Going into the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s a lot of programs who have a lot to be thankful for. Clemson and Iowa, for instance, enter the weekend undefeated, as they take on rivals in traditional Thanksgiving weekend matchups. An additional 12 teams have just one loss, with nine of those as well as a pair of two loss teams having, at the very least, an outside chance at the College Football Playoff. After losses by two of last week’s top five, and big wins by Oklahoma, Michigan State, Baylor, and others, the rankings have been shaken up a bit, heading into the final weekend of the regular season for a majority of the teams in CFP contention.
1. Clemson (11-0, Last Week: 1st, CFP Rankings: 1st)
The outcome was never in doubt as the Tigers defeated Wake Forest (3-8), 33-13, although Deshaun Watson may have hurt his Heisman chances with two interceptions. After eating turkey on Thursday, the Tigers are hoping to swallow up some chickens in their rivalry game on Saturday at the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-8), ahead of an already-sold out ACC Championship Game matchup against North Carolina (10-1) on December 5.
2. Alabama (10-1, LW: 2nd, CFP: 2nd)
The Crimson Tide took care of business against FCS playoff-bound foe Charleston Southern (9-2), 56-6. Heisman contender Derrick Henry scored twice, although he only got 68 yards as Nick Saban allowed several other backs to get some carries in the one-sided affair. The Iron Bowl against Auburn (6-5) is next, and while the Tide are big favorites, the game is at Auburn and rivalry games like this one can be hard to predict.
3. Oklahoma (10-1, LW: 6th, CFP: 3rd)
Honestly, the Sooners’ win over TCU (9-2) wasn’t the prettiest victory of the season. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who entered the game as a Heisman contender, left with a head injury after a lackluster first half, and replacement Trevor Knight played even worse. TCU was without both quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson. Oklahoma led, however, 30-13 in the fourth before holding on for a 30-29 win when a TCU two-point conversion attempt failed in the final minute. It’s a win over a very quality opponent, and it puts the Sooners in third in the committee’s rankings, heading into the “Bedlam” rivalry against Oklahoma State (10-1) most likely one win away from the Playoff.
4. Notre Dame (10-1, LW: 4th, CFP: 6th)
Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer threw three interceptions and the Irish were outrushed 214-127, but Notre Dame survived their bout with Boston College (3-8), 19-16, in an incredible atmosphere at Fenway Park. While CFP committee chair Jeff Long said Notre Dame’s close game with the Eagles certainly wasn’t a resume builder, the main reason the Irish dropped to sixth in the rankings was the big wins by the teams who passed them. Nonetheless, it puts the Irish in a situation where they will now likely need some help to reach the four-team Playoff field, as they play their regular season finale Saturday at Stanford (9-2).
5. Michigan State (10-1, LW: 10th, CFP: 5th)
Speaking of ugly wins, you could say the Spartans got one, although it was a beautiful mess for the fans in East Lansing. Sparty defeated Ohio State (10-1), 17-14, despite throwing for only 91 yards and not having a player rush for more than 65. As a unit, however, the team rushed for 203 yards, and defensively the Spartans held Ohio State to 132 total yards, as Michigan State won the game on a last-second field goal by Michael Geiger, improving to 6-1 in their last seven games against top 10 opponents. There is currently a three-way tie in the Big Ten East between the Spartans, Ohio State, and Michigan, although the Buckeyes and Wolverines play each other Saturday. With wins over both, the Spartans simply need to beat Penn State (7-4) at home to clinch the division.
6. Iowa (11-0, LW: 7th, CFP: 4th)
Should Michigan State clinch the Big Ten East, they would meet Iowa in the league’s title game on December 5. The Hawkeyes defeated Purdue (2-9), 40-20. While the game wasn’t statistically overwhelming, although Jordan Canzeri ran for 95 yards and a touchdown, the team has made it through 11 games undefeated by playing well enough as a group to score more than the opponent. The Hawkeyes are now fourth in the CFP rankings, although I have them lower due to more close wins against lighter teams than other Playoff contenders. This week, the Hawkeyes play Nebraska (5-6) in a border rivalry, before heading to Indianapolis next week for the Big Ten title game.
