Buckeyes Implode, Playoff in Peril

Clemson, Iowa.

That’s it. That’s the whole entire list of undefeated teams left in FBS, after Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Houston all went down on Saturday. In some ways, this makes the committee’s job a bit easier, as teams weed themselves out of playoff contention.

The team that imploded most spectacularly and improbably was the defending champion Buckeyes. Playing at home, against a double-digit underdog without its starting quarterback, they self-destructed first on the field in a desultory 17-14 loss and then in the locker room (and via Twitter) afterward.

Both star running back Ezekiel Elliott and erstwhile starting QB Cardale Jones made it clear that they’re done with the Buckeyes, never mind that they still have to face arch rival Michigan next week. Elliott went a bit further by slamming the playcalling and saying he “deserved” more than the 12 carries he’s got.

With Ohio State all but eliminated from playoff contention, it appears that the only Final Four team from last season that’ll be returning is Alabama. The Tide are a lock, as is No. 1 Clemson, if both teams win their remaining games and claim their respective conference championships.

The third spot should go to the Big Ten champion, either Michigan State or Iowa, also assuming both teams win their regular-season finales before meeting in the conference title game. That leaves us with the final entry, and that’s where all the intrigue lies.

Pac-12 Ain’t Dead Yet

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance …” (From the cinematic immortal “Dumb and Dumber”)

Yep, a week after being written off by almost anyone, the Pac-12 might be alive for the playoff after all. Stanford, after winning Saturday night’s Big Game, may still find a way to punch its ticket to the four-team tournament.

Thanks to a suicide pact to wrap up the season, the Big 12 is now left with no undefeated team and two playoff contenders heading into next week’s rivalry games possibly without their starting quarterbacks. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield may have sustained a concussion and Baylor’s Jared Stidham has a hand injury. Neither finished their respective games on Saturday.

This leaves the door open for the Cardinal, whose sixth straight win in the Big Game clinched their third Pac-12 North title in four seasons. Should two-loss Stanford defeat Notre Dame next week and then the USC-UCLA winner in the conference title game on Dec. 5, that might be enough to push it past a one-loss Big 12 champion.

Here’s how it might happen: If Oklahoma State defeats Oklahoma and Baylor beats both TCU and Texas to finish the season, the Bears will clinch the Big 12 title with an 11-1 record (thanks to the conference’s decision to install a tiebreaker after last season). The committee has indicated several times that it’s unimpressed with Baylor’s schedule, which leaves the door open for Stanford.

And the Cardinal have powerful advocates on the committee. Former Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham and current professor Condoleezza Rice are among 12 committee members, and while Rice must recuse herself (but not Willingham) when Stanford is discussed, she still wields enormous influence in the room. Had USC athletic director Pat Haden stayed on the committee, Stanford would’ve had an even larger lobbying group.

But none of this matters if Stanford does not beat Notre Dame and knock the Irish out of the playoff field. So next week’s showdown on the Farm is almost a playoff play-in game.

SEC chokes on cupcakes

While other power conferences were duking things out and eliminating each other on Saturday, the SEC enjoyed basically a week off before rivalry week – at least that was the plan.

Six SEC teams – Alabama, Auburn and four others facing upcoming ACC rivals – played either FCS or overmatched nonconference foes Saturday, but a few got more than a light workout. South Carolina lost to The Citadel, while Florida and Georgia both needed overtime to beat Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern, respectively.

So far the committee has shown no inclination to punish the SEC’s scheduling practices, but consider this: For all the talk about Alabama’s “eye test” superiority, the Tide likely would have beaten just one of the committee’s own top 25 teams when the rankings are revealed on Tuesday.

Game of the Week

Michigan State 17, Ohio State 14: It was not pretty, but certainly gritty, as the Spartans shocked the defending champs without starting QB Connor Cook on Michael Geiger’s 41-yard field goal as time expired. Michigan State spoiled the potential huge showdown between Michigan and Ohio State next week by beating them both on the road, while never leading either game until the clocks read 0:00.

Player of the Week

Vernon Adams, Oregon: A week after upsetting Stanford, the graduate transfer QB from Eastern Washington was once again electrifying, throwing for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the Ducks’ 48-28 dismantling of USC. Oregon’s season went in the tank when he was injured and missed nearly four games but now it has regained a chance to still claim a New Year’s Six bowl slot.

Our Rankings

Last week, we nailed the committee’s top 10 in its exact order. So let’s do this again:

1. Clemson, 2. Alabama, 3. Iowa, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Michigan State, 6. Oklahoma, 7. Baylor, 8. Ohio State, 9. Oklahoma State, 10. Florida.

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