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Playoff Picture: Week 6

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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: Alabama at Texas A&M
Texas A&M rebounded from back-to-back losses to stun Alabama and bust the Playoff race wide open.
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we told you that Alabama and Georgia were clearly the top two teams in the country. We were half correct! Let’s break down what was a wild week.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Iowa - The Hawkeyes took advantage of an injury to Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and turned around a game that was not trending in their favor, ultimately escaping with a 23-20 win in the unexpected top-5 showdown. Iowa’s defense is among the nation’s best, and its remaining schedule is navigable, so it’s not out of the question that this team could finish 12-0 in the regular season, a la 2015. Is this a national championship team? Or one that could even when a prospective Big Ten championship game? Due to the Hawkeyes’ lack of offensive firepower, we would still lean toward “No.”

Georgia - The Bulldogs took care of business at Auburn on Saturday afternoon and got to kick back and watch a primetime Alabama loss that helped vault them to No. 1 in the rankings this week. It’s fair to assert at this juncture that Georgia is currently the best team in the country, and there may not be a close second. The Bulldogs have some interesting games left on the schedule — including this week when undefeated Kentucky comes to town for a game that may decide the SEC East — but this team appears to be on a mission. There’s a reason they are a three-touchdown favorite this Saturday.

Oklahoma - The Red River Rivalry has produced some classics of late, but this 2021 edition may have been the biggest doozy of them all. The game started inauspiciously for the Sooners when they allowed a Texas screen pass to go for a 75-yard touchdown on the game’s opening play. The Longhorns continued to sprint to a 28-7 lead after the first quarter and had seemingly exposed Oklahoma and broken their spirit. The Sooners still trailed 38-20 at halftime as quarterback Spencer Rattler’s struggles persisted, and Lincoln Riley made the move to true freshman Caleb Williams, who led a furious comeback that ended in a 55-48 Oklahoma triumph. This team has plenty of internal and external issues to face right now, and five of their six wins have been by a touchdown or less, but the Sooners are still very much in the Playoff race.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Alabama - “There probably isn’t another team on [Alabama’s] regular-season schedule that can give them a true test.”
— Us last week

BZZZZZ... wrong answer. A week after the Tide stifled a legitimately great Ole Miss offense, they surrendered 34 points (and seven more via kickoff return) to a legitimately bad Texas A&M offense and were stunned on a buzzer-beating field goal that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten. Still, Alabama is far from out of the Playoff conversation after this untimely loss, but it’s now very likely a requirement they win out and win the SEC title game. That built-in Bama margin for error has suddenly vanished.

Penn State - You almost have to pity the Nittany Lions, as it’s possible we are lauding them in our “Winners” section if Sean Clifford doesn’t exit the game in the second quarter never to return. A Penn State offense that was actually moving the ball on the vaunted Iowa defense (and leading 17-3) suddenly stagnated and posted just three more points the entire game. On the bright side, this non-division loss still keeps Penn State’s destiny in its own hands, but it will definitely take a Clifford return and an undefeated run from here to fulfill it.

Texas - The stage was set for Texas to jump right back into the thick of things as they built a convincing first-half lead against Oklahoma, but then it all came crashing down in a gut-wrenching rivalry loss. Texas is still a solid team that will rack up plenty of wins the rest of the way, but there just doesn’t seem to be a realistic way for them to get any higher than the periphery of Playoff consideration.

BYU - Speaking of things coming crashing down, BYU’s darkhorse Playoff candidacy came to a screeching halt in a four-turnover stinker of a loss to Boise State on Saturday. The Cougars led 10-0 early and outgained the Broncos by 100 yards in the game, but Boise scored 23 unanswered points to seal the upset victory and end any hopes BYU might have had of sneaking in the four-team field.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 12 Oklahoma State @ No. 25 Texas - Noon
No. 10 Michigan State @ Indiana - Noon
No. 11 Kentucky @ No. 1 Georgia - 3:30 p.m.
TCU @ No. 4 Oklahoma - 7:30 p.m.
No. 13 Ole Miss @ Tennessee - 7:30 p.m.