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  • Michigan is out of the playoff running, which gives a new shape to the race for No. 4, but almost everything else about the top 10 has changed since Thanksgiving, too.
By Andy Staples
November 25, 2018

I’m sorry this is coming so late, but the officials from the LSU-Texas A&M seven-overtime tour de force wanted to review all of my picks and I had to keep rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting…

Thanks to a that’s-why-they-play-the-games game in Columbus, I had a lot more thinking to do this week.

Updated Bowl Projections: Predicting All 39 Matchups After Week 13

1. Alabama (12–0)
Last week: 1
Last game: Beat Auburn, 52–21
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia in SEC championship game

The Crimson Tide let Auburn hang around for a while, but then Tua Tagovailoa began throwing backbreakers. Some people won’t like this, but the Crimson Tide probably were the first team to clinch a playoff berth Saturday. Barring an absolute meltdown, they’re probably in whether they win or lose to Georgia.

2. Clemson (12–0)
Last week: 2
Last game: Beat South Carolina, 56–35
Next game: Saturday vs. Pittsburgh in ACC championship game

Clemson allowed South Carolina to gain 600 yards and average eight yards a play. That information probably isn’t making anyone at Pittsburgh feel any better, but it might be making the folks in South Bend feel better. Assuming the Tigers beat Pittsburgh—and they’re going to beat Pittsburgh this time—a Georgia win against Alabama is the only thing that would keep the Tigers from facing Notre Dame in one semifinal.

3. Notre Dame (12–0)
Last week: 3
Last game: Beat USC, 24–17
Next game: Regular season complete

It wasn’t pretty in Los Angeles, and if the Fighting Irish play like that in their next game they’ll lose by four touchdowns, but they’ve done it. Notre Dame is headed to the College Football Playoff after an undefeated regular season. The question now is whether the selection committee chooses to keep the Irish at No. 3 after a shaky performance against a 5–7 team. The built-in excuse is that USC players—who tend to be very good athletes—were trying to save Clay Helton’s job. That may or not fly with the committee.

4. Georgia (11–1)
Last week: 5
Last game: Beat Georgia Tech, 45–21
Next game: Saturday vs. Alabama in SEC championship game

The Bulldogs feel as if they’ve flipped a switch in the past few weeks. They still seem a year away from completely replenishing what they lost from last season, but they may have enough to make things interesting against Alabama. And if they can win, they’ll create the nightmare scenario—for the non-SEC conferences—that could lead to an expanded playoff. Here’s an even worse nightmare scenario for the Big Ten and Big 12: What if Georgia loses to Alabama in seven overtimes and makes the playoff anyway? If Texas and Northwestern win their respective conference title games, that’s a real possibility. (And if we want to go really deep down this rabbit hole, how much howling would that bring from LSU? The Tigers would be 10–2 with a 20-point win against Georgia had officials thought to review a play near the end of regulation in the Tigers’ loss at Texas A&M where the Aggies appeared to not make the line to gain on a fourth down.)

5. Oklahoma (11–1)
Last week: 6
Last game: Beat West Virginia, 59–56
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas in Big 12 championship game

I struggled with how to order Oklahoma and Ohio State after watching both teams in person this weekend. Here’s the reasoning for having the Sooners one spot ahead. While I would take the Ohio State team that beat Michigan in a game against Oklahoma, I’d take the Sooners against the Buckeyes we’ve seen the rest of the season. We know what we’re going to get with Oklahoma. The Sooners are going to score on nearly every drive and give up a ton of points—but not quite as many as they score. The Buckeyes could play like national title contenders or a team struggling for bowl eligibility. Absent further evidence—which might be provided this week—I’ll take what appears to be the sure thing.

6. Ohio State (11–1)
Last week: 10
Last game: Beat Michigan, 62–39
Next game: Saturday vs. Northwestern in Big Ten championship game

That said, the team that beat Michigan on Saturday can score on anyone and might be able to cobble together enough stops/momentum-swinging turnovers to win against anyone. None of the teams currently in the playoff will stick to a conservative offensive game plan as slavishly as Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh did. All these teams would hit some big plays on the Buckeyes. But Dwayne Haskins would make sure Ohio State also hit plenty.

7. UCF (11–0)
Last week: 7
Last game: Beat South Florida, 38–10
Next game: Saturday vs. Memphis in AAC championship game

I’m leaving the Knights here because they’ve earned it to this point. But the loss of quarterback McKenzie Milton to a nasty knee injury means they probably can’t rise any higher. It also means UCF might be in danger of having its 24-game win streak snapped by Memphis, which only lost by one to the Knights on Oct. 13 with Milton playing.

8. Florida (9–3)
Last week: Unranked
Last game: Beat Florida State, 41–14

I truly had no idea how to order teams eight through (hypothetical) 15. There really isn’t much difference between them. The Gators beat Florida State for the first time since 2012, but that Seminoles team is a shell of the ones that dominated the series recently. They’ve got the best win of this group (against LSU), but they don’t seem all that different from the Tigers or from Michigan, Penn State, Texas, Washington, Washington State or Kentucky. 

9. LSU (9–3)
Last week: 9
Last game: Lost to Texas A&M, 74–72 (7 OT)
Next game: Regular season complete

The Tigers probably got jobbed out of a win in regulation in College Station. So I’ll leave them where they were last week. They’re flawed, but so is everyone else at this level.

10. Michigan (10–2)
Last week: 4
Last game: Lost to Ohio State, 62–39
Next game: Regular season complete

Perhaps it’s recency bias, but I can’t imagine this offense playing particularly well against the defenses of the teams I mentioned in the Florida section. But I can imagine this defense playing well against most of these offenses. So the Wolverines stay here for now. The only drama now is waiting to find out if they’ll go to the Rose Bowl (because Ohio State made the playoff) or if they’ll go to the Peach or Fiesta (because either Ohio State won the Big Ten and didn’t make the playoff or Northwestern upset Ohio State and won the Big Ten).

Plus One

Minnesota (6–6)
Last game: Beat Wisconsin, 37–15
Next game: A bowl game!

I know I’ve already used Minnesota as a Plus One this season, but the Golden Gophers clinched bowl eligibility in the sweetest way—by dominating Wisconsin for their first win in the series since 2003 and their first win in Madison since 1994. They took home Paul Bunyan’s Ax, and now an incredibly young team will get 15 extra practices.

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