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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.

Syndication: The Greenville News
Clemson’s six-year Playoff streak is over after the Tigers lost to N.C. State.
Ken Ruinard / staff via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Clemson program and its fan base have become accustomed to making the Playoff over the past six seasons. It’s not just a hope; it’s an expectation. It’s not an “if”, but simply a “how” they will make it. Through all the success of Dabo Swinney’s tenure — particularly this incredible six-year run — we knew deep down there would be a season where it didn’t come together. This is that season.

Clemson will be back in the Playoff, hopefully soon, but it will not be in 2021. It’s now incumbent upon Dabo Swinney, his staff, and the players to improve, progress, and build toward next season and beyond. There is still plenty on the table — including the possibility of a seventh straight ACC title — so they have to keep their heads up and keep fighting. Meanwhile, we will still track the race for the national championship. This particular race just won’t include the Tigers.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Arkansas - Could a team that went 3-7 a season ago really have turned things around this quickly under second-year head coach Sam Pittman? We will certainly find out this week when the Razorbacks travel to Georgia, but early returns show this is clearly a drastically improved program thus far. Two weeks after a dominant win over Texas, Arkansas continued its ownership of the Lonestar State with another convincing performance against Texas A&M. Now, it’s hard to expect a rebuilding program to waltz into Sanford Stadium and upend a top-2 Bulldog team on top of all this, but this weekend’s matchup will at least provide a legitimate barometer for just how good this Arkansas team is.

Notre Dame - The score of Notre Dame’s 41-13 win over Wisconsin was not indicative of the game-flow at all, considering three of the Irish’s fourth-quarter touchdown came via kickoff return and pick-six. But credit where it’s due, Notre Dame forced the Badgers into five turnovers and did enough offensively to pull away in a slugfest. It’s a solid win to tack on to a resume, but the real test comes this weekend when No. 7 Cincinnati visits South Bend in an unexpectedly pivotal matchup in the early-going of the Playoff race. While we don’t view this iteration of the Irish as a final-four caliber team, a win over the Bearcats would position them well to prove us wrong.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Clemson - The writing on the wall was there for the Tigers, as they had shown virtually no signs through three weeks that they were a team destined for a berth in the College Football Playoff — something that had been a mere formality for the past six seasons. They were utterly dominated by N.C. State everywhere other than the scoreboard, where they miraculously found themselves tied at 14 through four quarters of play. A missed field goal to end regulation by the Wolfpack and a first-possession touchdown in overtime by Clemson suddenly put the Tigers in position to escape town with a win, but back-to-back N.C. State touchdowns snuffed out any hope of that. Even if Clemson had managed to win, its abysmal offense and mounting injuries would have likely cost the Tigers down the road anyway. It’s been since 2014 that you could say this, but: This just isn’t a Playoff team.

Texas A&M - The Aggies had the look of a paper tiger as they hung around inside the top 10 through the season’s first three weeks despite doing nothing of note (other than nearly losing to an awful Colorado team), and everything came crashing down as Arkansas handled them from the outset — possibly usurping them in the SEC West hierarchy in one feel swoop. A&M could certainly string together some wins down the stretch, but this is simply more like a 9-3 or 8-4 team than a Playoff contender this season.

Iowa State - This was supposed to be the Cyclones’ year, but it just hasn’t worked out for Matt Campbell’s squad. After their four-turnover debacle against Iowa a couple weeks back took away their margin for error, a loss to Baylor this past week put an early nail in their Playoff coffin. Iowa State again outgained its opponent by nearly 200 yards but never led after the first quarter, and now its season has fizzled in a very frustrating manner.

North Carolina - If Clemson was the nation’s most overrated team entering the season, the Tar Heels were not far behind. It’s been a puzzling progression through four games for Mack Brown’s team. They opened with a dud of a loss at Virginia Tech and followed that up with back-to-back 59-point outings — only to then faceplant in a three-touchdown loss at Georgia Tech. This program is still trending in the right direction, but it seems their losses from a season ago were just too much to overcome in order to be a top team this season.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 5 Iowa @ Maryland - 8 p.m. (Friday)
No. 8 Arkansas @ No. 12 Georgia - Noon
No. 7 Cincinnati @ No. 9 Notre Dame - 2:30 p.m.
No. 12 Ole Miss @ No. 1 Alabama - 3:30 p.m.
No. 21 Baylor @ No. 19 Oklahoma State - 7 p.m.