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Week 13 playoff takeaways: Three biggest things we learned this week

Oklahoma became the first team to clinch a playoff bid with its blowout win over Oklahoma State. That and other thoughts on the College Football Playoff race after Week 13.

The final week of the regular season is in the books, and we can now safely say we know at least one of the four teams that will make the College Football Playoff. Here are the three biggest takeaways from Week 13:

1. Oklahoma is the first team to seal a playoff berth

The Sooners made a big jump to No. 3 in Tuesday’s playoff rankings, and after Saturday’s games, it’s impossible to see how they could slip out of the top four. Oklahoma took care of business with a dominant 58–23 victory over Oklahoma State in Stillwater to clinch the Big 12 title. The Sooners’ offense steamrolled the Cowboys with 344 rushing yards on 8.2 yards per carry. Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine topped 130 yards on the ground while quarterback Baker Mayfield added two passing touchdowns, and the defense came up with two interceptions, including a 32-yard pick-six that was part of a 30-point second quarter.

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Oklahoma doesn’t have to play a conference title game—unlike other playoff favorites, it can’t lose next week. So Saturday’s performance alone would have likely assured the Sooners a playoff spot. However, their top four spot became even more certain when No. 9 Stanford beat No. 6 Notre Dame on a 45-yard field goal as time expired. The Fighting Irish were the only other one-loss team in a position to deny Oklahoma a playoff spot and could have made the selection committee’s task difficult had they earned a convincing win over the Cardinal. Their loss instead removes them from the playoff hunt with no games left to make a better final impression.

So feel free to write Oklahoma’s name into your playoff bracket in pen. The Sooners are bound for the final four.


2. The Big Ten secured a spot, too

We don’t yet know which Big Ten team will make the playoff, but Week 13’s results all but guarantee that the conference will claim a spot in the top four. Iowa finished off its undefeated regular season with a 28–20 victory over Nebraska on Friday. It was another win that, while lacking in flash, was almost never in doubt and keeps the Hawkeyes as one of only two remaining undefeated teams.

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After Ohio State trounced Michigan 42–13, the Buckeyes needed No. 5 Michigan State to collapse against Penn State to send Ohio State back to the Big Ten title game. Instead, Mark Dantonio’s squad pummeled the Nittany Lions 55–16 behind the efficient passing of Connor Cook, who played despite clearly suffering through a shoulder injury. Cook still completed 19 of 26 passes for 248 yards with three touchdown and no interceptions to secure the Spartans’ Big Ten East title. 

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With 12–0 Iowa slated to face 11–1 Michigan State for the Big Ten title, it’s clear that whoever wins will earn a playoff berth. The Hawkeyes and Spartans’ clash in Indianapolis next Saturday is the only conference championship that is a veritable playoff quarterfinal.

3. The other two berths are where things could get interesting

If Clemson beats North Carolina and Alabama beats Florida, there will be little suspense for the reveal of the final playoff rankings next Sunday. The field would clearly comprise the Tigers, the Tide, the Big Ten champion and Oklahoma.

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However, if Clemson or Alabama fall in their respective conference title games, the playoff picture could get very complicated. Even with its dramatic win over Notre Dame, Stanford still doesn’t control its playoff destiny. The Cardinal forfeited that when they lost to Northwestern and Oregon. However, Stanford was already the highest-ranked two-loss team and will get another boost from taking down the Irish. The Cardinal will present a compelling case if they can beat USC next Saturday to win the Pac-12 and finish the season at 11–2.

Another possible option is Ohio State. The Buckeyes can’t win a Big Ten title and will only be able to watch the games next Saturday, but they made the most of their final impression to the playoff committee with their beatdown of Michigan in the Big House. Ohio State only has one loss, and if Michigan State beats Iowa next week, that loss will be to a playoff team on a last-second field goal.

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So would either the Cardinal or the Buckeyes enter the top four if Clemson or Alabama loses? The answer would seemingly have to be yes if the Tide were to fall. Alabama, which rode Derrick Henry to a 29–13 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl, would then have two losses (one more than Ohio State) and no conference title (which Stanford hypothetically would have). Florida’s ugly defeat to Florida State on Saturday—the Gators lost 27–2, only scoring on a safety—means that even if they stun Alabama, they likely wouldn’t catch either Stanford or Ohio State.

Clemson losing would create a more ambiguous situation. That would be the Tigers’ only loss of the season, as they improved to 12–0 Saturday with a shaky 37–32 victory over South Carolina. Clemson could point to its quality wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, too. Then there would also be the question of North Carolina, the 12–1 ACC champion in this scenario. The No. 14 Tar Heels have that ugly Week 1 loss to South Carolina and no wins over ranked opponents currently, but a triumph over the previously undefeated Tigers would be pretty significant.

Championship Saturday could leave the playoff committee with either a plainly obvious set of four teams or total chaos. It all depends on the ACC and SEC title games.