The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Three teams can count on a spot in the playoff. Then there’s Oklahoma and Ohio State.

College football winners and losers: Championship week edition

Nick Basquine and Oklahoma are still in the race. (Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press)
Placeholder while article actions load

Ohio State? Or Oklahoma?

As college football’s playoff committee concludes its deliberations Sunday, there’s basically one overarching question to answer.

Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame all made it through the season unscathed. They figure to be the top three seeds when the semifinal matchups are set.

That leaves Oklahoma and Ohio State, the only other Power Five programs with fewer than two losses. Both happen to be conference champions.

If the committee sticks to its midweek evaluation, the choice seems clear. Oklahoma, which beat Texas in the Big 12 title game, entered the weekend ahead of Ohio State in the playoff rankings. The Buckeyes dismissed Northwestern, 45-24, in the Big Ten championship, but to make the playoff it would have to hopscotch a Big 12 champion that did little to deserve such a fate.

Not that it hasn’t happened before.

Here’s guessing Oklahoma gets the nod. All of the Sooners’ pluses — the dominant offense, the quality victories — remain. They even avenged their lone loss, which came by a field goal against Texas (9-4) back in October, to close out the season.

Oklahoma beats Texas — with defense — to make playoff case

Likewise, Ohio State didn’t so greatly overwhelm Northwestern as to wipe its shortcomings away. Namely, the Buckeyes still got drilled in October by a Purdue team that finished 6-6. They also needed overtime to finish off a Maryland team en route to a 5-7 record.

Oklahoma didn’t do much to suggest it shouldn’t be a playoff team, and Ohio State didn’t put together so thorough a performance it would be impossible to ignore. In an autumn in which the status quo largely defined things, the sport got an appropriate conference championship weekend to cap the regular season.

Complete FBS scoreboard for Week 14


Ohio State. There’s still hope in Columbus after a 45-24 defeat of Northwestern in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes (12-1) did what they were supposed to, pulling away from the Wildcats (8-5) in the second half to at least make some sort of case for the last playoff berth.

Maybe it’s just a flicker of a hope. The Buckeyes didn’t exactly dominate even as quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw for 499 yards and five touchdowns, and a victory over Northwestern wasn’t going to help Ohio State as much as a victory over Texas likely boosts Oklahoma. But at least Ohio State forced the selection committee into a less clear-cut decision than it would have faced with a Buckeye loss.

Clemson. It was business as usual in the ACC title game. The Tigers crushed Pittsburgh, 42-10, holding the Panthers to just 200 yards on the night.

It’s the fourth consecutive ACC championship for Clemson and, at 13-0, the program’s fourth playoff berth in a row is certain to follow Sunday.

Alabama. The Crimson Tide (13-0) rallied to score the final 21 points in a 35-28 victory over Georgia. Go ahead and lock in Nick Saban’s team as the No. 1 seed in the playoff.

Here’s another way Alabama comes out of the weekend a winner: It was challenged for the first time all season. The Crimson Tide was outplayed for the first three quarters, and still navigated its way back to tie it and eventually win it with the assist of some coaching malpractice by Georgia’s Kirby Smart (more on that in a bit).

Jalen Hurts. There’s a gazillion things coaches (especially publicly dour and humorless ones) love to expound upon. The need to be ready when an opportunity presents itself. The necessity of being a good teammate. The ubiquitous “next man up” mentality that, as a general rule, is as insightful as “taking it one game at a time.”

Hurts is the intersection of nearly all of those platitudes and, perhaps more amazingly, provides a happy story line for a program that more often than not comes off as a remorselessly ruthless juggernaut. Hurts started all of last season, only to be benched at halftime of Alabama’s national-title game defeat of Georgia in favor of Tua Tagovailoa.

Saturday gave us an example of the aphorism attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Hurts came in after Tagovailoa went down in the fourth quarter. He was in for two full drives, throwing a game-tying touchdown pass on the first and rushing for the game-winning score in the second with 1:04 to go. Hurts, a reserve all season, was ready and able to step in for Tagovailoa, and his play helped preserve Alabama’s perfect season.

Oklahoma. The Sooners are in the clubhouse at 12-1 after avenging their only loss of the season. Kyler Murray threw for 379 yards and three touchdowns and the Oklahoma defense came up with a vital fourth-quarter play for the second week in a row in a 39-27 victory over Texas.

