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Playoff Picture: Week 3

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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: Kansas State at Oklahoma
Kansas State erased a 21-point second-half deficit to stun Oklahoma in Norman.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Forgive us for delaying the beginning of this year’s “Playoff Picture” until we had a fuller slate of games to reflect upon, but we certainly picked a wild week to make our return. We already have top-10 teams unexpectedly dropping games at home, giving us a strong feeling that a season that would inevitably be the strangest of all time could be even stranger than we expected.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Auburn - It’s not so much that we’re terribly impressed with Auburn, but the Tigers took care of a sneaky opening test and fared better than numerous other SEC teams we saw on Saturday. The Tigers are far from a Playoff contender at this point, but knocking off Georgia on Saturday would be a strong signal that this team may be ready to ascend to the SEC’s upper echelon.

Miami - Florida State is awful. We know this. But the ease with which Miami dispatched of the Seminoles is something uncommon for the Hurricanes in recent seasons. They already took care of sexy ACC dark horse pick Louisville on the road, and now get a shot at Clemson in Death Valley in two weeks to see if they’re truly ready for prime time. D’Eriq King has been a godsend at quarterback — Is it possible that’s all Miami needed this whole time?

Mississippi State - SEC proponents have long scoffed at the notion that someone like Mike Leach could bring an air raid offense to their mighty conference and have any degree of success. It took all of one game to put that notion to bed. Leach took over a middling Mississippi State program and deployed grad transfer quarterback K.J. Costello on the road against the defending national champs. All Costello did was eclipse the SEC single-game passing yards record by nearly 100 yards, throwing for an impossible 623 yards against LSU and leading the Bulldogs to a 44-34 win that sent an emphatic message to the rest of the SEC.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Oklahoma - Death. Taxes. Kansas State upsetting Oklahoma. This year’s edition was especially painful for the Sooners, who somehow squandered a 35-14 lead late in the third quarter courtesy of 24 unanswered points by the Wildcats. We’ve seen Oklahoma recover from early-season losses many times, but a season-opening loss at home to a team that already lost to Arkansas State seems particularly ominous.

LSU - The Tigers learned quickly and ruthlessly one of the few downsides of a winning a national title. LSU returned just three starters from its championship team — largely due to players leaving for the NFL Draft — and promptly dropped their home opener to Mississippi State, allowing an unthinkable 623 passing yards to Stanford transfer K.J. Costello. LSU still has talent, but it’s a decidedly uphill climb from here if the Tigers have any designs on repeating as champions.

STORYLINES:

The Big XII is in big trouble - We’ve seen the Big XII (namely, Oklahoma) find its way to the Playoff several times after being written off, but the circumstances this season feel extremely dire already. It started off with an opening week that saw three of the conference’s teams lose games against Sun Belt opponents, and now the Sooners have suffered a loss at the hands of one of those teams. Not to mention, perennially overrated Texas needed a miracle to beat Texas Tech, who is ... not good. This just feels like an incredibly weak conference right now.

The Big Ten and Pac 12 announce returns - The conferences who thought they were setting the tone for a cancelled season have decided to come crawling back into the mix once the other conferences failed to acquiesce. How they will factor into the Playoff mix remains to be seen. The Big Ten’s 8-game plan may be enough to garner inclusion for an undefeated team, but can the Pac 12’s 6-game slate even be taken seriously? Only time will tell, but if either or both fail to produce a Playoff team because of insufficient sample size, they have nobody to blame but themselves.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 13 Texas A&M @ No. 2 Alabama - 3:30 p.m.
No. 12 North Carolina @ Boston College - 3:30 p.m.
No. 7 Auburn @ No. 4 Georgia - 7:30 p.m.
No. 18 Oklahoma @ Iowa State - 7:30 p.m.
Virginia @ No. 1 Clemson - 8 p.m.