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Playoff Picture: Week 8

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: Syracuse at Clemson
Will Shipley helped Clemson come from 14 points down to beat Syracuse and stay alive in the Playoff race.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson and TCU managed to overcome double-digits deficits to take control of their respective conference races, while dream seasons may be over for Ole Miss and UCLA after convincing losses. Can Penn State surprise Ohio State in a Big Ten showdown this week? Will Tennessee or Georgia get caught looking ahead with their massive showdown on the horizon? The first CFP poll of the season drops on Tuesday, so the real fun is about to begin.


Clemson - The Tigers were trending toward being the week’s biggest loser through two-and-a-half quarters of play against Syracuse, combining drive-killing turnovers with porous defense to fall into a 21-10 hole. However, a desperate change at quarterback and a reversion to simply running the dang ball propelled Clemson to a critical win that kept alive its hopes of a return to the ACC Championship Game and the Playoff. The defense — underwhelming nearly the entire season to that point — finally played to its billing in completely stifling the Orange in the second half, while Will Shipley and Phil Mafah each rushed for career highs and eventually helped the Tigers to overtake perhaps their last remaining challenger in this year’s ACC Atlantic. Clemson now gets a much-needed bye week before a trip to Notre Dame.

Oregon - It would have been easy to dismiss the Ducks completely after their blowout loss to Georgia in Week One, but this team has played much better football since then, with quarterback Bo Nix playing at a level he never remotely approached during his time at Auburn. Last Saturday’s game against UCLA was never in doubt from the second quarter on, and the win vaulted Oregon to first place in the Pac-12 standings. A three-game stretch against Washington, Utah, and Oregon State to finish the season will likely dictate the Ducks postseason fate, but if they can run the table and finish 12-1 with a conference championship, they will represent a very real Playoff contender.

TCU - A week after coming from 17 points down to beat Oklahoma State, the Frogs once again managed to crawl out of a hole they dug for themselves. This time, they scored 28 unanswered points against Kansas State to turn a 28-10 deficit into a 38-28 win that kept their undefeated season afloat. TCU’s defense continues to buckle down when it needs to most, but this team is living on the edge and may eventually run into a situation where its explosive offense can’t simply outscore an opponent. The Frogs now sit alone atop the Big XII standings and may be the conference’s last realistic hope for a CFP berth.

Oklahoma State - With that in mind, however, Oklahoma State’s comeback win over Texas kept this Big XII hopeful on the periphery of the conversation on the heels of its disappointing loss to TCU the week prior. The Cowboys are basically the same team as TCU, in fact, as they boast a potent offensive attack but can’t stop anybody. Will that be good enough to make it to the conference title game and potentially get back in the Playoff mix? This week’s trip to Kansas State may go a long way toward answering that question.


Ole Miss - It always felt like Ole Miss was living on borrowed time as one of the remaining undefeated teams, but the way it bowed out of that group was pretty stunning. The Rebels seemed to be cruising on the road at LSU, up 17-3 early in the second quarter and moving the ball up and down the field at will. But then the Tigers flipped the script to an alarming degree, outscoring Ole Miss 42-3 the rest of the game and humbling the Playoff dark-horse. The Rebels aren’t eliminated from SEC Championship or Playoff contention yet, but they will need to win out to have any chance of reaching either.

UCLA - The Bruins had been a great story in the season’s first half, but they just couldn’t go blow for blow with Oregon’s high-flying offense on Saturday and suffered their first loss of the season. A 21-3 run by the Ducks to end the first half was the difference, as UCLA was forced to play catch-up and couldn’t get over the hump. This team still controls its own destiny in the Pac 12, so an outside shot at the Playoff isn’t something we can rule out just yet. But it’s safe to say the Bruins’ backs are firmly against the wall.

Syracuse - Another year, another “what-if” game against Clemson for the Orange, who led 21-7 in the first half in Death Valley but couldn’t muster a single point in the second half of an excruciating 27-21 loss. Syracuse seemingly could do no wrong on either side of the ball in the first two quarters, but Clemson’s defense and running game overwhelmed in the second half as the Orange just couldn’t hold on. Star running back Sean Tucker came in averaging 20 carries per game but only saw five against the Tigers as Syracuse chose to rely on the dual-threat capabilities of quarterback Garrett Shrader. That worked like a charm for a while but proved unsustainable, and the coaching staff may be wishing they had leaned more heavily on their workhorse back.

Kansas State - Another team that is likely kicking themselves, the Wildcats raced to a 28-10 second-quarter lead on the road at TCU and seemed poised to usurp the Horned Frogs as the Big XII’s Playoff frontrunner. They were shut out from that point on, however, and now fall back into the muddled mess that is the Big XII standings. Kansas State could still make the Big XII title in theory, but any long-shot hopes of a spot in the four-team field are gone.


CFP poll debuts Tuesday - This coming Tuesday will mark the release of the College Football Playoff committee’s first rankings of the season, and it will be very interesting to see how its members slot the top teams. This particularly applies to teams 1-7, which presumably will include the six remaining undefeated teams and one-loss Alabama in some order. How the committee balances resume vs. eye test vs. metrics is always an adventure, so we will be looking forward to seeing where their preferences lie this season.


No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 13 Penn State - Noon
No. 7 TCU @ West Virginia - Noon
No. 9 Oklahoma State @ No. 22 Kansas State - 3:30 p.m.
No. 1 Georgia vs. Florida - 3:30 p.m.
No. 19 Kentucky @ No. 3 Tennessee - 7 p.m.