 of 44 passes for 373 yards with four touchdowns and an interception and also ran for 56 yards and a touchdown.

9. Miami (10–1, 7–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Lost to Pittsburgh, 24–14
Next week: ACC championship vs. Clemson

Two takeaways and just 232 yards of offense weren’t enough to counter the roll Pitt freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett was on. Also, the hint of desperation to save a perfect season came through when starting quarterback Malik Rosier was benched briefly in the fourth quarter. Miami has one more chance to impress the committee but needs to beat Clemson, probably convincingly, to even have a chance.

10. USC (10–2, 8–1 Pac-12)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Off
Next week: Pac-12 championship vs. Stanford

The Trojans’ week off should bode well for their conference title tilt against Stanford. There is virtually no scenario or realistic possibility where the Trojans could merit playoff consideration, but they’ve closed strong after a shaky start.

11. Penn State (10–2, 7–2 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 12
Last week: Beat Maryland, 66–3
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Penn State has to be shaking its head wondering what might have been this season. The Nittany Lions could be in the playoff conversation if they hadn’t blown a big lead to Ohio State and failed to stop the pass the next week against Michigan State. The balance of Penn State’s season makes it more than worthy of a New Year’s Six bowl.

12. TCU (10–2, 7–2 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Baylor, 45–22
Next week: Big 12 championship vs. Oklahoma

The Horned Frogs have earned their rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Baylor hung with TCU for a half but could not sustain drives or momentum and turned the ball over at critical times. One thing is for sure: To beat the Sooners, TCU is going to have to run the ball better than it did against Baylor.

13. Washington (10–2, 7–2 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 14
This week: Beat Washington State, 41–14
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

There is nothing like ruining a rival’s chance at a championship. The Apple Cup wasn’t much of a contest, as the Huskies ripped apart Washington State, denying the Cougars a chance to play for the Pac-12 title. Myles Gaskin ran for 192 yards and four touchdowns and needed very little from Jake Browning in the rout. Washington’s defense dominated from the outset, forcing four turnovers and sacking Luke Falk five times.

14. Memphis (10–1, 7–1 AAC)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat East Carolina, 70–13
Next week: AAC championship vs. Central Florida

The Tigers jumped out to a 28–0 first-quarter lead, and all thoughts of Memphis possibly looking ahead to the AAC championship game went out the window early. Riley Ferguson threw for 299 yards on only nine completions and added three touchdown passes in only two quarters of work.

15. Stanford (9–3, 7–2 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 17
This week: Beat Notre Dame, 38–20
Next week: Pac-12 championship vs. USC

Stanford turned a close game into a runaway in the fourth quarter when two Notre Dame turnovers led directly to 14 points. Quarterback K.J. Costello played the game of his life, throwing four touchdowns, and Bryce Love ran for 125 yards on an injured ankle. The Cardinal closed the season winning eight of their final nine games after starting the season 1–2.

16. Notre Dame (9–3)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Lost to Stanford, 38–20
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Notre Dame’s hopes of making a major bowl took a major hit when the Irish decided to start turning the ball over on the Farm. Josh Adams was held in check, rushing for only 49 yards, and Brandon Wimbush was picked off twice. Losers of two of their final three games, the Irish will likely find their footing near the top of the ACC’s bowl pecking order.

17. LSU (9-3, 6–2 SEC)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat Texas A&M, 45–21
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Just two months ago, the LSU faithful were calling for Ed Orgeron’s job after a home loss to Troy; on Saturday Orgeron got to send Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin off on a sour note. Quarterback Danny Etling passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns for LSU, which outgained A&M 601–282.

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18. Virginia Tech (9–3, 5–3 ACC)

Previous ranking: 18
This week: Beat Virginia, 10–0
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Virginia Tech held Virginia to five yards rushing in locking down a 14th consecutive win in the lopsided in-state series. Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples each had 71 yards rushing for Virginia Tech, which was held back by the ground game earlier this fall. The Hokies are going bowling for the 25th consecutive year.

19. Oklahoma State (9–3, 6–3 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 21
Last week: Beat Kansas, 58–17
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Mason Rudolph padded his nation-leading passing stats by throwing for 438 yards with two touchdowns and also ran for two scores against Kansas, which has now lost 45 straight on the road. The Cowboys’ November fade effectively removed them from any significant postseason discussion.

20. Michigan State (9–3, 7–2 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 22
Last week: Beat Rutgers, 40–7
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Rutgers possessed the ball for a grand total of 12:10 and was held to five first downs and 112 total yards, as the Spartans forced three turnovers in a season-ending rout. Quarterback Brian Lewerke capped an encouraging regular season with 222 yards passing and 56 rushing while accounting for two touchdowns.

21. Northwestern (9–3, 7–2 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat Illinois, 42–7
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Justin Jackson eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the fourth straight season, and the Wildcats won their seventh straight game—Northwestern’s longest winning streak in over two decades. The Wildcats rushed for 306 yards against Illinois, who finished the season on a 10-game losing streak.

22. Washington State (9–3, 6–3 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 16
Last week: Lost to Washington, 41–14
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Washington State was pretty easy to figure out this season: it played great at home and failed to show up consistently on the road, getting blown out in its three losses, all away from Pullman. Luke Falk threw for 369 yards, most of those coming when the game was well in hand. But it was his three interceptions that spelled doom for the Cougars, who lost this rivalry game for the fifth straight season.

23. South Florida (9–2, 6–2 AAC)

Previous ranking: 23
Last week: Lost Central Florida, 49–42
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

It certainly wasn’t Quinton Flowers’s fault his team came up short against UCF. Flowers had 503 yards passing, 102 yards rushing and five total touchdowns, but it was the special teams that let the Bulls down at the end, allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown immediately after tying the score with less than two minutes left.

24. Mississippi State (8–4, 4–4 SEC)

Previous ranking: 19
This week: Lost to Ole Miss, 31–28
Next week: Regular season over; bowl game TBA

Freshman Keytaon Thompson came on in relief for injured starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and nearly rallied the Bulldogs back from an 18-point fourth quarter deficit in the Egg Bowl. Thompson had 195 yards passing and 121 yards rushing on 26 carries. The victory for Ole Miss made the Rebels’ season and tainted the Bulldogs’—before Thanksgiving night, all of Mississippi State’s losses had come to the SEC’s elites.

25. Fresno State (9–2, 7–0 MWC)

Previous ranking:
This week: Beat Boise State, 28–17
Next week: Mountain West championship vs. Boise State

In part one of a two-part series, Fresno State used a stout defensive effort to hold the Broncos to a season-low in points. Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion threw for a season-high 332 yards and two touchdowns. Neither team could establish much on the ground, averaging 3.5 yards per rush.

Out: Boise State. Maybe next week: Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, Boise State.

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