What’s still at stake in the conference title races

There’s still a lot of conference title races hanging in the balance heading into the final week of the college football season.

The conference title games in seven of the 10 conferences at the top level of college football have et to be finalized through the first 12 weeks of the season. And in cases like the AAC, Big Ten and MAC, there are head-to-head matchups where the winner will advance to the championship game.

Here’s how the conference title races stack up going into Week 13.

AAC

Cincinnati and Tulane are each at 6-1 in the AAC and play each other on Friday. The winner will host the AAC title game and the loser could be out entirely. UCF plays lowly USF in Week 13 and has wins over Cincinnati and Tulane. Houston is a wild card in this scenario, however. The Cougars are likely not going to win any tiebreakers but could force a three-way tiebreaker for second place with a win in the final week of the season. Since Houston didn’t play either Cincinnati or UCF, the three-way tiebreaker would include the College Football Playoff rankings and come down to where the committee has UCF and the Cincinnati-Tulane loser.

ACC

This one was settled before the weekend. And that’s a good thing for the Tar Heels as they lost 21-17 at home to Georgia Tech. That loss ended any chance of UNC making the College Football Playoff and of QB Drake Maye winning the Heisman Trophy. Clemson is also probably disappointed too. The Tigers needed North Carolina to be ranked as high as possible ahead of the ACC title game to get back into the College Football Playoff mix.

COLLEGE PARK, MD – NOVEMBER 19: Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) during a long play stoppage during a Big10 football game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 19, 2022, at SECU Stadium, in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Big Ten

The winner of Michigan and Ohio State heads to the Big Ten title game as the representative from the East after both teams won on Saturday and are 11-0. Iowa is the West champion with a win over Nebraska. If Iowa loses, Purdue is in with a win over Indiana. If both Iowa and Purdue lose, Illinois is in with a win over Northwestern. If all three lose, then Iowa gets the bid because it beat Purdue.

Big 12

Oklahoma State was officially dropped from Big 12 title contention with its blowout loss to Oklahoma on Saturday night. Kansas State will play the Horned Frogs with a win over Kansas while Texas needs Kansas State to lose and to beat Baylor. If Texas loses, Kansas State is in no matter what.

Conference USA

The Roadrunners are two games ahead of the Mean Green and Hilltoppers. WKU hosts Florida Atlantic while North Texas hosts rice. The Mean Green are in the title game with a win over the Owls or a loss coupled with a WKU loss. North Texas has the tiebreaker thanks to a 40-13 win over WKU.

MAC

The Bulls are hoping to play Akron on Sunday after snow postponed their game on Saturday. If Buffalo wins, it needs to beat Kent State and have Bowling Green to beat Ohio in the final week of the season. That would set up a three-way tie that Buffalo wins by virtue of having one loss in the East division while Ohio and Bowling Green would have two. The far simpler scenario is an Ohio win over Bowling Green to clinch the division. Bowling Green would win the division with a victory over Ohio and a loss at any point by Buffalo.

Mountain West

The Broncos clinched the Mountain Division with a wild win over Wyoming on Saturday night. Fresno State can clinch the West with a win over Nevada late on Saturday night. Fresno also has wins over SDSU and SJSU, so the Bulldogs have to lose both of their games to give either of its California rivals a chance.

Pac-12

The Trojans clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game with a win over cross-town rival UCLA. The winner of Utah and Oregon late on Saturday night just needs to win in the final week of the season to meet the Trojans while Washington and the loser of that game need to win and get some help to have a shot.

SEC

Both the Bulldogs and Tigers wrapped up their divisions in Week 11 and have plenty of time to prepare for each other in the SEC title game.

Sun Belt

Coastal plays JMU in Week 13 and the winner heads to the Sun Belt title game. Troy beat South Alabama earlier in the year and just needs a win over last-place Arkansas State to clinch the West. If Troy is upset, South Alabama needs a win over Old Dominion.

