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Playoff Picture: Week 5

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We take a weekly look at what happened in college football and how it will affect the race for the College Football Playoff.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State
Ohio State trailed Penn State by 12 halfway through the fourth quarter but erased the deficit to score a massive win.
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

One top-10 showdown lived up to the hype, while the other turned into a blowout. Meanwhile, it took a fourth-quarter comeback for a shorthanded Clemson to avoid a second straight loss to Syracuse.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Ohio State - The Buckeyes appeared dead in the water down 12 points in the fourth quarter on the road against an energized Penn State team looking to state its early Playoff case. But just like a year ago, they forged a late comeback against the Nittany Lions and escaped Happy Valley with a one-point win. The next month’s worth of games pits Ohio State against the dredges of the Big Ten before they face both Michigan schools in the season’s final three weeks. There’s a lot of football left to play, but the Buckeyes have likely passed their biggest regular-season test.

Notre Dame - What figured to be a competitive game on paper turned into the opposite, as the Irish more than doubled Stanford’s total yardage in a performance that was more dominant than the 38-17 final score might suggest. At 5-0 with two solid wins on the resume and a very manageable remaining schedule, it’s time to start viewing the Irish as a bona fide threat to crash the Playoff party.

West Virginia - The Mountaineers let a 25-point halftime lead shrivel to just 8 midway through the fourth quarter but sealed the deal with a pick six on the road at Texas Tech. Time will tell if this is a win that actually boosts the resume, but at the moment it was a road win over a hot team that had cracked the top 25. October should be a breeze for West Virginia, but its four November games are arguably the toughest four on the schedule and will truly test the team’s mettle.

Clemson - The Tigers are again Playoff winners more so for what didn’t happen than what did happen. After a wild week that saw quarterback Kelly Bryant transfer abruptly, new starter Trevor Lawrence got knocked out of the game with Clemson trailing Syracuse just before halftime. But backup Chase Brice engineered two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to help the Tigers escape with a 27-23 win to keep their Playoff hopes alive. A loss would have not only put Clemson’s candidacy in serious jeopardy, but would have put them behind the 8-ball with regard to even making the ACC Championship Game.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Penn State - It was the worst kind of deja vu for the Nittany Lions who saw another double-digit fourth-quarter lead slip away against division rival Ohio State in a game that would have put them in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten. We can’t rule Penn State out of the Playoff race completely at this point, but it is assuredly an uphill climb now. Electing to run a simple inside zone on 4th and 5 with the game on the line will haunt James Franklin and the Nittany Lions for some time.

Stanford - Karma came quickly for the Cardinal as their miraculous win over Oregon a week ago was immediately followed by a bludgeoning at the hands of Notre Dame. This was technically a game Stanford could afford to lose to some degree — given that it’s a non-conference game against a quality opponent — but it likely eliminates their margin for error when it comes to the Playoff race, as the odds of a two-loss Pac 12 participant are exceedingly low. Of course, given the way the Cardinal looked in this game, they may have more losses coming soon.

STORYLINES:

Don’t forget about the 1-loss teams - It’s easy to catch ourselves casting aside any team that incurs a loss in the first half of the season, but in reality that hardly precludes someone from making the Playoff field. If you’ll recall, only 3 of the 16 teams that have qualified for the CFP in its first four years had undefeated records. So while suffering a loss this early in the season certainly isn’t a positive, it’s important to keep an eye on one-loss teams that could still pose a threat — especially ones like Auburn, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Quarterback changes - Clemson fans are more than familiar with how freshman phenom Tervor Lawrence’s first start transpired, but the Tigers aren’t the only highly ranked team that opted to make a change at the quarterback position. Notre Dame has posted two blowout wins since moving from Brandon Wimbush to the more well-rounded Ian Book, and Miami is 2-0 since replacing former starter Malik Rosier with redshirt-freshman N’Kosi Perry.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 19 Texas vs. No. 7 Oklahoma, Noon
No. 5 LSU @ No. 22 Florida - 3:30 p.m.
No. 13 Kentucky @ Texas A&M - 7 p.m.
No. 8 Auburn @ Mississippi State - 7:30 p.m.
No. 6 Notre Dame @ No. 24 Virginia Tech - 8 p.m.