College Football Rankings 2018: Bleacher Report's Week 15 Top 25

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVDecember 2, 2018

College Football Rankings 2018: Bleacher Report's Week 15 Top 25

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    Championship weekend is always one of the most exciting due to the hype and talent surrounding each of the key conference games. Top 25 matchups dominated the headlines, with six of the top eight teams in action on Saturday. Even though only one of those teams lost, there were plenty of sweaty palms across the country as favorites faced serious challenges from their competition.

    We saw backup quarterback Jalen Hurts relieve an injured Tua Tagovailoa to help guide Alabama to a comeback win against Georgia. Ohio State signal-caller Dwayne Haskins set a Big Ten Championship Game record for passing yards as he lit up Northwestern for almost 500 yards and five touchdowns. And Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray shredded Texas, this time avenging the Sooners' loss as they made the case for their inclusion in the College Football Playoff.

    Clemson again blew out its competition, beating Pitt 42-10. The Tigers' explosive running game, led by Travis Etienne, and talented defense easily overwhelmed their foe. They should easily retain the No. 2 spot entering the playoff rankings.

    UCF, Washington and Fresno State also clinched their conference titles. UCF did the unimaginable, completing another major comeback against Memphis, but this time without injured star quarterback McKenzie Milton. Freshman Darriel Mack Jr. led a 21-point fourth-quarter outburst to complete the win.

    Bleacher Report's panel of experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—voted on the action. A first-place vote is worth 25 points, followed by 24 points for second, 23 for third and so on.

    Here is our Week 15 poll:

    1. Alabama (last week: 1)
    2. Clemson (2)
    3. Notre Dame (3)
    4. Oklahoma (5)
    5. Georgia (4)
    T-6. Ohio State (6)
    T-6. UCF (7)
    8. Michigan (8)
    9. Washington State (9)
    10. Penn State (11)
    11. Washington (15)
    T-12. Florida (13)
    T-12. Texas (10)
    14. Fresno State (T-23)
    T-15. LSU (16)
    T-15. West Virginia (14)
    T-17. Kentucky (18)
    T-17. Syracuse (17)
    19. Army (19)
    20. Utah State (20)
    21. Utah (T-21)
    22. Texas A&M (T-23)
    23. Mississippi State (25)
    24. Boise State (12)
    25. Iowa State (NR)

    Others receiving votes: Northwestern, Missouri, Cincinnati, Pitt, Appalachian State, Buffalo, NC State

Who's Hot: The Favorites

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    If you wanted to see absolute chaos from the College Football Playoff committee, then Saturday didn’t bear the results you wanted to see. No. 4 Georgia was the only team in the Playoff race to lose, but No. 1 Alabama was the favorite to maintain their position as the reigning SEC champion. Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and UCF all took care of business in their contests.

    Both Ohio State and UCF wanted to see at least Oklahoma fall on Saturday to help boost their chances to making the top four teams. UCF also needed additional help, but now have no shot at making the Playoff despite their incredible two-year run that culminated in a wildly entertaining 56-41 comeback win against Memphis.

    The Buckeyes looked to be on the verge of a blowout of the Northwestern Wildcats, but stumbled over themselves repeatedly in the second-half as the game was far too close for comfort. The only way to beef their resume after the Sooners beat Texas was to destroy Northwestern, but even that seemed unlikely entering the week.

    Had Georgia held on to beat Alabama, then last year’s situation with two SEC finalists could’ve repeated itself. That should have no chance, and we can likely say that Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma will be the top four seeds come the night of Sunday, December 3.

Who's Not: Georgia's Fourth-Quarter Collapse

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    For the vast majority of the SEC Championship Game, the Georgia Bulldogs were the better team despite being ranked three spots lower than No. 1 Alabama. Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart had seemingly built a team that could counter the Crimson Tide's physicality, intelligence and discipline with even sharper focus.
    In other words, they were out-Bamaing Alabama.

    Georgia's two-touchdown lead in the third quarter looked like a sure victory coming. Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had the worst game of his career, throwing two interceptions and leaving several other passes short when he couldn't plant his foot and drive the ball down field with consistency.

    The Tide kept things close, though, and backup Jalen Hurts had a heroic return to the field after Tagovailoa left the game due to an ankle injury. Hurts was fantastic throwing and running the ball, amassing 110 total yards and two touchdowns in the final 10:33 of the fourth-quarter.

    While Hurts earned any praise given to him, Smart's Bulldogs again blew a dominant performance and cost themselves a spot in the playoff. They failed to convert two key third-and-short situations, and Smart brazenly called a fake punt that gave Alabama a short field to convert the game-winning drive.

    The Bulldogs offense sputtered badly after a tremendous performance by Jake Fromm and company up until midway through the third quarter. Their final six drives led to zero points and none of the drives took more than 2:53 off the clock. Nick Saban's halftime adjustments again got the best of Smart's for the second time in 2018.

Fun Fact: Fresno State Broke 34-Year Drought

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    Steve Conner/Associated Press

    One of the undercard bouts on Saturday's slate came when No. 25 Fresno State visited the unfriendly confines of No. 22 Boise State's Albertsons Stadium. Not only was the Mountain West Conference championship on the line, but so was a specific stretch between the teams. The Bulldogs hadn't won in Boise since their 1984 37-21 victory, a year they went 6-6 with Jim Sweeney at head coach.

    Their 19-16 overtime win didn't come in a pretty game as the snow continued to cover the field and make it difficult for each offense to find its groove. It was a back-and-forth affair that relied on the running attacks to keep each team afloat. Boise State running back Alexander Mattison had a second consecutive 200-yard rushing effort, but it wasn't enough to offset a pedestrian performance from Brett Rypien and the Broncos' passing game.

    The win also marks Fresno's fourth in the series since 1996 despite 18 matchups between then and Saturday. Our latest projections have them headed to Las Vegas to play Cal in the Mitsubishi Motors bowl.

What to Watch For: The Heisman Trophy Race

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Entering championship weekend, Tua Tagovailoa was heavily favored to win the 2018 Heisman Trophy. OddsShark listed the Alabama quarterback as a -500 betting favorite (bet $500 to win $100). But after his injury-marred, dreadful performance, the race looks open.

    Both Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray continued to lead their teams to victories and post huge statistics. Murray led a second-half comeback against Texas with 379 passing yards, hitting two key third-down passes under pressure to seal the win and exact revenge against the Longhorns. Haskins was similarly great as he picked apart Northwestern in a victory and extended his single-season school record with 499 passing yards.

    The case for Tagovailoa took a hit. Alabama hadn't played a team as able to push it like Georgia did, and Tagovailoa responded poorly. He was injured throughout the game, and several drops hurt his numbers, but he's still accountable for his play while he's on the field.

    Tagovailoa's dominance from Week 1 until this week shouldn't be forgotten because of one terrible performance. But it does make this race a lot tighter—and maybe makes someone else the favorite.

    Haskins has the most passing yards and touchdowns in the nation. Murray has led the best offense in the country with absurd statistics. And Tagovailoa still has one of the best efficiency ratings of all quarterbacks despite playing in two fourth quarters all season, all while leading the No. 1 team.

    This is a closer race filled with great players. We'll find out who'll win December 8.