College football Week 13 winners and losers: How conference championship week will impact playoff picture

·16 min read

We came so close to College Football Playoff chaos on the final week of the regular season.

Hours after No. 2 Ohio State lost to No. 5 Michigan for the first time in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure with the Wolverines, No. 3 Alabama was on the ropes. The Crimson Tide were dysfunctional on offense and needed 97 yards to score a touchdown in 95 seconds and force overtime against a 6-5 Auburn team.

Alabama pulled the rabbit out of its hat. Bryce Young might have had the drive that won him the Heisman Trophy. The Crimson Tide scored with 24 seconds to spare and ultimately beat the Tigers 24-22 in four overtimes.

Had both Ohio State and Alabama lost on Saturday, the College Football Playoff would have been wide open. Instead, it ultimately didn’t change all that much. Even if Michigan’s win is considered an upset.

Tuesday’s rankings will likely feature Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and Cincinnati in the top four in some order. They should be followed close behind by Notre Dame and Oklahoma State. But there’s still plenty to play for over conference championship weekend. Here’s a look at what we know about the College Football Playoff field ahead of the conference title games.

Who’s in

SEC champion: With Alabama and Georgia both in the top four, the SEC title game is effectively a CFP quarterfinal. The winner will be part of the four-team field. While we can’t say for certain who will win the SEC — Georgia is a 6.5-point favorite — we can definitely say that the SEC will have at least one team in the College Football Playoff.

Who’s in with a win

Michigan: The Wolverines will be significant favorites against Iowa in the Big Ten title game after the Hawkeyes won the West thanks to Minnesota’s victory over Wisconsin. The Big Ten title game is going to be a throwback — lots of long drives and more runs than passes. And if Michigan wins the game it’ll be the first Big Ten title in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure and the school’s first playoff appearance.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats host Houston for the American Athletic Conference title and it’s hard to see the committee dropping Cincinnati out of the top four if the Bearcats take care of business. Houston will be ranked again on Tuesday and a three-score win would leave no doubt that Cincinnati will be the first non-Power Five team to make the College Football Playoff.

Who needs a win and some help

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys got a huge victory over Oklahoma in Bedlam on Saturday night and could find themselves as high as No. 5 in the rankings on Tuesday. If OSU passes Notre Dame, then a Georgia win could (should?) put Oklahoma State in the playoff if it beats Baylor in the Big 12 title game. We think that wins over Oklahoma and Baylor will be enough to move OSU ahead of the Irish even if that move doesn't happen this week.

Who is likely in with a loss

Georgia: A Bulldogs loss to Alabama means that the SEC will probably get two teams in the playoff. Georgia and Cincinnati are the only remaining undefeated teams in the country and it’s hard to see the committee dropping a 12-1 Georgia team out of the top four. Especially if the game isn’t a huge blowout.

Who is probably out with a loss

Alabama: Remember, no two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff. And it’s hard to see this Alabama team becoming the first. But this is also an Alabama team that’s been No. 2 to Georgia until this week. The committee seems to value the Crimson Tide highly. If Alabama loses a close game to Georgia, will it drop out of the top four? We think so, but can’t say that with 100% certainty.

The wild card

Notre Dame: The Irish are waiting for the postseason and sitting at 11-1 after easily beating Stanford on Saturday night. Notre Dame entered the final week of the regular season at No. 5 in the rankings and should hold steady after a big win over a porous Stanford team. If Georgia beats Alabama and Oklahoma State beats Baylor again, how will the committee view a 12-1 Oklahoma State team vs. Notre Dame? Will Notre Dame stay ahead of the Cowboys? The committee’s logic can be pretzel-esque at times. And Notre Dame is a fascinating case with its only loss of the season coming to Cincinnati.

Who’s out

Baylor: The Bears will be 11-2 with a win over OSU in the Big 12 title game. But, again, no two-loss team has ever made the playoff. And we can't see Baylor being the first to break that ceiling.

Ohio State: At 10-2 and with no Big Ten title to play for, Ohio State is going to the Rose Bowl unless Iowa upsets Michigan.

Oklahoma: The Big 12 will have a new playoff rep this year if it gets a team into the final four.

Ole Miss: The Rebels got the school’s first 10-win regular season on Thursday night against Mississippi State. A New Year’s Six Bowl is a nice reward.

Oregon: The Ducks beat Oregon State on Saturday to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 title game where it will play Utah again. But a win over Utah in the rematch isn’t going to be enough to get an 11-2 Oregon team into the playoff.

Full conference championship slate


  • Cincinnati vs. Houston (4 p.m. ET, ABC)


  • Pitt vs. Wake Forest (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Big Ten

  • Michigan vs. Iowa (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

Big 12

  • Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State (Noon ET, ABC)

Conference USA

  • Western Kentucky vs. UTSA (7 p.m. ET Friday, CBSSN)


  • Northern Illinois vs. Kent State (Noon ET, ESPN)

Mountain West

  • Utah State vs. San Diego State (3 p.m. ET, Fox)


  • Oregon vs. Utah (8 p.m. ET Friday, ABC)


  • Alabama vs. Georgia (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

Sun Belt

  • Appalachian State vs. Louisiana (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are this week's winners and losers.


