The College Football Playoff chase has zigzagged in a new direction with just one week left in the regular season.
Ohio State is out. Michigan’s in the driver’s seat. Alabama is still alive after winning the Iron Bowl, but let’s get real: This is the team that’s going to stop Georgia’s demolition of the SEC?
Unpredictability has taken root as the playoff debate nears the finish line. Here’s the fallout from this week’s results:
Michigan finally beats Ohio State
It took eight games stretched across a decade for Michigan to get even with Ohio State. The 42-27 win was punctuated by five touchdowns in the Wolverines’ final five drives, including a soul-stealing, run-heavy march after the Buckeyes had pulled within a touchdown. One year after his future with the program was in serious doubt, coach Jim Harbaugh won his first game in this series and validated the hype that accompanied his return to Michigan in 2015.
What it means for Michigan: Ending the losing streak will impact things well beyond the standings in the Big Ten and the playoff rankings. In the immediate future, Michigan has won the Big Ten East and will play Iowa to decide the conference. Winning next Saturday would make the Wolverines the No. 2 seed in the semifinals, should Georgia take care of Alabama in the SEC.
What it means for Ohio State: The Buckeyes will land in a New Year’s Six bowl regardless of what happens in the Big Ten championship game. Wisconsin would take the Rose Bowl with the upset, however, leaving OSU in the difficult position of rooting for Michigan to win in order to play in Pasadena.
Alabama wins an ugly Iron Bowl
Bryce Young drove Alabama to the game-tying touchdown with under a minute left and the Crimson Tide beat Auburn 24-22 in four overtimes, as an ugly but still memorable Iron Bowl was decided by two-point conversions. From an offensive perspective, there was not much to like outside of that late drive, which showed Young handling four quarters of abuse from Auburn’s defensive line and delivering what may be the highlight-reel moment of his Heisman Trophy campaign.
What it means for Alabama: A loss might not have totally eliminated Alabama from the playoff, since the Tide could’ve topped Georgia and still had a case to make with the selection committee. But it’s a win-and-in game for Alabama as the offense looks to rebound before taking on the top defense in the country.
Oklahoma State takes Bedlam
It’s fitting that Oklahoma State’s defense stepped up in the end and delivered one of the best wins of the Mike Gundy era. After giving up 24 points in the first half — the Cowboys had allowed a combined 23 points in November entering Saturday — the defense pitched a shutout in the second half as the offense took advantage of Oklahoma mistakes to pull off the 37-33 win.
What it means for Oklahoma: The Sooners are eliminated from Big 12 contention and will instead be in the mix for a New Year’s Six game.
What it means for Oklahoma State: Next comes Baylor to decide the conference championship. Should Alabama lose to Georgia, the Cowboys will be in position to claim a place in the semifinals. If the other three spots are held by Georgia, Michigan and Cincinnati, the Cowboys’ biggest threat would be Notre Dame.
Wisconsin flops against Minnesota
One win from winning the Big Ten West, Wisconsin lost 23-13 to rival Minnesota and will slide all of the way out of the mix for the New Year’s Six. Instead, the honor of playing the Wolverines will go to Iowa, which beat Nebraska on Friday. The loss was not unexpected — Wisconsin is hugely inconsistent — but still comes as a surprise, if that makes any sense: Minnesota has won just twice in this series since 2004.
What it means for Wisconsin: The loss will make the Hawkeyes the last hurdle for Michigan to pass in order to reach the semifinals. One issue all season has been erratic and inconsistent quarterback play; competing for next year’s Big Ten requires a major overhaul and improvement from the position.
Cincinnati puts away East Carolina
The Bearcats scored 21 points in the second quarter, returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and had no real difficulty taking care of ECU in Friday’s 35-13 win. With Texas-San Antonio losing on Saturday to North Texas, Cincinnati joins Georgia as the only unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision with one weekend left before postseason play.
What it means for Cincinnati: The Bearcats will meet Houston next week in the American championship game with a fantastic shot at securing a playoff berth.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg