What a rivalry weekend it was in the world of college football! Several high-profile long-time rivalry games took center stage during the final weekend of the 2021 college football regular season. Michigan-Ohio State had a spot in the Big TEN Title game on the line, Alabama - Auburn featured a Crimson Tide squad trying to stay in the top 4 ahead of the SEC Title game, and Oklahoma - Oklahoma State had a spot in the Big XII Title game on the line as well the winner staying alive for a possible playoff birth. Those were the the big games at the center of the action, but there were plenty of other important games as well. Let's get to it!
We start in Ann Arbor, MI where the Wolverines were hosting the Buckeyes and hoping to get their first win over OSU in a decade (2011 had been the last time Mich beat OSU). Coach Jim Harbaugh's struggles against the Buckeyes had been well-documented (0-5, with the last 3 coming in blowout fashion).
Ohio State came in the favorites after their complete annihilation of Michigan State the week prior, but were served a heavy dose of defense early as the two battled to a 14-13 halftime advantage for the Wolverines. A big 3rd quarter put some distance between the two as Michigan took a 28-13 lead into the 4th quarter.
The Wolverines road their run game the rest of the way, as the Buckeyes were unable to close the gap and Michigan finally knocked off Ohio State, 42-27 to punch their ticket to the Big TEN Title game and take the Buckeyes' place in the top 4. The biggest win of Harbaugh's career sends them up 4 spots to #3 and the Buckeyes drop to #10 this week. 297 yards on the ground, and an offense that averaged 8.0 yards per play were the difference. RB Hassan Haskins came up huge as well, piling up 169 yards and a whopping 5 scores on the ground.
The Wolverines would-be opponent was either going to be Wisconsin or Iowa. The Hawkeyes snuck past Nebraska on Friday in Lincoln, rallying back from a 21-9 deficit entering the 4th quarter for a 28-21 victory. The 19-0 final quarter from the Hawkeyes got them to 10 wins and on the cusp of the Big TEN Title game.
#13 Wisconsin came into their season-ending rivalry showdown at Minnesota riding a 7-game win streak after just a 1-3 start. The Golden Gophers and Badgers played a defensive slugfest over the first 30 minutes with a pick-6 the only score as Wisc took a 10-6 halftime lead.
The Badgers' early-season redzone woes resurfaced in the second half however at the worst possible time as they failed to capitalize on numerous trips into Minnesota territory. In the end, Minnesota scored a massive 23-13 upset to take back Paul Bunyan's Axe for just the 2nd time in the last 18 years. The loss sent the Badgers tumbling back to #24 this week, down 11 spots, and barely clinging to a spot in the top 25.
It also means Iowa jumped 4 spots up to #13 as they will take on Michigan in the Big TEN Title game.
Next up, an Iron Bowl for the ages...
Alabama was visiting Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and the long-time heated rivalry did not disappoint as history was made in this one. For the first time in Iron Bowl history, we had an overtime affair between this two.
The extra football was all possible thanks to a 12-play, 97-yard drive by the Crimson Tide in the 4th quarter that tied the game at 10-10. Bama had been shutout through the first 3 quarters and found themselves trailing 10-0 heading to the final frame despite the Tigers coming into this game at just 6-5 & starting a backup QB with T.J. Finley in for the injured Bo Nix.
For most of the game, it wasn't looking good for the Tide, but the 4th quarter rally and dramatic TD pass up the right sideline with just 0:24 to go allowed them to get it to OT where each side traded scores in the first two overtimes. Then it was 2-point conversion tries from there as the Tide ultimately turned away Auburn's try in the 4th OT to secure an incredible 2-point victory, 24-22.
A win is a win, but it's difficult to overlook how the Tide have performed over their past 3 SEC games. A 6-point win over 6-6 LSU, a 35-28 win over 8-4 Arkansas, and then barely getting past 6-6 Auburn. That's an average margin of victory of just 5.0 points against teams with a combined record of 20-16. Not the kind of dominant football one wants to be playing while trying to fight for an at-large playoff spot. Of course, upset top-ranked Georgia in the SEC Title game, and it all becomes a mute point.
Speaking of Georgia, they crushed in-state rival Georgia Tech, 45-0 to closeout the regular season with yet another dominant victory. The Bulldogs' completed a perfect 12-0 season and should be safely in the playoff no matter what happens against Bama. They remain entreched at #1.
Now to the Saturday night 'Bedlam' showdown between Oklahoma State & Oklahoma. The Cowboys were hoping to stay in the CFP conversation, while the Sooners were looking to force their way back into the conversation. The winner also clinched a spot in the Big XII Title game.