Michigan: Michigan got the win over Ohio State it has long been coveting and got it done when the stakes were extremely high. The Wolverines ran all over the Buckeyes in a 42-27 victory, a victory that clinched the Big Ten East and has Michigan on the precipice of the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines rushed for 297 yards and six touchdowns, five of which came from Hassan Haskins. Haskins rushed for 169 yards in the win. The other star for Michigan was Aidan Hutchinson, who had three sacks and now has a school record 13 on the year.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys ensured that they won't have to play Oklahoma twice in two weeks with a comeback 37-33 win over their in-state rivals on Saturday night. Oklahoma State has been riding its defense all season and the defense came up big in the second half on Saturday night. OSU had two late stops of Oklahoma and QB Caleb Williams and clinched the game by playing man coverage on OU's wide receivers and relying on its defensive front to generate pressure. Next is the Big 12 title game vs. Baylor. The Cowboys are also firmly in the mix for a playoff berth.

Wake Forest: Wake Forest took care of business and did so emphatically. The Demon Deacons needed to beat Boston College on Saturday to win the ACC Atlantic, and they didn’t even make their fans sweat. Wake Forest trounced BC 41-10 on the road to get to 10-2 on the year and set up an ACC title game matchup against Pittsburgh. Wake reached 10 wins for the first time since 2006, the season it won one of its two ACC titles. The other came in 1970.

Oregon: Oregon’s CFP chances were spoiled by Utah last week, but the Ducks managed to bounce back with a win over rival Oregon State on Saturday. With the 38-29 victory, Oregon clinched the Pac-12 North title to set up a rematch with Utah for the conference championship on Friday night in Las Vegas. Oregon, which topped 500 yards of offense, led 31-9 early in the fourth quarter and managed to withstand a late charge from the Beavers.

Oregon running back Travis Dye (26) celebrates a touchdown during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Andy Nelson)
Oregon running back Travis Dye (26) celebrates a touchdown during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Andy Nelson)

Ole Miss: For the first time in program history, Ole Miss reached 10 regular season wins. And it did so by beating its rival. Lane Kiffin’s Rebels beat Mississippi State, 31-21, on Thursday night in Starkville to finish the regular season at 10-2 and lock down second place in the SEC West. Kiffin has done a remarkable job and will likely have his program in a New Year’s Six bowl in just his second season in Oxford.

Washington State: WSU snapped a seven-game losing streak to rival Washington the Apple Cup and did so in blowout fashion. The Cougars won, 40-13, on Friday night in Seattle, and the WSU faithful stormed the Huskies’ field and celebrated with quarterback Jayden de Laura planting the WSU flag on the Washington logo at midfield. The win got WSU to 7-5 for the regular season, a really impressive showing from a team that dealt with the fallout of Nick Rolovich’s dismissal. WSU went 3-2 under interim Jake Dickert, who has now been promoted to land the full-time role.

Utah State: Utah State was in a bad place in 2020 as the Gary Andersen era came to a close. Blake Anderson, after seven seasons at Arkansas State, inherited a USU team that went 1-5 and executed an excellent turnaround. With a 35-10 win over New Mexico on Friday, the Aggies finished the regular season 9-3 and captured the Mountain West’s Mountain division. The Aggies will face San Diego State in the MWC title game next weekend. USU has never won the Mountain West.

Iowa State RB Breece Hall: Breece Hall ran wild in what could have been his final game at Jack Trice Stadium. The Iowa State junior rushed for 242 yards and three touchdowns in ISU’s 48-14 win over TCU. In the process, Hall set an FBS record for consecutive games with a rushing touchdown. He’s up to 24 entering ISU’s bowl game. Hall, who could be one of the first running backs chosen in the 2022 draft if he declares, has rushed for 3,941 yards and 50 TDs at ISU.

North Texas and Old Dominion: Let’s give a shoutout to two Conference USA programs that went from 1-6 to bowl eligible. Both North Texas and Old Dominion closed out the regular season with five consecutive victories to get to 6-6 on the year. While Old Dominion is in its first season under Ricky Rahne, Seth Littrell has been at North Texas since 2016. He was once a hot name connected to Power Five jobs, but it looked like his time at UNT may be coming to an end. Perhaps this late-season rally will keep him in Denton for another year.

Kent State: Kent State is headed to the MAC title game for just the second time in program history. The Golden Flashes beat Miami (Ohio), 48-47, in overtime on Saturday to capture the MAC East division title. Kent State scored to open overtime and then stopped Miami on a two-point conversion attempt to escape with a dramatic victory. Kent State last won the division in 2012 and hasn’t won the conference since 1972. To snap that drought, Kent State needs to beat Northern Illinois next weekend in Detroit.


