All those showdown games on the schedule Saturday and it was a 20-point underdog that shook up the playoff race.
For the second straight week a Southeastern Conference contender took a potentially devastating loss when No. 3 Auburn was upset 41-38 at home by a Texas A&M team that came to Jordan-Hare Stadium reeling.
The Aggies had lost three straight SEC games — one more lopsided than the next — and barely scraped by Louisiana-Monroe at home last week.
They got better against Auburn.
The Tigers fell behind big against the Aggies, and couldn’t pull off the type of improbable win that has become so common for them the last two seasons. Two fumbles involving Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in the final 5 minutes, both in A&M territory, ended the Tigers’ comeback attempt.
Last week it was Georgia getting hammered by Florida that a put a dent in the SEC’s hopes of getting more than one team in the final four. Good luck trying to sell this as a “good loss” for Auburn. Texas A&M lost to Mississippi State, Mississippi and Alabama by a combined 142-51 before beating ULM 21-16.
Still, don’t eliminate Auburn (7-2) just yet.
The pile of one-loss teams is quickly turning into a pile of two-loss teams. The Tigers still have road games against Georgia and Alabama left to rebuild their resume. And by the time the regular season is done, few teams will be able to match Auburn’s schedule for degree of difficulty. If they can get a muddle of two-loss teams atop the SEC West standings, the tiebreakers could still fall the Tigers’ way and get them a spot in the conference title game.
But for now, slot Auburn into the “needs help” category of playoff contenders.
Alabama won’t need any help. The Tide escaped Death Valley with a 20-13 overtime win against LSU to set up a showdown with No. 1 Mississippi State next week.
STICK A PITCHFORK IN ‘EM
A two-loss team you can safely scratch off the list is Notre Dame (7-2).
Surging Arizona State (8-1) beat the Fighting Irish 55-31, thwarting Notre Dame’s comeback attempt with a late spurt.
The Fighting Irish, 10th in the playoff rankings, were low on signature victories coming in. A close loss with a disputed ending at Florida State might have been the highlight of Notre Dame’s resume.
The Irish have Northwestern, Louisville and Southern California left. At 10-2, Notre Dame could still get into a big New Year’s bowl, but the Irish will have a hard time making a case as one of the top four teams in the country.
Meanwhile, the Sun Devils, a team that lost 62-27 at home to UCLA in September, are rolling. If Arizona State, ninth in the latest rankings, can win out, including a Pac-12 title game, it’ll be a lock for a playoff spot.
BEARS LOWER THE BOOM
Baylor entered Saturday 12th in the playoff rankings, not getting a lot of respect from the selection committee.
That could change now. The Bears were dominant in a 48-14 victory at Oklahoma and could leave the committee with an interesting decision after TCU pounded Kansas State 41-20 later Saturday.
The Bears beat TCU last month with a 24-point fourth-quarter comeback. Still, the Horned Frogs were ranked ahead of Baylor, which had no other victories against teams with winning records — until Saturday.
Baylor’s overall strength of schedule is still going to be pretty light, thanks to a cushy nonconference slate, but the Bears have answered their two biggest challenges and committee chairman Jeff Long has talked about how important it is to have some signature wins.
“We have to control what we can control,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “If we go out and win these last three games, we put up a fight. But we have to win.”
If you wrote off Ohio State after quarterback Braxton Miller was injured, and then again after the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech, that was premature.
The Buckeyes won the Big Ten game of the year 49-37 at Michigan State behind another stellar performance by Miller’s replacement. J.T. Barrett accounted for five touchdowns.
Ohio State will still have to overcome that loss to Virginia Tech and a resume that will be short on standout victories, but a Big Ten title and 12-1 finish would put them in the mix.
“If I have to go fight for this team, what they’ve done — very impressive,” Meyer said. “That darn loss the second game, if that hurts us, I’ll take the hit for that.”
PROJECTING THE NEXT RANKINGS
Mississippi State, Florida State, Oregon, TCU.
PROJECTING THE FINAL FOUR
Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoAP
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