It was a good run, Alabama. Hell, it was more of a good run. It was a great run.
The No. 5 Crimson Tide’s 48-45 loss to No. 15 Auburn on Saturday dropped Alabama to 10-2 and out of the College Football Playoff. Barring some last weekend insanity it will be the first time in the College Football Playoff era that Alabama hasn’t been one of the four teams playing for the national championship.
When the penultimate set of College Football Playoff rankings come out on Tuesday, Alabama will be closer to No. 10 than it is to No. 4. And the door will be wide open for someone to seize the fourth and final playoff spot.
At the moment, the top three spots look fairly locked in. No. 1 Ohio State, which easily dismantled No. 13 Michigan, could be in the playoff even with a loss to No. 12 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. No. 2 LSU has No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship game and the Tigers are considerable favorites. No. 3 Clemson will play Virginia in the ACC title game and is a huge favorite.
If LSU wins, Georgia drops out of the top four. And opens the door for a 12-1 Big 12 or Pac-12 champion to take the fourth spot. But will that team be Baylor, Oklahoma or Utah?
Below are the playoff cases for all three of the teams assuming an LSU win over Georgia on Dec. 7. They’re listed in the order we think they’ll be ranked in on Tuesday along with our estimated playoff odds for each of the three teams.
No. 7 Baylor
11-1 (8-1 Big 12)
Best win so far: 45-27 over Oklahoma State (Oct. 19)
Remaining opponent: Oklahoma (Big 12 championship game)
Why it has a playoff chance: The committee suddenly respects the Bears and we’re wondering if that newfound respect will carry over for the next couple weeks. The Bears jumped from No. 14 to No. 9 after beating Texas in Week 13 and should move up two more spots after beating Kansas 61-6 on Saturday.
The Bears looked dominant on Saturday in a 61-6 win over Kansas, but Kansas is also at the bottom of the Big 12 again this season. That’s not much of an exclamation point but it may matter late in the season if the committee thinks Baylor is playing its best football.
And that best football case becomes really convincing with a win over Oklahoma. Baylor was up 28-3 before losing 34-31 to the Sooners two weeks ago. If it wins the rematch in convincing fashion, it has a serious playoff case.
Why it doesn’t: The wins over Texas and Kansas were the first time Baylor recorded back-to-back conference wins by more than one possession. The Bears’ non-conference schedule also consisted of Stephen F. Austin, Texas-San Antonio, and Rice. That’s nice for the state of Texas but not impressive for the College Football Playoff committee in the slightest.
Playoff odds: 25 percent. Baylor’s going to be an underdog against the Sooners in the Big 12 title game and is fighting an uphill battle with its non-conference schedule.
No. 6 Oklahoma
11-1 (8-1 Big 12)
Best win so far: 34-31 over Baylor (Nov. 16)
Remaining opponent: Baylor (Big 12 championship game)
Why it has a chance: Oklahoma is the biggest name among Baylor and Utah and that could matter for something. You can’t entirely discount historical cachet and name recognition even on a committee made up of people who aren’t supposed to consider those factors.
The Sooners also have the best offense of the three teams on this list and the only team with a bonafide Heisman contender in Jalen Hurts. Oklahoma’s defense is also better than it was in 2018 when the Sooners made the playoffs and lost to Alabama in the Orange Bowl. The offense hasn’t slipped much either.
Why it doesn’t: Oklahoma’s defense doesn’t hold a candle to Utah’s and the Sooners have hardly been impressive since beating West Virginia 52-14 on Oct. 19. Dare we say it, Oklahoma had been looking a little like Baylor did until the last few weeks and making games against inferior opponents a little too close for comfort.
Playoff odds: 40 percent. While Oklahoma isn’t our pick to make the playoff if it ends up with the same 12-1 record as Utah, we’re not discounting the weight that the committee would give to Oklahoma beating No. 7 Baylor in the Big 12 title game given the committee’s new recognition of Baylor.
Oregon losing to Arizona State in Week 13 could end up being Utah’s playoff downfall. And that stinks because it has nothing to do with the Utes.
No. 5 Utah
11-1 (8-1 Pac-12)
Best win so far: 33-28 over Washington (Nov. 2)
Remaining opponent: Oregon (Pac-12 championship game)
Why it has a chance: Utah is the best team from one of the deepest conferences in the country. The Pac-12 ended up with a bunch of decent teams and Utah took care of business against most of them. That Washington game was the only time Utah beat a conference opponent by fewer than 18 points and the Utes have one of the country’s most ferocious defenses.
