Welcome to Twelve in the Box. Here, you will see twelve teams making the biggest impact on college football. Is this a CFB ranking? Not really—you won’t find any numbers by the team names. Is this a power ranking? Sort of, kind of. The Judge, here, will use his arbitrary sliding scale of indiscriminate factors to present the twelve teams (and three alternates) that Your Honor thinks you need to be paying attention to.
The regular season concluded with a bang, which was quite appropriate for this wild season. We saw four teams in the top ten go down to make the playoff picture a little murkier. Also, we are on the edge of complete chaos going into conference championship week. There is a chance we have four conference champions in football’s final four. However, a loss or two by favorites in these games could turn the conversation on its head.
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Alabama defeated Auburn in Week 13 to finish up the 2022 season with a 10-2 record. The Crimson Tide will not be in attendance for the SEC Championship game. Additionally, they will be sitting outside of the top four when the college football playoff rankings come out this week. If one or two of the top four go down, Alabama has a good argument to be that next team up. They only lost two road games by a combined four points including a game-ending field goal and two-point conversion.
Should they get in over a one-loss Ohio State? A two-loss Tennessee, who has the head-to-head advantage? We might just find out.
To Make the Playoffs: +800
To Win FBS Championship: +3000
The Tigers ran into Shane Beamer’s South Carolina buzzsaw and fell to the Gamecocks for the first time since 2013. This effectively eliminates Clemson from the playoff picture, even with a good showing in the ACC championship game against North Carolina. It seems like we are at a crossroads with this Clemson program.
Are we watching the height of this Tigers program fade? Or are they a few pieces away from being back at the top? That this season comes after the exit of coordinators is reason for concern. Dabo Swinney can erase this narrative with solid performances in the ACC championship game and bowl game.
Georgia’s record remains unblemished with a big win against Georgia Tech and will face LSU in the SEC championship game. The good news for Georgia fans is that the Bulldogs likely don’t even need to win this game to make the playoff. Georgia’s performance this season, along with other teams losing, has afforded them this benefit. Kirby Smart isn’t going to want to entertain this idea though and will be seeking the Dawgs’ first SEC championship since 2017. Georgia is playing well at the right time and is primed to defend their national championship.
To Win FBS Championship: -155
Next Game: vs. LSU
After starting his tenure with two losing seasons, Mike Norvell has this Florida State program heading on a great trajectory. They won’t be playing in any championship this year, but the Seminoles finished this season with five straight wins. That is good for a 9-3 record and second place in the ACC Atlantic Division.
The cherry on top came in Week 13 with a win over rival Florida. In this day of instant gratification, Florida State should be applauded for letting Norvell build this program. Surely there have been some tough days, but Florida State can head into 2023 with a ton of momentum.
Kansas State defeated in-state rival Kansas in Week 13 to finish the regular season 9-3. They will face TCU this week in a rematch for the Big 12 championship. The Wildcats will not make the playoff, but they can really shake up the playoff conversation with a win over the Horned Frogs. A Kansas State win is extremely plausible as the Wildcats were up by three scores late in the first half of the first meeting. That was the first game for quarterback Will Howard, who now has four games under his belt.
If there is any game to watch this weekend, it’s this one.
Next Game: vs. TCU
It is uncertain whether LSU’s Week 13 loss to Texas A&M is more of an indictment of LSU or Texas A&M. Going into the regular season finale, the Tigers positioned themselves to break into the playoff with a win over Georgia. Nobody expected that to happen, but even less expected LSU to lose to Texas A&M by two touchdowns. LSU will still play Georgia for the SEC title and should be recognized for having a great first season under Brian Kelly. This goes to show that “fit” in a coaching hire can be overrated, as winning cures all.
Next Game: vs. Georgia
Hail to the victors! Nobody outside of a few people in the Michigan athletics department would have predicted a twenty-two-point win at Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh started his Michigan tenure with five straight losses against the Buckeyes. However, he has rebounded with two straight wins over the hated rival, drawing praise from Big Blue.
The Wolverines can’t celebrate for long as they will take on Purdue for the Big Ten title this weekend. Could Michigan lose this game and still make the playoff? That’s not a game that Harbaugh wants to play.
To Win FBS Championship: +290
Next Game: vs. Purdue
The Buckeyes fell for a second straight year to Michigan, causing unwarranted criticism of head coach Ryan Day. What does this mean for Ohio State’s playoff hopes? Well, we will need to wait and see. The first tell will be whether Ohio State falls below Alabama in the playoff rankings. If they do, the Buckeyes will need major chaos on Saturday to have a shot. If Ohio State lands in the number five spot, a USC loss to Utah could make way for the Buckeyes to back their way into the playoff.
This is a disappointing position for Ohio State. They have been one of the odds-on favorites all season to take home the ultimate prize.
To Make the Playoffs: +105
To Win FBS Championship: +1000
The turnaround in Los Angeles has been quite remarkable. Just last year, the Trojans were 4-8. Insert head coach Lincoln Riley and a haul from the transfer portal and USC is back to national prominence. USC showed its firepower in a Week 13 win over Notre Dame. The win also vaulted quarterback Caleb Williams to the top of the Heisman race. The Trojans will now face Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, a team that gave USC its only loss this season. Getting revenge would almost certainly put USC in the playoff, a proposition that looked rather bleak not too long ago.
To Make the Playoffs: -150
To Win FBS Championship: +1200
Next Game: vs. Utah
TCU is in an interesting spot. Yes, the Horned Frogs finished the regular season 12-0 and will be playing for the Big 12 championship on Saturday. However, TCU’s playoff berth seems all but certain. Without a doubt, another win over Kansas State would put TCU in the playoff. A loss, however, would make things a lot less clear. Like it or not, the TCU brand does not carry the same weight as Ohio State or Alabama, who will be positioned just behind the Horned Frogs. Could this be a repeat of 2014, when the Buckeyes jumped TCU? Even though TCU already beat Kansas State once this year, a loss would invite an unwanted conversation for them.
To Make the Playoffs: -700
To Win FBS Championship: +1200
Next Game: vs. Kansas State
Is everyone just forgetting about Tennessee? This is the team that started 8-0 and knocked off then-number three Alabama. This is the team that has scored less than 40 points only twice. Their losses are at Georgia, the top-ranked team in the country, and to a red-hot South Carolina team. The Vols beat LSU 40-13 in Baton Rouge, the same team that gave Alabama their second loss. Should Tennessee be positioned ahead of Alabama when the final playoff rankings come out? Given the injury to quarterback Hendon Hooker, the Judge isn’t ready to say yes, but there should be some conversation.
The coaching carousel has officially cranked up and we already have some big names on the move. Wisconsin is bringing in Luke Fickell from Cincinnati, where he built the program into a national contender. Nebraska is bringing in Matt Rhule, who most recently served as the Carolina Panthers head coach. Though, he made his name in major program rebuilds at Temple and Baylor. Auburn is bringing in Hugh Freeze, who just took Liberty to a top-25 ranking. Not to mention wins over Power 5 schools. Look for marked improvement from each of these programs next season.
Conference Championship Week Alternates: Penn State, South Carolina, Utah