If you live east of El Paso, chances are you missed the end of the UCF-Cincinnati game and didn’t even stick around for the kickoff of Arizona-Washington State.
So it might come as a surprise to wake up and see UCF and Washington State sitting ahead of Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU and Ohio State, among others, in these weekly Power Rankings. But that’s sort of the point.
You had to see it to understand it.
UCF smothered a ranked one-loss team in a game that wasn’t even as close as the lopsided final score, and Washington State’s 41-point victory that ended after 2 a.m. ET somehow felt like even more of a mismatch than that.
Power rankings, from where we sit, should reflect the reality of the moment. This isn’t a fixed hierarchy. Some teams play better than expected, and some play worse in any given week — and they should be assessed accordingly.
Consider this: Oklahoma and Ohio State are burdened with porous defenses that no national champion has ever had to overcome. Imagine them trying to slow down McKenzie Milton or Gardner Minshew? Could LSU actually score enough to keep up with UCF or Washington State? It’s a question worth asking, especially since Joe Burrow just notched his first 300-yard game of the season. Against Rice.
And OK, sure, Georgia is very good, presumably has a better loss than Wazzu’s against USC (how did that happen again?) and certainly didn’t look bad against UMass. But the Bulldogs will eventually get to prove their mettle against Alabama. If they win in the SEC championship game, rest assured that order will be restored.
UCF and Washington State, on the other hand, depend on a clear-eyed assessment of the week’s results. They’ll never fare well in the eye test. Their names won’t buy them credibility with a voter or fan who is judging only box scores and the recent entries in their Wikipedia pages.
So it comes down to: Did you actually see UCF and Washington State play Saturday night?
We did, and this is how it’s gonna go for Week 12:
1. Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC)
Week 12 result: Defeated The Citadel 50-17
What’s next: vs. Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, CBS)
Tied at halftime against a 4-5 FCS team, the Crimson Tide had college football fans thinking up appropriate analogies for this scale of upset. Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson? UMBC over top-seeded Virginia? USA Hockey in the 1980 Winter Olympics? Oops, never mind. Alabama quickly righted itself after halftime, running off three touchdowns in a four-minute stretch of the third quarter. But it’s tough to know if Saturday’s first half was a fluke (Alabama had led at halftime of every other game by at least 16 points) or if The Citadel exposed some flaws that more talented teams will actually exploit in a fatal way. Either way, Nick Saban won’t have to worry about “rat poison” for at least another week.
2. Clemson (11-0, 8-0 ACC)
Week 12 result: Defeated Duke 35-6
What’s next: vs. South Carolina (7 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN)
This is what counts as a challenge for Clemson these days. Trailing by six points after the first quarter and ahead by only eight at the half, the Tigers still removed all doubt about the outcome midway through the third quarter. While Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne got off to slow starts, Clemson’s imposing defense surrendered 127 yards in the first quarter before holding Duke to only 135 in the next three. The Tigers finished off their second 8-0 ACC season in four years, and they will host in-state rival South Carolina next Saturday to complete the regular season. If that goes as expected, then all that remains between Clemson and the playoff is 7-4 Pittsburgh.
3. Notre Dame (11-0)
Week 12 result: Defeated Syracuse 36-3
What’s next: at USC (8 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC)
This was supposed to have been Notre Dame’s last real test of the regular season. But once Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey was injured midway through the first quarter, this game was pretty much a wrap. That shouldn’t be held against the Fighting Irish, who still rolled up 463 yards of offense and forced three turnovers, including an interception of Dungey. But if the CFP committee or skeptics were looking to see Notre Dame pushed by a capable team, they came away from this one sorely disappointed. At this point, all that likely stands between the Irish and the playoffs is the regular-season finale at USC. So you might as well go ahead and pencil them into the bracket.
4. Michigan (10-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Week 12 result: Defeated Indiana 31-20
What’s next: at Ohio State (12 p.m. ET Saturday, Fox)
If the Wolverines seemed a little sluggish, who could really blame them? Next week is the kind of game Jim Harbaugh and Michigan have been pointing toward since he was hired in December 2014. Given that, Indiana was a mere nuisance, and the Wolverines played that way until finally pulling away in the third quarter. Karan Higdon rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown, and freshman Jake Moody set a school record with six field goals, possibly shoring up a fatal flaw for Michigan. The most troubling development of the afternoon was an injury to star defensive end Chase Winovich, who went down in the third quarter. The nation’s top-ranked defense could really use a healthy Winovich for Ohio State.
5. UCF (10-0, 7-0 American)
Week 12 result: Defeated Cincinnati 38-13
What’s next: at South Florida (Friday, TBA)
If not now, when? The Knights put together a thorough prime-time beatdown of ranked, one-loss Cincinnati, a performance that demands the attention of the CFP committee. And even if Saturday’s impressive display isn’t enough to nudge them up the polls, it’s plenty for the Power Rankings. Oklahoma and Ohio State certainly didn’t do enough Saturday to merit being ranked over UCF any longer. Georgia will eventually get its shot against Alabama. LSU already has lost twice, and it doesn’t have the sort of offense that inspires confidence. The arguments against seriously considering the Knights, who extended their nation’s-best win streak to 23 games, aren’t holding up as we get deeper into the season.
6. Washington State (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12)
Week 12 result: Defeated Arizona 69-28
What’s next: vs. Washington (8:30 p.m. Friday, Fox)
Hey, speaking of overlooked and under-ranked teams. It’d be hard for any team — non-Alabama and Clemson division — to play much better than the Cougars did against Arizona late Saturday night. Of course, much of it happened while the rest of the country was asleep or out on the town. But those who tuned in saw Washington State run up 55 first-half points, making the Wildcats look like one of those overmatched FCS teams much of the SEC scheduled this week. That loss at USC earlier in the season seems more and more inexplicable every week. Should the Cougars beat ranked Washington on Friday and follow it up with a win over another ranked team in the Pac-12 championship game, why wouldn’t they get serious consideration for a playoff berth?
7. Georgia (10-1, 7-1 SEC)
Week 12 result: Defeated UMass 66-27
What’s next: vs. Georgia Tech (12 p.m. ET Saturday, SEC Network)
Things unfolded as expected in Athens, where the most interesting development was the play of Bulldogs star freshmen Justin Fields and James Cook. Fields threw for 121 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 100 more and another score while rotating with starter Jake Fromm. Cook scored the first two touchdowns of his career in only three carries. So, as figured, Georgia’s future looks to be in capable, if gifted, hands. But for this year? Fromm and the Bulldogs need only get past Georgia Tech next week — not necessarily an easy task — to set up a titanic SEC championship game that will have a big impact on the playoff.
8. Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1 Big 12)
Week 12 result: Defeated Kansas 55-40
What’s next: at West Virginia (8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN)
While the Jayhawks offered little resistance to Kyler Murray and the nation’s second-highest scoring offense, the Sooners showed little indication they’ve improved on defense since firing Mike Stoops last month. Pooka Williams Jr. rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns as Kansas slapped 524 total yards on Oklahoma. If anything ultimately costs the Sooners a spot in the CFP, whether on the field or off, it’ll be that sieve of a defense. And one-time Heisman Trophy contender Will Grier and West Virginia will get a crack at it next week. Survive that and the Sooners will end up in the Big 12 title game, likely facing the team that put Stoops out of a job in the first place: Texas.
9. LSU (9-2, 5-2 SEC)
Week 12 result: Defeated Rice 42-10
What’s next: at Texas A&M (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, SEC Network)
One-win Rice, which has been at the very bottom of the Bottom 10 for the past couple of weeks, was the $1.4 million solution (their paycheck for the trouble) to LSU’s recent offensive woes on Saturday night. Joe Burrow threw for a season-high 307 of the Tigers’ 552 total yards. It was the first time Burrow had managed at least 200 yards since the Oct. 13 win over Georgia. The Tigers’ defense showed up as expected, holding the lowly Owls to only 198 yards, despite Rice holding the ball for more than 35 minutes. But nothing that happened in Death Valley proved much that we didn’t already know about both teams.
