One piece of playoff puzzle might have been solved around 7 p.m. Eastern time Saturday.
Alabama improved to 12-0. It did so in typical Alabama fashion. The Crimson Tide crushed Auburn, 52-21, in the Iron Bowl. It rolled up 500 yards. It gave up only 283 yards to the Tigers.
Alabama has hung half-a-hundred on eight opponents this season.
The Crimson Tide has allowed less than 300 yards on nine occasions (including six in a row).
It is averaging 8.04 yards per play. It is giving up 4.42 yards per play.
(And for those wondering about quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s updated passing statistics, behold: 3,189 yards, 36 touchdowns, two interceptions).
Alabama will probably beat Georgia in next week’s SEC title game. But suppose it doesn’t. Even if Clemson and Notre Dame remain undefeated, and even if Georgia leapfrogs the Crimson Tide in the rankings (as it rightfully would in that case), is Nick Saban’s team going to be excluded for someone else?
That was actually a sneaky possibility coming into the week. Maybe a 12-1 Michigan with a Big Ten title would have gotten the nod over an Alabama bunch that lost the SEC championship.
But a 12-1 Oklahoma with a porous defense? A 12-1 Ohio State that led the country in drama and, among high-end teams, had as many wobbly days as anyone?
The SEC title game winner is headed to the playoff. And if Georgia happens to be that team, the runner-up is going to have its named called as a semifinalist as well.
Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish didn’t have the easiest time of it, but they wrapped up a 12-0 regular season with a 24-17 defeat of Southern California. With only two other undefeated power conference teams, it would be a surprise if the Irish don’t land in the top four when the playoff committee selects its semifinalists in a little more than a week.
Clemson. The Tigers (12-0) are a victory away from locking in their spot in the playoff for the fourth year in a row. Clemson rolled up 744 yards (8.1 per play) in a 56-35 defeat of Palmetto State rival South Carolina.
With some help, Clemson might be fine for a semifinal slot, anyway. The Tigers have been the second-best team in the country all season, and have largely dominated in the second half of the season. But just to play it safe, Clemson will hope to regroup on defense (it gave up 600 yards, 510 through the air via Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley) before meeting Pittsburgh in next week’s ACC title game
Ohio State. It’s tempting to think of the Buckeyes as a perfect example of how week to week college football is. In reality, though, it was hard to see its 62-39 shredding of Michigan coming.
The Buckeyes (10-1, 8-1 Big Ten) were far from a juggernaut in the second half of the season. They led Minnesota by six entering the fourth quarter before securing a 30-14 victory. They were humiliated, 49-20, at Purdue. They didn’t finish off Nebraska until the closing minutes of a 36-31 victory. And after slogging past Michigan State, 26-6, they needed overtime to outlast Maryland, 52-51.
And now, Ohio State is a victory over Northwestern and probably a little help away from a playoff berth in a season that was largely uneven before Saturday. Of course, 318 passing yards and five touchdowns from quarterback Dwayne Haskins can go a long way.
Big 12. Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) still requires some help to make it to the playoff, and it’s anyone’s guess whether a defense that ranks 100th nationally in points allowed per game (32.8) would sink the Sooners in a comparison to other potential one-loss teams (and perhaps even a two-loss LSU).
But the conference got its dream conference title game, as the Sooners, 59-56 winners over West Virginia on Friday, secured a berth opposite Texas (9-3, 7-2). It also got a hint of national relevance for its title game, which is more than what the Pac-12 can say.
Random tidbits: This is only the third time Oklahoma and Texas have played twice in a season. With the league’s current divisionless setup, this could become more common in the years to come.
Also, Oklahoma and Texas have met in Dallas every year since 1929. While Arlington, site of the league title game, is just a short freeway drive away, this technically is the first edition of the Red River Whatchamacallit to be played outside of Big D since a 1923 encounter in Austin. (Assuming the Red River Whatchamacallit label can be placed upon a conference title game).
Georgia. The Bulldogs were one of the teams that simply had to take care of business this weekend. Mission accomplished by shrugging off Georgia Tech, 45-21.
Georgia (11-1, 7-1 SEC) had no trouble defending the triple option: Georgia Tech did not score a touchdown on offense till the fourth quarter, after the score reached 45-7, and it mustered only 2.8 yards a carry on the day.
Meanwhile, Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm did as he pleased, completing 13 of 16 passes for 175 yards and four touchdowns. Next up for Georgia is a rematch of last year’s national title game against Alabama. This time, an SEC championship and a spot in the playoff is at stake for Kirby Smart’s team.
