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Who’s No. 1? For much of the 2017 college football season, the answer was never in doubt. But as we head into conference championship weekend, the college football polls—and the College Football Playoff—have been thrown into disarray following a wild weekend of rivalry games.
No. 6 Auburn showed why it has been the nation’s most improved team from Labor Day to Thanksgiving with a dominant win over No. 1 Alabama. No. 2 Miami fell on its face against a 4-7 Pittsburgh team. And as a result, only two unbeatens—Central Florida and Wisconsin—remain in the Football Bowl Subdivision. How will this affect the playoff picture? Should we expect further chaos before the field of four is set?
This week, we had a certain team from the Buckeye State continue peaking at the right time, a 10-win team that you need to pay attention to, and evidence as to why this season could be like the wild 2007 campaign.
All of the above helped shape our Bleacher Report Top 25 for Week 14. College football writers Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Greg Wallace each submitted ballots in which a first-place vote counts for 25 points, a second-place one is worth 24, and so on.
Here’s our updated poll. Who’s rising? Who’s falling? Take a look:
- 1. Clemson (Last week: 2)
- T-1. Oklahoma (3)
- 3. Auburn (6)
- 4. Wisconsin (5)
- 5. Alabama (1)
- 6. Georgia (7)
- 7. Miami (4)
- 8. UCF (9)
- 9. Ohio State (8)
- 10. Penn State (12)
- 11. TCU (11)
- 12. USC (13)
- 13. Washington (15)
- 14. Stanford (14)
- 15. Oklahoma State (23)
- 16. LSU (18)
- 17. Michigan State (22)
- 18. Notre Dame (10)
- 19. Memphis (17)
- 20. Northwestern (19)
- 21. Washington State (16)
- 22. Virginia Tech (NR)
- 23. Mississippi State (20)
- 24. Florida Atlantic (NR)
- 25. San Diego State (25)
Also receiving votes: South Florida, Boise State, Oregon, Fresno State, NC State
Who’s Hot: Ohio State Buckeyes
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Three weeks ago, Ohio State’s College Football Playoff hopes were on life support. A perplexing 55-24 loss to offensively challenged Iowa (which followed the effort with 13 offensive points in losses to Wisconsin and Purdue) pushed the Buckeyes to the edge of the playoff picture. But as it prepares for a Big Ten title game tilt with Wisconsin, OSU is firmly back in contention for one of four coveted spots.
The Buckeyes (10-2) continued their push with a 31-20 rivalry comeback win over Michigan, their sixth consecutive win over their bitter rivals. Urban Meyer also improved to 6-0 against the Wolverines as Ohio State’s head coach. He did so despite star quarterback J.T. Barrett leaving the game due to a knee injury that was aggravated when a cameraman ran into him on the sidelines during pregame warmups, which infuriated Meyer, per USA Today’s Scott Gleeson.
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Barrett told media someone darted past him and collided with his leg and hurt his knee. Barrett didn’t think it was malicious. He didn’t see a camera. But eye witnesses said it was a “cameraman,” hence Meyer’s remarks. No one certain if still photographer or TV.
Ohio State trailed 20-14 when Barrett (who completed just three of eight passes for 30 yards and a touchdown) exited the game, but backup Dwayne Haskins was sharp, completing six of seven passes for 94 yards and helping the Buckeyes outscore Michigan 17-0 the rest of the way. Haskins’ 22-yard run in the third quarter set up OSU’s go-ahead touchdown, and the Bucks never looked back.
Meyer was angry afterward, vowing an investigation, but the bigger story is how OSU has persevered over the last month. The team is 3-0 since the Iowa loss and, thanks to some attrition ahead of it, could easily make the playoff with a win over unbeaten Wisconsin. It’s hardly a done deal, but the Buckeyes are playing their best when it matters most.
Who’s Not: Miami Hurricanes
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Miami entered Friday’s game at Pitt in optimal position to chase a College Football Playoff berth. The Hurricanes were 10-0 and one of four remaining FBS unbeatens. They also had significantly improved their resume with a pair of no-doubt wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, with next week’s ACC Championship Game against Clemson looming as a playoff play-in.
All they had to do was handle an underachieving Pitt team that had dragged a 4-7 record into the game. Instead, it was a bleak Black Friday at Heinz Field. The ‘Canes’ season-long trend of playing down to their opposition (with narrow wins over Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Syracuse and a second-half comeback win over Virginia) came back to haunt them in a 24-14 loss to the Panthers. The Hurricanes managed just one touchdown in the first 58 minutes and looked totally lifeless offensively.