WINNERS

TCU: Another week, another close win for TCU. The Horned Frogs remained undefeated by beating Baylor 29-28 on the road in a last-second thriller. TCU trailed 28-20 late in the game but scored with 2:07 remaining to make it 28-26. When the two-point try fell incomplete, it looked like TCU’s unbeaten run could come to an end. However, the defense forced a three-and-out and Griffin Kell was able to drill a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give TCU a one-point win. It was a risky approach by Sonny Dykes, who called a running play without any timeouts. That meant his offense had to run off the field and the field goal unit had to get lined up in a hurry. It worked, and the Horned Frogs are still in the thick of the national title hunt.

TCU quarterback Max Duggan (15) greets teammates and coaches after an NCAA college football game against Baylor in Waco, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. TCU won 29-28. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

TCU quarterback Max Duggan (15) greets teammates and coaches after an NCAA college football game against Baylor in Waco, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. TCU won 29-28. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Kansas State: K-State is on the verge of playing for the Big 12 title. Following a 48-31 road win over West Virginia, the Wildcats improved to 8-3 and need to either beat Kansas or have Texas lose next week to earn a spot in the conference championship game against TCU. The Wildcats started fast in Morgantown, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first four minutes of play. Will Howard, now the starter in place of the injured Adrian Martinez, threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns and added a rushing TD in the win.

Iowa: Iowa did it again. Iowa went on the road and knocked off Minnesota, 13-10, to somehow put itself in excellent position in the Big Ten West race. The Hawkeyes were outgained yet again, but forced two timely fourth-quarter Minnesota turnovers. First, Iowa stripped Minnesota running back Mo Ibrahim (who rushed for 263 yards) in the red zone with just over five minutes to play. A few minutes later, Iowa picked off Minnesota’s Athan Kaliakmanis to set up the game-winning field goal in the final minute. Iowa now has eight straight wins over the Gophers and can clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game by beating Nebraska next week.

Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt is on an SEC winning streak. The Commodores upset Kentucky last week and followed that up with another, this time at home over Florida, 31-24. Vandy was significantly out-gained by the Gators but took advantage of two Florida turnovers, including a muffed punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. The Commodores also got three touchdown passes from Mike Wright in the win. Vandy is now 5-6 overall and would need an even bigger upset — over No. 5 Tennessee — to get to a bowl. Still, Vanderbilt has now won back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2018.

Oregon State: The job Jonathan Smith is doing in Corvallis is under-appreciated nationally. Before Smith was hired, the Beavers had endured four consecutive losing seasons, including a brutal 7-29 three-year stretch under Gary Andersen. Since then, Oregon State has steadily improved. Last year, the Beavers won seven games and reached a bowl game for the first time since 2013. This year, the Beavers are now 8-3 following a commanding 31-7 road win over Arizona State. OSU has won five of its last six and gets to host rival Oregon next week. Could an upset be in order?

Texas RB Bijan Robinson: Bijan Robinson went wild in Texas’ blowout win over Kansas. Quinn Ewers has been struggling in recent weeks, so Steve Sarkisian was content to give Robinson the ball early and often against the Kansas defense. Robinson delivered, rushing for 243 yards and four touchdowns in the Longhorns’ 55-14 victory in Lawrence. Texas had lost two of its last three, but there was no letdown in this one. UT is now 7-4 on the year with a home game vs. Baylor remaining on the schedule. Don’t be surprised if that’s Robinson’s last game in a Texas uniform.

Florida State: FSU has quietly been playing at a very high level. The Seminoles destroyed Louisiana 49-17 on Saturday to improve to 8-3 on the year. FSU was 4-3 going into its bye week but has since won four consecutive games to get to the eight-win mark for the first time since 2016. Now with rival Florida next week and a bowl game remaining, FSU could get to double-digit victories in Mike Norvell’s third season on the job. That would be a very notable step forward for the program.

Tulane: After a disappointing loss to UCF last week, Tulane bounced back in a big way with a 59-24 blowout win over SMU. The Green Wave came out hot and had a 21-0 lead after one quarter and a 49-7 lead by the 4:37 mark of the third quarter. Tulane rushed for 310 yards and Michael Pratt had three touchdown passes in the victory. Tulane is now 9-2 overall and 6-1 in AAC play headed into next week’s game at Cincinnati. The winner of that game will host the AAC title game. The loser could be eliminated from AAC title contention depending on what happens in the games played by UCF and Houston.