In another great game that didn't disappoint, the Sooners got a huge special teams break late in the 3rd quarter that allowed them to snag a 33-24 lead heading into the 4th quarter.
QB Spencer Sanders broke free on a 37-yard TD run early in the 4th quarter to close the gap, and then RB Jaylen Warren put the Cowboys back in front with a 1-yard plunge with 8:54 to play. A huge sack in the closing moments ended a potential scoring drive for the Sooners and ran out the clock on a massive Bedlam victory for Ok State and clinched their spot in the Big XII Title game.
That's also 5 consecutive impressive wins for the Cowboys to closeout the season. Since suffering their lone loss of the season - 24-21 @ Iowa State, they've reeled off a 55-3 domination of Kansas, a 24-3 shutdown of West Virginia, completely crushed TCU, 63-17, shut-out Texas Tech 23-0 last week, and then the 37-33 Bedlam victory. They are playing their best football of the season, and own a massive resume-boosting victory over Baylor as well. All of that adds up to the Cowboys jumping into the top 4 and landing at #4 this week, one spot ahead of Alabama.
Take your pick between the Tide & Cowboys, but its tough to argue against Ok State being the better team over the past month, and for those reasons, I have them one spot ahead of Alabama heading into Championship weekend.
In other top 10 action...
Notre Dame took to the road to closeout the season with a trip out west to take on rival Stanford. It's hard to believe the Cardinal have a victory over Oregon with the way they've played over the past two months, and three games, in particular, getting outscored by an average of 32 points per game over those 3.
The Irish added to their misery with an easy 45-14 route, and finish up the regular season at 11-1. While the win didn't do much for the resume, it keeps the Irish in the middle of the CFP conversation. Losses by Alabama & Oklahoma State in particular, could open the door for a spot in the final 4, and a Michigan loss would help the cause as well. They need some help, but stranger things have certainly happened. For now, they slot in at #6 this week.
Baylor was able to hang-on against Texas Tech in Waco, TX. The Bears jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first 5 minutes of the game, and from there led the rest of the way. A 75-yard TD pass for the Red Raiders with 6:40 to go got them back in the game and cut it to 27-24. A 53-yard field goal attempt that would have tied it went wide left as time expired, however, and the Bears hung-on for their 10th win of the season, clinching their spot in the Big XII Title game in the process. It also moved them up a spot to #7 as they prepare to meet the Cowboys for the Big XII Championship. The two met back on October 2nd, a 24-14 Ok State win in Stillwater, OK.
Oregon was looking to right the ship after getting demolished by Utah in surprise fashion, and they did just that, taking care of in-state rival Oregon State, 38-29, in Eugene to get to 10 wins and punch their spot in the Pac-12 Title game. The big rivalry win sends the Ducks up a pair of spots and back into the top 10 at #9 this week. They will get a chance to avenge their 38-7 loss to Utah in the Pac-12 Title game.
The pollsters can be quite hilarious at times, and ranking a 10-2 Ohio State team ahead of a 10-2 Oregon team, when the two played each other early in the season, and the Ducks won on the Buckeyes' home field makes zero sense whatsoever. That head-to-head win on the road has Oregon ahead of the Buckeyes this week in my rankings, and honestly, should have them there in all of the polls.
Ole Miss was in action on Thanksgiving night in the Egg Bowl, and Lane Kiffin's squad took down the rival Bulldogs with relative ease, 31-21 to get to 10 wins on the season. The loss dropped Mississippi State to 7-5, while the win moved Ole Miss up a spot to #8. Its only the third 10-win season for the Rebels since 1962, and with a Bowl victory, would mark the first time in the program's long histroy that they managed to reach 11 wins.
Rounding out this week...
Michigan State rebounded from last week's embarrassment at Ohio State by outlasting Penn State 30-27 in a terrific game from icy, snowy East Lansing, MI. The win gets Sparty to 10 on the season as HC Mel Tucker signed a massive extension this past week, and was awarded the Big TEN coach of the year award as well. The Spartans land at #11 as they await their Bowl destination.
BYU scored an exciting 35-31 win at USC on Saturday night to get to 10 wins as well, and are up two spots to #12 this week. Utah got a routine 28-13 win over Colorado to clinch their spot in the Pac 12 Title game.
1-loss teams Houston and San Diego State both took care of business against UConn & Boise State, respectively, and clinched their spots in their respective conference Title games. The Cougars are up to #16 and the Aztecs are up to #17 ahead of the AAC & Mountain West Title games.