10. Ohio State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten)
Week 12 result: Defeated Maryland 52-51 (OT)
What’s next: vs. Michigan (12 p.m. ET Saturday, Fox)
Urban Meyer’s visible sideline agony perfectly captured the afternoon, with the Buckeyes needing an errant throw on a two-point conversion in overtime to avoid one of the season’s biggest upsets. Ohio State needed everything Dwayne Haskins and J.K. Dobbins could muster, rolling to 688 yards of offense in the sixth-best offensive output in school history. But that defense? Maryland RB Anthony McFarland (298 yards rushing, two touchdowns) will haunt the Buckeyes’ nightmares for quite a while. But it’ll all be forgotten if the Buckeyes can pull off the upset against Michigan next week, which would earn them a spot in the Big Ten title game and keep alive their hopes of earning a playoff spot.
11. Florida (8-3, 5-3 SEC)
Week 12 result: Defeated Idaho 63-10
What’s next: at Florida State (12 p.m. ET, Saturday, ABC)
The Gators didn’t waste any time overwhelming their overmatched opponent, scoring on a pick-six on the first play from scrimmage en route to 28 first-quarter points. Feleipe Franks (274 yards, three touchdowns) joined Tim Tebow and Chris Leak as the only Florida quarterbacks since 2000 to have at least 15 passing touchdowns and six rushing touchdowns in a season, and the Gators didn’t break much of a sweat in their largest win as a ranked team in nine years. It was the perfect warm-up to their game against the worst Florida State team in recent memory
12. Texas (8-3, 6-2 Big 12)
Week 12 result: Defeated Iowa State 24-10
What’s next: at Kansas (12 p.m. Friday, FS1)
Win next week at Kansas and the Longhorns will get another shot at rival Oklahoma, this time in the Big 12 championship game. Texas looked the part of a title contender Saturday, easily dispatching Iowa State despite losing quarterback Sam Ehlinger late in the second quarter. The Longhorns didn’t seem to miss a beat, basically playing the Cyclones to a draw after halftime. Texas’ defense even summoned one of its best efforts of the year: 10 points are the fewest allowed by the unit this season. But if Ehlinger is unable to return to the lineup after reinjuring his right shoulder, nothing should be taken for granted. Shane Buechele is a capable backup, but Ehlinger is the one who makes Texas formidable on offense.
13. Penn State (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten)
Week 12 result: Defeated Rutgers 20-7
What’s next: vs. Maryland (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC)
Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions didn’t have to do much to hold off Rutgers. A couple of turnovers set up two Penn State touchdowns and McSorley threw for 183 yards — not even completing half of his pass attempts — in a game that was never close. Long gone are the high-powered offensive displays, back when the Nittany Lions averaged 56 points in the first four games of the season. Instead, Penn State has leaned on its improving defense, which held the Scarlet Knights to 234 yards. The Nittany Lions will need that effort and more from McSorley — now the winningest quarterback in school history with 30 career victories — to hold off Maryland, which surprisingly slapped 51 points and 535 yards on Ohio State.
14. West Virginia (8-2, 6-2 Big 12)
Week 12 result: Lost to Oklahoma State 45-41
What’s next: vs. Oklahoma (8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN)
The Mountaineers’ not-so-surprising loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday had implications far beyond Stillwater: They’re now out of the CFP race, Oklahoma is now the only Big 12 team with a chance to clinch a playoff berth, and it makes next week’s game against Oklahoma a Big 12 championship game play-in game. But first, West Virginia will need to figure out how to shore up a defense that surrendered 21 fourth-quarter points to Taylor Cornelius and the Cowboys. Now imagine what Kyler Murray and the Sooners could do against that defense, which ultimately allowed 604 yards and 35 first downs on Saturday. Will Grier (27-of-48 for 384 yards and two touchdowns) won’t be enough to outlast Oklahoma.
15. Kentucky (8-3, 5-3 SEC)
Week 12 result: Defeated Middle Tennessee State 34-23
What’s next: at Louisville (7 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2)
The Blue Raiders seemed a timely cure for the Wildcats’ entrenched offensive woes. After failing to crack 17 points in the previous five games, Kentucky scored 17 in the first quarter en route to clinching its first eight-win season since 1984. But the point total is deceiving: MTSU outgained Kentucky 392-324; Benny Snell Jr. needed 26 carries to get 116 yards against the nation’s 67th-ranked run defense; and the Wildcats’ first touchdown came on a 66-yard interception return by Mike Edwards. Kentucky should have more than enough to defeat lowly in-state rival Louisville next week, but its offense isn’t reliable enough to make any game a certainty at this point.
16. Washington (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12)
Week 12 result: Defeated Oregon State 42-23
What’s next: at Washington State (8:30 p.m. ET Friday, Fox)
In making quick and easy work of the Pac-12’s worst team, the Huskies ever so briefly looked like the team expected in the preseason to contend for a playoff spot. Jake Browning (242 yards passing, three touchdowns) and Myles Gaskin (135 yards rushing, one touchdown) helped the Huskies score 28 first-quarter points. Washington also offered glimpses of why this season hasn’t been quite satisfying, including allowing Oregon State to recover an onside kick and block a punt. But much will be forgiven if the Huskies can go over to Pullman and steal away a North division title and spot in the Pac-12 title game from Washington State.
17. Utah (8-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
Week 12 result: Defeated Colorado 30-7
What’s next: vs. BYU (Saturday, TBA)
In only his second start, redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Shelley again proved himself equal to the task of replacing injured starter Tyler Huntley. Shelley passed for 221 yards and two touchdowns with, most importantly, no interceptions in a surprisingly lopsided win over the former Pac-12 South front-runners. But Utah’s defense made it easy for him and the Utes’ offense, holding Colorado to 196 yards, including 34 rushing yards on 1 yard per attempt. With the Utes advance to the Pac-12 title game for the first time in program history, Gardner Minshew or Jake Browning could be in for a long night.
18. Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4 SEC)
Week 12 result: Defeated Arkansas 52-6
What’s next: at Mississippi (7:30 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN)
It’s almost as if playing a defense other than Alabama’s freed the Bulldogs to loosen up a little. Nick Fitzgerald tied a season high with four touchdown passes, and Mississippi State shook off the supposed “Alabama effect” — in which teams are so beat up by the Crimson Tide that they can’t fully recover the following week — in rolling to its highest point total against a Power 5 opponent this season. The Bulldogs’ defense was as stingy as ever, holding Arkansas to 219 yards and looking primed for next week’s Egg Bowl against Mississippi, which boasts the nation’s fifth-most productive offense at 536 yards a game.
19. Northwestern (7-4, 7-1 Big Ten)
Week 12 result: Defeated Minnesota 24-14
What’s next: vs. Illinois (Saturday, TBA)
Not only are the Wildcats the Big Ten West champs, they also can credibly claim the “Nobody believed in us!” crown after winning a FBS-best fifth game as underdog this season. It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand how the same team lost consecutive games to Duke and Akron earlier this season. And if they beat Illinois as expected, the Wildcats will enter the Big Ten championship game having won seven of their last eight — the only loss being a 10-point defeat to No. 3 Notre Dame. Eventually, Las Vegas and the rest of us will catch on.
20. Iowa (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten)
Week 12 result: Defeated Illinois 63-0
What’s next: vs. Nebraska (12 p.m. Friday, Fox)
The Hawkeyes took out the frustration of a three-game losing streak on Illinois, handing it the worst loss in school history. Iowa hadn’t racked up so many yards (400) since a win over Indiana on Oct. 13, but its defense made this game a laugher. Illinois finished with 231 yards of offense (most after the game was no longer in doubt), converted only two of 17 third downs and committed four turnovers. It was a timely performance heading into next week’s regular-season finale against improving Nebraska.
21. Iowa State (6-4, 5-3 Big 12)
Week 12 result: Lost to Texas 24-10
What’s next: vs. Kansas State (Saturday, TBA)
The Cyclones were officially knocked out of the Big 12 title chase in Austin, wilting under the pressure of playing with expectations for the first time in recent memory. The early absence of running back David Montgomery, who was suspended for the first half following his ejection against Baylor last week, certainly didn’t help matters as Iowa State fell behind 17-3 in the first half and never caught up. It was the first loss in six starts for freshman quarterback Brock Purdy, who finished 10-of-23 for 130 yards and an interception. But it wasn’t just Purdy; Texas’ previously maligned defense made Iowa State look totally inept. The Longhorns sacked the Cyclone quarterbacks six times, tallied nine tackles for a loss and held them to 210 yards.
22. Syracuse (8-3, 5-2 ACC)
Week 12 result: Lost to Notre Dame 36-3
What’s next: at Boston College (12 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN)
It’s tough to know what to make of what really happened in Yankees Stadium, given that the Orangemen played most of the game without quarterback Eric Dungey. Backup Tommy DeVito (14-of-31 for 105 yards and two interceptions) simply couldn’t get it done against one of the nation’s best defenses. That’s no big failure, but it’s certainly a disappointment for a program that had been pointing toward Saturday as a litmus test under head coach Dino Babers. The Orange will have to forget about Saturday quickly as they travel next week to Boston College for the regular-season finale. It remains to be seen if Dungey will be able to return.
23. Utah State (10-1, 7-0 MWC)
Week 12 result: Defeated Colorado State 29-24
What’s next: at Boise State (10:15 p.m. ET Saturday)
If the Aggies came into Saturday overlooking three-win Colorado State, it’s understandable given they travel to Boise State next week for a game that will determine the Mountain West Mountain Division title. Utah State barely survived the road trip to snowy and rainy Fort Collins, scoring its first touchdown of the game with 43 seconds left and needing a penalty that wiped out a last-second touchdown by the Rams. The Aggies didn’t do much to justify their first ranking ever in the CFP, being outgained by nearly 200 yards (506-310) and allowing Colorado State to hold the ball for more than 42 minutes. A similar effort at Boise will surely bring their time in the poll to an end.
24. Boise State (9-2, 6-1 MWC)
Week 12 result: Defeated New Mexico 45-14
What’s next: vs. Utah State (10:15 p.m. Saturday)
The Broncos will host what amounts to a play-in game for the Mountain West championship game when first-place Utah State comes to Boise on Saturday. The winner advances to play Fresno State on Dec. 1. Boise State looked ready for the challenge in its rout of New Mexico on Friday, playing the sort of clean and efficient game the program has become known for the past two decades. Boise State seized on New Mexico’s three early turnovers, jumping out to an early 14-point lead that it never relinquished. This was, unfortunately for the Lobos, not going to be a trap game for the Broncos.
25. Cincinnati (9-2, 5-2 American)
Week 12 result: Lost to UCF 38-13
What’s next: vs. East Carolina (Friday, TBA)
It’s hard to fault the Bearcats for getting overwhelmed in Orlando. Beating UCF in a showcase weekend for its program would’ve been a tall order for any program, let alone Cincinnati in its second year under head coach Luke Fickell. Now the bar has been set for the improving Bearcats, who will finish third in the American East division behind UCF and Temple. If Cincinnati can shake off this loss and beat East Carolina in the regular-season finale, it would clinch the first 10-win season there since 2011. That would be a nice accomplishment for Fickell and one of the nation’s youngest teams.