Tulane running back Tyjae Spears (22) celebrates his touchdown carry during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Southern Methodist in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. Tulane won 59-24. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Tulane running back Tyjae Spears (22) celebrates his touchdown carry during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Southern Methodist in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. Tulane won 59-24. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Boise State: After an ugly 2-2 start, Boise State is headed to the Mountain West title game thanks to a wild 20-17 win over Wyoming. The Broncos, who have now won six of seven, fell behind 10-0 early and trailed 17-13 entering the fourth but managed to get the score and stops they needed to get the win. It took two interceptions in the final two minutes to seal the victory, too. Wyoming got the ball back with 2:16 to go, but Jayden Clemons was picked off. From there, it looked like Boise would simply run the clock out, but George Holani fumbled and Wyoming returned it deep into Boise territory. Wyoming needed a field goal to keep the game alive but went for the win instead. Clemons was picked off yet again. The same man registered both interceptions — senior safety JL Skinner. Those plays clinched the Mountain division title.

James Madison: JMU had a huge comeback on Saturday. The Dukes fell behind Georgia State 34-14 at halftime but managed to battle all the way back and win 42-40. JMU flipped that 20-point deficit into a 35-34 advantage by the 1:45 mark of the third quarter. JMU added another touchdown early in the fourth and then stopped Georgia State on a game-tying two-point conversion attempt with 2:30 to play. JMU is now 7-3 in its first season playing at the FBS level.

Bowling Green: Way back on Tuesday night, #MACtion delivered a heck of a finish. Bowling Green upset Toledo 42-35 with a wild 42-yard touchdown pass from Matt McDonald to Ta’Ron Keith with just nine seconds remaining. McDonald found Keith out of the backfield and he managed to truck through multiple Toledo defenders into the end zone. With the win, Bowling Green is bowl eligible for the first time since 2015 and will play Ohio for the MAC East title next Tuesday night.

LOSERS

Tennessee: Tennessee’s national championship hopes were dashed in a stunning 63-38 loss at South Carolina. A week ago, 20 percent of South Carolina’s 237 yards came on one play — a fake punt — in a 38-6 loss to Florida. This week, the Gamecocks dropped 606 yards and 63 points on Tennessee, the No. 5 team in the country. The Vols just could not stop Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks, who scored touchdowns on their first five offensive possessions. Tennessee tried to keep pace and cut the lead to 35-31 at the 9:53 mark of the third quarter, but the defense just could not get any stops. And to make matters worse, star quarterback Hendon Hooker suffered a serious-looking injury in the loss. The Vols are now 9-2 and likely headed for a New Year’s Six bowl. A few weeks ago, they were No. 1 in the CFP rankings. That’s a tough fall.

South Carolina wide receiver Jalen Brooks (13) waves goodbye to the Tennessee sideline after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

South Carolina wide receiver Jalen Brooks (13) waves goodbye to the Tennessee sideline after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

North Carolina: UNC’s playoff hopes went up in flames Saturday night. UNC was a three-touchdown favorite at home and somehow managed to lose 21-17 to Georgia Tech, which has an interim head coach and was rotating its third- and fourth-string quarterbacks. UNC jumped out to a 21-0 lead with 3:13 left in the first half and never scored again. Drake Maye, UNC’s star quarterback, threw a costly interception late in the third quarter while deep in Georgia Tech territory. And in the fourth, with GT leading 21-17, Josh Downs dropped what would have been the go-ahead touchdown on fourth down with 4:10 to play. It was a brutal outing from the Tar Heels, who dropped to 9-2 with the loss. UNC already clinched a spot in the ACC title game, but Saturday’s stinker officially puts an end to UNC’s remote playoff chances.

Ole Miss: After losing a tough one at home to Alabama last week, Ole Miss came out flat on the road vs. Arkansas this week. The Rebels lost 42-27 in Fayetteville, but the final score does not reflect how lopsided this game was. Arkansas had a 35-6 lead at halftime and a 42-6 lead entering the fourth quarter. The Rebels just had no match for the Arkansas run game, particularly Raheim Sanders. Sanders went for 231 yards and three touchdowns while KJ Jefferson posted three touchdown passes on the Ole Miss defense. Ole Miss is 8-3 entering the Egg Bowl, but more focus will likely be on the status of Lane Kiffin, who is reportedly the one of the top candidates for the Auburn opening.

