After several important matchups this past week, including the “Game of the Century,” the College Football Playoff picture is now a bit clearer. Some teams have a clear-cut path to the playoff, while others are going to need some help. Here’s how week 11 stacked up:
Winner: Joe Burrow
Coming into the season, most people were talking about Clemson sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa being the front-runners to take home the Heisman Trophy at the end of the season. Well, you can now officially take that prediction and throw it out the window, because the Heisman Trophy has all but been locked up by LSU’s Joe Burrow. The redshirt senior quarterback continued his stellar season with an unforgettable winning performance against No. 5 Alabama (8-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference), a team that usually shuts LSU down. Burrow threw for 393 yards and three touchdowns on 31-for-39 passing in the contest, and displayed nerves of steel in the high-pressure moments of the game. It’s not easy staying composed when Alabama is storming from behind, but Burrow did so, calmly leading his offense down the field for two crucial fourth-quarter touchdowns that sealed the game. The 46 points LSU scored were the most the Tigers have ever put up against the Crimson Tide. Now, LSU (9-0, 5-0 SEC) is the top-ranked team in the country, and Burrow and the Tigers’ offense seems unstoppable.
Loser: Big 12
With only four spots in the College Football Playoff, at least one of the Power Five conferences will miss out on a spot each season. Right now, the likeliest conference to not make the playoff looks like the Big 12. Both of the conference’s two remaining playoff contenders looked very shaky this past week. No. 10 Oklahoma went down to the wire with unranked Iowa State at home, only surviving because of a failed two-point conversion attempt, while No. 12 Baylor needed triple overtime to defeat TCU. Even worse for both of these teams, No. 16 Kansas State fell to Texas and dropped eight spots in the College Football Playoff Rankings as a result. This makes Baylor’s road win against the Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Big 12) look less impressive, while it makes Oklahoma’s loss to them look even worse. The Sooners (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) and the Bears (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) play each other this Saturday, so one of them will get a much-needed marquee win, but neither of these two teams has any margin for error if they want to make the College Football Playoff.
Minnesota is the team that nobody saw coming. Many experts, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee included, dismissed the Gophers because of their relatively weak schedule. Finally faced with a tough challenge, however, the Gophers seized the opportunity to sling the doubt cast on them back in their doubters’ faces by beating No. 4 Penn State. The score was close, but Minnesota (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) looked dominant, driving the ball down the field at will. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan threw only two incompletions in the game, and managed 339 passing yards on his 18 complete passes. As a result, No. 8 Minnesota has its first 9-0 record since 1904, and is recognized by everyone as legitimate title contenders. The Gophers is the team that nobody saw coming, but now it’s the team that everyone is talking about.
Loser: Wake Forest
If you’re a team that’s better than people expected, and it’s the week before you go up against a major opponent, you want to do your best to win so that you head into that big matchup with confidence. Wake Forest did the exact opposite. The Demon Deacons (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) looked lifeless down the stretch against Virginia Tech, giving up the final 23 points of the game to lose 36-17 on the road. Had Wake Forest won, it would have had the chance to jump into first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division with a win over No. 3 Clemson this week. Instead, the Demon Deacons will face the Tigers (10-0, 7-0 ACC) as a deflated team and with no chance of stealing a division title.
Honorable Mention: Illinois
If you haven’t been following Illinois closely this season, I can hardly blame you. It has been an incredibly long time since Illinois was a relevant football program, but the Fighting Illini (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) have actually managed to put a decent season together. Their shock win over then-undefeated Wisconsin a few weeks ago has propelled them to a four-game winning streak. This past week, the Illini looked dead in the water against Michigan State, but they surged back with 27 fourth-quarter points to claim a win in East Lansing. That win has made Illinois bowl-eligible for the first time since 2014. It’s the Illini’s fourth season with Lovie Smith in charge, and maybe things are finally starting to click.