Winners and losers: 8 games left that will set College Football Playoff field

·17-min read

Eight games over the next two weeks will decide the College Football Playoff field.

Thanks to No. 3 Oregon’s loss to Utah on Saturday night, we can eliminate the Pac-12 from playoff contention once again. The 2021 season will be the fifth consecutive year without a Pac-12 team in the playoff since Washington made the field after the 2016 season.

The ACC won’t be getting a playoff team either. Clemson, the conference’s perennial playoff team, ended any playoff hopes No. 10 Wake Forest had in a 47-28 win on Saturday.

Without the Pac-12 and the ACC in the mix, the playoff door is open for Cincinnati to be the first non-Power Five team to make the playoff. The No. 5 Bearcats moved to 11-0 with a drubbing of SMU on Saturday. Thanks to Oregon’s loss, Cincinnati should be at No. 4 in Tuesday’s rankings.

No. 9 Oklahoma State should move up too. The Cowboys moved to 10-1 with a dominant win at Texas Tech on Saturday night. OSU has a chance to make the playoff with wins over the next two weeks of the season and losses by teams ahead of them.

With one week to go in the regular season and conference championship weekend after that before the playoff field is set, we now have a pretty good idea of the games that will directly impact the College Football Playoff picture. If you’re busy with friends and family because of the holiday season and can’t sit down to binge on college football like you’d like over the next two weeks, here are the eight games you need to pay attention to before the playoff field is set.

Week 13

  • Cincinnati at East Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET Friday, ABC)

Playing on Friday is a great opportunity for Cincinnati to show how good it can be like it did against SMU. After weeks of relatively close wins, Cincinnati absolutely destroyed SMU to show it was the best team in the AAC and worthy of playoff consideration. A blowout on Friday would go a long way to solidifying Cincinnati’s playoff status.

  • Ohio State at Michigan (Noon ET, Fox)

The stakes for this one are pretty simple. The winner heads to the Big Ten title game as the winner of the East and will be one win away from a spot in the College Football Playoff. It’s Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s chance to finally get a win over Ohio State and put his team in the thick of the CFP picture as a result. The Wolverines haven’t beaten Ohio State since 2011. That’s the Wolverines’ only win over the Buckeyes since 2003.

Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson, right, celebrates his touchdown against Michigan State with teammate Chris Olave during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson, right, celebrates his touchdown against Michigan State with teammate Chris Olave during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
  • Alabama at Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

The Iron Bowl doesn’t have the luster it normally does this year. Auburn is 6-5 after a loss to South Carolina on Saturday night and is without starting QB Bo Nix after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Mississippi State in Week 11. But crazy things sometimes happen at Jordan-Hare Stadium in this rivalry. An Alabama win keeps the Crimson Tide in the top three in the playoff standings ahead of a monumental SEC title game.

  • Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

This is a game we could see twice in two weeks. If Oklahoma wins, the Sooners and Cowboys will meet each other for the Big 12 title on Dec. 4. If Oklahoma State wins, the Cowboys will face Baylor for the Big 12 title. Oklahoma State has been an under-the-radar playoff contender all season long as it’s been powered by one of the best defenses in the country. That defense stifled Texas Tech on Saturday night and looks well-equipped to face Oklahoma.

Conference Championships

  • AAC championship game

If Cincinnati beats East Carolina and beats Houston in the AAC title game it’s hard to see how the Bearcats are going to get left out of the playoff. Houston entered the playoff rankings for the first time this week and will stay in the top 25 after a win over Memphis on Friday night. The Cougars should take care of business against UConn in the final week of the regular season and will give Cincinnati the opportunity to get another win over a ranked team on the way to a potential 13-0 season.

  • Big Ten championship game

The winner of Ohio State and Michigan will likely face either Iowa or Wisconsin for the Big Ten title. The Badgers are in the Big Ten title game with a win over Minnesota while Iowa is in with a Wisconsin loss and a win over Nebraska. Whichever team emerges from the East will have a simple playoff scenario. A win over the West champ should be enough to make the playoff.