Houston's opponent in that AAC Championship game will be Cincinnati of course. The talk of the 2021 season, the Bearcats finally cracked the top 4 in the CFP committee's last set of rankings. They took care of East Carolina on the road, 35-13, early Friday to finish off a perfect regular season and join Georgia as the only 12-0 teams in the land. The solid W has them maintaining at #2. Again, I don't have an issue with them being ranked a spot or two lower, as long as its in the top 4. Still hard to argue against their win at Notre Dame being one of the most, if not THE most impressive win of any team in the country all season long.
At any rate, one more hurdle remains against a very solid Houston squad in the AAC Title game.
There was only one other undefeated team left heading into the final week of the regular season, but UTSA lost their QB in the 2nd quarter at North Texas on Saturday and then lost their mojo and their perfect record in a 45-23 setback. The loss kept the Roadrunners from completing a perfect regular season, but they still have an opportunity to win the Conference USA crown. Give NT credit, after a dismal 1-6 start to the season, they reeled off 5 straight wins, including taking down 11-0 UTSA, to get to 6-6 & become Bowl eligible. Talk about salvaging a season!
Clemson continued heir late-season ascension by blanking rivals South Carolina on the road, 30-0 in impressive fashion. Make it blowouts of Wake Forest & SC in back-to-back weeks to close out the regular season. Speaking of Wake, they thrashed Boston College to claim their spot in the ACC Title game, and Pittsburgh did the same to Syracuse, sending both the Demon Decons & Panthers to 10-2 on the season. The pair will meet in the ACC Title game with a New Year's Six Bowl game at stake.
A pair of Sun Belt teams also looked good this past weekend, as Louisiana snuck past in-state rival UL-Monroe, 21-16 to get to 11-1, and Appalachian State downed Georgia Southern with ease, 27-3, to get to 10-2 and setup what should be a heck of matchup between these two in the Sun Belt Title game. The Raj'in Cajuns & Mountaineers are up to #s 21 & 23, respectively ahead of that showdown.
Rounding out the top 25 as we head to Championship week, are the Texas A&M Aggies. A&M suffered a 27-24 setback at LSU to closeout the regular season in Ed Orgeron's final game at the helm for the Tigers. It's always difficult to get a win at Death Valley, as LSU managed to get to 6-6 and become Bowl eligible with the win. As for the Aggies, if it wasn't for their win over Alabama earlier in the season, they'd be out of the rankings, but for now, that resume-booster keeps them in at #25.
Looking ahead to Conference Championship Saturday, we've got 10 games on the dockett:
1 Georgia vs 5 Alabama
3 Michigan vs 13 Iowa
4 Oklahoma State vs 7 Baylor
19 Wake Forest vs 20 Pittsburgh
10 Oregon vs 14 Utah
2 Cincinnati vs 16 Houston
21 Louisiana vs 23 Appalachian State
17 SDST vs Utah State
UTSA vs WKU
Northern Illinois vs Kent State
There was a ton to sort through, but we made it! Without further ado, here is the @sportsguychris 2021 College Football Ultimate Top 25 for Week 14 (Championship Week)!:
[*One final note: A couple of big-time surprise coaching changes have already taken place with Lincoln Riley leaving perennial playoff contender Oklahoma for USC, and Brian Kelly leaving Notre Dame for LSU. Talk about a couple of surprises - Wow! We haven't got to the Championship games, and already some fireworks!]
2021 COLLEGE FOOTBALL ULTIMATE TOP 25 for Week 14
1 Georgia (12-0)
2 Cincinnati (12-0)
3 Michigan (11-1)
4 Oklahoma State (11-1)
5 Alabama (11-1)
6 Notre Dame (11-1)
7 Baylor (10-2)
8 Ole Miss (10-2)
9 Oregon (10-2)
10 Ohio State (10-2)
11 Michigan State (10-2)
12 BYU (10-2)
13 Iowa (10-2)
14 Utah (9-3)
15 Oklahoma (10-2)
16 Houston (11-1)
17 San Diego State (11-1)
18 Clemson (9-3)
19 Wake Forest (10-2)
20 Pittsburgh (10-2)
21 Louisiana (11-1)
22 N.C. State (9-3)*
23 Appalachian State (10-2)
24 Wisconsin (8-4)
25 Texas A&M (8-4)
*-New to the rankings this week
16 UTSA (11-1)
UTSA (11-1), Minnesota (8-4), Kentucky (9-3), Coastal Carolina (10-2), Fresno State (9-3), Air Force (9-3), Arkansas (8-4), Utah State (9-3), Army (8-3)
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