and then there were nine
By Simon Carroll
Last week, Si declared just eleven teams in with a chance of making the College Football Playoffs. With some huge matchups in week 12, how many fell by the wayside?
Not many as it turns out. With Baylor and Oklahoma facing off at least one team was going to bite the bullet in their pursuit of a Natty. One other team were dealt a loss that effectively ended their hopes. So as the season heads into week thirteen, nine programs are still alive and kicking. Here’s how the runners and riders fared on Saturday:
FORKED – #8 Minnesota Golden Gophers (lost vs #20 Iowa, 23-19)
Row the boat home Gophers. Despite Iowa being slightly favoured by Vegas this defeat of Minnesota felt like an upset and a real disappointment from PJ Fleck and his undefeated program. After the huge victory over Penn State last week this was always a trap game against the Hawkeyes, who got on top early and held on for the win. AJ Epenesa had his best game of the season and pressured quarterback Tanner Morgan from whistle to whistle. And in a hostile environment it took until the end of the second quarter for The Gophers to find any rhythm on offense.
The second half was a different story. Minnesota came out hot and impatient. Morgan found Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman frequently to move the chains, and clawed the game back to within one score. But Fleck will have to do some self-analysis after running onto the field and costing his team the football with a turnover penalty. He also wasted valuable time on the clock on a late drive and squandering a timeout. Ultimately The Hawkeyes held on, and whilst Minnesota still have a chance at Big Ten glory, their dreams of the playoffs are over.
ALIVE – #2 Ohio State Buckeyes (won vs Rutgers, 56-21)
I mean, they were playing Rutgers. If they didn’t lay down a fifty burger on the Big Ten whooping boys then people would start to ask questions. Nothing more or less than the playoff committee would have expected. We’ll know more about The Buckeyes after they’ve played Penn State in a critical Big Ten matchup on Saturday. Speaking of whom…
ALIVE – #9 Penn State Nittany Lions (won vs Indiana, 34-27)
BARELY alive. Like on life support. We know Indiana like to give the big boys of the Big Ten a tough game, but this was far too close for comfort for a program coming off a critical loss to Minnesota last week. James Franklin’s team cannot afford to slip up again this year, and even then they need other teams to lose, like Georgia, Utah, Oregon and Oklahoma. Their one saving grace would be to shock the world and beat Ohio State in The Horseshoe this weekend, before going on to win the conference. If they manage that, they give themselves a glimmer of hope.
FORKED – #13 Baylor Bears.
ALIVE – #10 Oklahoma Sooners
(Oklahoma 34-31 Baylor)
28-3 up (where have we seen that lead before) against the reigning Big 12 champions, The Baylor Bears were on their way to a historic victory. But in one of the greatest comebacks in College Football history, The Oklahoma Sooners scored an unanswered 24 points in the second half to snatch the win and flip the playoff fortunes of both these programs. Baylor had confounded expectations all year, going undefeated until Saturday. And they flew out of the traps against a shocked Sooners side, forcing three turnovers in the first half as they smothered an Oklahoma offense missing their star receiver CeeDee Lamb. The fairytale was set to continue…
…until Jalen Hurts remembered he was a very good quarterback. Ball security plagued him in the first thirty minutes but he came out like a man possessed in the second half. Three touchdowns later and he had led his team to the largest comeback in school history. More importantly, their playoff aspirations looked dead in the water. Now, they haven’t been as strong since before they lost to Kansas State in week 9. The Sooners more than likely need other results to go their way, but they still have a pulse. As for Matt Rhule and Baylor, it’s been a phenomenal season. A top 4 ranking wasn’t to be, but they’re still in a good spot to play Oklahoma once more for the Big 12 Championship.
ALIVE – #3 Clemson Tigers (won vs Wake Forest, 52-3)
Despite starting off slowly by their own standards, Clemson have grown into their season and the reigning champions are looking a formidable giant once more. Wake Forest are a good football team and have has a strong season by their own standards. And maybe if they had faced the Tigers in week 2 this would have been a lot closer. But they were torn apart by a combination of Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins and Travis Ettienne. The ACC is child’s play for Dabo Swinney’s team. Despite being ranked just third their grip on a playoff spot is stronger than anyone else’s.