7. Baylor (9-1, LW: 9th, CFP: 7th)
The Bears entered their game with Oklahoma State (10-1) on their second quarterback, as Jarrett Stidham had previously replaced Seth Russell, and during the game lost Stidham as well. They turned to Chris Johnson, who was third string just a few weeks ago, and he delivered down the stretch to secure Baylor’s 45-35 win over the Cowboys, as the Bears outgained the Cowboys 700-441. Yes, that’s 700 yards of offense: 396 passing yards and 304 rushing yards. Friday’s game against TCU (9-2) is still extremely important, as the Bears still have a legitimate Playoff shot, but it won’t be the matchup of two undefeated teams that many, including me, expected throughout much of the season.
8. Ohio State (10-1, LW: 3rd, CFP: 8th)
The Buckeyes streaks of 23 straight wins and 30 straight conference wins were snapped on Saturday, in a 17-14 loss to Michigan State (10-1). The Buckeyes gained only 132 yards, with 86 on the ground and only 46 through the air. Heisman contender Ezekiel Elliott rushing just 12 times for 33 yards, although he did score one of the Buckeyes two touchdowns, and criticized the Buckeyes’ play calling after the game (although he has since apologized). A Big Ten title, and a CFP bid, are still possibilities, and while the Buckeyes need help to earn either, first they must beat Michigan (9-2), which will be no small task, in one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports.
9. Florida (10-1, LW: 8th, CFP: 12th)
After entering the game on a string of recent games in which they survived, but didn’t dominate, Florida Atlantic (2-9) stretched the Gators even further, as it took overtime to dispatch the Owls, 20-14. Half the Gators 10 wins this season have come by seven points or less, and their loss to LSU looks worse now than it did at the time. While the Playoff committee dropped the Gators down to 12th, I won’t go that far, but I have slipped them a spot to ninth. However, the Gators can help a relatively weak resume the next two weeks, first hosting rival Florida State (9-2), before playing Alabama (10-1) in the SEC Championship Game on December 5.
10. Oklahoma State (10-1, LW: 5th, CFP: 11th)
The Cowboys offense, while it doesn’t necessarily have the high-scoring ability of other Big 12 teams (Baylor, for instance), is still pretty good. We learned Saturday, however, that the defense may need some work, as they allowed 700 yards of offense to Baylor (9-1) in a 45-35 loss, their first of the season. Oklahoma State can still win the Big 12 with a win Saturday over Oklahoma (10-1) in Bedlam, one of the best-named rivalries in sports, and a Baylor loss to TCU, but for the Pokes to do their half of that scenario and win Saturday in Stillwater against the Sooners, they will have to improve defensively, as they face another good offensive club.
11. Michigan (9-2, LW: 12th, CFP: 10th)
12. Stanford (9-2, LW: 14th, CFP: 9th)
13. North Carolina (10-1, LW: 16th, CFP: 14th)
14. Florida State (9-2, LW: 17th, CFP: 13th)
15. Northwestern (9-2, LW: 19th, CFP: 16th)
16. TCU (9-2, LW: 13th, CFP: 19th)
17. Navy (9-1, LW: 18th, CFP: 15th)
18. Oregon (8-3, LW: 20th, CFP: 17th)
19. Ole Miss (8-3, LW: unranked, CFP: 18th)
20. UCLA (8-3, LW: unranked, CFP: 22nd)
21. Houston (10-1, LW: 11th, CFP: unranked)
22. Mississippi State (8-3, LW: 24th, CFP: 21st)
23. Washington State (8-3, LW: 23rd, CFP: 20th)
24. Temple (9-2, LW: unranked, CFP: 25th)
25. Toledo (10-1, LW: unranked, CFP: 24th)
Also ranked in CFP Rankings: Utah (8-3, LW: 22nd, CFP: 23rd)
Fell from Rankings: LSU (7-3, LW: 15th), Wisconsin (8-3, LW: 21st), Utah, USC (7-4, LW: 25th)