While Murray did his part to keep his name in the Heisman conversation, the Oklahoma defense held Texas to 13 points over the Longhorns’ final eight possessions --- one of which ended with Tre Brown’s sack of Sam Ehlinger in the end zone to make it 32-27. Murray then led an 11-play touchdown drive that soaked up more than six minutes to seal it.

That’s three Big 12 titles in a row for the Sooners, who have hope of their third playoff berth in the last four seasons.

Central Florida. The Knights trailed by 17 at home to Memphis at halftime. They outscored the Tigers by 32 in the second half to land a 56-41 victory in the American Athletic title game, complete another undefeated regular season and lock up a trip to a New Year’s Six game (likely the Fiesta Bowl).

Backup quarterback Darriel Mack, playing because of McKenzie Milton’s knee injury, threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for each of UCF’s last four scores. The Knights rolled up 698 total yards without their best player, and as a result ran their winning streak to 25.

Scott Satterfield. One of the top coaches in the Group of Five locked up a conference title as Appalachian State handled Louisiana-Lafayette, 30-19. The Mountaineers (10-2) will head to the New Orleans Bowl.

Will Satterfield be with them? Good question. He’s 51-24 in six seasons in Boone, N.C., including a gaudy 29-9 mark over the last three years. That’s the sort of record certain to draw attention from some more high-profile programs.

Virginia Tech. The bowl streak lives on. Ryan Willis threw four touchdown passes in a 41-20 defeat of Marshall in a hastily arranged game that allowed the Hokies to earn postseason eligibility for the 26th year in a row.

That run was in serious doubt when the Hokies sat at 4-6 two weeks ago. But after an overtime defeat of Virginia, Justin Fuente’s team had little trouble dispatching the Thundering Herd in a game finalized late last month. Virginia Tech had the chance to add a game this week because of the hurricane-related cancellation of a game against East Carolina earlier in the season.

Virginia Tech routs Marshall to become bowl eligible for record 26th straight year

Washington. The Huskies are off to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 18 seasons after defeating Utah, 10-3, in the Pac-12 title game late Friday. While Washington (10-3) had higher aspirations for its season, a trip to Pasadena is nothing to feel bad about.


Georgia. No need to fret about an SEC rematch in the playoff. Georgia (11-2) had a chance to entrench itself in the top four, but Alabama’s rally will consign the Bulldogs to the Sugar Bowl.

Kirby Smart. There’s playing to win — such as going for two rather than a PAT and a tie in the final seconds of regulation or in overtime. Then there’s unnecessary aggression.

Smart stumbled into the latter situation, calling a fake punt on fourth and 11 from midfield in a tie game with a little more than three minutes to play. It didn’t work, and Alabama marched 52 yards in exactly two minutes for the game-winning score.

The great what-if of the season — not just Georgia’s, but the sport — might just be wondering what would’ve happened if Alabama had to go an extra 30 or 40 yards to win.

Pac-12. The end of the conference’s no-good, very bad season couldn’t have been more appropriate. An announced crowd of 35,134 gathered at Levi’s Stadium (capacity: 68,500) to watch Utah and Washington fail to score an offensive touchdown in a game with zero impact on the playoff picture. The teams combined for 494 yards and 13 points, an almost entirely forgettable display.

There’s a case to be made the most impressive part of the game was Washington’s 17-play, 73-yard drive that milked more than 10 minutes off the clock. And then it ended with a blocked field goal.

The game concluded with a controversial no-call of an apparent pass interference on Washington, leaving Utes Coach Kyle Whittingham hollering in dismay at officials as he walked to midfield to shake hands with Washington’s Chris Petersen.

Heart rates of Iowa State fans. A rescheduled game isn’t supposed to create that many headaches for a Power Five team. It definitely isn’t supposed to spawn a bunch of anxiety when it comes against an FCS team. And it’s almost inconceivable that it could happen against a team that doesn’t offer scholarships.

Well, don’t tell Iowa State.

Credit to Drake for making the Cyclones (8-4) work for their 27-24 victory. But it wasn’t the sort of performance Iowa State is likely to celebrate.

Read more:

Thomas Boswell: George H.W. Bush had a love of sports and an affinity for at least one sportswriter

Mike Locksley’s candidacy for Maryland football coach raises questions about his past