The gap between the Seminoles and the Crimson Tide narrowed after another close call by Florida State, which beat Boston College 20-17 on a field goal in the waning seconds.
Florida State received 37 first-place votes and 1,458 points, down six first-place votes and 18 points from last week. Alabama has 21 first-place votes 1,445 points. No. 3 Oregon received two first-place votes, one more than last week.
With only two weeks remaining until the playoff committee's final rankings, contenders are running out of chances to win their way into the four-team field.
Although it's not a prediction of the committee's top 25, the Playoff Forecast will use the ESPN Football Power Index and human logic (i.e., the eye test) to determine which teams are best positioned when the committee announces the playoff teams on Dec. 7. These rankings take into account perceived team strength (including injuries), remaining schedule difficulty (including prospective conference championship games) and the current selection committee rankings.
1. Oregon Ducks
FPI's chance of winning out: 59.9 percent
FPI's chance of winning the conference: 66.6 percent
Although Oregon has no more home games, I feel slightly better about its chance to win out than the other two teams that seem to control their playoff destinies (Florida State and Alabama). The Ducks are at Oregon State this week, and their likely Pac-12 title game opponent is UCLA, whom they dominated at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 11. But the Bruins have played much better of late and could pose a threat to Oregon if they can first clinch the South with a win over Stanford on Friday. FPI gives the Ducks a 64 percent chance to win if they play UCLA again.
It’s that coveted fourth spot that remains the greatest debate.
“It's also fair to say the differences between teams four through seven -- Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor -- are narrow, very narrow,” committee chair Jeff Long said Tuesday. “There are more games to play and these teams are knocking on the door, and they're not the only ones.”
Here’s a closer look at those teams still “knocking on the door” and how Week 13 affected their playoff chances:
Pros: Although many other top teams struggled against lesser competition, the Bulldogs took care of business in a 51-0 dismantling of Vanderbilt. Mississippi State needed to win with style, and the game was never in doubt. “If you don't think we controlled that game,” quarterback Dak Prescott told The Associated Press, “then I don't know what you're looking for."
Cons: Ole Miss self-destructed in a 30-0 loss to Arkansas, the second straight opponent the Razorbacks have shut out. That doesn't bode well for Mississippi State, which is teetering on the edge of the bracket and has just one win over teams currently ranked in the selection committee’s top 25 (Auburn). The Bulldogs finish the season on the road against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and their résumé could have used another boost, but the Rebels should drop out of the top 10 after suffering a third loss.
Pros: The Horned Frogs were off to prepare for Thursday night’s Thanksgiving game at Texas, but they were still helped by K-State’s Thursday night win in Morgantown and Minnesota’s 28-24 win over Nebraska. For the fourth straight week, TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor, and Long said it was because “strength of schedule is an important factor that came into play, and [Baylor's] body of work is not quite comparable in the view of the committee.” That Minnesota win has a lot to do with it, and it keeps looking better. Until Baylor adds a convincing K-State win to its résumé, there’s no reason to think the committee will reward Baylor's head-to-head win over TCU.
Cons: Ohio State won again. The Buckeyes were pushed by an unheralded Indiana team, but they clinched the Big Ten’s East Division and earned a spot in the conference title game. Ohio State is one team both Baylor and TCU need to be worried about, as the Buckeyes jumped Baylor in the committee’s rankings last week.
Pros: The Bears beat Oklahoma State and have now won three straight since their Oct. 18 loss at West Virginia, which is one result the committee has held against Baylor in its comparison to TCU. Baylor also benefited from K-State’s Thursday night win in Morgantown. The Bears need to punctuate their playoff résumé with a season-ending win against a highly ranked K-State team at home Dec. 6. If Baylor and TCU both win out, the Bears should wind up on top.
Cons: Ohio State, which jumped Baylor in the rankings last week, won again and clinched the Big Ten’s East Division in the process. Baylor also didn’t beat Oklahoma State as convincingly as TCU did, but that's splitting hairs: Baylor won 49-28, while TCU beat the Cowboys 42-9. The committee will compare results against common opponents. Baylor's biggest problems are its nonconference schedule and the loss at West Virginia.
Pros: The Buckeyes beat Indiana to clinch the Big Ten’s East Division, and Wisconsin also won at Iowa, putting the Badgers one victory from clinching the West Division. Ohio State should be able to avoid an upset against a middling Michigan team this coming week. There’s certainly no margin for error after the Week 2 home loss to Virginia Tech, but if Ohio State can pull off an impressive win against a ranked Wisconsin team to win the Big Ten title, that loss to the Hokies just might be forgiven.
Cons: It was an underwhelming first three quarters against the Hoosiers for the Buckeyes, who had three turnovers and continue to struggle with ball security. Every other bubble team the Buckeyes are up against found a way to win, too.
Pros: After an impressive 38-20 win against USC, the No. 9-ranked Bruins are now in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 South Division. UCLA can clinch the division with a win against Stanford on Friday. If the Bruins lose to Stanford, Friday’s Arizona/Arizona State winner would win the division. UCLA remains the Pac-12’s best hope at getting a two-loss conference champ in the playoff. If the Bruins can beat Oregon in the conference title game, they should have at least three wins over teams still ranked in the committee’s top 25.
Cons: Those two losses. The Oct. 4 home loss to Utah took another hit this weekend when Arizona trounced the Utes 42-10, dropping Utah to four losses and out of the division race. Utah will also likely drop out of the committee’s top 25.
Group of 5
Pros: Marshall, Memphis, Northern Illinois, Colorado State and Boise State all continued to win. Undefeated Marshall didn’t win any style points against UAB, but the Thundering Herd remain the only undefeated Group of 5 team.
Cons: The selection committee hasn’t ranked a Group of 5 team for three weeks, citing strength of schedule as the main reason. There’s nothing left on Marshall’s -- or any other Group of 5 front-runner’s -- schedule likely to change that reasoning.
“Again, Marshall's body of work, their strength of schedule, what they've done to this point in time, the committee does not feel that they warrant being ranked in the top 25,” Long said last week. “Again, they're very close. We've talked a lot about Marshall, we've talked about Boise State, Colorado State, Memphis, Northern Illinois -- all Group of 5 teams that are good teams and that we've certainly discussed.”
Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.
Jameis Winston moved an official and, eventually, the Eagles out of the way, driving the Seminoles 66 yards to put Roberto Aguayo in position for a 26-yard game-winning field goal with three seconds remaining.
Baylor, Ohio State, UCLA look to impress
Three teams sitting just outside the top four vamped for the selection committee: No. 7 Baylor eased past Oklahoma State 49-28, No. 6 Ohio State clinched the Big Ten's East Division title with a 42-27 win over Indiana and No. 9 UCLA defeated No. 19 USC 38-20.
Three of top four cruise
- Ohio State WR/PR Jalin Marshall: A week after he was nearly the goat at Minnesota, Marshall saved the Buckeyes' bacon in a sluggish 42-27 win over Indiana. Marshall gave Ohio State the lead late in the third quarter with a 54-yard punt return, then added three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, all on catches from J.T. Barrett. Marshall became the first Power 5 player with at least three receiving touchdowns and a punt return score in the same game since Justin Blackmon in 2010, and he was the first to do all that in the same half in the past 10 seasons.
- Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: The Hoosiers lost the game, but we just have to single out Coleman for yet another brilliant performance. He ran 27 times for 228 yards and three touchdowns, including a 90-yard score and a 52-yarder, to become Indiana's single-season rushing leader. He deserves to be a Doak Walker Award finalist.
- Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner: With David Cobb sidelined in the second half with a leg injury, Leidner had to carry the offensive load for the Gophers at Nebraska. And he did just that, rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in a crucial 28-24 victory that kept the Gophers alive for the West Division title. That included the game-winning 2-yard score with 3:25 left. Leidner also also completed 8-of-17 passes for 135 yards, none bigger than a 38-yard strike to KJ Maye in the fourth quarter.
- Michigan State WR Tony Lippett and RB Jeremy Langford: These two guys went out in style on Senior Day. Lippett, who played cornerback earlier in his career, played there and at wideout during a 45-3 blasting of Rutgers. Lippett had a pair of pass breakups on defense and caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. Langford, meanwhile, carried the ball 16 times for 126 yards and two scores. He now has rushed for at least 100 yards in his last 15 games against Big Ten opponents, with one more to go.
- Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: Iowa did a great job most of the day bottling up the Badgers star. But Gordon is so good that he still finished with 200 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in the 26-24 road win. With the game in the balance, Gordon showed off his receiving with two big catches (including a 35-yarder on 3rd-and-13, with Kinnick Stadium coming unhinged) and finished it off with the game-winning, 23-yard touchdown run. Even on a day when he somehow lost his FBS single-game rushing record after just a week, Gordon was truly Heisman-worthy.
On what was largely a ho-hum Saturday, many of the country's top teams didn't dominate their games against what were supposed to be overmatched opponents.
No. 1 Alabama led FCS opponent Western Carolina 17-14 early in the second quarter of a 48-14 victory.
No. 3 Florida State needed a field goal with three seconds left to beat Boston College 20-17 in the rain at home.
No. 6 Ohio State trailed Indiana deep into the third quarter of a 42-27 win.
And No. 8 Ole Miss was blown out by Arkansas in an ugly 30-0 loss.
At this point, with only two weeks left in the regular season, does it really matter how good a team looks while winning? Isn't it all about just winning?
Defending national champion Florida State has made its living by winning ugly this season. The Seminoles' victory over Boston College was their sixth this season in which they trailed or were tied in the second half. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only Northern Illinois in 2013 won more such games (seven) among the 30 FBS teams that started 11-0 in the past 10 seasons.
So will FSU's latest closer-than-expected victory bolster its playoff résumé?
"Why wouldn't it?" FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We're undefeated. We're undefeated. We finish every game. Everybody else in the country has not finished at least one game. We've finished every one of them. Isn't that the object?"
It used to be. But now the object seems to be more about how you look in winning. The Seminoles dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 in the rankings over the past couple of weeks, and they haven't even been ranked No. 1 by the selection committee, despite being the only remaining unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference and having won a school-record 27 consecutive games.
"Well, you know, we were downgraded every time we blew someone out last year, so think of the irony of that," FSU quarterback Jameis Winston
1. Ohio State won but may lose ground: If "game control" is as important as College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Jeff Long said last week, Ohio State should find itself in a spot of bother come Tuesday night. The No. 6 Buckeyes led Indiana just 14-13 at halftime and trailed deep into the third quarter before pulling out a 42-27 win. And remember that these Hoosiers are winless in Big Ten play and now just 3-8 overall. A letdown after winning on the road against Michigan State and Minnesota could have been expected, but Urban Meyer's team needs all the positive impressions it can create. It wouldn't be surprising to see Ohio State slip in next week's poll, just as TCU did after a shaky win over Kansas. On the plus side, the Buckeyes clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game and will have a chance to add a quality win there. If all else fails, Meyer & Co. should just remind everybody that Indiana did beat Missouri -- or that Florida State barely wins every week.
3. Land of Lincoln game holds intrigue: If we had told you a few weeks ago that the season finale between Illinois and Northwestern would be really interesting, you probably would have laughed. But the Wildcats have gotten hot at the right time, upsetting Notre Dame in overtime last week and cruising past Purdue 38-14 on Saturday to get to five wins. Illinois, meanwhile, edged Penn State on a late field goal 16-14 for its fifth victory. So the Land of Lincoln Trophy game in Evanston will be a bowl play-in game for both sides. And it might just decide whether Tim Beckman keeps his job for another year in Champaign. Neither team's projected starting quarterback may play a huge role, as Northwestern's Trevor Siemian injured his leg against Purdue and Reilly O'Toole came in for an ineffective and perhaps-still-a-bit-gimpy Wes Lunt in the Illini's win.
4. Michigan State belongs in a major bowl: Instead of sulking after the home loss to Ohio State, the Spartans have taken out their frustrations on the Big Ten's newbies. After a 37-15 win at Maryland last week, Michigan State romped past Rutgers 45-3 on Saturday. Mark Dantonio had some fun on Senior Day, starting Tony Lippett on offense and defense, calling for a fake field goal while ahead 35-0 and giving offensive lineman Connor Kruse a carry. It's clear that the No. 11 Spartans are still one of the top teams in the country, with their only losses coming to potential playoff teams. They deserve to make one of the major bowls outside the playoff -- the Fiesta, perhaps? -- and get a shot against an outstanding opponent from a major conference. If they play like they have the past couple of weeks, they'll have a great chance to win a big bowl, too.
