20. Northwestern Wildcats 8-4 (19)
Yawn … the Wildcats slipped by Illinois. No matter how the sausage is being made, they’ve won seven games in the last eight, with the only loss coming to Notre Dame. The wins at Iowa and Minnesota look a little bit stronger now.
19. Texas A&M Aggies 8-4 (22)
A seven-overtime win is still a win. Considering how much love and respect the committee gave to LSU over the last few weeks, coming up with a win should push the Aggies up several spots to get just outside of New Year’s Six at-large consideration. A&M had a slew of okay wins on the slate – okay, Kentucky was solid – but now it has a big one.
18. Utah Utes 9-3 (17)
Yeah, the Utah backfield might be full of backups, but it’s been a few weeks now, and the beat keeps marching on. With the comeback win over BYU, the Utes are going into the Pac-12 Championship on a roll, just 60 minutes away from the Rose Bowl.
17. Mississippi State Bulldogs 8-4 (18)
With the dominant win over Ole Miss on the road in the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs have allowed fewer than 20 points in every game but the losses to Kentucky and Alabama. Now they’ve won four of their last five, with the only loss at Alabama, putting them in the mix for a spot in the final top 15.
16. Texas Longhorns 9-3 (14)
The Longhorns will slip down a little bit thanks to the home loss to West Virginia on the resumé, but it doesn’t matter. Win the Big 12 Championship over Oklahoma, and go to the Sugar Bowl to face – most likely – Georgia. Lose … and it’ll probably go to the Sugar Bowl to face – most likely – Georgia.
15. West Virginia Mountaineers 8-3 (13)
On a two-game losing streak, the Mountaineers will drop a little bit, but not too much considering the 59-56 loss to Oklahoma could’ve gone either way. The ranking matters, though – it needs to get into the top 12 at the end to have a shot at a New Year’s Six game.
14. Kentucky Wildcats 9-3 (15)
All of a sudden, Kentucky has gone Los Angeles Rams, scoring 56 on Louisville after rocking Middle Tennessee for 34. The loss to Tennessee still stings, but the committee will keep the ranking just around the top 15. The wins at Florida and Missouri still matter, and beating Mississippi State in a blowout continues to look great.
13. Washington State Cougars 10-2 (8)
The committee can’t and won’t punish the Cougars too much for losing a game in awful, snowy conditions. The loss to USC is still on the books – and it looks worse now – but in the final rankings, don’t be shocked if Wazzu is just high enough to get a New Year’s Six bowl game, like the Fiesta.
12. Penn State Nittany Lions 9-3 (12)
The Maryland team that almost beat Ohio State just got whacked by Penn State by 35. The Nittany Lions have won five of their last six games with the only loss to Michigan. Watch out as they get near the top ten in the final rankings and go off to the Fiesta Bowl – or, are at least in the discussion.
11. LSU Tigers 9-3 (7)
LSU hasn’t been punished for losses so far, mainly because of the 36-16 win over Georgia that rocks everything anyone else has done – at least outside of Ohio State’s win over Michigan. The Tigers will drop after losing to LSU, but that was such a weird and crazy game, they’re not going to tumble. They’ll still be in the mix for a New Year’s Six game.