Playing for Something in Rivalry Week: Playoffs, Conference Championship or Team Chaos

Going into rivalry week, there are a number of categories to use in order to sort the teams going head to head in week 13: Those hoping to end up playing in the College Football playoffs (like Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma), the ones trying to win a conference championship at best (USC, UCLA, Navy) or those agents of team chaos, hoping to mess it up for their rivals, aka Nebraska, Florida State, Penn State and a few others. And there are those simply playing for the fun/hate of it, but we’ll leave them for another time.

Playing in the Playoffs

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Clemson: It’s hard seeing Clemson lose to a 3-8 South Carolina team, but weirder things have happened. They’re going to play for the conference championship anyway against North Carolina. But will a one loss Clemson team with the ACC title make it in? Probably, but a loss to such a weak Gamecocks team might be enough of a shocker to make the committee reconsider about the #1 team in the nation right now.

Alabama: Very simple, as the number two team in the nation. Beat Auburn? Stay on course for the playoffs. Beat Florida in the SEC championship game? They’re in. Lose to Auburn? They’re still in the title game, but then the whole two-loss factor comes into play. While the voters love them, it’s a risk they better not try to mess with.

Oklahoma: A one loss Oklahoma team winning the Big 12 might not be judged the way Baylor and TCU were last season. It goes with the history of the program. Finishing the season with wins against Baylor, TCU and maybe at Bedlam? It might be enough to erase that loss to Texas, and put Oklahoma in the playoffs. They’re #3 right now.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys don’t have the luxury Oklahoma have. They can end up as Big 12 champions or co-champions, but it might not be enough to gain the favour of those 12 making the decisions about the Final Four. They’re ranked #11 going into the final week.

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Michigan State: Very simple for the Spartans, who are at number 5 right now. Beat Penn State, and they’re in the Big Ten championship game against Iowa. Win both games? Hard seeing them not make the playoffs.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes are proof that one loss isn’t the end of the world when trying to make the playoffs if you win your conference. But in order for that to happen, they need to beat a red hot Michigan team in Ann Arbor and hope for the Spartans to lose against Penn State, before starting to think about beating Iowa in the Big Ten championship game and hoping for the committee to lean their way.

Michigan: Still in the running, although barely. They need to beat Ohio State and for Michigan State to lose against Penn State, while also beating Iowa for the conference championship. Is a two-loss Big Ten champion getting into the playoffs? Probably depends on other conferences, but the committee loves big names, and Michigan, with Harbaugh, are once again big enough to consider.

Iowa: The most surprising of the teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot, currently at number 4. They’re 11-0 so far, and if they beat Nebraska in Lincoln, they’ll stay on course for the playoffs (playing in the conference championship anyway). A two loss Iowa team won’t get love from the committee, even if they win the Big Ten.

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Notre Dame: The two less than impressive wins against Boston College and Wake Forest, added to the fact that they have no conference title game or championship to show for at the end of this season, might hurt Notre Dame even if they impress and beat Stanford in dominant fashion. They are Notre Dame, with their one loss being a small one to the current number one team, but is beating Stanford going to be enough? Being number 6 might seem like they’re on the verge of getting into the playoffs, but it just might be a cruel tease.

Stanford: Is a two-loss Pac-12 champion going to make it in? Stanford need to get through Notre Dame first which should help their SOS before playing either UCLA or USC for the conference title. Either way, they need to win both games to leave themselves in contention, being the number 9 team right now.

Florida: The Gators are just at number 12 right now, but they have one loss. An SEC loss. And beating Florida State before beating Alabama in the SEC championship game should be enough to put them in the top 4. A one-loss SEC team isn’t going to be left out. A two loss Alabama team might not be left out either. A two loss Florida team? More likely.

North Carolina: Don’t laugh, just think. The Tar Heels beat North Carolina State and move a little bit up from their current #14 ranking. They go into the ACC title game with an 11-1 record. A win against a #1 Clemson team? Can it be enough? It’s within the realm of possibilities, although the committee will probably go with someone else. Still, they’re not out of it yet.

Baylor: The Bears find themselves in a familiar situation. The best they can get from the final week is becoming co-champions of the Big 12. Of course, as the #7 team, that leaves them in the running for the playoffs, but it’s probably not going to be them picked into the final 4 because of the Big 12 refusing to have a championship game (one true champion, yeah right!), and one loss for them isn’t going to be enough. It’s worth remembering that Baylor still have a game against Texas, 4-6 Texas, to end the season.

Conference Championship

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UCLA & USC: Very simple. The winner wins the Pac-12 South and goes to the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford. Even if one of them wins that game and claims the Pac-12, it’ll be a Rose Bowl berth, nothing more, which isn’t bad when you each lose three conference games.

Navy & Houston: The Cougars aren’t ranked, but they’ll be again if they beat Navy in the game for the West division in the American conference. Navy are going to have the division title listed somewhere in the history book as champions or co-champions, but if they lose, they won’t be the ones playing Temple (probably) for the conference title and maybe a spot in a New Year’s bowl game. Navy also play Army two weeks later.

Temple: Like the two teams mentioned above, this is about clinching the division and playing for the American Conference title, which might enable them to go bowling on December 31 or January 1.

Toledo: They need to beat Western Michigan to get into the MAC championship game. A loss, and it’s going to be Northern Illinois playing Bowling Green. If Toledo win the MAC title, they might end up as the highest ranked non-P5 team, getting that big bowl game berth.

Ruining it for someone

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Auburn: The most disappointing team of the season in the SEC, the Tigers have been in this spot plenty of times. In 2013, it worked so well they accidently found themselves playing for the national championship. This year they can only ruin it for Alabama, which might be even better in the craziest state about college football.

Florida State: Things have been so good under Jimbo Fisher that 9-2 going into rivalry week is a bad year. They can end the hopes of Florida to make it into the playoffs. A two loss Florida team, even as SEC champions, might not get into the playoffs.

Penn State: The James Franklin era continues to be about beating up most of the small teams but losing the big games. It would mean a lot to the program if they can derail Michigan State’s hopes of making the Big Ten championship game and end their playoff dreams as well.

Nebraska: The first season under Mike Riley has been disappointing, mostly filled with close losses. They’ve already ruined a perfect year for Michigan State (although the Spartans managed to bounce back from that) and can do it against a team they have plenty of hate towards, derailing them from making the playoffs, although they can’t stop them from playing for the Big Ten title. A two loss Iowa team won’t get love from the committee, even as Big Ten champions, right?

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TCU: With two losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the only thing left for the Horned Frogs is ruin the season for Baylor and leave the Big 12 title for one of the Oklahoma teams.

North Carolina State: A lot of people in the state of North Carolina would be more than happy to see The Wolfpack end any shred of hope the Tar Heels have of somehow climbing their way up to the top 4.

South Carolina: This season has been terrible, with Steve Spurrier leaving in the middle of it. The only thing that can put a smile on their faces is beating Clemson, in hope it denies them a top 4 spot.

Connecticut: Can ruin it for Temple as the Owls try to make it into the American conference championship game.

Western Michigan: Beat Toledo, and they deny them the chance to play for the MAC title. Even if they win, they won’t be playing for the conference championship.