5. Maryland is having a nice first Big Ten season: Winning at Penn State and 23-16 on Saturday at Michigan is a pretty nice way to introduce yourself to the league, even if those two programs are at near historic low points. Randy Edsall's Terrapins can post an 8-4 record by beating Rutgers at home next week. Their only losses would be to three of the league's top teams -- Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State -- and a close call at home against West Virginia. They also beat Iowa and weren't quite as hapless in big games as fellow newcomer Rutgers, which was outscored 180-43 in its four games against ranked Big Ten opponents. Maryland still has to finish it off this week, but a third-place showing in the Big Ten East and an eight-win season would make for a very solid conference debut.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jalin Marshall returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown to give No. 7 Ohio State the lead late in the third quarter and added three late insurance scores to lead the Buckeyes past Indiana 42-27 Saturday, the Hoosiers' sixth loss in a row.
The surprisingly tight game for most of the day could impact the playoff hopes of the Buckeyes (10-1, 7-0 Big Ten, No. 6 CFP), who clinched the East Division title and a berth in the conference title game.
They trailed the 34-point underdogs 20-14 after Tevin Coleman sped 90 yards for a TD midway through the third quarter. A week after rushing for 307 yards, Coleman went for 228 yards on 27 carries for three scores for the Hoosiers (3-8, 0-7).
Marshall caught fourth-quarter scoring passes of 6, 15 and 54 yards to put the game out of reach.
Despite the up-and-down day for the Buckeyes, J.T. Barrett set the school mark for touchdown passes (33) in a season and Ezekiel Elliott, who had 107 yards on 13 carries, topped 1,000 yards. Barrett completed 25 of 35 passes for 302 yards and four scores with two interceptions, and ran for 78 yards on 20 attempts.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After flirting with disaster and letting an upset alert pop up at the Horseshoe, No. 6 Ohio State snapped out of a turnover-induced funk to knock off Indiana.
The Buckeyes clinched a division title, earned a berth to the Big Ten title game and kept themselves in the College Football Playoff picture with a 42-27 win Saturday afternoon. But those positives aren’t likely to be mentioned much by coach Urban Meyer moving forward, and he has plenty of teaching points at his disposal heading into the regular-season finale.
How the game was won: Ohio State had turnover problems on offense and was gashed for a long touchdown by Indiana’s Tevin Coleman on defense, but decisively winning the battle on special teams was enough to pull out another win. The Buckeyes flipped field position with more impressive punting from Cameron Johnston, and they took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish thanks to a punt return for a touchdown that saved an otherwise shaky outing overall.
Game ball goes to: Jalin Marshall. Criticized for a pair of costly fumbles a week ago, the redshirt freshman wide receiver offered a strong reminder why Ohio State stood firmly behind him when he busted a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown when the team was trailing, and then extended the lead with three more scores through the air after that during a second-half, one-man blitzkrieg. He is an invaluable weapon for the Buckeyes when he hangs on to the football.
What it means: The Buckeyes have developed a troubling habit of turning the football over on offense, but they are still scoring points in bunches and are officially the East Division champion. They will play again for the Big Ten title in two weeks. There is no question, though, Meyer will be working overtime to fix the ball-security issues that have popped up lately.
Playoff implication: Maybe there weren’t many of those mythical style points to be found, but Ohio State got the only thing that really counts with a victory to keep itself solidly in the mix for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. The first and only priority for the Buckeyes at this point is to keep winning -- ugly or not.
What's next: A trip to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten championship is clinched, but the first order of business for Ohio State is The Game. With Michigan coming to Ohio Stadium next Saturday, there doesn’t seem to be much risk of the Buckeyes looking ahead with bragging rights at stake against their hated rival.
College Football Top Plays: Week 13
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Penn State 14 Illinois 16 Final Indiana 27 6 Ohio State 42 Final 25 Minnesota 28 23 Nebraska 24 Final Northwestern 38 Purdue 14 Final Rutgers 3 11 Michigan State 45 Final 16 Wisconsin 26 Iowa 24 Final Maryland 23 Michigan 16