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Playoff Picture: Week 9

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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: Clemson at Notre Dame
Notre Dame outlasted Clemson in double overtime and shook up the Playoff race.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten in a back-and-forth double-overtime affair by an inspired Notre Dame team. Meanwhile, Florida blasted Georgia to all but guarantee its spot in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs’ Playoff chances are essentially cooked, but the Tigers remain alive. They will need to get healthy for the home stretch, however, if they want to fulfill their promise.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Notre Dame - The Irish outlasted Clemson for was what undoubtedly their biggest victory in a number of years, and they most certainly control their own destiny for the Playoff. A potential rematch with a healthier group of Tigers looms large at season’s end, but if Notre Dame can get to that point unscathed, they may have a decent case to make the field even with a loss in the ACC Championship.

Florida - The Gators poured it on Georgia, and have almost assured themselves a berth in the SEC title game. We figure it’s pretty much a win-and-you’re-in scenario there, but a loss would be a deal-breaker in all likelihood. Of course, we’ll never say never in a year where chaos is reigning supreme off the field as well as on it.

Indiana - The Hoosiers have been one of the season’s most inspiring stories after a 3-0 start that includes wins over Penn State and Michigan. A road date with Michigan State this week seems winnable; however, that may be where the pipe dream ends. Two of their last four scheduled games are trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin, so we’re going to temper any excitement about Indiana for now.

BYU - A Friday night road trip to Boise could have been a tricky spot, but BYU just slaughtered the Broncos behind another stellar performance from quarterback Zach Wilson. It’s clear that BYU is a very good football team, but we will continue to note the Cougars’ weak schedule as a serious barrier to realistic Playoff potential. Even with a 10-0 finish, the Cougars would need a lot of things to break in their favor to pose a true threat.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Georgia - What began as a season full of potential has turned into one that Georgia fans probably just want to go ahead and end. This week’s loss to Florida means the Bulldogs would need a relative miracle to make the SEC Championship Game, and as such the two losses they have already incurred basically preclude them from Playoff consideration. Injuries and a quarterback situation gone awry have simply taken their toll.

Clemson - We discussed last week that a loss to Notre Dame wouldn’t doom Clemson’s Playoff chances entirely, which hopefully softens the blow of the Tigers losing a game they led by a touchdown in the final minutes. Clemson played fine on the whole, but made too many costly mistakes to beat a top-5 team on the road. It’s hard to imagine the Tigers wouldn’t control their own Playoff destiny still — especially considering some obvious mitigating factors in this particular game — but the margin for error is now close to zero, if not zero entirely.

STORYLINES:

COVID running rampant in the SEC - We have seen isolated games cancelled or postponed due to the virus this season, but college football as an entity has so far been able to stifle widespread effect. That is, until the SEC had to postpone four of its seven games this Saturday thanks to COVID-related precautions, including games featuring four of the conference’s five ranked teams. It’s not a disaster scenario yet, as the SEC is one of the conferences that at least had the foresight to schedule itself some buffer weeks; but there is reason for concern that, as the season wears on, players/staff from teams seeing less on-field success may take protocols less seriously.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 9 Miami @ Virginia Tech - Noon
No. 10 Indiana @ Michigan State - Noon
No. 2 Notre Dame @ Boston College - 3:30 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon @ Washington State - 7 p.m.
No. 13 Wisconsin @ Michigan - 7:30 p.m.