-- After last week's chaotic and unexpected results, the main College Football Playoff contenders mostly held serve on Saturday (No. 5 Louisville was another matter on Thursday night).?
Heading into the final week of the regular season, we have a pretty good idea how most of the Power 5 conference races are going to shake out. Three of them look a lot like they did last season.
No. 1 Alabama will play No. 23 Florida in the SEC championship game for the second straight season and the ninth time overall. No. 4 Clemson will be the favorite in the ACC championship game and will play Virginia Tech as long as the Hokies defeat rival Virginia in next week's regular-season finale. No. 9 Oklahoma continues to sweep through the Big 12 -- the Sooners demolished No. 14 West Virginia 56-28 on the road -- and will win a second straight Big 12 title with a win over No. 11 Oklahoma State in next week's Bedlam game.
The Big Ten may yet prove to be a wild card. All eyes have turned to No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan next week, but it's not a foregone conclusion that the Buckeyes and Wolverines are playing for a place in Indianapolis. If Ohio State beats Michigan and No. 8 Penn State beats Michigan State at home, the Nittany Lions will win the Big Ten East.?
There's plenty of intrigue out West, where the Pac-12 is set up for a dramatic final weekend.
It's winner-take-all in the North, where No. 6 Washington and No. 22 Washington State will play for a place in the championship game in next Friday's Apple Cup. The Huskies bounced back after last week's loss to USC with a comfortable win over Arizona State and remain in the CFP hunt. The Cougars had their eight-game winning streak snapped in a loss at Colorado, but they've looked the part of a Pac-12 contender during league play.
The South will be contested by one of the hottest teams in the country, No. 13 USC, and this season's feel-good story, No. 10 Colorado. The Trojans were left for dead after a 1-3 start, but have reeled off seven straight wins after beating UCLA 36-14. They end the regular season against Notre Dame and can only hope the Buffaloes lose to Utah next Saturday. USC is a game behind Colorado in the standings, but owns the tiebreaker so would win the South if the Utes can pull off the upset.?
?"It means the world to go out there and win, keep our hopes alive," Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau said. "It's more fun than anything. We've been in close games for a long time now."
Time may be up for Charlie Strong, Ed Orgeron
According to industry sources, there isn't expected to be a tremendous amount of turnover among FBS coaches this offseason. But two very big dominoes -- LSU and Texas -- are much closer to falling after Saturday's results.?
Texas coach Charlie Strong is probably finished after the Longhorns were stunned 24-21 in overtime at Kansas. When asked how the Jayhawks loss would affect his future during an uncomfortable postgame news conference, Strong said, "I have no idea."
Truth be told, it's probably the best outcome for both sides. Even if Strong had led the Longhorns to a winning record and a bowl game, he would have entered next season under the same pressure he faced the past two seasons. That's no way to try and build a winning program. The Longhorns are expected to target Houston coach Tom Herman. What isn't known is if the Longhorns will swing big again to try to lure a top candidate to Austin, namely Alabama's Nick Saban or Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, before they settle on hiring Herman.
Fisher and Herman also figure to be top candidates at LSU, where the Tigers have probably reached the point where they can't retain interim coach Ed Orgeron next season. LSU won three straight games under Orgeron after former coach Les Miles was fired on Sept. 25, but now they've dropped two of their last three games, including an ugly 16-10 loss to No. 23 Florida at home on Saturday, in which the Tigers committed several of the same mistakes that led to Miles' demise.?
"We're not going to lie," Orgeron said. "We thought we were going to win the football game. We didn't execute right and they got to take it away from us -- it would have been a great victory for all of them."
Fisher is believed to be LSU's No. 1 target, but it's unclear whether he'd be willing to leave the Seminoles, who might be built to be a playoff contender the next few seasons. If Fisher isn't interested, Herman, Colorado's Mike MacIntyre and North Carolina's Larry Fedora might be considered.
Speaking of Miles, he has emerged as a potential candidate at Baylor, which lost its fourth consecutive game under interim coach Jim Grobe on Saturday, 42-21 to Kansas State at home. Fedora, SMU's Chad Morris and ex-San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary, a former Baylor All-America linebacker, are also being considered, according to sources close to the search.
Is it too little too late for Helfrich? Even if the Ducks win at Oregon State in next week's Civil War, they'll finish only 5-7 and will miss the postseason for the first time since 2004. Or does the upset of the Utes give Oregon decision makers enough hope that Helfrich can turn things around? He'd be owed an $11.7 million buyout if he's fired.
"That's the nature of the beast," Helfrich told reporters. "Ten percent love you regardless, 10 percent hate you regardless and 80 percent swing vote."
Playoff teams after Week 12
1. Alabama : The Crimson Tide rolled to a 31-3 victory over FCS foe Chattanooga, but coach Nick Saban said he was "embarrassed" by his team's performance in the first half. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts completed 15 of 21 passes for 136 yards with three touchdowns and ran for 68 yards.
2. Michigan : The Wolverines trailed Indiana in the third quarter but scored the final 14 points in a 20-10 win at the snow-covered Big House. Michigan was playing without injured quarterback Wilton Speight for the first time and relied heavily on tailback De'Veon Smith, who ran 23 times for 158 yards with two scores. Michigan can win the Big Ten East by knocking off rival Ohio State on the road next week.
