The last week of the 2021 college football regular season has arrived, and it’s fixing to be one of the best of the entire year with Ohio State and Michigan going toe-to-toe for a spot in the Big Ten Championship and possibly College Football Playoff (CFP). Before we get to the full rivalry week slate, it’s time to take stock of where the rankings stand.
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Below is how I’d order the top-25 teams after Week 12. Please note this top 25 is not the same as PFF’s Power Rankings.
1) GEORGIA BULLDOGS (RECORD: 11-0, ATS: 7-4, RANK CHANGE: -)
If Georgia holds Georgia Tech to under 16 points in Week 13, it’ll be the first team in the PFF College era to allow under 100 points through the regular season (minus the COVID-shortened 2020 season). Considering the Yellow Jackets put up a goose egg against Notre Dame in Week 11 in conjunction with the fact that the Bulldogs have held all but one opponent under that total (Tennessee had 17 points), this seems likely. After all, this is a generational Bulldogs defense that is the highest-graded unit in all of the FBS (95.5). This week will be a good warm-up for the big-time clash with Alabama in the SEC title game.
2) OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (RECORD: 10-1, ATS: 6-5, RANK CHANGE: +1)
Ohio State has been a wild ride this year, but last week’s win over the Michigan State Spartans was undoubtedly its best performance of the 2021 season. From quarterback C.J. Stroud to the wide receiver room to the offensive line to the playcalling — everything was nearly flawless in Ohio State's passing offense. Stroud earned a 91.8 passing grade in his 32-of-35, 432-yard and six-touchdown performance. He had only one quarterback-fault incompletion and no turnover-worthy plays to speak of. Stroud only endured five pressured dropbacks and had large windows to throw into regularly throughout the game. The Buckeyes need that kind of passing attack to emerge in Ann Arbor this weekend.
3) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (RECORD: 10-1, ATS: 6-5, RANK CHANGE: -1)
Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young went off against an Arkansas defense that primarily played its usual drop-eight coverage. Young has proven to be an advanced processor for his age and experience level, as he shredded the Razorbacks with no threat of pressure. Young earned a 90.6 PFF grade against Arkansas — his fifth game with a grade above 90.0 this season. The Crimson Tide defense, however, showed some notable flaws. It earned a 47.4 coverage grade for the game while allowing +0.89 expected points added (EPA) per pass play.
4) CINCINNATI BEARCATS (RECORD: 11-0, ATS: 6-5, RANK CHANGE: -)
Cincinnati had its Week 12 outing against SMU circled as one of the team's final opportunities to prove that it is CFP worthy. And the Bearcats certainly passed the test, as they beat down the Mustangs in a 48-14 blowout. The defense did its usual thing, putting the clamps on the opposing passing offense. SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai finished with just 66 passing yards on 33 dropbacks. Though quarterback Desmond Ridder‘s performance was perhaps the most encouraging part of Cincinnati's performance. He earned a 92.1 PFF grade for the game while producing multiple big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays. Over the last three weeks, Ridder has been the second-highest-graded passer in the FBS, behind only Houston’s Clayton Tune, who Cincinnati will face in the AAC title game next week.
5) MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (RECORD: 10-1, ATS: 9-2, RANK CHANGE: -)
Michigan’s defensive front won’t make it easy on Ohio State this weekend. The Wolverines own the highest-graded pass-rush in the entire Power Five and lead the group in pressure rate generated when they don’t blitz (41.9%). That said, Michigan is going to need more than its pass rush to beat the Buckeyes. The passing offense will need to perform well whether it’s starter Cade McNamara or backup JJ McCarthy — who will likely get some snaps — leading the way. McNamara is a limited, underneath passer by nature while McCarthy is a promising five-star true freshman who has impressive arm talent.
6) NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (RECORD: 10-1, ATS: 8-3, RANK CHANGE: -)
Notre Dame has been a different team since its Week 7 bye. Through Week 6, the Fighting Irish ranked 80th in the country in passing efficiency. Since Week 8, Notre Dame checks in fifth in that metric. Play action was, once again, quarterback Jack Coan’s best friend in Week 12, as he earned a 90.7 passing grade on 10 such dropbacks (75.0 without it).
Related content for you: Highest-graded players at every position through Week 12 of the 2021 college football season via Seth Galina
7) OLE MISS REBELS (RECORD: 9-2, ATS: 7-4, RANK CHANGE: -)
Quarterback Matt Corral has been banged up for most of the second half of the season, and his on-field production reflects that. His PFF grade went from 90.9 through Week 7 to 72.7 over the last five weeks. Corral still performed well from a passing perspective in Ole Miss' 14-point win over Vanderbilt in Week 12. He earned a 75.7 passing grade while tossing three big-time throws.
8) OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (RECORD: 10-1, ATS: 9-2, RANK CHANGE: +2)
The Cowboys defense, once again, shined in the team's Week 12 shutout win over Texas Tech. It limited the Red Raiders to -0.61 EPA per play and a 21% success rate for the game — both of which led all Power Five defenses for the week. The Cowboys are fourth in college football in team-defense grade for the 2021 season. Oklahoma State’s run defense, in particular, has been special. It is allowing -0.4 EPA per run play this year, which is a full tenth of a point higher than the second-place team in the Power Five (Wisconsin).
9) OKLAHOMA SOONERS (RECORD: 10-1, ATS: 6-5, RANK CHANGE: -)
Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams has been ice cold the last two weeks, earning consecutive passing grades below 50.0. For reference, Spencer Rattler hasn’t even recorded a mark below 60.0 in any of his 17 career starts. Williams has gone 6-of-19 for 127 yards, one touchdown and two picks on throws of 10-plus yards in that span. If the Sooners can’t get a spark at quarterback — whether it be a more tamed Williams or resurgence with Rattler — they could have a tough time in Bedlam on Saturday against a stout Oklahoma State defense.
10) WISCONSIN BADGERS (RECORD: 8-3, ATS: 6-5, RANK CHANGE: +4)
Similar to Notre Dame, Wisconsin has been a different team lately. The Badgers have rattled off seven straight wins and have seen their offense take a complete 180-degree turn due to easing the load on quarterback Graham Mertz and true freshman running back Braelon Allen‘s emergence. Through Week 5, Wisconsin ranked dead last in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency. Since Week 6, they are second to only Ohio State in that metric. The Badgers offense has done that while the defense has held onto a top-three ranking in unit grade nationally over the course of the season.