When Mercer, The Citadel, and Louisiana Monroe headline top-six matchups, you know it’s a boring weekend in college football.
Such was the case in Week 12, which also featured No. 3 Miami (10-0) overcoming a pair of 14-point deficits against unranked Virginia, No. 8 Notre Dame (9-2) surviving Navy 24-17, and No. 9 Ohio State (9-2) trouncing 2-9 Illinois in J.T. Barrett’s final game at the Shoe.
Not exactly an inspiring Saturday slate.
Fortunately, that will change this weekend. No. 1 Alabama (11-0) travels to No. 6 Auburn, No. 2 Clemson (10-1) travels to Columbia to play South Carolina (8-3), and Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor to take on No. 24 Michigan (8-3), among other marquee showdowns.
Here are my top 10 teams entering the final week of the regular season:
1) Alabama (11-0)
This will be far and away the Tide’s toughest test of the season. There’s a sense that Alabama will make the playoff even if it loses to Auburn. Well, I’m not so sure. Ohio State made the playoff as an 11-1 non-conference champion last year because it had three wins over top-eight teams, including two on the road, including a 21-point win over the Big 12 champion. What’s Alabama’s best win this year? A nail-biter at No. 16 Mississippi State?
That’s not impressive.
Let’s just say Auburn wins out. The committee has never put in a two-loss team OR two teams from the same conference. Now we think the committee will do both for a mediocre SEC? I just don’t see it.
If the Tide lose at Jordan-Hare by a field goal, maybe they squeak into the playoff. But they’re going to need help.
2) Miami (10-0)
The Hurricanes avoided disaster against Virginia on Saturday, overcoming a 28-14 third-quarter deficit to win 44-28. If the Canes wins out, they’re in the playoff. But if they lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship, nothing is guaranteed – especially if Alabama, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin win out.
3) Oklahoma (10-1)
Baker Mayfield is the likely Heisman Trophy winner, but he isn’t exactly winning friends and influencing people along the way. Saturday’s crotch-grab and cuss-out session in Lawrence aren’t exactly what you’re looking for in a leader. Still, Mayfield’s talent is unquestionable. The Sooners are two wins from the playoff.
4) Wisconsin (11-0)
I’ve said all along that if the Badgers go undefeated, they’re in the playoff. Nothing has changed. There isn’t a lot of style to this team, but there’s a hell of a lot of substance. From stout running to disciplined defense, you know exactly what you’re getting from Paul Chryst’s bunch. Can the Badgers hang with, say, Alabama? I don’t know. But if they beat Ohio State, they’re absolutely deserving of a playoff spot – and they would absolutely get it.
5) Clemson (10-1)
How the committee had Clemson No. 2 this week is a bit of a mystery. The 14-6 win over Auburn looks better and better, but the win at Louisville does not and the win at Virginia Tech is meh. Keep in mind that Syracuse (4-7), since beating Clemson, is 0-4 and has allowed 120 points in its last two games. The ACC Championship is a de facto playoff quarterfinal. It isn’t necessarily must-win for Miami, but it’s almost certainly must-win for Clemson.
6) Auburn (9-2)
This is pretty simple. If the Tigers win out, they’re in the playoff. If they lose to Alabama, they’re done. Any questions?
7) Georgia (10-1)
Georgia should handle a Georgia Tech (5-5) squad that has lost four six. The Bulldogs are one of three SEC teams that controls its own destiny.
8) Ohio State (9-2)
Ohio State clinched the Big Ten East on Saturday but must beat Michigan and Wisconsin to have a shot at the playoff. A Big Ten championship and a pair of top-five wins would certainly bolster the Buckeyes’ resume, but would that overcome the blowout loss at Iowa? Maybe, maybe not.
Given the chaos of the 2017 season, however, don’t be surprised if the committee throws its hands in the air Dec. 3 and simply puts in the four conference champions (SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten) – regardless of who they are.
9) TCU (9-2)
A win over 1-10 Baylor this Friday would give TCU a second crack at Oklahoma, this time on a neutral field. Would that make a difference? It’s possible. If you want to beat Oklahoma, you need a defense. TCU is the only team in the Big 12 that has that.
10) Notre Dame (9-2)
Notre Dame’s inclusion in the top 10 shows just how out of it the Pac-12 is. A win at Stanford would give the Irish their second 10-win season in three years. A high-profile bowl awaits; it just won’t be for the playoff.
Tony Meale is a Chicago-based author, journalist, and content creator who uses words to inform, educate, entertain, and inspire. A Cincinnati native, he has a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Louis University and a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio University. He began his career as a high school sports reporter before writing and publishing 2012’s “The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron,” a behind-the-scenes look at the greatest sports story never told. He’s been creating written and spoken content ever since.