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Playoff Picture: Week 7

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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: Penn State at Indiana
Indiana’s miraculous win dealt an unexpected early blow to Penn State’s Playoff chances.
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten finally made its return and did not disappoint in producing a couple surprising results. Clemson retained a strong hold on the No. 1 ranking despite a lackluster effort against Syracuse, while Alabama and Notre Dame cruised to convincing wins. Ohio State took care of Nebraska in its opener and now has Penn State coming to town off a shocking loss. But before we move on, let’s take a look at the week that was.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Michigan - The Wolverines surprised a lot of people by going on the road and steamrolling a Minnesota team with some expectations on the Big Ten’s opening weekend. We’re not going to dub them a Playoff contender based on one game, but they may finally have a quarterback with some ability after slogging it out with nobodies behind center for so many years. We’ll see if Michigan can keep momentum going deeper into the conference schedule.

Oklahoma State - It was nothing flashy, but the Cowboys got a workmanlike win over Iowa State in their first time on the field in three weeks. We suspect Oklahoma State is the best team in the Big XII, but what exactly does that mean? Are the Cowboys a real threat to run the table and make the Playoff, or are they simply an 8-2 conference championship type team? The next three weeks should tell us a lot, as they enter a home date with Texas followed by road trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma.

Cincinnati - We weren’t necessarily believers in the Bearcats entering last week, but a road destruction of a top-20 SMU team has certainly piqued our interest. The Bearcats have a quality rushing attack steered by a veteran dual-threat quarterback, and perhaps the AAC’s best defense to boot. Cincinnati’s conference schedule will be difficult to navigate unscathed, but this team may have a legitimate Playoff case if it somehow ends up 10-0.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Penn State - The Nittany Lions seemed to have escaped an opening-week upset bid when they took a one-point lead over Indiana in the game’s final minutes and then stopped the Hoosiers on the ensuing drive. After picking up a first down on the very next play, all running back Devyn Ford had to do was kneel down short of the goal line and allow Penn State to run out the remaining time. Unfortunately, by the time Ford realized this, he had already stepped into the end zone. The resulting 8-point margin left the door open for Indiana to drive and tie the game, and if you know anything about the football gods, you know that’s exactly what the Hoosiers did. After the teams traded touchdowns in overtime, Indiana elected to go for two and the win, resulting in one of the closest calls and most disputed final plays of all time. The Hoosiers were outgained 488-136 before the final drive of regulation, but they pulled out a miraculous win, leaving Penn State already fighting for their Playoff lives in a matchup with Ohio State this week.

Minnesota - The Gophers were a sexy pick to win the Big Ten’s west division heading into the season, but their performance against Michigan was anything but sexy. After scoring the game’s opening touchdown barely two minutes into the game, Minnesota was outscored 49-17 the rest of the way. There is still plenty to play for, but like anybody else who has suffered a loss in this shortened season, the margin for error is miniscule.

Iowa State - The Cyclones were a long shot, but a road win over Oklahoma State could have lifted their profile considerably. They were competitive, but not enough so, and they’ll have to settle for trying to make a run at the Big XII Championship.

STORYLINES:

Big Ten already having Covid problems - Wisconsin’s excitement from Graham Mertz debut performance at quarterback was quickly snuffed out when Mertz and several others within the program tested positive for Covid-19. The Badgers’ game against Nebraska this week has been cancelled, and as expected the Big Ten’s “cram in eight games” plan with no bye weeks for insurance has already backfired. This may not be a great sign for the rest of the season for Big Ten football.

GAMES TO WATCH:

Boston College @ No. 1 Clemson - Noon
Memphis @ No. 7 Cincinnati - Noon
Texas @ No. 6 Oklahoma State - 4 p.m.
No. 3 Ohio State @ No. 18 Penn State - 7:30 p.m.
Arkansas vs. No. 8 Texas A&M - 7:30 p.m.