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Playoff Picture: Week 3

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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: Brigham Young at Wisconsin
BYU dealt Wisconsin an unexpected blow, as the Big Ten continues to struggle in the non-conference.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

After a week relatively devoid of chaos, college football returned to form in Week Three. Two top-10 teams lost at home, while several others had to fend off upsets in the fourth quarter. Teams thought to be contenders have already been put into panic mode, and we can only assume others will be put on notice this week.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

LSU - Cynics like myself will continue to doubt LSU, but you can’t take away the bayou Tigers’ gutsy road win over Auburn this week that vaulted them to No. 6 in the polls and shook up the SEC West race. Moving forward, LSU has three very winnable games before a mid-October home date with No. 2 Georgia in what could be a huge cross-divisional SEC bout with serious Playoff ramifications.

Ohio State - While it took a bit of an implosion by TCU — the Frogs allowed three unanswered touchdowns in a span of four minutes in the third quarter to swing momentum — the Buckeyes notched a win over a top-15 team in a neutral-site game without Urban Meyer, who returns from his suspension this week. If we’re being realistic, Ohio State and Penn State would appear to be the only Playoff contenders left in the Big Ten just three weeks into the season. Crazy for a conference that was billed as having five legitimate threats.

Oklahoma State - The Cowboys were somewhat of an afterthought entering the season, with more outside attention focused on Oklahoma, West Virginia, and TCU when it came to the Big XII. They may have thrown their hat in the ring, however, with a blowout win over a Boise State team considered by many to be the nation’s best Group of 5 squad. Oddly enough, Oklahoma State plays the aforementioned trio of conference foes the last three weeks of the season, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them ascend in the coming weeks as they run through the weaker portion of the Big XII.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Wisconsin - We’ve seen teams recover from a bad loss to make the Playoff, and even win the national championship, but it’s hard to get a fuzzy feeling watching the Badgers this past weekend. Gashed repeatedly by a running back named Squally Canada, Wisconsin never led BYU after the first quarter and missed a game-tying field goal as time expired in a loss it simply couldn’t afford. The Badgers may still be good enough to win out, but their margin for error is gone, as another loss almost assuredly takes them out of contention. A trip to Iowa this week to start the conference slate is a tough way to begin that quest.

Auburn - Considering how brutal the Tigers’ schedule is, losing a home game in which you held a 21-10 lead in the third quarter is not an optimal time to put a blemish on the resume. While you can’t rule Auburn out of the race just yet — this is a team that handily beat both national championship participants a season ago, after all — its difficult at this juncture to paint a scenario where they incur another loss and still have a realistic shot to make the Playoff. The Tigers were in position to make the field last season with two losses, but the caveat of a non-conference loss to Clemson wouldn’t come into play this time around.

TCU - Losing to Ohio State in a competitive game is no reason to hang your head, of course, but TCU has to be kicking itself for letting a potentially monumental win slip away. In a disastrous four-minute stretch in the third quarter, the Frogs went from up by 8 points to down by 12 and never recovered. One would expect TCU to be a factor in the Big XII race, but it may take an undefeated run from here on out to threaten the Playoff field.

STORYLINES:

Sneaky road tests - While only two games this weekend feature a matchup of ranked opponents, we’re almost certain to see at least an upset or two from a collection of road tests that features No. 18 Wisconsin at Iowa, No. 14 Mississippi State at Kentucky, No. 17 TCU at Texas, and No. 8 Notre Dame at Wake Forest. And while both No. 2 Georgia and No. 3 Clemson are two-touchdown favorites, it wouldn’t be advisable for either to come out flat on the road.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 7 Stanford @ No. 20 Oregon
No. 22 Texas A&M @ No. 1 Alabama
No. 8 Notre Dame @ Wake Forest
No. 18 Wisconsin @ Iowa
No. 14 Mississippi State @ Kentucky
No. 17 TCU @ Texas