Cade Carney and Reggie Gallaspy. Let’s pair a couple potent rushing performances from Tobacco Road into one item, starting with Carney’s stellar day. The Wake Forest tailback rushed 31 times for 223 yards and two touchdowns as the Demon Deacons demolished host Duke, 59-7, to improve to 6-6 and earn a third consecutive bowl trip.
Just down Route 15-501, Gallaspy helped write the latest chapter in N.C. State’s rivalry with North Carolina. The senior had 27 carries for 129 yards and a school-record-tying five touchdowns — including a game-winning 1-yard score in overtime — as the Wolfpack edged the Tar Heels, 34-28.
5-6 teams that won. In addition to Wake Forest, the following teams all earned a chance to extend their season Saturday by improving to 6-6: Baylor, Minnesota, Purdue, Southern Mississippi (in this case, to 6-5), Tulane, Vanderbilt, Wyoming and Texas Christian.
LSU. There were a couple paragraphs all written up to describe how the Tigers, thanks to their continued mastery of Texas A&M, had set themselves up to the beneficiary in case extreme chaos (in the form of Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma all losing) unfolded next week. But don’t take my word for it; LSU’s players gave Coach Ed Orgeron a Gatorade bath in the final minute.
There was reason for it. The Tigers appeared to have picked off a pass and were poised to run out the clock. Only Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond’s knee was down before he threw a wounded duck, and A&M got a reprieve via replay. Technology helped out a few plays later, when it was clear the Aggies completed a spike to stop the clock with a second to play. Quartney Davis used that solitary second to catch a 19-yard touchdown pass, and then it was off to overtime.
And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another.
Texas A&M outlasted LSU, 74-72, in an FBS record-tying seven overtimes, with Kendrick Rogers corralling his third two-point conversion of the marathon extra time more than an hour and a half after Orgeron was doused. In this case, it extinguished LSU’s slim-but-real playoff hopes to cap one of the season’s most memorable games.
Michigan. Lost to Ohio State (again). Gave up 60 points in regulation for the first time ever (Illinois needed three overtimes to get to 65 against the Wolverines in 2010). Remained winless against Urban Meyer-coached Buckeye teams. Had its playoff hopes vaporized. And, not to belabor the point, lot to Ohio State (again).
So, how was your day? Because it’s hard to envision any team enduring a more miserable finish to the regular season than Michigan (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten).
Pac-12. For Utah and Washington fans, Friday night should be fun. There’s a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, heady stuff considering Washington (9-3) hasn’t been there since New Year’s Day 2001 when Marques Tuiasosopo under center, while Utah (8-3 entering Saturday night’s Holy War against Brigham Young) has never rung in the new year in Pasadena.
In terms of playoff impact, it’s meaningless. The Pac-12 will be shut out of the semifinals for the third time in four years, and while Washington State was a long shot to secure a spot in the final four entering the weekend, its 28-15 loss to Washington on the snowy Palouse on Friday finished off the conference’s relevance for yet another season.
Kliff Kingsbury. The Texas Tech coach has hovered right around .500 during his six-year run at his alma mater, which means his job security has been a topic of conversation for much of his tenure. It looked as if the Red Raiders might avoid that talk when they opened 5-2.
That’s not how it turned out.
Texas Tech finished the year on a five-game losing streak, dropping a 35-24 decision to Baylor on Saturday. Kingsbury is 35-40 overall and 19-35 in the Big 12. Texas Tech has gone 3-6 in the conference three years running, and this year’s collapse could precipitate a change for a program that has not done better than 8-5 since showing Mike Leach the door after the 2009 season. Reports had already begun circulating Saturday night that he had been fired.
Florida State. The Seminoles’ 36-year bowl streak is over after a 41-14 loss at home to Florida. Florida State (5-7) had last missed the postseason in 1981, when Bobby Bowden was a mere six seasons into his tenure in Tallahassee.
The streak had some close calls before. In 2009, Bowden’s last season. And especially last year, when the Seminoles sat at both 2-5 and 3-6 before memorably beating a Florida team that was even more lost than they were and then defeating Louisiana-Monroe in a rescheduled game while playing for an interim coach after Jimbo Fisher dashed for College Station.
This time around, Florida was pretty good, a 9-3 team. There isn’t a game to be made up. And the offseason following Willie Taggart’s first season with the Seminoles will be a month longer than anyone would have guessed back in the summer.
correction: A previous version of this story said this year was the first time Oklahoma and Texas played twice in a season.