The Top 25 teams in college football following rivalry week
Rivalry week is in the books, and as usual it made an impact. That impact was greatest in The Game, where Ohio State’s victory is going to give the playoff selection committee a headache, and will provide a fascinating insight into the selection process. Are conference championships really sacrosanct? There can be little doubt that Ohio State are one of the best four teams in the nation, is that enough to put them in the playoff at the expense of two Power-5 conference champions, likely including their own? We will find out.
Alabama finished the season as they began it — in dominant fashion. They gained 501 of offense yards to Auburns 182, limited the Tigers scoring to just four field goals, and turnovers were the only reason that Auburn were still in it at half time. Linebacker Reuben Foster was a key factor in shutting down Auburn’s rushing attack, he made four tackles in the run game, all four of them were defensive stops (wins for the defense), and earned an 85.1 run defense grade. Next up is the SEC Championship game against Florida, but even if the Gators pull off a huge upset, it’s hard to see the Crimson Tide missing out on the playoff.
- Ohio State
Ohio State rallied to overcome a 10-point deficit and see off Michigan in a thrilling 30-27 overtime win. They were able to make that comeback thanks to the running of quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was excellent in the second half. On designed runs, Barrett rushed for 129 yards at 6.8 yards per carry, earning a 90.8 rushing grade. The Buckeyes have cemented their place as the nation’s second-best team, but must now wait to learn whether the lack of a conference championship will count against them.
Clemson saw out the regular season with a 56-7 rout of South Carolina, and a sensational performance from QB Deshaun Watson. Watson completed 26 of 32 passes for 347 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Four of those six incompletions were drops by Clemson receivers, which gives Watson an outstanding 93.8 adjusted completion percentage. Watson earned a 92.8 overall grade. Clemson now face a dangerous, but inconsistent, Virginia Tech team in the ACC Championship, and must win to book their playoff berth.
The Apple Cup had long been touted as a hurdle for Washington to overcome if they were to make the playoff, but it turned out to be little more than a speedbump, as the Huskies ran out 45-17 winners over the Cougars. Running back Lavon Coleman rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries, averaging 4.9 yards after contact and earning an 85.9 overall grade. Washington now face Colorado for the Pac-12 championship, knowing that only a win will do.
Michigan fell to a heart-breaking 30-27 overtime loss in Columbus. Even in defeat, the Wolverines still looked like a top-four team, but they have slipped out because this is their second defeat in three weeks, and the loss to Iowa was much less forgivable. Much of the post-match attention has been directed at the officials, with a little justification, but the Wolverines should have put the game beyond doubt themselves, and instead kept the Buckeyes in it with costly turnovers. QB Wilton Speight struggled on his return from injury, and it wasn’t surprising given the struggles of the line in front of him; center Mason Cole (82.4 overall) was the only offensive lineman to earn a grade over 55.
The late bye week could have gone better for Oklahoma, as Michigan were the only higher-placed team to lose. However, the Sooners get the opportunity to take matters into their own hands this week as their Bedlam matchup against Oklahoma State will act as the de-facto big 12 championship game. A win will not automatically put them in the playoff, but it does give them a shot at making it if there are surprises in the ACC or Pac-12.
Wisconsin struggled to a 31-17 win over Minnesota, a game in which the Badgers defense was key, as it has been all season. Outside linebacker Vince Biegel recorded two sacks, five total pressures and forced six defensive stops, earning him a game-him 86.0 overall grade. Unfortunately for the Badgers, Nebraska’s loss to Iowa leaves the Badgers with just the one win over a ranked opponent (the Week 1 victory over LSU), and weakens their resume.
USC finished the season with a 45-27 victory over Notre Dame, their eighth-straight victory. If the month of September didn’t count, the Trojans may well make the playoff, but it does count (and should) so USC have to pay for their awful start to the season. Cornerback/do-it-all athlete Adoree’ Jackson was the star against the Irish, scoring with a reception, a kick return and a punt return.
Colorado clinched the Pac-12 South with a 27-22 victory over Utah, a remarkable achievement, and they could yet go one step further by taking down Washington to win the conference. The Buffaloes secondary was excellent against Utah, none more so than safety Tedric Thompson who recorded two interceptions and two further pass breakups on his way to a 91.5 overall grade.
- Penn State
Penn State entered the Michigan State game in the knowledge that victory would seal the Big Ten East, and that may have made them a little nervous as they found themselves 12-10 down at the half. However, four second half touchdown passes from QB Trace McSorley saw the Nittany Lions to a 45-12 victory, and helped McSorley earn a 76.8 passing grade. Linebacker Manny Bowen finished with a 79.5 overall grade, after making five tackles, all of which were defensive stops.
- Oklahoma State
Like their rivals, Oklahoma State sat out Week 13 in anticipation of a Bedlam game with huge implications. A win likely won’t be enough to vault the Cowboys into the playoff, but it would deliver the Big 12 title, and end any playoff hopes that the Sooners have. The “loss” to Central Michigan remains a thorn in the Cowboy’s side. It really should count against them as a defeat, but the alternative is that they were one play away from losing against a six win MACV team, which really isn’t that much better.