3. Clemson : After suffering their first defeat of the season last week, the Tigers bounced back with an impressive 35-13 win over Wake Forest to claim an ACC Atlantic Division title. Tailback Wayne Gallman ran 22 times for 161 yards with one touchdown. The Tigers host rival South Carolina in next week's regular-season finale.
4. Ohio State : It wasn't pretty, but the Buckeyes survived a 17-16 win at Michigan State. The Spartans had derailed Ohio State's national championship hopes in two of the last three seasons, beating the Buckeyes in the 2013 Big Ten title game and late in the 2015 regular season. The Buckeyes can remain in the CFP hunt by beating Michigan at the Horseshoe next week, but they still need Penn State to lose to win the Big Ten East.
Next four in contention
1. Washington : The Huskies rebounded from their ugly loss against USC last week by routing Arizona State 44-18. Quarterback Jake Browning passed for 338 yards with two touchdowns, and tailback Myles Gaskin ran for 127 yards with one score. The winner of next week's Apple Cup at Washington State claims the Pac-12 North.
2. Wisconsin : The Badgers beat Purdue 49-20 on the road, securing their fourth consecutive nine-win season for the second time in school history. Wisconsin can win the Big Ten West by beating Minnesota next week -- or if Nebraska loses at Iowa. The Cornhuskers win the division if they beat the Hawkeyes and the Badgers lose to the Gophers.
3. Penn State : After a very slow start, the Nittany Lions scored 30 points in the second half to shut out Rutgers 39-0 on the road. Penn State outgained the Scarlet Knights 549 yards to 87 in total offense. The Nittany Lions will win the Big Ten East if they defeat Michigan State at home and Ohio State beats Michigan next week.
4. Oklahoma : Left for dead after two early-season losses, the Sooners are trying to backdoor their way into the playoff again. Oklahoma blasted West Virginia 56-28 in the snow and on the road. Tailbacks Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined for 307 rushing yards with three touchdowns. The Sooners host No. 11 Oklahoma State next week with a Big 12 title at stake.
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Jackson might have cracked the door for other contenders after the No. 5 Cardinals' dismal performance in a 36-10 loss at Houston on Thursday night. Jackson was sacked 11 times and completed 20 of 43 passes for 211 yards with one touchdown. He ran 25 times for 33 yards, but would have finished with 116 yards if not for the sacks.
2. Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma: Oklahoma didn't throw the ball much in the snow at West Virginia, but Westbrook scored a touchdown for the eighth straight game on a 75-yard catch. He had two catches for 100 yards, the seventh time in eight games that he reached 100.
3. D'Onta Foreman, RB, Texas : Foreman carried a school-record 51 times for 250 yards with two touchdowns, but he also lost two costly fumbles in the Longhorns' 24-21 loss at Kansas. It was Foreman's 12th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, breaking Earl Campbell's school record of 11.
4. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Watson bounced back from a so-so performance in the loss to Pittsburgh by completed 23 of 33 passes for 202 yards with one touchdown against Wake Forest. He also ran seven times for 47 yards with two scores. Watson is now 28-3 as a starter, the best winning percentage by a Clemson quarterback.
Tweets of the night
Quotes of the night
1. "All week long I'd said that, hey, if we get close at the end of the game, we're going for 2, and we're going to take an aggressive approach and play to win the football game rather than to tie. They had us covered up on that particular play, so good job by them." -- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, on his team's failed two-point try with 4:41 left in a 17-16 loss to Ohio State.
2. "Oh man! Big-time players make big-time plays and it was definitely time to make a big-time play so I just had to come through in the clutch for my boys. I just turned and saw the ball in the air and went and got it. I had no idea the ball was coming until it was up in the air." -- Oregon receiver Darren Carrington II, on his game-winning touchdown catch to beat No. 12 Utah.
3. "I'm at a loss for words really as what to tell them." -- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, after the Fighting Irish blew a 17-point lead in a 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech. The Irish are 4-7.
4. "The mood of the team is we just have to rally together. Right now the easiest thing to do is to abandon ship, play the blame game, point fingers. Right now, we have two regular season games and we have a bowl game that we need to prepare for." -- Baylor defensive back Travon Blanchard, after the Bears lost their fourth straight game, 42-21 to Kansas State, to fall to 6-4.
Stats that matter
1. 4,166: Florida State's Dalvin Cook ran for 225 yards with four touchdowns in a 45-14 rout at Syracuse, passing Warrick Dunn to become the school's all-time leading rusher with 4,166 yards. Cook is the sixth ACC player to run for 4,000 yards and the first to do it in three seasons.
2. 4 ?: Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett had 4 ? sacks in a 23-10 victory over Texas-San Antonio, giving him 8 ? this season. Garrett now has 32 ? sacks in his career, making him the eighth player in SEC history to have at least 30 in his career.
3. 400: Tennessee allowed 420 rushing yards yet still beat Missouri 63-37. The Volunteers have allowed 400 rushing yards in back-to-back games and won both of them -- they beat Kentucky last week while allowing 443 rushing yards.?
4. 1,046: Detroit native Mike Weber ran for 111 yards in Ohio State's 17-16 win at Michigan State, giving him 1,046 in 11 games this season. Weber joins Robert Smith (1990) and Maurice Clarett (2002) as the only freshmen in school history to run for at least 1,000 yards in a season.