It wasn't pretty, but Texas had the kind of Saturday that has opened up an opportunity to contend for a Big 12 championship. After beating Iowa State 24-10, the Longhorns are set for a move up and could crack the top 10 in the new AP Top 25 college football rankings.
Starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger was knocked out of the game with an injury, but Shane Buechele was able to keep things steady in the second half and the Longhorns cruised to a win in one of only a few games between ranked teams in Week 12. Beating Iowa State eliminated the Cyclones from contention for the Big 12 title game and set up a win-and-you're-in scenario when Texas plays Kansas next week in the regular season finale.
As a three-loss team already, it's hard to argue that the 2018 season has proven that Texas is "back." The win against Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown and the chance to have a shot at the Big 12 title when the conference holds the championship game in Dallas on Dec. 1 marks important improvement for the Tom Herman tenure, but these are all still building blocks on the way to making championship contention the expectation, not a celebration.
West Virginia's loss to Oklahoma State has opened the door for Texas, and it's possible that even the head-to-head result between the two teams might not be the deciding factor when the Mountaineers' ranking is adjusted on Sunday morning. The placement of those two Big 12 teams is among the biggest questions for the AP voters, along with Cincinnati's fall after losing to UCF and whether Army will crack the top 25.
Here's how we think the new AP Top 25 will look on Sunday:
1. Alabama (Last week -- 1): The only question will be if the Tide remain the unanimous No. 1 considering the slow start against the Citadel and 10-10 halftime score in a 50-17 win.
2. Clemson (2): For a team with so much explosiveness at the skill positions, Clemson's most reliable asset remains its defense. Duke brought a great effort to slow the Tigers' ground game early, but it never saw a chance to get anything going offensively against a Clemson unit that has proven to be among the best in the country.
3. Notre Dame (3): Everything about the 36-3 win looked championship caliber of the Irish.
4. Michigan (4): There are reasons to be concerned about the offense's touchdown conversion rate in the red zone, but surviving for a win is good enough to set up a win-and-you're-in situation against Ohio State next week.
5. Georgia (5): Hard to imagine there is going to be any major takeaway for voters from the Bulldogs' 66-27 win against UMass.
6. Oklahoma (6): There are going to be a lot of critics pointing to the Sooners' 55-40 win against Kansas as a reason to doubt Oklahoma's national championship chops, but there shouldn't be any major adjustment in the polls.
7. Washington State (8): The Cougars left no doubt in a trouncing of Arizona, scoring 55 points before halftime and cruising to a win in the second half to improve to 10-1 with only the Apple Cup left, a game against Washington to determine the Pac-12 North title.
8. Ohio State (9): No team has made 10-1 look as difficult as Ohio State, which hasn't looked totally in sync or dominant in several weeks yet remains right in the middle of the national championship race with a chance to win the Big Ten East next week at Michigan. A 52-51 overtime win at Maryland won't inspire any big movements up in the AP Top 25, but that doesn't change the opportunity ahead next Saturday.
9. LSU (10): Don't expect a ton of change for LSU after a routine win against Rice.
10. UCF (11): You can only play the schedule you've got, and the Knights have once again run through its division and clinched the AAC East for the second straight year after handing Cincinnati its second loss of the season. The biggest impression voters will take away from UCF's national stage win is a higher regard for that defensive front, which dominated all night against the Bearcats.
11. Texas (13): A level of respect for Iowa State should anchor a boost in the rankings for Tom Herman's Longhorns, who were the better team throughout the night in a potential trap game against the Cyclones.
12. West Virginia (7): Just like Texas, West Virginia took a top-10 ranking to Stillwater, Oklahoma. And just like Texas, it will fall from the top 10 following a loss at the hands of the Cowboys.
13. Syracuse (12): Voters have to take into consideration the injury to Eric Dungey when ranking the Orange, but even ignoring that wrinkle in the result against Notre Dame should limit how far Syracuse falls following the 36-3 loss to the undefeated Irish.
14. Utah State (14): Those promoting the case of Utah State being overlooked didn't get a lot of ammunition for the argument from the Aggies' way-closer-than-expected win against Colorado State.
15. Florida (15): The Gators never left any doubt against Idaho, closing out their home schedule with one of the team's best offensive performances since the departure of Tim Tebow in a 63-10 win.
16. Penn State (16): A 20-7 win at Rutgers isn't going to draw the eyes of any voters, so don't expect any big moves in the rankings.
17. Washington (17): Senior Day in Seattle was pretty routine, and a one-sided win against former Huskies offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and Oregon State sets up a chance for Washington to reclaim its Pac-12 title hopes if it can knock off Washington State next week in Pullman.
18. Utah (21): It's another impressive win with Utah down to backups in the offensive backfield and riding its hard-hitting defense to hang on in the Pac-12 title race. No one has fewer conference losses than the Utes in the Pac-12 South, so now it will just come down to the tiebreakers and next week's action elsewhere while Utah prepares for the Holy War rivalry against BYU.
19. Kentucky (20): Voters shouldn't penalize Kentucky too much for a close win against Middle Tennessee because the Blue Raiders are one of the better Conference USA teams. But it's possible that the narrow victory opened the door for other three-loss teams to jump the Wildcats in the pecking order.
20. Boise State (23): Rolling over New Mexico on Friday night sets up a winner-take-all game against Utah State next week to decide the winner of the West Division in the Mountain West.
21. Northwestern (24): No letdown for Northwestern, even after clinching the Big Ten West and the program's first-ever appearance in the Big Ten title game. The Wildcats led from start to finish at Minnesota, holding on for the 24-14 win.
22. Mississippi State (25): The Bulldogs caught their offensive rhythm for the second time in the last month, running up the score on Arkansas in a 52-6 win.
23. Army (NR): Last week, the Black Knights were the first team among those receiving votes outside of the top 25. Another win, even against FCS Colgate, and that 9-2 record should be enough to get them in on enough ballots to crack the rankings this week.
24. Iowa State (18): Will the Cyclones hang on in the rankings after a fourth loss? We've seen minor adjustments after losses to higher ranked teams all season, but Iowa State would be only the third four-loss team in the AP Top 25 this year if it can hang on.
25. Pittsburgh (NR): Winning the ACC Coastal could be enough of a headline to get voters to boost Pitt ahead of Fresno State, UAB and NC State. The Panthers also have wins against Syracuse and Virginia to its credit and are riding a stretch of five wins in six games with the loss coming by five points to Notre Dame.
Projected to drop out: Cincinnati (19), Boston College (22)