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Playoff Picture: Week 4

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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: Stanford at Oregon
Stanford’s stunning comeback win over Oregon kept the Cardinal in the Playoff hunt and left the Ducks wondering what could have been.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It was not a good week to be ranked in the teens, as several teams were knocked off by unranked foes. Plus, a stunning collapse kept one Pac 12 team in the Playoff hunt and another wondering what might have been. We’re rounding into mid-season form in the Playoff Picture.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Stanford - True, it wasn’t so much Stanford winning a game as it was Oregon losing one, as the Cardinal appeared dead in the water before putting together a comeback that was aided as much by horrible miscues by the Ducks as it was the Cardinal’s actual play. But a win is a win is a win, and Stanford picked up an excellent one on the road in Eugene. The Cardinal still have several tests left on their schedule, but the longer they go unbeaten, the more realistic a Playoff candidacy becomes.

Wisconsin - We lamented Wisconsin’s untimely loss to BYU a week ago, but it’s worth commending the Badgers for getting back on track with a primetime win at a notoriously tough venue at Iowa. It’s still very much an uphill climb, but there are enough opportunities left to build a Playoff resume.

The top 3 - Alabama, Georgia, nor Clemson ever appeared in serious danger of losing this past weekend with each notching important conference wins — Clemson’s on the road, Alabama against a division foe, and Georgia both of the above.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Virginia Tech - Upsets happen all the time college football, and most of them don’t garner much more than a “How about x beating y today?” Some elicit a stunned reaction if they will really alter the college football landscape in a particular season. And then there are upsets that just plain don’t make sense. Never mind the absurdity that is Virginia Tech opting to schedule a road game against Old Dominion, which is literally the equivalent of Clemson playing Coastal Carolina in Conway. The Hokies allowed the Monarchs’ backup quarterback to throw for 495 yards and surrendered 632 total yards and 28 fourth-quarter points in a 49-35 loss to a team it beat 38-0 in Blacksburg last year. Even more dumbfounding: This was not an upstart Old Dominion team primed to pick off an oblivious major-conference opponent. The Monarchs were 0-3 with losses to Liberty (52-10!!!), FIU, and Charlotte. Upsets in college football are often surprising, but very rarely do they defy belief.

Oregon - Just a step below the Hokies on the embarrassment scale are the Ducks, who went from appearing to stroll into the end zone to go up 31-7 late in the third quarter to losing 38-31 in overtime in a game that would have vaulted them into the Playoff picture. And it’s not really that they blew the lead; it’s how they blew the lead. The aforementioned touchdown play was ruled short of the goal line, which led to a rogue snap heading the other way for a Stanford touchdown that cut the lead to 24-14 and gave the Cardinal life. Then after seemingly staving off the comeback, Oregon fumbled the ball while attempting to salt the game away up 31-28, allowing Stanford to kick a game-tying field goal as time expired and subsequently win in overtime. Needless to say, it will be an incredibly difficult game for the Ducks to bounce back from.

Teams ranked Nos. 13-17 - Every team in this group — save for No. 16 UCF — suffered a loss to an unranked team this past week. We already covered No. 13 Virginia Tech, but Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and TCU were all knocked off by an underdog conference opponent. We didn’t necessarily consider any of the above to be serious Playoff contenders, but this isn’t how we pictured any of them bowing out of the race either.

BIGGEST STORYLINES:

The ACC looks horrible - If there has been a worse week for the ACC recently, I’d like to be reminded of it. The Virginia Tech disaster was obviously the headliner, but there were embarrassments abound. Boston College (a team we thought was the biggest threat to Clemson, and honestly may still be) took its newly minted top-25 ranking to Purdue and promptly got trounced by the 0-3 Boilermakers. Wake Forest got smacked at home by a Notre Dame team that had not been impressive in recent weeks. Louisville added to the Atlantic Division’s misery by failing to even muster a single touchdown on the road at perennial conference doormat Virginia. We already know about Florida State’s issues, and Miami is far from forgiven for the egg it laid against LSU on the season’s opening night. It’s becoming more and more evident that, outside of Clemson, this may be the biggest down year in the ACC in recent memory. What is Clemson’s toughest home conference game? Duke? Syracuse? History says the Tigers won’t need to go undefeated to make the Playoff, but it’s still a risk you’d rather not take considering the mounting potential issues with their strength of schedule.

Top-10 showdowns set to shape early Playoff race - The 7:30 p.m. slot on Saturday offers two games with major Playoff implications as No. 4 Ohio State travels to No. 9 Penn State and No. 7 Stanford heads to South Bend to take on No. 8 Notre Dame. We will really see the Playoff race start to take shape in the coming weeks.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 12 West Virginia @ No. 25 Texas Tech - Noon
No. 4 Ohio State @ No. 9 Penn State - 7:30 p.m.
No. 7 Stanford @ No. 8 Notre Dame - 7:30 p.m.
No. 20 BYU @ No. 11 Washington - 8:30 p.m.
No. 19 Oregon @ No. 24 California - 10:30 p.m.