  • Big 12 championship game

The Big 12 title game is the potential wild card in the playoff mix. If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma and beats Baylor for a second time this season the Cowboys will be at 12-1. Will a win over Oklahoma and two wins over Baylor be enough to jump into the top four either ahead of an undefeated Cincinnati or a two-loss Alabama? If Cincinnati loses one of its final two games, Oklahoma State could jump Notre Dame and get into the playoff at 12-1.

  • SEC championship game

Will the SEC get two teams in the playoff no matter if Alabama or Georgia wins? If Alabama beats Auburn and then beats Georgia, both teams are getting into the playoff at 12-1. If Georgia wins and drops Alabama to 11-2, the committee could move a one-loss team ahead of Alabama into the top four or make Alabama the first two-loss team to make the playoff. The latter scenario seems possible if the game is close. No game in the final two weeks of the season may hinge more on the makeup of the playoff field than the SEC title game.

WINNERS

Ohio State: Ohio State is peaking at the right time. The fourth-ranked Buckeyes demolished No. 7 Michigan State 56-7 on Saturday at the Horseshoe behind a monster performance from C.J. Stroud. Stroud, one of the favorites for the Heisman, threw for 432 yards and six touchdowns in the win. The Big Ten East and a potential College Football Playoff spot will be on the line when the Buckeyes square off with Michigan next weekend in Ann Arbor.

Michigan: If there were any worries that No. 6 Michigan would overlook Maryland with the Ohio State game looming, those were quickly alleviated. The Wolverines trounced the Terps 59-18 in College Park. The Wolverines threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns and also scored on a kickoff return and an interception return in the win. Michigan has now reached the 10-win four times during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure. Getting to 11 next week would be massive for the Michigan program.

Cincinnati: After several weeks of underwhelming play against lackluster opponents, Cincinnati finally got the dominant performance it needed. The Bearcats trounced SMU, 48-14, at home on Saturday to improve to 11-0 on the season. In the win, Desmond Ridder threw for 274 yards and three TDs and also had a 40-yard rushing TD. The Bearcats were No. 5 in the CFP rankings last week but now have the chance to move into the top four following Utah’s win over No. 4 Oregon.

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) runs the ball for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against SMU, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 48-14. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) runs the ball for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against SMU, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 48-14. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Pittsburgh: Pitt is headed to the ACC title game thanks to Saturday’s victory over Virginia. With the 48-38 victory, the Panthers wrapped up the ACC Coastal Division. In the win, Kenny Pickett threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns, all of which went to Jordan Addison. The Panthers are now 9-2 headed into the regular season finale at Syracuse next week. Pitt hasn’t gotten to 10 regular season wins since 1981, Dan Marino’s junior season.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma is still on track to get back to the Big 12 title game. The Sooners bounced back from last week’s loss to Baylor by knocking off Iowa State 28-21 on Saturday to improve to 10-1 on the year. Oklahoma is headed to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State next weekend in what could be a preview of the Big 12 title game. The Sooners have won six straight conference championships.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin has its next star running back in Braelon Allen. Allen, a 17-year-old freshman, rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-28 win over Nebraska on Saturday. That performance marked the seventh straight 100-yard performance for Allen, who now has 1,062 yards on the year. With the win, Wisconsin maintained its advantage over Iowa in the Big Ten West. If the Badgers beat Minnesota next week, they are headed to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.

Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen (0) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Nebraska Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin won 35-28. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen (0) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Nebraska Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin won 35-28. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Florida State: Florida State opened the season 0-4 with a loss to Jacksonville State, but Mike Norvell’s team kept fighting. In the weeks since, the Seminoles have won five of their next seven and are now in position to get to a bowl game. FSU improved to 5-6 by beating Boston College, 26-23, on the road on Saturday. To get to a bowl, FSU needs to go to Gainesville and beat the reeling Florida Gators. UF is also 5-6, so bowl eligibility will be on the line for both teams.

UTSA: Miraculously, UTSA is still undefeated. The Roadrunners improved to 11-0 and clinched the Conference USA West Division with a thrilling 34-31 win over UAB on Saturday. The Roadrunners trailed 34-31 with 1:06 to play, but they managed to drive 77 yards in seven plays without any timeouts to score the winning touchdown in the final seconds. The winning touchdown came when Frank Harris found Oscar Cardenas from the 1-yard line.

Louisville QB Malik Cunningham: Louisville clinched bowl eligibility in a Thursday night victory over Duke. The Cardinals dropped 62 points in the win and Malik Cunningham had an epic outing. Cunningham threw for 303 yards and five touchdowns and also rushed for 224 yards and two more scores. This 72-yard touchdown run was one of the best highlights of the weekend.

Georgia DL Jordan Davis: Jordan Davis is one of the best defensive linemen in the country, and he got a chance to carry the ball for Georgia on Senior Day. In a 56-7 win over Charleston Southern, the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Davis got a goal line carry and reached the end zone in glorious fashion.

Southern Miss RB Frank Gore Jr.: Southern Miss has been hampered by injuries at quarterback this season, so the coaches got creative. Frank Gore Jr., the team’s top running back, got to play QB in Thursday night’s game against Louisiana Tech. Gore Jr. mainly just operated the offense, but he did attempt eight passes. He completed four of them for 75 yards, including two touchdowns, in a 35-19 road victory. Gore also had a rushing TD in the win.

East Carolina: ECU beat Navy in dramatic fashion on Saturday. The Pirates won 38-35 on a last-second, 54-yard field goal by Owen Daffer. Daffer connected on three field goals in the win, but the 54-yarder as time expired clinched a winning season for the Pirates, who are now 7-4 on the year.

LOSERS

Oregon: Oregon blew its chance to get to the College Football Playoff with its performance against Utah on Saturday night. The Ducks were dominated 38-7 by the Utes and fell to 9-2 on the year. Utah manhandled Oregon up front as the Ducks finished with only 63 rushing yards on 23 carries. The Ducks were ranked No. 3 in the most-recent CFP rankings, but now will fall significantly. On top of that, Oregon had a chance to clinch the Pac-12 North. Instead, the loss opened the door for Washington State and Oregon State. 

Michigan State: Though it was a top-10 matchup, Michigan State was a big underdog at Ohio State on Saturday. Even with that said, nobody expected a 56-7 loss that included a 49-0 halftime deficit. The Spartans were flat-out bad on both sides of the ball. The defense allowed 655 yards and 56 points. The offense had just 224 yards with Payton Thorne completing just 14-of-36 passes for 158 yards and the running game accounting for just 66 yards on 21 carries. With the loss, MSU has been eliminated from the Big Ten race and the team’s playoff hopes have all but vanished.

Iowa State: Iowa State entered the season ranked in the top 10 but now the Cyclones could potentially finish the year 6-6. ISU had three turnovers and lost 28-21 to Oklahoma on Saturday to drop to 6-5 on the year. A month ago, the Cyclones were 5-2 overall and 3-1 in Big 12 play and still firmly in the conference title race. Since then, ISU has lost three of its last four games and has to be considered one of the most disappointing teams of the 2021 season.

Florida: Dan Mullen’s only aggressiveness came in overtime and it wasn’t enough. Just look at how conservative Florida was during its 24-23 overtime loss to Missouri.  

Florida got the ball back with just over a minute left at the Missouri 30 with the game tied 16-16 after Missouri missed a go-ahead field goal. Instead of trying to play for a win in regulation, Florida ran the ball three times and had to punt to Missouri before the clock expired. While Florida ran Philly Special on third down to get a TD on its overtime possession, the Tigers scored a TD in two plays and got a two-point conversion to become bowl eligible and put Florida a loss away from a 5-7 season.