- Western Michigan
Western Michigan’s 55-35 victory over 9-3 Toledo completes a perfect regular season for the Broncos, and while the playoff committee hasn’t been enthused by their resume, only the MAC Championship game should now stand between them and a New Year’s Six Bowl berth. Western Michigan RB Jamauri Bogan celebrated his return to fitness by rushing for 198 yards, averaging 4.4 yards after contact and forcing 7 missed tackles. It was enough to earn him an 86.0 overall grade.
Louisville slumped to a second-straight defeat, this time a 41-38 reverse against their rival Kentucky, which will leave a sour taste on the season. Only the excellent win over Florida State keeps the Cardinals in the Top 15, and that glittering performance came all the way back in September. Cardinals tight end Cole Hikutini had seven catches for 100 yards and one touchdown against the Wildcats, earning an 84.1 overall grade.
- Florida State
Florida State finished the season on a high, with a 31-13 win over Florida that owed much to the brilliance of running back Dalvin Cook. Cook forced nine missed tackles on 29 offensive touches, and compiled 179 all-purpose yards, on his way to an 85.4 overall grade. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker recorded one sack and seven total pressures, helping him to an 86.8 pass rush grade.
- West Virginia
A comfortable 49-10 road win over Iowa State takes West Virginia to 9-2, with a troubled Baylor team all that stands between the Mountaineers and a ten-win season. Wide receiver Shelton Gibson continues to be a big-play threat, he turned three receptions into 161 yards and two touchdowns against the Cyclones, earning an 82.0 receiving grade.
Stanford have finished the season well, winning five-straight and looking like the team everyone expected to see all along, however, standard of competition may be a factor in their recovery. What isn’t in dispute is that running back Christian McCaffrey has found his form. Against Rice he scored twice, totalled 204 yards on the ground, and added 23 yards as a receiver. It was enough to earn McCaffrey a 90.3 overall grade.
- South Florida
South Florida finished the season with a 48-31 win over UCF, thanks largely to their two-pronged rushing attack, running back Marlon Mack and quarterback Quinton Flowers. Mack rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, forcing 10 missed tackles in the process and earning an 81.9 grade. Flowers rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 18 designed carries, giving him an 89.2 rushing grade.
In the absence of a healthy Sean White at quarterback, Auburn slumped to a 30-12 defeat in the Iron Bowl. There is no shame in losing to this Alabama team (though Tigers fans may not see it that way), but the Georgia defeat still rankles. While the offense couldn’t get going, the defense held their own until they got worn down. Defensive tackle Montravius Adams was an absolute force against the run, making four run stops and earning a 90.6 run defense grade.
One week removed from their one notable victory over LSU, Florida fell to a 31-13 defeat at the hands of rival Florida State, they simply couldn’t handle Seminoles RB Dalvin Cook. While the Gators run defense struggled, their pass coverage did not. Corners Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson had five pass breakups between them and earned 91.1 and 89.3 coverage grades, respectively.
- Boise State
Boise State blew it this week, falling to Air Force for the third-straight season, and taking themselves out of contention in the Mountain West before Wyoming even had to play. Had they avoided defeat then they may well have been favoured for a New Year’s Six Bowl berth over Western Michigan. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch did his best to slow down the Air Force running game, making six tackles against the run, with five of them counting as defensive stops.
The king is dead, long live the king. Tigers running back Leonard Fournette is a remarkable player, but in a season troubled by injuries he has seen Derrius Guice emerge as his successor, and his production replaced. Guice ran for a school-record 285 yards and four touchdowns in LSU’s win over Texas A&M, earning an 85.6 overall grade, and cementing his place as the centerpiece of the 2017 LSU offense. That is likely to be the case regardless of whoever Head Coach Ed Orgeron hires to run the offense.
Navy ran all over SMU for a 75-31 victory over the Mustangs, with quarterback Will Worth rushing for 107 yards and three touchdowns. That takes Worth to 1182 yards on designed runs this year, at 5.4 per attempt, good enough for an 89.8 rushing grade for the season. The Midshipmen are now in the rather incongruous position of playing for a conference game next week, before finishing their regular season against Army the week after.
- Virginia Tech
The Hokies have flattered to deceive all season, looking great one week, then blowing it on others. Their 52-10 win over Virginia was one of the good ones, thanks to standout performances from corners Brandon Facyson (95.9 coverage grade) and Adonis Alexander (87.1). Between them they were targeted 15 times, and allowed a combined four completions for 18 yards and zero interceptions, while also making one interception and breaking up four other passes. Virginia Tech now have the chance to win the ACC, and play spoiler for their conferences playoff hopes.
With Tom Herman’s impending departure all but certain at the time (since confirmed), Houston entered this game under a cloud and slipped to their third AAC defeat of the season, in an entertaining 48-44 loss at Memphis. It’s their American Athletic Conference record that keeps them so low in the rankings, and their impressive wins over Oklahoma and Louisville that have them ranked at all. Safety Khalil Williams had a sack and five total pressures, which helped him to a game-high 86.1 overall grade.
Even though the final standings are in, it is still difficult to work out how the ACC Coastal stacks up. Pitt have losses to Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami, but also have a win over Clemson that is better than any other win recorded by team in the Coastal. Their 76-61 victory over Syracuse showcased all that Pitt have brought to the table this season. an offense that can score (10th in the nation in points scored), and a defense that concedes them (109th in points against).