Welcome back to the playoff big board! One fringe contender fell by the wayside and one more very nearly did, and a couple of serious contenders looked sluggish before taking care of business. You know who didn’t fall into either category? Yeah, you know who…
The astute among you may notice that last week’s post was for week 11 and this one is for week 13. I had treated the first weekend of the season, with just a handful of games, as week 0. Pretty much everywhere else counts it as week 1; I don’t like it, but to avoid confusion I’ll give in. There are hills worth dying on for principle, and then there’s this.
Our board will consist of all ranked undefeated teams and all ranked one-loss Power 5 teams from the the playoff committee rankings. I define “resume wins” for our purposes as wins over currently-ranked teams; it gets too complicated to project whether teams will drop out of or climb into the rankings as the year progresses.
Resume wins and possible resume wins are listed in schedule order. The “538 Table-Running Probability” is taken from the nifty predictor tool available here. I don’t have a preference for 538’s table over S&P+ win probabilities – I think both methodologies are sound. 538’s presentation is just a lot easier to work with versus pulling up individual S&P+ win probabilities for everyone.
Today’s Playoff Group
#1 Alabama, 11-0
Next game: vs. Auburn
Resume wins to date: vs. #22 Texas A&M, at #7 LSU, vs. #18 Mississippi State
Possible resume wins: #5 Georgia (SEC championship game)
538 table-running probability: 57%
Alabama, shockingly, had a legitimate struggle on their hands against the Citadel. The underdogs were tied 10-10 at the half and missed a field goal on the first drive of the second half. There were thisclose to having the lead. Against Alabama. In the third quarter.
Alabama next draws Auburn for rivalry week. I can’t see a path for Auburn to pull out a win, but I would’ve had you committed if you predicted Alabama would be tied with the Citadel this past weekend. So who knows?
#2 Clemson, 11-0
Next game: vs. South Carolina
Resume wins to date: at #22 Texas A&M, vs. #20 Syracuse
Possible resume wins: #24 Pitt (ACC championship game)
538 table-running probability: 86%
A week after overcoming a sluggish start to slowly pull away from Boston College, Clemson did the same thing against Duke. The Blue Devils were up 6-0 through one quarter and down just 14-6 at the half; Clemson won the second half 21-0 to put it away. Are these games the mark of a dominant team that got bored towards the end of the season? Or of a team that is maybe not quite as dominant as they seemed earlier and is vulnerable now? We probably won’t learn anything this weekend as Clemson faces a decidedly mediocre South Carolina in their annual rivalry game. A vastly improved Pitt lurks in the ACC title game, though, and could make things interesting.
#3 Notre Dame, 11-0
Next game: at USC
Resume wins to date: vs. #4 Michigan, vs. #24 Pitt, at #19 Northwestern, vs. #20 Syracuse (in NYC)
Possible resume wins: None
538 table-running probability: 82%
You might want to sit down for this one… Notre Dame made a statement in November. I know, I know, it sounds crazy. But it really happened! In their 11th game of the season, the Irish manhandled a badly overmatched top 15 team. Syracuse’s last two possessions, both in the fourth quarter, down 29-0 and 36-0, featured their first team offense against Notre Dame’s second team defense. On those two drives they gained 127 yards on 29 plays, for a sad 4.4 yards per play. Through the previous three quarters, they had gained 107 yards on 44 plays, for a downright morose 2.4 yards per play. Overall the Orange managed a paltry 3.21 yards per play, which is the second lowest non-weather-assisted number of the Kelly era behind only the 3.13 given up to 2015 Texas. If you’re wondering, 2014 Stanford (3.01 in heavy freezing rain) and 2016 NC State (3.05 IN A BLOODY HURRICANE) are lower.
The dominating win over Syracuse combined with late surges by Northwestern and Pitt give Notre Dame four wins over currently-ranked teams, more than any other team in the country. Oklahoma, Wazzu, and UCF have one. Clemson, Michigan, and Georgia each have two. Alabama has three. A matchup with a floundering USC program that will likely be in the market for a new coach a week from now is the only thing that stands between Notre Dame and a playoff berth. I almost feel sorry for the Men of Troy… Almost.
#4 Michigan, 10-1
Next game: at #10 Ohio State
Resume wins to date: at #19 Northwestern, vs. #12 Penn State
Possible resume wins: at #10 Ohio State, vs. #19 Northwestern (Big Ten championship game)
The one loss: at #3 Notre Dame (never not funny)
538 table-running probability: 44%
For the second straight week and third time in the last four games, Michigan mucked around with an inferior opponent for a while before eventually pulling away. Rutgers, who is on an express train to 1-11, only kept it competitive for about 20 minutes last week. Indiana isn’t good but they’re better than Rutgers, and accordingly, they held a 17-15 lead at halftime and hit a field goal to pull within 28-20 with just six minutes to play. I don’t think Ohio State is any good this year, but man, I’m not sure that Michigan is as good as their ranking either. Will this be the week that finally bites the Wolverines in the tuchus?
In The Conversation
#5 Georgia, 10-1
Next game: vs. Georgia Tech
Resume wins to date: vs. #11 Florida (in Jacksonville), at #15 Kentucky
Possible resume wins: vs. #1 Alabama (SEC championship game)
The one loss: at #7 LSU
538 table-running probability: 33%
A week after clobbering Auburn, Georgia looked a little sleepy against UMass. True, they scored 66, but allowing 27 to a near-FCS-level team raises an eyebrow. Most likely it was a sleepwalk in an essential scrimmage, and they’ll come out and paste Georgia Tech at home this week. They’re already into the SEC title game and have been for a couple of weeks now.
#6 Oklahoma, 10-1
Next game: at #13 West Virginia
Resume wins to date: at #25 Iowa State
Possible resume wins: at #13 West Virginia, Big 12 title game opponent
The one loss: vs. #14 Texas
538 table-running probability: 36%
Oklahoma’s last three weeks: Beat Texas Tech 51-46, beat Oklahoma State 48-47, beat Kansas 55-40. Those teams are 5-6, 6-5, and 3-8. They now travel to West Virginia, who is probably going to be pretty ticked off after their slim playoff hopes were dashed by Okie Light. As noted in here last week (when we presciently told you to watch out for Okie Light), West Virginia is a different team on the road and at home this year. Buckle up.
#8 Washington State, 10-1
Next game: vs. #16 Washington
Resume wins to date: vs. #17 Utah
Possible resume wins: vs. #16 Washington, Pac 12 South winner
The one loss: at USC
538 table-running probability: 32%
Wazzu just punked Arizona in a game that wasn’t as close as the 69-28 final would indicate – it was 55-14 AT HALFTIME. I mean, have some mercy, Dread Pirate Leach. Their schedule has worked out very favorably, but even so, they’re a stupidly bad no-targeting call away from being 11-0 themselves. They’ll get a chance to put an exclamation point on their regular season in the Apple Cup this week, which is at Pullman. Arrrr, mateys!
#9 UCF, 10-0
Next game: at South Florida
Resume wins to date: vs. #24 Pitt
Possible resume wins: American West division winner
538 table-running probability: 61%
UCF dominated then-#24 Cincinnati 38-13 this past weekend in their desperate bid to make a strong enough statement to get into the playoff. The reality is that, with their strength of schedule, they need a boatload of help to make it work. I understand why they’re frustrated, but the size of the chip on their shoulder now has taken them from “lovable underdogs” to “team everyone wants to see lose so they shut up already.” They’re not likely to lose until bowl season at least, but the college football world awaits nonetheless.
On the upside, they finally moved up!
#10 Ohio State, 10-1
Next game: vs. #4 Michigan
Resume wins to date: at #12 Penn State
Possible resume wins: vs. #4 Michigan, Big Ten West Winner
The one loss: at Purdue
538 table-running probability: 35%
The Buckeyes came so, so close to disaster Saturday, squeaking past Maryland 52-51 in overtime. Going first in overtime, Ohio State had to convert on fourth down before eventually scoring. When the Terps had their turn, QB Tyrell Pigrome missed an open Jeshaun Jones in the end zone on the would-be game winning two point try in the first extra session, and that was it. Of particular concern for Buckeye fans is that their defense allowed Anthony McFarland to run for 298 yards at more than double his yards-per-carry number in the season’s first ten games. Also of concern is that, while Maryland only completed seven passes on the day, they went for 28.0 yards per completion.
They have a lot to clean up before they face Michigan this weekend, in a matchup that will likely break their streak of 51 consecutive games as the betting favorite – Michigan opened as a 3.5 point favorite and it has already slid up to 4 points. I can almost hear Meyer’s aneurysm from here.
Off the Board
#13 West Virginia is out barring major chaos thanks to their dramatic, literal last-second loss to Oklahoma State. They’re still very much alive for the Big 12 title, but with two losses they would need an unreasonable amount of help in a very short amount of time to get in.