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Playoff Picture: Week 8

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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: Wisconsin at Illinois
Illinois shocked the college football world by knocking off undefeated Wisconsin with a game-ending field goal.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

We thought South Carolina’s surprising win over Georgia last week may have provided the most unexpected upset we would see this season. Well, it only took a week for another underdog to shake up the Playoff race even more. Not to be outdone, Wisconsin — just a week away from a massive showdown with Ohio State — promptly traveled to lowly Illinois as a 30-point favorite and watched the Illini walk off with a 24-23 win to shatter all momentum the Badgers had previously built. In a week where the rest of the top teams handled their business one way or another, Wisconsin suffered the most devastating loss of the season to date.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Penn State - It took a dropped pass in the end zone on Michigan’s final drive to help the Nittany Lions avoid blowing a 21-0 home lead, but a win is a win. Penn State has effectively turned the B1G’s east division race into a two-team battle between itself and Ohio State. There are still other tests remaining for both teams, but odds are the winner of that Nov. 23 game in Columbus will represent the East in the conference championship and be the B1G’s most likely Playoff representative.

Oregon - We weren’t ready to write off the Ducks after their Week 1 loss to Auburn, and we have been justified in that so far. Winning at Washington is rarely an easy task, but Oregon took down the Huskies to grab a stranglehold on the PAC 12 North. The margin for error is still nonexistent, and it’s no guarantee the Ducks would even get in as a 12-1 conference champion, but they are doing what they need to do to stay in the mix.

Utah - The same goes for Utah, which dispatched of a ranked Arizona State team with relative ease this past weekend and has seemingly recovered well from its earlier loss to Southern Cal. Things are a bit more complicated for the Utes, who don’t control their own destiny at the moment, but it’s likely things will turn in their favor if they continue to roll. The Utah defense is one of the nation’s best, but we’ll have to keep an eye on quarterback Tyler Huntley, who will attempt to play through a leg injury suffered on Saturday.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Wisconsin - Sconny, Sconny, Sconny. If you’re inclined to believe Vegas, Wisconsin’s loss to Illinois is one of the bigger upsets this century. We’ll grant you (generously) that the Illini have perhaps been playing slightly better football than expected this season, but there is still no excuse for a Playoff hopeful to incur the type of loss the Badgers did on Saturday. There is still enough left on Wisconsin’s schedule to threaten the Playoff field as a one-loss conference champion, but a performance like that hardly instills any confidence.

Michigan - Credit the Wolverines for not folding when they got down 21 on the road and putting themselves in position to tie/win the game late against Penn State. Their fleeting Playoff hopes, however, are officially buried. They can still play spoiler for a couple rivals, starting this week with Notre Dame, but that’s the most they can hope to accomplish now.

Boise State - Until we see a Group of Five team actually make the Playoff field — or even be given serious consideration, for that matter — we won’t pretend that a team like Boise State is truly a potential contender. But the Broncos had crept up the AP poll and were the front-runner for the G5 spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, and now the door is open for teams like SMU and App State to crash the party.

STORYLINES:

Quarterback injuries - Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley’s injury was mentioned above, and Utah’s Playoff hopes may ride exclusively on the status of his leg. The higher-profile injury nationally, however, was Tua Tagovailoa’s high ankle sprain that sidelined him for the final two-plus quarters against Tennessee. Surgery has already been performed with the idea that Tua could be ready for the Tide’s Nov. 9 showdown with LSU, but his recovery and subsequent quality of play could go a long way toward deciding who fills out the four-team field at season’s end.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 13 Wisconsin @ No. 3 Ohio State - Noon
No. 9 Auburn @ No. 2 LSU - 3:30 p.m.
No. 6 Penn State @ Michigan State - 3:30 p.m.
No. 8 Notre Dame @ No. 19 Michigan - 7:30 p.m.
California @ No. 12 Utah - 10 p.m.