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Week 12’s Top 10: Sluggish Starts and Tales of Survival Highlight a Crazy Saturday

Sports Illustrated logo Sports Illustrated 11/18/2018 Andy Staples
a football player running on a baseball field © Mike Comer/Getty Images

One team from last week’s Top 10 (Plus One) lost on the road, and one barely survived. West Virginia, which fell at Oklahoma State, will have to play its way back onto the list. Meanwhile, Ohio State barely hung on. And despite all that, the most surprising result from Saturday was a halftime score…

1. Alabama (11–0)

Last week: 1

Last game: Beat The Citadel, 50–17

Next game: Saturday vs. Auburn

The Crimson Tide were tied 10–10 with The Citadel at halftime, which probably qualifies as the biggest upset of the season. But Alabama reverted to normal in the third quarter and raced away for a blowout win. Still, the past two weeks have offered enough evidence that Alabama is not a completely unstoppable juggernaut. The ROYs—Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s acronym that means “Rest Of Y’all”—at the top may have a shot when they meet the Tide on the field.

2. Clemson (11–0)

Last week: 2

Last game: Beat Duke, 35–6

Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina

Like Alabama, Clemson started slow and finished in dominant fashion. The scariest moment was the injury to receiver Hunter Renfrow. But it sounds as if Renfrow will recover.

3. Notre Dame (11–0)

Last week: 3

Last game: Beat Syracuse, 36–3

Next game: Saturday at USC

Get the notion of the 2012 Notre Dame team that got stomped by Alabama out of your head. This team is better, deeper and can win in a variety of ways. All that stands between the Fighting Irish and the playoff now is a game at USC against a reeling Trojans program that may be about to fire coach Clay Helton.

LITMAN: Irish Pass Big Test by Shutting Down Syracuse

4. Michigan (10–1)

Last week: 4

Last game: Beat Indiana, 31–20

Next game: Saturday at Ohio State

The Wolverines survived against Indiana, setting up a clash with Ohio State for the Big Ten East title. Michigan hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes since 2011, but everything we’ve seen the past two months suggests this is the year the Wolverines break their losing streak. Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich left Saturday’s game in the third quarter with what looked like a shoulder injury. Coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t confirm the body part, but he said X-rays were negative.

5. Georgia (10–1)

Last week: 5

Last game: Beat Massachusetts, 66–27

Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia Tech

The Bulldogs got their warmup in, but hopefully they paid attention to how much The Citadel annoyed Alabama in the first half of Saturday’s visit to Tuscaloosa. Because Georgia is about to face a much better triple option team than The Citadel. Georgia Tech has won four in a row, and the Yellow Jackets would love to crush the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes.

6. Oklahoma (10–1)

Last week: 6

Last game: Beat Kansas, 55–40

Next game: Friday at West Virginia

Quarterback Kyler Murray was spectacular again (21-of-32 for 272 passing yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT, 8 carries, 99 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs), but the only thing anyone will talk about in Norman this week is a defense that allowed Kansas—Kansas!—to average 9.7 yards a carry. Oklahoma will head to Morgantown needing a win to make the Big 12 title game and keep its playoff hopes alive. If the Sooners win and Texas beats Kansas, Oklahoma will get another crack at the Longhorns—who beat the Sooners 48–45 in the Red River Rivalry—at JerryWorld. If the Mountaineers win and Texas beats Kansas, West Virginia will face the Longhorns for the Big 12 title.

7. UCF (10–0)

Last week: 8

Last game: Beat Cincinnati, 38–13

Next game: Friday at South Florida

The Knights flexed in a prime-time network game, but the playoff selection committee probably won’t care because it was against Cincinnati. The truth of the matter is UCF against most of the teams on this list would be a 50/50 proposition.

8. Washington State (10–1)

Last week: 9

Last game: Beat Arizona, 69–28

Next game: Friday vs. Washington

The Cougars crushed Arizona to set up an Apple Cup with the Pac-12 North title on the line. Last year, they faced this same situation and lost 41–14. This year feels different. But Washington State still needs to prove it on the field.

9. LSU (9–2)

Last week: Unranked

Last game: Beat Rice, 42–10

Next game: Saturday at Texas A&M

I struggled with how to rank the last two teams, because they’re both flawed. But Ohio State’s defense has made so many offenses look good that it seems logical the Buckeyes also would make LSU’s offense look good if they played. But the Tigers aren’t worried about hypotheticals. If they go to Kyle Field and win, they’re probably in the Sugar Bowl in a season that began with a lot of uninformed people saying they’d finish around .500. LSU hasn’t lost to Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. If the Tigers can keep the streak going, they’ll still be eating etouffee come bowl week.

10. Ohio State (10–1)

Last week: 10

Last game: Beat Maryland, 52–51 (OT)

Next game: Saturday vs. Michigan

If you disagree with Ohio State being here, please tell me which team deserves this spot. Yes, Ohio State looks like one of the worst 10-win teams in recent memory, but the Buckeyes still are a 10-win team and can win the Big Ten East by winning their seventh consecutive game against Michigan. Did anything about Saturday’s escape at Maryland suggest Ohio State could beat Michigan? No. But that’s why they play the games. One other thing about the Buckeyes: All the drama surrounding Urban Meyer and the defense has obscured how truly magnificent a quarterback Dwayne Haskins is. He saved the Buckeyes on Saturday, and if Ohio State beats Michigan, it will be because Haskins willed them to a win.

Plus One: UCLA (3–8)

Last game: Beat USC, 34–27

Next game: Saturday vs. Stanford

All the headlines from the Bruins’ win are about what happens now at USC, but that gives short shrift to how much better UCLA has gotten in the back half of Chip Kelly’s first season in Westwood. Tailback Joshua Kelley, who transferred to UCLA from UC-Davis, gashed USC for 289 yards on 40 carries and scored two touchdowns. The Bruins can end their season on a positive note by beating Stanford, but even if they lose, the progress has been evident. And that’s part of the reason why USC has a decision to make regarding Helton. If he can’t beat what Kelly has now, how is he going to beat what Kelly has in two years?

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