Miami was outgained 345-232, and quarterback Malik Rosier completed just 15 of 34 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He was even briefly benched in the fourth quarter for backup Evan Shirreffs. Ten years after a 4-7 Pitt team kept West Virginia out of the BCS National Championship Game with a 13-9 upset, the Panthers threw another major wrench into the national title picture.
Mark Richt’s team isn’t eliminated from playoff contention by any measure and could still make the field with a win over Clemson. But the Hurricanes went from slam dunk to questionable with a bad day in Pittsburgh.
Keep an Eye on: San Diego State Aztecs
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Thanks to a 27-3 loss to Fresno State, San Diego State missed the Mountain West title game and finished its regular season at 10-2. But no matter where the Aztecs wind up in the postseason, you should make a point to seek them out. Chances are, they’re the best 10-win team you haven’t watched this season; they were No. 25 in the B/R poll last week but relegated to “receiving votes” in the Associated Press poll.
SDSU’s nonconference schedule included wins over bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams in Arizona State and Stanford as well as MAC school Northern Illinois, which has eight wins this season. The Aztecs have perhaps college football’s best tailback in senior Rashaad Penny, who gouged New Mexico for 203 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-10 win. Penny is college football’s leading rusher with 2,027 yards and 19 touchdowns and was inexplicably snubbed as a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given to the game’s top running back.
Penny and Donnel Pumphrey made SDSU the first program with two different 2,000-yard rushers in consecutive seasons, an impressive feat.
Coach Rocky Long has quietly built a juggernaut in San Diego, with a 32-8 record over the past three seasons. A bowl win would give the Aztecs their third consecutive 11-win season. While the Mountain West’s TV contract has relegated them to the fringe of most cable TV packages, you should be paying attention.
Fun Fact: Is 2007-like College Football Chaos On Tap?
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Ten years ago, we experienced one of the most unpredictable college football seasons in history. Chaos was the operative word, starting on the opening weekend when FCS team Appalachian State won at Michigan. Seven No. 2 teams were upset in the final nine weeks of the regular season, including Pitt’s victory over West Virginia, which kept the Mountaineers out of the BCS Championship Game.
Instead, the two-loss LSU Tigers were launched into the title game and took advantage with a championship win over Ohio State.
A decade later, we could be in for a similarly volatile ending to the season. After the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in this week’s College Football Playoff Top 25 (Alabama and Miami) fell this weekend, only one Power Five unbeaten (Wisconsin) remains. Meanwhile, we have a pair of two-loss teams (Auburn and Ohio State) playing in league title games with legit paths to the playoff.
If Auburn, fresh off handing Georgia and Alabama their only losses, handles the Bulldogs again, it’ll be all but impossible to keep the SEC champion out of the playoff. Ohio State can make a similar case by beating the Badgers in the Big Ten title game. Predicting this season’s playoff field has a ton of variables with one week left, but know this: It’s going to be thrilling to watch unfold.
Game To Watch: Auburn Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs in SEC Championship Game
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Auburn-Georgia is one of the nation’s oldest and most heated rivalries. And it’s also one of its most competitive. Over 121 meetings, it has been as evenly matched as you could imagine, with Georgia holding a 57-56-8 lead. But we’ve likely never had one as meaningful as the meeting that will take place Saturday in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
For the first time, Auburn and Georgia will meet in the SEC Championship Game, and the likely prize is a berth in the College Football Playoff. It’ll be fascinating watching this matchup unfold. The Tigers ended the Bulldogs’ unbeaten season just two weeks ago with an emphatic 40-17 rout in Jordan-Hare Stadium, outgaining UGA 488-230 while dominating in the trenches.
Georgia bounced back with routs of Kentucky and Georgia Tech, while Auburn proved it was legit with a 26-14 takedown of unbeaten No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. However, repeating the feat could be tough. Auburn relies heavily on its ground game, but Kamryn Pettway has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury, and top rusher Kerryon Johnson (who has four consecutive 100-yard games and over 1,200 yards on the season) left the Iron Bowl with an apparent shoulder injury.
Georgia has one of the nation’s top backfield duos in seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who have combined for over 2,000 yards rushing. And you’d better believe the Bulldogs will be eager for revenge with a playoff berth on the line. The SEC title game will feature its first Top 10 matchup since 2013, and it’ll be must-see TV.