The razor-thin margin for error in college football has been on display throughout the scores and results since Week 12. It was a week where the scoreboard showed a pair of upsets for the top 25 teams, but we were a few bounces away from total chaos. College Football Rankings.
No. 1 Kentucky backed Georgia into the red zone, taking a 10-point lead with 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter before a missed field goal and a turnover on downs made it undefeated. No. 2 Ohio State has a three-point lead late in its battle with Maryland on the road against an unranked opponent. Meanwhile, no. 3 Michigan and no. 4 TCU both won by last-second field goals. If a few plays (or even a couple of kicks) had different results, AP’s top 25 voters would have a tough challenge sorting out the carnage on their updated ballots.
That’s not to say the voter’s job will be easy in the wake of Saturday’s election results.
Debates about the job will be on full display against recent results with Tennessee’s slotting after a shocking 63-38 loss at South Carolina. The Volunteers are now 9-2 and have wins against both Alabama and LSU, though Tennessee could pull off one or both of those SEC foes like Saturday night’s 22-point favorite. After Ole Miss lost for the second week in a row, a similar defense will be further down the rankings, this time at unranked Arkansas. The Rebels fell to 8-3 and fell one score short of being blown out last week, looking for quality wins, and voters will have to decide how valuable close wins against Kentucky and Texas A&M are compared to other three-loss teams.
By the end of the night, five of the top 16 teams in the AP Top 25 will have suffered losses, giving the rest plenty of opportunities to advance. Perhaps the most benefited from the limited confusion were USC and Clemson, each of which took care of business (in different fashion) to stay atop their respective conferences in Week 13. If both can succeed, the College Football Playoff selection could be very tough. Results will be announced on Exam Sunday.
Here’s what we think the new AP Top 25 will look like on Sunday:
1. Georgia (Last Week — 1): The absence of an obvious contender for the No. 1 spot remains the same as the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 following a 16-6 win at Kentucky.
2. Ohio State (2): The Buckeyes can still grab a few firsts after pouring in points late in a 43-30 win at Maryland, but voters tracking the scores throughout the day will note that it was a deep three-point game in the fourth quarter. Starting quarterback Dallon Hayden had a breakout performance with 146 yards and three touchdowns as Ohio State overcame an early deficit and took control of the game in the third quarter, all of them after halftime.
3. Michigan (3): Michigan has a lot to worry about coming out of Saturday’s win over Illinois — from Blake Corum’s health to how often field goal attempts end up scoring chances — but it’s enough to hold on for the win. Top five in the rankings.
4. TCU (4): TCU’s dream season continues. Quarterback Max Duggan led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. Our prediction is that AP voters will keep last week’s lineup, but with fewer voters in the playoff pool, it could be more volatile. TCU entered Sunday’s No. 4, but could be 3 on Tuesday night thanks to a game-winning field goal at Baylor.
5. USC (7): The Trojans rallied on a 14-0 run after the first quarter and outscored the Bruins by 17 points over the final 45 minutes to win 48-45. With Tennessee falling and USC trailing for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game, the Trojans must reach two-loss LSU for fifth.
6. LSU (6): The Tigers enjoyed Senior Day festivities by dismantling UAB 41-10. Next up is a trip to College Station to face Texas A&M, then the SEC Championship Game against Georgia.
7. Clemson (9): With the 40-10 win over Miami, the Tigers have now won 40 consecutive home games. Thanks to some of Saturday’s results elsewhere, Clemson’s CFP prospects are looking up. It marks just the ninth 40-game home streak in FBS history, the first since Nebraska won 47 straight home games from 1991-98.
8. Tennessee (5): An injury to star QB Hendon Hooker added layers of frustration to a program whose playoff hopes fell short against a division foe.
9. Alabama (8): No major changes to a 34-0 win over FCS Austin Bay.
10. Oregon (12): In beating Utah, the Ducks seem assured of a top-10 pick, but what’s the ceiling? Look for Oregon to be No. 8, but our official prediction is that Don Lanning’s crew will have the Utes at No. 10.