The offense isn’t bad either. Tyler Huntley is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country and the rushing offense averages five yards a carry.
A dominating win over a No. 14 Oregon team with an NFL QB in Justin Herbert could separate the Utes from whichever team emerges as the Big 12 champion.
Why it doesn’t: Like the two Big 12 teams on this list, Utah doesn’t really have a marquee win on the list. The Pac-12 was a deep conference but only had two other ranked teams in last week’s CFP top 25. There’s nothing Utah can point to on its schedule to separate itself from the Big 12 champion if they both have identical records.
Utah also isn’t as sexy as Oklahoma is. The Sooners are like a rattlesnake that strikes swiftly. The Utes can look like a laborious python. Will style points really matter? The committee has shown it’s willing to make big week-to-week adjustments. And we have a nagging feeling that a top-10 win by the Big 12 champion could make it easy to overlook Utah.
Playoff odds: 35 percent. Look, we think Utah is a better team than both Oklahoma and Baylor. The Utes would beat both teams on a neutral field. But we’re hung up on that possibility of the committee finding the winner of a Big 12 championship game more palatable as a playoff team than a Utah who beats an Oregon team that’s outside the top 10. Unless Utah really puts it on the Ducks, that is. A blowout on Friday night would make it nearly impossible for the committee to overlook the Utes.
Here are this week’s winners and losers:
No. 2 LSU: A year after losing to Texas A&M in a game that went into seven overtimes and had a postgame fight, LSU wasn’t going to let the Aggies have a nice, leisurely trip to Baton Rouge. No, LSU was going to beat the Aggies into submission. LSU scored on its first five possessions en route to a 50-7 beatdown. LSU’s struggles on defense were part of the reason it fell behind Ohio State in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Tigers then responded with their best effort of the year, limiting the Aggies to just 169 yards of offense.
Kentucky QB/WR Lynn Bowden: After injuries to Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith, Kentucky had to get creative on offense and went to wide receiver Lynn Bowden as a running quarterback. Results have been up-and-down for Bowden, who played QB in high school, but the senior had an incredible outing on Saturday against rival Louisville. Bowden rushed for a ridiculous 284 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries. As a team, Kentucky had a whopping 517 yards on the ground — a school record — in a 45-13 win that assured a winning record for 2019.
Clemson RB Travis Etienne: Clemson wasn’t faced with much resistance in a 38-3 win over South Carolina, and star running back Travis Etienne accounted for two touchdowns. With those two scores, Etienne set an ACC record with 53 rushing touchdowns for his career. And Etienne is just a junior. He has had an incredible career for the Tigers.
Wisconsin QB Jack Coan: When you think of the Wisconsin offense, running back Jonathan Taylor is the first name that comes to mind. So when the Badgers visited Minnesota with the Big Ten West title on the line, the Gophers keyed in on Taylor, one of the nation’s leading rushers. That attention on Taylor allowed junior quarterback Jack Coan to have one of the best games of his career. Coan completed 15-of-22 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-17 victory. Coan has now thrown for 2,307 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 72.3 percent of his passes and is a big reason UW is headed back to the Big Ten title game.
Indiana: Indiana got to eight wins in dramatic fashion, topping rival Purdue 44-41 in double-overtime. With the victory, Indiana reached eight wins and clinched a winning record in Big Ten play for the first time since 1993. The Hoosiers are headed to a bowl game after going 5-7 in their first two seasons with Tom Allen as head coach. Now Allen can get IU to the nine-win mark for the first time since 1967 and just the second time in program history.
Chris Klieman: The Kansas State fans who were upset that the school hired Chris Klieman away from North Dakota State have to feel pretty silly now. The Wildcats, in their first season after Bill Snyder’s second retirement, knocked off Iowa State 27-17 at home on Saturday to improve to 8-4 entering bowl play. Klieman had no FBS experience entering the season, but has the Wildcats playing at a high level with the upset of Oklahoma being the signature moment of his first season in Manhattan.
Air Force: Air Force is riding an eight-game winning streak into the postseason. The Falcons improved to 10-2 by beating Wyoming 20-6 on Saturday while limiting the Cowboys to just 225 yards of offense in the process. With the victory, Air Force reached the 10-win mark for the third time under Troy Calhoun. The Falcons haven’t gotten to 11 wins since going 12-1 in 1998.
