|Week 14 featured many great rivalry games across the college football landscape, some of which provided a lot of clarity to the College Football Playoff picture. Here are the winners and losers of week 14 of the college football season.
Winner: Ohio State
If there was any doubt as to who is the best team in the country, those doubts were erased on Saturday when No. 1 Ohio State rolled past their archrivals, No. 13 Michigan, with extreme ease. Michigan (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) had been playing tremendous football over the past few weeks and were facing the Buckeyes (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten) at home, but none of that mattered. Ohio State moved the ball up and down the field at will, putting up 56 points without much resistance. There’s an argument to be made for No. 2 LSU being the best team in the nation, but after beating No. 10 Penn State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks without difficulty, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Buckeyes are at the top of the totem pole.
For the first time in the era of the College Football Playoff, the Alabama Crimson Tide will not be one of the four teams selected to compete for a national title. This was ensured when No. 5 Alabama fell in the Iron Bowl to No. 15 Auburn. Alabama’s offense played well enough to win the game, scoring 45 points, but the Crimson Tide (10-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) got in their own way against the Tigers (9-3, 5-3 SEC), committing several unforced errors, including an illegal substitution late in the game to seal Auburn’s victory and end Alabama’s playoff hopes. The Crimson Tide played a weak schedule this season. Only two of the opponents they faced are currently ranked, and Alabama lost both of those games. It’s almost unthinkable to say this of Nick Saban’s team, but what I’ve seen from Alabama this year leads me to a simple conclusion: This year’s Alabama Crimson Tide is not an elite team. The selection committee seems to think so too, dropping them to 12th in the latest rankings. As a result, the Crimson Tide will likely be spending their postseason in the Cotton Bowl.
Winner: The College Football Playoff Selection Committee
Thanks to losses by Alabama and No. 8 Minnesota, the selection committee’s job just got easier. A one-loss Alabama team always presents the committee with a difficult choice to make, but Auburn took that potential snag out of the equation. Minnesota’s loss to No. 12 Wisconsin took the Golden Gophers (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) out of the playoff picture as well. Strong wins by No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 9 Baylor ensure that the Big 12 champion will be a one-loss team after those two teams clash this Saturday. Potential tough decisions do remain, such as what to do if LSU (12-0, 8-0 SEC), Ohio State or No. 3 Clemson lose their championship games, or who to put in between the Big 12 champion or No. 5 Utah. But overall, the playoff picture is much clearer now than it was prior to this week, and that always benefits the selection committee.
Loser: Intense rivalries
The Iron Bowl aside, Saturday’s rivalry games were hardly exciting. It’s not unfair to expect both teams in a rivalry game to bring the best intensity they can muster, given that they’re going up against the team they hate the most, but too many of the week’s rivalry games were awfully one-sided. Ohio State trounced Michigan, No. 4 Georgia rolled past Georgia Tech, Clemson (12-0, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) romped past South Carolina and Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) won comfortably over No. 21 Oklahoma State. Each of those winning teams extended long winning streaks against the teams they beat. For a rivalry to be at its best, the two teams involved need to be on relatively even footing, and we didn’t see that across most of the games this weekend, which was disappointing, to say the least.
Honorable Mention: North Carolina
I mentioned at the beginning of the season that it would be a remarkable story if Mack Brown’s return to North Carolina resulted in a turnaround, and that’s what Brown managed to achieve this season for the Tar Heels (6-6, 4-4 ACC). After beating up on NC State on Saturday, North Carolina has won more games this year than in the past two seasons combined. Its six wins this season also makes the Tar Heels bowl-eligible for the first time since 2016. Turning a two-win team into a six-win team represents the first step to potentially building the North Carolina football team into a respectable program.