College football Week 11 roundup
Last week, the college football gods gave us a maelstrom of confusing results, shocking upsets, and left us with a collection of about five teams with good cases for the top three and about seven teams with a good case for the top ten. But of course, there can only be three top-three teams, and there must be ten top-ten teams. Heading into the final stretch of the season, this week provided some clarity.
Our rankings for this week:
1 Georgia (10-0)
2 Ohio State (10-0)
3 Michigan (10-0)
4 Tennessee (9-1)
5 TCU (10-0)
5 UCLA (9-1)
7 USC (9-1)
8 Penn State (8-2)
9 Louisiana State (8-2)
10 Alabama (8-2)
With only two weeks to go in the season, conference championships and playoffs are at the top of everyone’s minds. So let’s break things down by conference.
The situation in the SEC East is simple. Georgia is 10-0, with a 7-0 conference record, which will probably improve to 9-0 by the end of the season. Tennessee, despite a very good year, will likely fall short — even if Georgia were to drop a game, Tennessee, who can boast a 6-1 conference record, would still lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bulldogs after Georgia roundly beat them last week. This means that the SEC East title is likely settled — unless Georgia loses both of their next two games, they will win the division. Similarly, in the West, Louisiana State has a one game edge — and head-to-head tiebreaker — against Ole Miss and Alabama, virtually guaranteeing them the division crown.
Yet, the playoff picture from the SEC looks murkier. If Georgia and LSU meet in the title game, Georgia would probably punch their ticket with a win. But if LSU, who has two losses (one in-conference and one non-conference), were to win, there could still be a case for 12-1 Georgia’s inclusion in the playoff at the expense of 11-2 LSU. There would be precedent for that: In 2016, the playoff committee left 11-2 Big Ten champions Penn State out of the playoff in favor of Ohio State, whose one loss came at the hands of the Nittany Lions. Such a move would be hard to justify, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
The Big Ten picture is much clearer than the SEC. Purdue currently leads the Big Ten West, but just two teams in the division have winning conference records, and the whole division has at least three losses. Whoever wins the division figures to be throttled in the championship game, and if they somehow were to win, no team from the Big Ten West has a chance to make the playoffs anyway.
But in the Big Ten East, Ohio State and Michigan are both 10-0, and the biggest remaining game of the college football regular season will be their annual meeting in Columbus on Nov. 27. The winner of that game is mathematically guaranteed to win the Big Ten East and, with a weak opponent in the West, will probably win the conference. For that reason, Michigan at Ohio State is, much like last year, considered to be a de facto playoff game.
The only remaining question is whether the loser will make it in, too. Last year, Michigan won and Ohio State was left out, but in that case, both teams had already sustained a loss, meaning that there wasn’t much of a chance for a two-loss Ohio State to make it in. This year, the loser will likely only have one loss, making the case for inclusion strong for them, too - depending on what happens in other conferences.
The Big 12 is, this year, perhaps the weirdest conference in college football. The first and second place teams in the conference will meet in the championship, and while TCU has sealed the first spot, no less than five of the conference’s nine other teams still have a chance to win the second. If TCU wins, they will likely be undefeated, and there will be little case to leave an undefeated conference champion out of the playoff. But if one of the other teams wins, TCU, who has yet to face a difficult opponent all year, will likely, although not certainly, be left out. And the winner, who would have sustained at least three losses (as all non-TCU Big 12 teams have), would be out too.
The ACC has the dubious honor of having no teams in the top ten, and it’s unlikely that any team from the conference will make the playoffs. Clemson, undefeated until last week, had a shot, but they were rolled over by Notre Dame, likely ending their hopes. They have sealed the Atlantic division, though, and will play for the ACC title. The Coastal division is not yet decided, but North Carolina looks likely to win it.
The Pac-12 is the last conference which has a chance to send a team to the playoff, and it has three — Oregon, USC, and UCLA— who are all playing strong football. Each of the three has just one conference loss, but Oregon has a disadvantage, as it suffered an additional non-confrence loss (a blowout to Georgia in Week 1). The top two teams will meet in the conference championship, and the winner of that game will have a very good playoff chance. Pay particular attention to USC’s game against UCLA next week. The loser will be down at two losses, while the winner stands a very good chance at a playoff berth if they win the championship.