Central Michigan: A year after enduring a miserable 1-11 season, Central Michigan is going to the MAC championship game. CMU, in its first season with former Florida coach Jim McElwain running the program, clinched the MAC West title by destroying Toledo 49-7 on Friday. CMU got help from Northern Illinois earlier in the week to clinch the division too. Western Michigan would have clinched the West with a win over NIU, but NIU’s 17-14 victory on Tuesday opened the door for the Chippewas, who are now 8-4 on the year.
Kent State: One of the more underrated coaching jobs in the country in 2019 came from Kent State’s Sean Lewis, who has the Golden Flashes bowl eligible in just his second season on the job. Kent State won a combined seven games in its previous three seasons but managed to get to 6-6 by winning its final three games including a 34-26 road upset over Eastern Michigan on Friday. There are more bowl-eligible teams than available bowl slots, so it remains to be seen if Kent State gets an invitation. Nonetheless, the team deserves credit for an impressive turnaround — especially when you consider the program has played in just three bowl games in its existence.
Nebraska: An extremely disappointing season for Nebraska ended with, what else, a disappointment. The Huskers dropped their season finale at home to Iowa to drop to 5-7 on the season — making it three seasons in a row without a bowl trip for the program. The Huskers battled back from a 24-10 halftime deficit but ended up losing 27-24 on a field goal as time expired. Scott Frost is now 9-15 in his two seasons at his alma mater and does not appear to be very close to having his program in position to contend in the Big Ten West.
TCU: The Horned Frogs will not play in a bowl game for just the third time in 19 seasons under coach Gary Patterson. TCU capped off a rough month of November by losing 20-17 to a mediocre West Virginia in its season finale Friday to fall to 5-7 and snap a streak of five straight seasons with a bowl game. TCU led most of the second half but the Mountaineers scored the winning touchdown with 2:10 to play. On the bright side, TCU seems to have Max Duggan in place as its quarterback of the future.
Washington State: The Apple Cup was a rough outing for Washington State once again. The Cougars fell 31-13 to rival Washington on Friday night, marking their seventh straight loss in the series. Most of those losses have not been competitive. Since WSU upset the Huskies in 2012 in Mike Leach’s first season, the Cougars have lost the next seven games by an average of 21.3 points per game. Washington State dropped to 6-6 with the loss. Leach was in a feisty mood afterward.
Miami: Miami has had a really strange season in Year 1 under Manny Diaz. After a 2-3 start, the Hurricanes won four of their next five games to get to 6-4. After that, Miami looked like it may have turned a corner and would finish the season strong. Instead, the Hurricanes got upset in back-to-back weeks. Last week’s 30-24 to Florida International was a disaster. Saturday’s 27-17 loss to Duke — a team that had lost five straight — wasn’t much better. The Hurricanes had only 259 yards of offense in the loss and now limp into a bowl game at 6-6.
Florida State: Florida State could be in for back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1975 and 1976. Thanks to a 40-17 loss to rival Florida, FSU finished the regular season at 6-6 and will now need to win its bowl game to finish above .500. The Seminoles had been playing hard under interim coach Odell Haggins but the Gators were just too much to handle. UF outscored FSU 24-0 in the third quarter and never looked back.
Illinois: Illinois may be a surprise bowl team but it put forth a really rough effort in a loss to lowly Northwestern on Saturday. The Illini were playing without starting quarterback Brandon Peters but that doesn’t excuse losing by 19 points to your rival at home. Illinois mustered only 160 yards of offense while allowing Northwestern — a team with one of the worst offenses in the country — to go for 433 yards. Illinois was especially putrid on the ground, gaining just 14 rushing yards on 26 carries.
Wake Forest: Wake Forest is dealing with some unfortunate injuries, but a season that had a chance to be one of the best in program history has deteriorated down the stretch. The Demon Deacons started the season 7-1 only to lose three of their last four games. That includes a Saturday loss to Syracuse. Wake forced overtime by hitting a field goal as time expired in regulation and then had a chance to win with a touchdown. But after Syracuse kicked a field goal to open OT, Demon Deacons receiver Kendall Hinton had the ball stripped by Trill Williams. Williams then returned it 94 yards for a score and a 39-30 final margin.
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