- In the final rankings of the year before the playoff field is set, the Sooners and Buckeyes made Saturday's strongest statements.
Things got very interesting for the playoff committee, as expected, when Ohio State knocked off a previously undefeated Wisconsin team to win the Big Ten title on Saturday night. it wasn’t a rout like it was a few years ago, and it if was, maybe that would make this a lot easier. It’s not. My top two teams are close to each other but separated from everyone else.
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners blew out TCU in the second half as Baker Mayfield again was superb. Oklahoma now has four terrific wins: at Ohio State (and it wasn’t close), at Oklahoma State and twice against TCU. Plus, their loss was against a pretty good Iowa State team.
2. Clemson: Another year, another ACC title for Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, albeit without the great Deshaun Watson this time. The Tigers hammered an 11–2 Miami team Saturday night. It wasn’t even close. I was tempted to put the Tigers over Oklahoma but didn’t. Their résumé just isn’t quite as strong. There’s no doubt Clemson has the better defense, but they don’t have Baker Mayfield or an offense on the level of the Sooners. Auburn’s loss to Georgia robs the Tigers of claiming a win over the SEC champions, but their résumé is still pretty impressive. The only blemish is a road loss to a mediocre Syracuse team in which QB Kelly Bryant was lost for the game after a first-half concussion.
3. Georgia: Kirby Smart’s team got some revenge, completely shutting down the Auburn offense a few weeks after getting blown out on the Plains. Their next-best wins: at Notre Dame and over a pair of 8–4 teams at home: Mississippi State and South Carolina.
4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes notched their most impressive win of the season, handling what was an undefeated Wisconsin team in a game that went down to the wire. They did light up a Badgers defense that entered the weekend ranked No. 1 in yards allowed per game with a series of huge plays. Winning a Power 5 conference should weight, as should a string of pretty solid victories beyond Saturday night: Ohio State beat a good Penn State team, destroyed a good Michigan State squad and won at Michigan by double digits. The bad—the 31-point loss at the hands of an unranked Iowa team—was really bad, but the Hawkeyes also took Penn State to the wire and did defeat Iowa State on their way to a 7–5 finish. Oklahoma also whipped the Buckeyes in Columbus, but I still give them the edge over Alabama because the CFP committee says conference titles are important, and despite the additional blowout loss, Ohio State’s three best wins are more impressive than any victory the Tide has.
5. Alabama: It didn’t help Bama’s cause that the one team that beat them, archrival Auburn, got blown out by Georgia in the SEC title game, or that their third Top 25 win entering the weekend likely will fall out of the Top 25 after No. 25 Fresno State lost to Boise State in the Mountain West title game. The Tide’s best win is over a pretty good 9–3 LSU team, but there’s just not enough else to hang their hats on. It’s not their fault that a preseason top-five Florida State team had a dud of a season after losing quarterback Deondre Francois in the opener, but they just don’t have enough good wins to boost them past the Power 5 conference champions above them.
6. Auburn: The Tigers ran up against a buzz saw in Georgia after winning the Iron Bowl. They have a couple of very good wins in topping the Tide and dominating the first meeting with UGA, but with three losses, they have no shot at the playoff.
7. Penn State: The Nittany Lions got their best win by smashing 9–3 Northwestern on the road, 31–7. They also crushed 8–4 Michigan. However, they have two losses and even though they were both on the road to ranked teams and by just a combined four points, they don’t have anything else to springboard them into playoff contention. It’s been a good season in Happy Valley, but merely “good” doesn’t get you into the playoff.
8. USC: You can’t say an 11–2 season that ends with a Pac-12 title despite a patchwork O-line is a disappointment. The Trojans’ best work has come against Stanford, who they beat twice. Their lowlight—getting blown out of South Bend by Notre Dame in the middle of the season—was pretty low. Many expected them to go in the tank. They didn’t.
9. UCF: In a wild shootout, the Knight defeated a solid Memphis team for the second time this season to move to 12–0 and secure the AAC title. They also have a nice win over USF. They don’t have any real headline-grabbing wins, but no one has beaten them either.
10. Wisconsin: The Badgers faced their toughest test of the season and came up short against Ohio State. Wisconsin’s defense had allowed more than their nation-leading per game average in total yards by the midpoint of the second quarter. They’re a one-loss team without a lot of weight to their résumé. Their best win is over 9–3 Northwestern to go with a pretty good win over 8-4 Michigan and an easy handling of a 10-win Florida Atlantic team.
11. Washington: Their last time out, the Huskies blasted Washington State in the Apple Cup. Their defense looked scary, and their offense, even though it’s very banged up, looked crisp. They have two road losses—one on the road to a mediocre Arizona team, the other against Stanford. They also drilled a pretty good Fresno State team early in the season.
12. Miami: The Canes stumbled at Pitt and then got crushed by Clemson in the ACC title game. They just looked outclassed right from the start Saturday night. They have a couple of nice wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame but just ran out of gas.