Wisconsin: Wisconsin just needed to win in order to claim the Big Ten West title and set up a matchup with Michigan in the Big Ten championship game. But the Badgers could not get it done. They lost 23-13 to Minnesota on Saturday. That vaunted Wisconsin rushing game was completely kept in check by the Gophers. Wisconsin rushed for 62 yards on 22 carries and had just 233 total yards offensively. Wisconsin’s loss gave the division crown to Iowa.

Texas A&M: Texas A&M has to be one of the most disappointing teams in the country. The Aggies lost 27-24 on the road to LSU to drop to 8-4 on the year. Expectations were sky-high for Jimbo Fisher’s program, but the Aggies have not lived up to those expectations whatsoever. Fisher is reportedly the top target for the vacant LSU head-coaching job, but maybe LSU AD Scott Woodward is reconsidering after watching the Aggies in-person on Saturday night.

Penn State: Speaking of disappointing teams, how about Penn State? Penn State lost 30-27 to Michigan State on a snowy afternoon in East Lansing. The loss gave PSU a 7-5 record for the season and an 11-10 mark combined for James Franklin’s program over the past two seasons. Franklin, whose new lucrative 10-year contract was announced last week, saw his team routinely get gashed on third downs on Saturday. MSU also was 3-of-4 on fourth down, including a 20-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-15 with 5:10 to go. The defense could have gotten off the field and gave PSU a chance to win. Instead, the score gave MSU a 30-20 lead and put the game away.

North Carolina: UNC was in position to pull off an upset over in-state rival NC State on Friday night. The Tar Heels went up 30-21 with a long field goal with 2:12 to play. A little more than a minute later, UNC trailed 34-30. UNC gave up a 64-yard touchdown, failed to recover an onside kick, committed two costly penalties and then allowed a 24-yard touchdown in the span of 1:03. That sequence flipped the nine-point advantage into a 34-30 deficit — a deficit that would become the final score. With the loss, UNC finished 6-6 after beginning the season ranked No. 10 in the AP poll.

Georgia Tech: It was a finish to the season to forget for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets lost 45-0 to Georgia on Saturday to fall to 3-9 on the season. And while Georgia Tech ended its season with two strong opponents in Notre Dame and Georgia, it wasn’t even close to competing with either of them. After pulling within 31-30 at Boston College in Week 11, Georgia Tech was outscored 110-0 to end the season. Geoff Collins appears to be safe at Georgia Tech after his third season, but it’s easy to see how the Yellow Jackets will need to improve significantly in year four.

SMU: The Mustangs were undefeated at 7-0 halfway through the season. Dreams of an AAC title and a New Year’s Six bowl berth were alive and well. A terrible finish to the season ruined those dreams pretty quickly. SMU lost 34-31 to Tulsa on Saturday to drop to 8-4 on the season. The 1-4 finish included losses to Cincinnati and Houston, the two teams that will play for the AAC title. SMU, meanwhile, will be at home waiting to see what bowl berth it receives and coach Sonny Dykes could be on his way to TCU.

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 27: Southern Methodist Mustangs head coach Sonny Dykes looks on during the game between SMU and Tulsa on November 27, 2021 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 27: Southern Methodist Mustangs head coach Sonny Dykes looks on during the game between SMU and Tulsa on November 27, 2021 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Liberty: Liberty found out quickly over the final three weeks of the season that it’s still a ways away from being a college football power. The Flames were 7-2 after a win over UMass and games against Ole Miss, Louisiana and Army looming. Nine wins seemed like a decent possibility. Instead, Liberty lost those three games by a combined score of 100-44. Saturday, Army ran all over Liberty in a 31-16 win just days after Hugh Freeze signed a two-year contract extension through 2028.

Syracuse: Syracuse was sitting at 5-4 after a 21-6 win over Boston College. The Orange just needed to beat one of Louisville, NC State and Pitt to get to a bowl game. Instead, Syracuse gave up 31 or more points in all three games and lost each of them. The Orange fell 31-14 to Pitt on Saturday night to fall to 5-7. The Orange have won just 11 games in three seasons after winning 10 games in 2018. Dino Babers’ record in six years now stands at 29-43. Will he be back for a seventh season?

Colorado State coach Steve Addazio: Addazio got ejected in the first half of Colorado State’s 2021 finale against Nevada — a 52-10 loss. He got a second personal foul penalty and was forced to leave the game as a result. Addazio’s tenure at Colorado State has not gone well. The Rams went 3-9 this year and are just 4-12 in 16 games since he was hired ahead of the 2020 season. That includes a 3-9 mark vs. Mountain West opponents.

Northwestern: It’s hard to believe that Northwestern was in the Big Ten title game in 2020. The Wildcats lost 47-14 to Illinois on Saturday to drop to 1-8 in the Big Ten and 3-9 overall. Northwestern finished in last in the Big Ten West and lost its last six games of the season after beating Rutgers to get to 3-3. Maybe this bad season means that Northwestern will bounce back in 2022. After all, the Wildcats went 7-2 and finished at No. 10 in the AP poll in 2020 after going 3-9 in 2019. But the two 3-9 seasons in the last three seasons are also the first three-win seasons of Fitzgerald’s 16-year tenure.

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