There was no movement at the top of the polls, but that doesn’t mean there was a shortage of drama. The playoff picture underwent some serious changes as teams saw their playoff dreams dashed while others now find themselves in control of their own destinies.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
The top ranked team in the nation didn’t have too much of a challenge when the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks of the Ohio Valley Conference came to visit. The Bulldogs were up 24-3 at halftime, and ended up winning 45-16. Dak Prescott, who the SEC tells us is the breakout star of college football, threw two touchdowns and added one more on the ground. Against Tennessee Martin. In November. The Bulldogs had a balanced offense, to the tune of 520 total yards, and now prepare for yet another big time SEC contest. The Bulldogs will now shift their focus to their de facto division championship, as they will travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the 4th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama has one conference loss, while Mississippi State is undefeated, however if Alabama wins they will have the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs should it come to that.
Florida State Seminoles
This team might be the most under the radar undefeated defending champions ever. Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston has easily garnered more headlines, good and bad, than his team that is closing in on a second straight undefeated season. The Seminoles hosted the Virginia Cavaliers, and the game was closer than Seminole fans would have liked. Jameis Winston threw two first half interceptions, and found himself facing a 13-7 deficit after one quarter, before reeling off 21 points in the second quarter to get the lead back. The Seminoles did enough to win, however they only scored six points in the second half. Jameis Winston will certainly get the headlines (one way or another), but the Seminoles relied on their defense to bring home the win. This team has found themselves in multiple close games this year, however they have answered the call each time, and are now prepping for a big time rivalry game against the unranked Miami Hurricanes. While this game lacks the national relevance of their matchups from the past, the Hurricanes are riding a three-game winning streak and would love to play spoiler to the team that has taken over their state this decade.
The Oregon Ducks defeated the Utah Utes on Saturday, and you can read about the game here. The win moved them up one slot in the AP poll, and now the Ducks have a bye week before hosting the Colorado Buffaloes in a game that shouldn’t give Oregon too much trouble.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide has moved into the fourth slot, following its roller-coaster victory against LSU on the road. While it wasn’t the prettiest game by any means, the Crimson Tide showed championship-grade moxie by winning in Baton Rouge at night, something that has only happened five times since Les Miles took over as the LSU coach in 2005. The overtime thriller ended at a score of 20-13, with Alabama squeaking out a very improbable victory. LSU had a chance to win the game in regulation, however their kickoff went out of bounds, allowing the Crimson Tide great field position to start its game-tying drive with less than a minute left. Alabama quarterback Blake Sims wasn’t great by any standards; however he made the plays when they mattered, and escaped “Death Valley” with a win, and his team now controls its own destiny for the playoff race. Alabama is now second in its division; however they host the top-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs next week in a game that has SEC fans drooling in anticipation, and also has major playoff implications.
TCU Horned Frogs
Another under the radar team, the TCU Horned Frogs, has clawed its way up the rankings, and now has some major playoff buzz surrounding it. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has emerged as a dark horse Heisman contender, as he totaled four touchdowns while leading TCU to a comfortable 41-20 victory over the then 7th ranked Kansas State Wildcats. Trevone Boykin and his offense are cruising, as they are now third in the country in scoring, averaging 47.2 points per game. TCU passed its last significant test of the season, as it has Kansas, Texas, and Iowa State remaining on its schedule.
The Baylor Bears, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Arizona State Sun Devils are the only other teams with only one loss. Baylor and Ohio State suffer from the same issue in the eyes of the playoff committee at the moment — a lack of “big name” victories and the perceived weaknesess of their conferences. The B1G got off to a disastrous start in out-of-conference play, and some of its biggest programs, Michigan and Penn State, are struggling through the season. However, if Ohio State wins the rest of its games, it will certainly garner a lot of playoff attention as it will have closed the season very strongly.
At this point, the North Division is all wrapped up, with Oregon securing a trip to the conference championship with its victory over Utah. The South is still up for grabs, but Arizona State is in the driver’s seat. The Sun Devils had the biggest win in the conference, defeating Notre Dame 55-31. The victory propels the Sun Devils to the 7th spot in the AP poll, and the defeat essentially eliminates the Fighting Irish from playoff consideration. The Sun Devils jumped out to a large lead, slipped up for a bit, but ultimately put the clamps on Notre Dame and secured the crucial victory. If Arizona State wins its last two games against Oregon State and Washington State, and travels to Tucson and beats its in-state rival Arizona, it will set up a Pac-12 championship against Oregon, where the winner should earn a spot in the playoffs.
The women’s cross country team is officially the conference champion, as the third-ranked Ducks defeated the 11th ranked Stanford Cardinal in Oakland, California. For the men, Edward Cheserek continues to be a force, as he won his second straight Pac-12 championship, and led the Ducks to second place overall in the conference. This weekend will be busy, as Saturday holds the NCAA West Regional, as well as the USATF Oregon State XC Championships.
This week has the Ducks traveling to the desert, as they take on the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday and the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday. The Ducks would love to sweep these schools, as they are 2-3 in their last matches. Those matches include the Arizona schools, where Oregon swept the Wildcats yet lost to the Sun Devils. The Ducks are still ranked 8th in the nation; however both Stanford and Washington remain undefeated, with Stanford being the top team in the country and Washington coming in at 3rd.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline