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Playoff Picture: Week 5

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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: Oregon at Stanford
Stanford shocked No. 3 Oregon and put an unexpected damper on the Ducks’ (and PAC 12’s) Playoff hopes.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama and Georgia snuffed out the hopes of two SEC West upstarts, while Oregon was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten. Meanwhile, Cincinnati made a big statement in their quest to become the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff. The race is starting to heat up.

BIGGEST WINNERS:

Alabama - The Tide has a way of ruthlessly exposing pretenders, and their win over Ole Miss this past week was a prime example. Alabama led 35-0 before the Rebels finally found their way into the end zone midway through the third quarter and simply cruised from there. This may not be the best version of Bama we have ever seen, but they are clearly one of the top teams this season, and there probably isn’t another team on their regular-season schedule that can give them a true test.

Georgia - The Bulldogs barely even needed to consider the forward pass in their shutout win over Arkansas — a game that was billed as a top-10 matchup but turned into a one-sided beatdown. While we certainly expected Georgia to win, a 37-0 shutout of the red-hot Razorbacks certainly raises an eyebrow. Obviously the Bulldogs boast an elite defense and a solid running game, but it will be interesting to see how they respond if and when another team is able to force them to win a game through the air.

Cincinnati - There may have been past seasons when Cincinnati going into South Bend and knocking off Notre Dame would have been surprising, but not in 2021. The Bearcats proved they were simply the better team in a 24-13 win in which quarterback Desmond Ridder shined and their stout defense held its ground. We won’t know exactly how the Playoff committee feels about Cincinnati until they begin releasing their polls, but in our opinion the Bearcats are building one of the most credible cases yet for a Group of Five team to be included in the four-team field.

BIGGEST LOSERS:

Oregon - Three weeks ago, we made sure to note in our praise of the Ducks for their massive win over Ohio State that “if there is any team known for suffering unexpected losses, it’s Oregon.” Well, here we are. The Ducks turned a 10-point halftime deficit at Stanford into a touchdown lead by the end of the fourth quarter, but the Cardinal tied the game on an untimed down to end regulation and scored in overtime to pull off the upset. While Oregon still appears to be the class of the PAC 12, they have once again forfeited their Playoff margin for error with an untimely conference loss.

SEC also-rans - If you were a highly ranked SEC team this past week not named Alabama or Georgia, odds are you had a bad time. As we mentioned, those two humbled Ole Miss and Arkansas in supposed high-profile matchups, while top-15 teams Florida and Texas A&M were both taken down by unranked opponents. We typically assume Alabama and Georgia will be the two best teams in the SEC in a given year until proven otherwise, and this season it appears as true as ever. The only other undefeated team remaining in the SEC is Kentucky (!), and while the Wildcats are a solid team, we don’t exactly consider them a conference title threat. Just go ahead and prepare for the Alabama-Georgia collision course.

Notre Dame - We spoke of our doubts about Notre Dame last week, and the Irish finally bit the dust at the hands of Cincinnati. There’s not a ton left to say here, as this is just not a version of Notre Dame that was ever going to truly threaten the Playoff field. And given their deficiencies, the Irish probably have more losses coming.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 6 Oklahoma @ No. 21 Texas - Noon
No. 13 Arkansas @ No. 17 Ole Miss - Noon
No. 2 Georgia @ No. 18 Auburn - 3:30 p.m.
No. 4 Penn State @ No. 3 Iowa - 4 p.m.
No. 9 Michigan @ Nebraska - 7:30 p.m.