Things were going so smoothly on this Week 13 of college football’s 150 season. Favorites were winning, playoff contenders were mostly cruising and our Top 10 was, for the first time this season, headed for an unaltered version from one week to the next.
Arizona State and its true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels snapped a four-game losing streak by shocking Oregon, torpedoing the Ducks’ playoff chances and moving everyone up a spot in the pecking order—the two biggest beneficiaries Alabama and Oklahoma. Sure, there were some other close calls. Penn State proved the Buckeyes aren’t invincible, giving Ryan Day’s team its first four-quarter scare, and Georgia survived a home game against Texas A&M, but Oregon’s loss radically changed the playoff landscape, opening the door for the Big 12 champ or the Crimson Tide, if it were to beat Auburn.
Enough talk. Let’s get to the Top 10.
Of note: A Quality Win is a home victory over a top-30 team or a road victory over a top-50 team (using Sagarin ratings). Strength of schedule is the Sagarin SOS rank entering this weekend.
Last week: 1
Last game: Beat Arkansas 56–20
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas A&M
Average margin of victory: 25
Quality wins: 5
Strength of schedule: 13
Hang your hat on… holding a 20-point halftime lead at Alabama and winning 46–41.
Forget about… a defense that has allowed at least 28 points in five games including more than 30 to two of the SEC’s worst, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
They’ll make the playoff if… they win out in any form and potentially even if they drop a game. LSU has the best résumé in college football and could possibly afford a loss and still advance to the playoff at 12–1. They get Texas A&M at home before tangling with Georgia in the SEC championship game.
2. Ohio State
Last week: 2
Last game: Beat Penn State 28–17
Next game: Saturday at Michigan
Average margin of victory: 38.9
Quality wins: 3
Strength of schedule: 51
Hang your hat on… whipping virtually everyone except Penn State.
Forget about… those two second-half lost fumbles to let the Nittany Lions in a game you controlled.
They’ll make the playoff if… they win the Big Ten. The Buckeyes punched their ticket to the championship game with the victory over Penn State, but they’ve got a big one at the Big House next week. Is their résumé strong enough to withstand a close loss and still advance to the playoff with a win over Wisconsin or Minnesota in Indianapolis?
Last week: 3
Last game: Beat Wake Forest 52–3 in Week 12
Next game: Saturday at South Carolina
Average margin of it: 31.3
Quality wins: 1
Strength of schedule: 71
Hang your hat on… winning 26 games in a row, even if the committee isn’t supposed to factor that in.
Forget about… that awful schedule. Clemson can’t really control the weakness of its conference mates, but the Tigers’ only quality win is a scheduled non-conference game over Texas A&M.
They’ll make the playoff if… they finish 13–0. There is little room for error for the Tigers because of their strength of schedule. The ACC is the weakest conference in America, a detriment to the Tigers’ chances if they are to drop a game, however unlikely. They get 4–7 South Carolina before facing a potential four-loss team in the ACC championship game.
Last week: 4
Last game: Beat Texas A&M 19–13
Next game: Saturday at Georgia Tech
Average margin of victory: 20.5
Quality wins: 5
Strength of schedule: 36
Hang your hat on… three real, real good wins, against Florida, Notre Dame and Auburn and two more against good competition for an impressive five quality wins.
Forget about… that egg the Bulldogs laid at home against South Carolina, a 20–17 defeat.
They’ll make the playoff if… they are 12–1. That means they’d have beaten LSU in the SEC championship game, adding to their résumé a sixth (!) quality win. This would likely mean two SEC teams, Georgia and LSU, getting into the playoff, and that might signal a change to the model quicker than expected.
Last week: 6
Last game: Beat TCU 28–24
Next game: Saturday at Oklahoma State
Average margin of victory: 19.8
Quality wins: 3
Strength of schedule: 31
Hang your hat on… an offense that leads the nation in yards per game, averaging 581.1, 20 yards more than the next closest team.
Forget about… loss at Kansas State. The Wildcats are a good football team, and the Sooners had two critical turnovers in that one.
They’ll make the playoff if… several other teams drop games. Oklahoma needs some help, and the Sooners must not only keep winning, but also be impressive doing it. Their résumé could be stacked against a one-loss Pac-12 champion and an 11–1 Alabama, and like everybody else, they’ve got to hope two SEC teams don’t squeak into the field.
Last week: 7
Last game: Beat Western Carolina 66–3
Next game: Saturday at Auburn
Average margin of victory: 32.3
Quality wins: 2
Strength of schedule: 52
Hang your hat on… you’re Alabama and you normally get the benefit of the doubt (also that your only loss is to the No. 1 team).
Forget about… those defensive struggles. The Tide has allowed at least 28 points in three games. Gasp!
They’ll make the playoff if… the Pac-12 and Big 12 champions each have two losses. That would be a sure way into the playoff if the Tide beats Auburn. That would mean Baylor, Oklahoma and Utah would have to each drop at least one game. Oregon’s loss helped. Any stumble by Clemson would also help. It’s hard to see a one-loss non-conference champion leaping a one-loss Power 5 champ, especially with Tua Tagovailoa’s absence.
Last week: 8
Last game: Beat Arizona 35–7
Next game: Saturday vs. Colorado
Average margin of victory: 23.8
Strength of schedule: 48
Hang your hat on… that defense. The Utes have held five of the last six opponents to single digits.
Forget about… the 30–23 loss at USC. Hey, it was on a Friday night and Utah had 16 penalties!
They’ll make the playoff if… they find a way to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship to reach 12–1. The Utes have no margin for error. An 11–1 Alabama is a threat to stay above them even if they run the table, and the Big 12 champion could jump them, too. They don’t necessarily control their own destiny.
Last week: 9
Last game: Beat Northwestern 38–22
Next game: Saturday vs. Wisconsin
Average margin of victory: 14.9
Quality wins: 1
Strength of schedule: 60
Hang your hat on… winning the first nine games of the season.
Forget about… beating South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern by a combined 13 points.
They’ll make the playoff if… they beat Ohio State. OK, the Gophers have to do more than that, especially after the loss to Iowa, but what if they were to upset the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game? Do the 12–1 Gophers get in? It’s a question worth pondering. A win over OSU would arguably be the best victory by any team in the nation this year. There is still hope.
Last week: 10
Last game: Beat Texas 24–10
Next game: Saturday at Kansas
Average margin of victory: 14.4
Quality wins: 4
Strength of schedule: 41
Hang your hat on… those quality wins, which out-number all other teams in the top 10 aside from LSU and Georgia.
Forget about… needing overtimes to beat TCU and Texas Tech and fourth-quarter field goals to beat West Virginia and Iowa State.
They’ll make the playoff if… if they go 12–1 with a Big 12 title win over OU and some other stuff happens. The Bears’ weak non-conference schedule and their tight victories over middling or bad teams might come back to bite them. Will they leap an 11–1 Alabama or a potential one-loss Pac-12 champion? Probably not. They need other teams to take some losses.
Last week: NR
Last game: Beat Missouri 23–6 in Week 12
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida State
Average margin of victory: 20
Quality wins: 4
Strength of schedule: 19
Hang your hat on… your two… losses? They came against the No. 1 and No. 4 teams in our Top 10. The Gators might be undefeated this year if they were, you know, in the ACC.
Forget about… some not-so-great early-season performances. The Gators looked rough at times in escaping victories at Kentucky and against Miami.
They’ll make the playoff if… absolute and complete chaos unfolds and even that might not get the Gators in. A two-loss non-conference champion isn’t getting into the dance this year—or maybe ever, as long as it’s four teams.