Wake Forest: It’s hard to make Clemson’s offense look good, but Wake Forest did just that. Clemson hadn’t scored more than 30 points in a conference game this season before it hosted the Demon Deacons on Saturday. Against Wake Forest, Clemson put up 48 points and 543 yards of offense. In the 48-27 win, Clemson rushed for 333 yards and kept its hopes of winning the ACC Atlantic alive. Wake Forest could have won the division with a win. Wake needs a win over Boston College next week to get to the ACC title game.

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 20: Dave Clawson head caoch of Wake Forest during a college football game between the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the Clemson Tigers on November 20, 2021, at Clemson Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Wake Forest allowed 48 points in a loss to Clemson on Saturday. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Texas: The Longhorns have now lost six consecutive games after a loss to West Virginia on Saturday. Texas QBs Hudson Card and Casey Thompson combined to go 14-of-30 for 152 yards and a TD and an interception in the 31-23 loss that dropped Texas to 4-7 on the season. The struggles of Thompson and Card in the second half of 2021 highlight the need for a star QB in Austin as one-time hometown commit Quinn Ewers got playing time late in Ohio State’s blowout win over Michigan State. The six-game losing streak is Texas’ longest since 1956 and could stretch to seven against a 7-4 Kansas State team in the final week of the season.

Georgia Tech: Things are not going well for Geoff Collins and Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets dropped to 3-8 with a miserable 56-0 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday. That’s right: 56-0. Georgia Tech had just 224 yards of offense, was 3-of-15 on third down and turned it over twice in the loss. In three years under Collins, Georgia Tech has a 9-24 overall record with just a 7-18 mark in ACC play. Next on the schedule is a trip to Athens to face No. 1 Georgia. Collins may have only one more year to get this thing turned around.

Washington: Washington lost, 20-17, to Colorado despite the Buffs gaining only 183 yards on offense. Washington turned the ball over four times in the loss, including a red zone fumble that was returned 88 yards for a Colorado touchdown. The game was the first for UW since the firing of head coach Jimmy Lake. Now 4-7 on the year, the Huskies will miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2009.

Washington quarterback Dylan Morris warms up before an NCAA college football game against Colorado, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Washington quarterback Dylan Morris warms up before an NCAA college football game against Colorado, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost a close game again. Nebraska fell, 35-28, to Wisconsin on Saturday after Braelon Allen rushed for a 53-yard TD with less than four minutes to go. Nebraska is 5-19 in one-possession games in Scott Frost’s tenure with the school. Seven of those losses have come in 2021. Frost will have another crack at things in 2022. And it’s impossible that Nebraska can lose seven games by one score next season … right?

USC: The Trojans were absolutely dominated by UCLA on Saturday in a 62-33 thumping. USC led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter and then gave up multiple scores in each of the final three quarters as UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for two other scores. USC now needs to beat BYU and Cal over the final two weeks of the season to get to a bowl game. That’s probably not going to happen.

Indiana: It’s been a nightmare season for the Hoosiers. Indiana gave up 21 points in the second quarter on the way to a 35-14 loss to Minnesota. The Gophers scored 35 consecutive points before Indiana finally scored again. The Hoosiers are now 2-9 ahead of their annual rivalry game against Purdue. The Boilermakers will be favored in that one and if Purdue wins, Indiana will lose 10 or more games for the first time since 2011.

Stanford: The Cardinal were flat-out embarrassed in a 41-11 loss to Cal in The Big Game. Cal took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter and led 27-3 after the third in the best offensive performance ever in the rivalry game. 

The Cardinal look destined for a 3-9 season with a game against Notre Dame to finish the season. Three wins would be the fewest in any season for Stanford since 2006. That's unacceptable for a program paying its coach massive money like Stanford is. David Shaw is the third-highest paid coach in the country according to USA Today's salary database.

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