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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.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Michigan at Wisconsin
Wisconsin drilled Michigan to announce its early-season Playoff candidacy.
Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The season’s fourth week finally brought some carnage, as we saw some teams take expected hits while others suffered puzzling — and even embarrassing — losses. Georgia and Wisconsin nabbed notable wins, and the poor PAC 12 still can’t get out of its own way. The Playoff shuffle is finally underway in 2019.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Wisconsin - It’s possible Wisconsin’s beat-down of Michigan says more about the Wolverines than it does the Badgers, but it was still staggering to see Sconny bullying their way to a 35-0 lead in the third quarter in what figured to be a competitive game. We don’t want to put too much stock into one game, but it’s difficult not to view the Badgers as the front-runner in the B1G West at this early stage.

Georgia - It was certainly not the dominant performance some expected — in fact, it was very much hanging in the balance in the final minutes. But Georgia emerged victorious in its first real test of the season and shouldn’t face another until November. The Bulldogs’ next five weeks include two byes and dates with Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kentucky.

Auburn - As we’ve mentioned previously, Auburn will have to continue to prove its worth as a Playoff contender coming off a five-loss season in 2018, but we must give credit where it’s due one third of the way through the season. The Tigers may boast the best pair of wins in the nation at this juncture after taking care of Texas A&M in College Station this past week. While sustaining success with a freshman quarterback is a difficult task, it’s been proven possible on multiple occasions in recent years. We’ll see if Bo Nix and Co. can keep things rolling in the coming weeks.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Utah - Oh, Utah. No sooner did we dub you the last bastion of hope for the PAC 12 than you go out and lose to Southern Cal. We of course know better than to rule out anybody with just one loss, as the Playoff has traditionally been comprised mainly of such teams. But the fact is the three teams that are most likely the best the PAC 12 has to offer (Utah, Oregon, and Washington) have all erased their margin of error before October. With so many games left to play, that doesn’t bode well for a conference desperate for a return to Playoff representation.

Michigan - The Wolverines were yet to look good at all through two games, and their date with Wisconsin ended up being more of an affirmation of their struggles than it was a proving ground for things to come. Again, we won’t rule out a one-loss team, no matter how awful they may look, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Ohio State and Wisconsin may be the class of the Big XII and destined for two-game battle royale.

UCF - This is still a good football team that could very easily finish with 11 wins, but the Knights knew they needed to once again go 12-0 to even have the smallest of chances to make the Playoff. That won’t happen now, as they stormed back from 21 points down to take the lead over Pitt, only to fall victim to a little Chad Morris-style razzle dazzle in the final minute of a 35-34 loss.

Washington State - We could have just devoted this entire category to the Cougars this week, as they pulled an unthinkable feat that may have already sabotaged their entire season. With 6:52 left in the third quarter, Anthony Gordon threw his seventh touchdown pass to give Washington State a 49-17 home lead over downtrodden UCLA, and the rout appeared to be on. But that was where the fun ended. It was as if embattled UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson fulfilled his ultimate potential in a 17-minute window, leading the Bruins on a 29-0 in the blink of an eye and then trading blows in the fourth quarter to ultimately come out with a miraculous 67-63 win. It was the ultimate act in Pac 12 football, and perhaps the ultimate act in the conference’s cannibalistic nature.

Notre Dame - The Irish differ a bit from the rest of the losers in that they actually put forth a respectable performance — a 6-point road loss against No. 3 Georgia in which they were driving in the final minute with a chance to win. With that in mind, we almost view Notre Dame as ... a winner? In some weird sort of way? It doesn’t seem crazy to think they raised some eyebrows and earned a little respect in a game many thought would be a blowout loss. Of course any loss is damaging as far as overall record is concerned, but the Irish may have shown they could be a player once again this season. There’s an interesting matchup with Virginia on the docket this week, but the schedule on the whole is quite manageable and makes 11-1 not seem too far-fetched.

STORYLINES:

The PAC 12 is already in trouble - We don’t want to belabor the point, but a season that seemed to hold better than usual hope for the west coast’s major conference has already gone south in a hurry. After Oregon and Washington quickly suffered losses, we saw both Utah and Washington State suffer conference losses this past week. That leaves (gulp) Cal as the lone undefeated team in the conference just four weeks into the season. Again, there’s a lot of football left to play — but that’s a fact that might actually terrify the PAC 12 at this point.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 12 Penn State @ Maryland - 8 p.m. (Friday)
Arizona State @ No. 15 California - 10:30 p.m. (Friday)
No. 18 Virginia @ No. 10 Notre Dame - 3:30 p.m.
No. 21 USC @ No. 17 Washington - 3:30 p.m.
No. 5 Ohio State @ Nebraska - 7:30 p.m.