PLAYOFF PULSE: Scratch off Stanford; Baylor in big trouble
RALPH D. RUSSO
Nov. 15, 2015
Scratch Stanford off the list of College Football Playoff contenders. Actually, just make it the whole Pac-12.
Baylor is in big trouble, too. And the Bears' loss could be Notre Dame's gain.
The Cardinal were felled by a familiar nemesis Saturday night, losing to Oregon 38-36 in a game that left the Pac-12's playoff hopes in a precarious position. A couple of hours later, Utah was upset in overtime, 37-30 by Arizona, leaving the Pac-12 with no team with less than two losses.
Stanford (8-2) had been rolling since losing its opener against Northwestern, but now the Cardinal have likely been relegated to spoilers. They finish the regularseason against No. 6 Notre Dame (9-1), which was fourth in the latest selection committee rankings.
Last year the Big 12 was the Power Five conference left out of final four. Barring some very bizarre events over the last few weeks of the season, the Pac-12 is most likely to get left out this season.
The best the Pac-12 can do for its championship game would be 10-2 Stanford against 10-2 Utah.
Good news for the Big 12, where the focus has flipped from the Lone Star state to the Sooner state.
Baylor had its unbeaten season ended at home by Oklahoma, 44-34.
"Go into their backyard on a night like tonight and play this way, you know, we're one of those teams that has a chance," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.
Baylor and TCU were the favorites coming into the season, but now it looks as if Bedlam will decide the Big 12. No. 12 Oklahoma (9-1) plays No. 5 Oklahoma State (10-0) in Stillwater on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The Cowboys came from 17 down to rally for a 35-31 win at Iowa State.
The Bears (8-1), with their flimsy nonconference schedule, had been in unbeaten-or-bust mode this season. Oklahoma was their first major test, and Baylor failed. The Bears go to Oklahoma State next week and still play TCU and Texas. There is time for things to break the Bears way, but not many chances for quality wins. Meanwhile, TCU barely got by Kansas on Saturday, and star quarterback Trevone Boykin left early with an injury.
Those Big 12 developments have to help Notre Dame. If the Irish can run the table and finish 11-1 with victories against Stanford and USC and a two-point loss at Clemson, they have to like their chances against an 11-1 Big 12 champion. Remember, Notre Dame opened the season by hammering Texas, the team that beat Oklahoma.
NEW NO. 1?
At the top of the playoff rankings, Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State all won, but the results could give the selection committee reason to reconsider its No. 1.
The Tigers have held the top spot the last two weeks, but came out a bit flat defensively in a classic letdown game against Syracuse. A week after beating Florida State at home, Deshaun Watson and Co. never could pull away from the Orange in a 37-27 victory in the Carrier Dome.
"I know everybody thinks that we should just show up, go out there and kill everybody by 50 points, but that's la-la land," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Alabama (9-1) had no such troubles bouncing back from its showdown game last week against LSU. Derrick Henry and the Tide pounded Mississippi State 31-6 in Starkville, Mississippi.
Though it should be noted: The SEC West looks very much like Alabama and a bunch of other teams. The Tide certainly pass the eye test, but its good wins keep getting dinged. LSU might be the only SEC West team left in the rankings on Tuesday night, and the Tigers just got beat at home by Arkansas.
As for the Buckeyes, their 11-week tuneup ended with another ho-hum victory, this on a 28-3 smothering at Illinois.
At last there are some big games ahead for Ohio State. Next week, No. 14 Michigan State visits Columbus, Ohio. The following week, Ohio State is at No. 15 Michigan.
The Buckeyes have rarely been threatened by mostly so-so opposition on their way to 10-0, but they have also rarely looked like the juggernaut many expected this season.
The College Football Playoff selection committee slotted the Buckeyes at No. 3 in its rankings, a nod to their unbeaten record and maybe a case of the panel having a hard time wiping from its collective memory last season's impressive championship run by Ohio State.
Doesn't matter. All Ohio State's warts will vanish with victories against Michigan State, Michigan and then Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. There would be no question about whether the Buckeyes would get to defend their title in the playoff.
PREDICTING TUESDAY'S RANKINGS
3. Ohio State
4. Notre Dame
7. Oklahoma State
PROJECTING THE FINAL FOUR
Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma.
AP sports writers Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas, and John Kekis is Syracuse, New York, contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP