College Football Rankings 2018: Overview of Week 12 Standings for NCAA's Top 25

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 17, 2018

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) throws a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama won 24-0. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

While a handful of college football powers have the chance to pad their stats against pushovers in Week 12, the slate isn't short on intrigue.

A pair of top 12 teams will tussle in the afternoon, when No. 3 Notre Dame meets No. 12 Syracuse at Yankee Stadium. Two more top 25 tilts highlight the evening, with No. 16 Iowa State traveling to No. 15 Texas and No. 11 UCF hosting No. 24 Cincinnati.

Other ranked teams have tricky matchups with unranked teams too, like No. 22 Northwestern at Minnesota and No. 20 Boston College at Florida State.

This could be a gameweek, then, that scrambles the standings, so let's take stock of the College Football Playoff rankings going into Saturday and spotlight two of the most critical contests.


College Football Playoff Rankings

1. Alabama (10-0)

2. Clemson (10-0)

3. Notre Dame (10-0)

4. Michigan (9-1)

5. Georgia (9-1)

6. Oklahoma (9-1)

7. LSU (8-2)

8. Washington State (9-1)

9. West Virginia (8-1)

10. Ohio State (9-1)

11. UCF (9-0)

12. Syracuse (8-2)

13. Florida (7-3)

14. Penn State (7-3)

15. Texas (7-3)

16. Iowa State (6-3)

17. Kentucky (7-3)

18. Washington (7-3)

19. Utah (7-3)

20. Boston College (7-3)

21. Mississippi State (6-4)

22. Northwestern (6-4)

23. Utah State (9-1)

24. Cincinnati (9-1)

25. Boise State (8-2)


Notre Dame vs. Syracuse

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

This isn't quite a win-and-you're-in-the-playoffs scenario for the third-ranked Irish, but it's close. With a victory, all that would be standing between them and an unblemished regular season is a trip to unranked USC.

"There's no limits on this team," running back Dexter Williams said, per SI.com's Joan Niesen. "We can go as far as we want to go."

The Irish have already exceeded expectations. This wasn't a top-10 team entering the season. But the goalposts have moved as the win column has increased thanks to a stingy defense, explosive—though not always consistent—offense and a softer schedule than it seemed.

If quarterback Ian Book is healthy—head coach Brian Kelly says he is—this offense becomes a weapon in its own right. The team totaled 70 points over its first three games with Brandon Wimbush under center. It put 56 in the scoring column during Book's first start and has only scored fewer than 31 points once since.

Book averaged 301.8 passing yards over six consecutive starts before missing their most recent game with a rib injury. He leads qualified FBS passers with a 74.5 completion percentage and has tossed 15 touchdowns against four interceptions.

Those are big numbers, especially when considering the strength of this defense and potency of this rushing attack (Williams is going for 6.8 yards a pop). Altogether, they have put Notre Dame's first College Football Playoff berth closer than ever.

But this hurdle is steep.

Head coach Dino Babers has invigorated the Orange during his third season at the helm. While his defense bends to the point it occasionally breaks, his uptempo offense averages an eye-popping 44.4 points per game (seventh in FBS), and his special teams unit routinely turns the tide in his club's favor.

No. 2 Clemson couldn't breathe easy during a Week 5 home matchup with Syracuse, needing two fourth-quarter touchdowns—one in the final minute—to survive with a 27-23 team win. It's hard to get comfortable against the Orange, who are tied for ninth in sacks (33.0) and average the fourth-most plays per game (84.9), per TeamRankings.

While Vegas pegs Notre Dame as a 10-point favorite, per OddsShark, Syracuse has enough talent to keep this a lot closer or even orchestrate the upset.


Iowa State vs. Texas

AMES, IA - OCTOBER 13: Head coach Matt Campbell of the Iowa State Cyclones coaches during pre game warm ups before game action agains the West Virginia Mountaineers at Jack Trice Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 30-14
David K Purdy/Getty Images

It's not hyperbolic to call this the biggest game in Iowa State football history.

You're talking about a school that has never won more than nine games in a year over a century-plus of existence and only hit that mark twice. This is a school that's held a top-10 ranking in just one season and has never been higher than ninth.

You're also looking at a squad with a rising star at coach (Matt Campbell), NFL prospects at running back (David Montgomery) and wide receiver (Hakeem Butler) and a potential program-changer at quarterback.

True freshman Brock Purdy took over the job five games ago and immediately authored the Cyclones' first-ever five-game conference winning streak. If he qualified, he would rank third in yards per attempt (10.9) and 11th in completion percentage (68.6).

"Iowa State is averaging nearly 1.7 yards per play more with Purdy calling the shots than in its first four games (6.51 to 4.86)," Steve Petrella wrote for Action Network. "That's the difference between Ohio State's offense and UTEP's offense."

But Purdy—who was courted by both Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher—has yet to face a challenge like this. He's not only tasked with beating the nation's 15th-ranked team in front of a hostile crowd of 100,000-plus, but he will have to make do without Montgomery for the first half because of the ball-carrier's involvement in an on-field skirmish in Week 11.

Texas has seen its own young star rise at quarterback. Sophomore Sam Ehlinger has been a different player, bumping both his completion percentage (64.3, up from 57.5) and yards per attempt (7.8 from 7.0) while slicing his interceptions (two from seven). After scoring 13 combined touchdowns in nine games as a freshman, he's already scored 20 times through the air and another nine on the ground this year.

"What you see from him is he's owning the offense," Campbell said of Ehlinger. "He knows where to go with the football. It's hard to disguise things and trick him because he's owning the offense. When you see really good quarterbacks playing at a really good rate, you see guys that own the offense."

Texas and Iowa State enter this matchup on almost equal footing. Oddsmakers essentially see it as a coin flip, separating the teams only by the three-point bump customarily tied to home-field advantage.

Whoever wins this game will take a big step toward playing in the Big 12 title game. Whoever loses will essentially fall out of the race.

This won't be one you want to miss—provided you can track down the Longhorn Network.