11. Penn State (11): Despite the confusion surrounding Penn State’s standing in the polls, the Nittany Lions were one of the few ranked teams to fully deliver on expectations of dominance with a 55-10 win at Rutgers.
12. Washington (15): The Huskies would advance with a sweep of the top 16 and a 54-7 win over Colorado.
13. Notre Dame (18): Notre Dame is now 40-7 in regular season games against the ACC since joining the scheduling agreement in 2014, following a 44-0 win over Boston College. The Fighting Irish, now 8-3 on the year, closed out their home slate with their 28th consecutive regular season win against ACC opposition. They face USC in next week’s regular season finale.
14. Kansas State (19): Winners of three of their last four, the Wildcats are closing in on a Big 12 championship game berth after putting 41 points on the board in the first half and protecting an early lead en route to a 17-point win at West Virginia. A win against rival Kansas next week secures Kansas State’s shot at a rematch with TCU in Dallas for the conference title.
15. UCLA (16): The Bruins blew a 14-point lead in the first quarter and a four-point advantage in the third quarter as they fell to the Trojans in a key spot. With back-to-back losses, and now three in the past five weeks, the goodwill UCLA gained early in the season may now be overlooked given its rough shutout stretch.
16. Utah (10): The bill comes in the wake of Utah’s ranking, a team with three losses on the year but a win against the Pac-12’s only one-loss team. Beating USC has provided some ranking strength that has overcome losses to Florida and UCLA, but now Utah enters the discussion of three-loss teams following a loss to Oregon, and the Bruins’ upside will determine how these teams stack up. At the top of the rankings.
17. Florida State (20): The Seminoles scored touchdowns on five of six first-half possessions and didn’t allow a visit from Louisiana to turn the game into a contest, earning a 49-17 win.
18. Tulane (21): Thursday night’s AAC showdown with SMU was expected to be a tough test for the Green Wave in the wake of last week’s close loss to UCF, but the Mustangs turned the ball over five times in a 59-24 win over Tulane. It should appeal to voters.
19. Cincinnati (22): Now 9-2 after a 20-point win, Cincinnati can make its fourth straight AAC title game appearance if it beats Tulane the Friday after Thanksgiving.
20. Coastal Carolina (23): Saturday’s game against Virginia was canceled as the school and community took Saturday to honor the three UVA players who died in a shooting on campus last weekend.
21. North Carolina (13): The best North Carolina has in terms of ranking is only two losses after falling 21-17 at home to Georgia Tech. Falling from 13th in the standings is the harshest of corrections at this point in the season, but the drop would be dramatic given both the disappointing result (losing to a 21-point favorite) and the lack of profile. High level wins.
22. Ole Miss (14): Ole Miss’ last four results give little insight into where the Rebels stack up against the nation’s best teams. There are three losses — 25 to LSU, 6 to Alabama and 15 to unranked Arkansas — and a lone win in three at Texas A&M. Ole Miss is 7-4 and a few games out of the top 25, despite a top-10 win at 9-2. Now Lane Kiffin’s team is hanging in there. rankings after Saturday night’s loss at Fayetteville.
23. Oregon State (25): The Beavers have now won eight games for the first time since 2012 after a 31-7 road win over Arizona State. They’ll have a chance to solidify their chances of finishing the season ranked against Oregon next week.
24. Texas (NR): We plan for the Longhorns to re-enter the ranks. Not only was Texas ranked outside the top 25 in last week’s poll, but there will be some “sticker shock” for voters who expected Saturday’s game at Kansas to be a potential upset. 55-14 Longhorns win.
25. UCF (17): UCF will have a drop on every ballot after a 17-14 loss to Navy, but the Knights can still get enough votes to finish in the top 25. Now 8-3, UCF has wins over Tulane and Cincinnati. But losses to Louisville, ECU and Navy. The Midshipmen went 3-7 in the game, handing the Knights their worst loss of the season. However, UCF is a team with only three losses and two wins against top 25 teams.
Projected to leave: Oklahoma State (24)
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