ALIVE – #1 LSU Tigers (won vs Ole Miss, 58-37)
One week removed from that amazing victory in Tuscaloosa, LSU keep on rolling. Joe Burrow may have sewn up the Heisman Trophy in the first half of this one and The Rebels just could not keep up with him. Voters may be slightly concerned with some defensive fragility but, let’s face it, it’s the difference between being ranked first or second at this point. A surprising defeat notwithstanding, their destiny will be confirmed in the SEC championship game against Georgia. They might even sneak in with a loss.
ALIVE – #4 Georgia Bulldogs (won vs #12 Auburn, 21-14)
Nobody did their playoff hopes more good in week 12 than Georgia, who prevailed in the battle of two elite defenses against Auburn. Many questioned whether they should have been ranked above Alabama after last week, so a vital victory over a team ranked #12 before kickoff will be a huge boost to The Bulldogs. Jake Fromm hasn’t really lit it up this season like many thought he would, but he could be forgiven in this one. Auburn’s defense came to play, and despite being 21-0 down nearly took the game to overtime. Georgia held on and booked their spot in the SEC championship game, which they likely need to win to make the playoffs.
ALIVE – #5 Alabama Crimson Tide (won vs Mississippi State, 38-7)
I’m not sure you will see a more costly victory by any team all year. Fresh off their defeat to LSU last week, Alabama were taking their frustration out on The Bulldogs in typical Nick Saban fashion. In an attempt to show their dominance and keep themselves firmly in the playoff committee’s thoughts, The Tide were keen to run up the score. Tua Tagovailoa was having a monster game and managed to convince Saban to keep him in for one more drive. It was a decision their head coach will regret for a long time.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know what happened next. Tua severely injured his hip being tackled by two State defenders. Crying out in agony as medical staff tried to move him onto the cart, his injury (still not fully disclosed) will end his season. It may be so bad his career is in jeopardy. With a litany of other ailments during his time at Alabama his NFL Draft status is unsure, and we wait for further news on one of College Football’s most talented stars.
For Alabama, it’s an unmitigated disaster. Whilst the playoff committee will base their rankings on performance so far, a little part of them will wonder how The Crimson Tide will fare without their superstar quarterback. With Tua out and Mac Jones in, Alabama scored just three more points all game on Saturday. Aside from trying to prove their worth, they also have a tricky trip to Auburn in the Iron Bowl in two weeks time. They’re alive, and still have a strong case. But the road ahead is far from easy.
ALIVE – #6 Oregon Ducks (won vs Arizona, 34-6)
They often play late at night, so it’s easy to forget about the PAC-12. That, and the fact they usually beat each other up so badly that no team from this conference is able to become playoff relevant. But quietly, sneakily, two teams are stating their case. Firstly, Oregon; The Ducks started slow out of the blocks this year with a slim defeat on neutral to Auburn. But since then they’ve won every single game. Not only that, but that loss to Auburn looks better each time The Tigers win a big game or take an SEC heavyweight close. On Saturday they did a professional job of dispatching an unpredictable Arizona side with ease. Could Justin Herbert sign off his college career with a spot in the playoffs? They’d have to win out, but yeah – it’s very much possible.
ALIVE – #7 Utah Utes (won vs UCLA, 49-3)
The other PAC-12 team making a run is Utah. Whilst their one loss this year (USC) isn’t as glamorous as Oregon’s defeat to Auburn, they showed on Saturday they’re determined to be a part of the equation. They stomped all over UCLA, a team that was able to make the PAC-12 title game with a win. The Utes are stacked with talent on both sides of the ball and would be a difficult opponent for anyone. They likely play Oregon in the conference final, and like their counterparts cannot afford to lose again this year.
Feature Image Credit: Associated Press
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.