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS - NOVEMBER 19: Head Coach Lane Kiffin of the Mississippi Rebels shows his frustration in the first half during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS – NOVEMBER 19: Head Coach Lane Kiffin of the Mississippi Rebels shows his frustration in the first half during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

UCF: UCF got a really big road win over Tulane last week. This week? The Knights were upset 17-14 at home by Navy. It was a peculiar 11 a.m. start in Orlando, and only one team looked ready to play. Navy jumped out to a 14-6 halftime lead and ended up holding on in a low-scoring second half. The Midshipmen limited UCF to just 84 rushing yards. By comparison, UCF had 336 rushing yards in the Tulane victory. A win would have put UCF in a great position to host the AAC title game. Now UCF needs to beat USF next week and hope for some help elsewhere.

Michigan State: MSU managed to lose in double-overtime at home to an Indiana team that entered the weekend on a seven-game losing streak and had been outscored 101-28 in its last two games. MSU had a 31-14 late in the third quarter, but allowed the Hoosiers to come all the way back to win 39-31. Indiana only attempted seven passes for 31 yards and found a way to win anyway. MSU outgained the Hoosiers 540 yards to 288 but blew the game in spectacular fashion, particularly on special teams. MSU allowed a kick return touchdown, missed a game-winning field goal try from just 22 yards in the final seconds and then had another field goal blocked in overtime.

Oklahoma State: We’re running low on Bedlam games with Oklahoma moving to the SEC and Oklahoma State turned in a rough performance against its rival this time. Spencer Sanders threw three first-half interceptions as Oklahoma jumped out to a 28-3 halftime lead. OSU actually pitched a shutout the rest of the way, but the offense just couldn’t make the plays it needed. The Cowboys were 7-of-22 on third down in the 28-13 loss. Oklahoma State fell to 7-4 on the year while Oklahoma is now 6-5 and bowl eligible. Oklahoma is headed to the SEC, contractually in 2025, but potentially sooner. Hopefully this wasn’t the last Bedlam game for the foreseeable future.

Arizona: Jayden de Laura said Saturday’s game vs. Washington State was “personal.” De Laura transferred to Arizona after beginning his career at WSU, but his old teammates got the best of him this time. Washington State won 31-20 in Tucson on a miserable day from de Laura, who threw four interceptions in the loss. After one of those INTs, de Laura got into it with one of his receivers on the sideline. The four-turnover performance came on the heels of a tremendous performance in a big road upset over UCLA. With the loss, Arizona is eliminated from bowl consideration.

Iowa State: ISU just keeps losing close games. Dating back to last season, Iowa State is 3-11 in its last 14 games decided by one possession. The latest was Saturday’s 14-10 home loss to Texas Tech. The Cyclones started the season 3-0 but have since lost seven of eight, all in Big 12 play. The Cyclones’ offense has been horrific this year, but they actually moved the ball in this one. However, ISU routinely came up short in Texas Tech territory

Stanford: What are the chances that David Shaw won’t be back on the sidelines at Stanford next season? The Cardinal dropped to 3-8 with a 27-20 loss to rival Cal on Saturday. Stanford actually led 17-6 entering the fourth quarter but managed to blow that lead in a span of 1:24 of gametime. Cal’s offense scored to make it 17-12 with 11:18 to go and then Stanford fumbled on the third play of the ensuing possession. Cal returned it for a touchdown to take a lead that it never relinquished. Stanford now has a 14-26 record over the past four seasons with a combined 10-22 mark in Pac-12 play.

East Carolina: Trying to predict which version of Houston will show up on a week-to-week basis is a fool’s errand. Just ask East Carolina. Two weeks ago, Houston lost 77-63 to SMU. Last week, Houston needed a last-minute touchdown just to beat Temple. This week, Houston went on the road and blasted ECU 42-3. ECU was nearly a touchdown favorite. The Pirates were 3-of-14 on third down and 0-of-4 on fourth down in the loss, which drops the Pirates to 6-5 overall and 3-4 in AAC play. ECU can at least clinch a winning season next week if it beats Temple in Philly.