First & 20: 10 remain in College Football Playoff hunt

Anthony Gimino

November 06, 2017 at 6:26 pm.

Nov 4, 2017; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates with offensive lineman Dru Samia (75) after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 4, 2017; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates with offensive lineman Dru Samia (75) after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

And then there were 10.

A wacky Saturday of college football — aren’t they all? — whacked four playoff contenders: Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech. They all sink to the second tier under the weight of their second losses of the season.

The final three weeks of the regular season, plus the conference championship games — including the Big 12 this year — will sort the top 10.

Let’s check it out by conference:

SEC: Alabama, Georgia and two-loss Auburn (with huge play-its-way-in games remaining).

The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs are unbeaten, and, assuming they stay that way until the SEC title game, the loser likely is still playoff-worthy. Alabama was No. 2 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings behind Georgia, but everybody knows Nick Saban’s group is the team to beat. As is often the case.

But there isn’t an air of invincibility, inevitability, about Alabama this season. No opponent has been good enough yet to really put the Tide passing game to the test — LSU tried in a 24-10 loss Saturday — and injuries are piling up at linebacker.

Alabama likely lost linebackers Shaun Dion Hamilton (tied for second on the team with 40 tackles) and Mack Wilson (21 tackles, three interceptions) on Saturday to season-ending injuries. The Tide has been without two outside linebackers since the season-opener, with only an outside shot at getting them back before the postseason. All-American defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, whom the Crimson Tide  can ill-afford to lose, also injured his hamstring in the win over the Tigers. If Fitzpatrick’s injury is serious, that will be a significant development moving forward.

ACC: Clemson, Miami.

Both teams have virtually clinched their respective divisions, on a collision course for the ACC championship game. The CFP selection committee wasn’t in love with unbeaten Miami’s schedule, ranking the Hurricanes No. 10 last week, but Saturday’s win over Virginia Tech is a resume-builder and a win Saturday over Notre Dame would put Miami right where it wants to be.

Big Ten: Wisconsin.

The solid-not-flashy Badgers are another unbeaten team that the selection committee took a wait-and-see approach to, putting Wisconsin ninth. By the end of the season, the strength of schedule will toughen, with home games in the next two weeks vs. Iowa and Michigan, plus the Big Ten title game. No way the committee leaves off a 13-0 major conference champ.

Big 12: Oklahoma, TCU

The teams play Saturday. Check back next week.

Pac-12: Washington (barely).

The Huskies are the only one-loss team left in the Pac-12, but they need chaos above them to slip into the final four, still dogged by a fairly lousy nonconference strength of schedule — at Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State. (Although, hey, Rutgers has three Big Ten wins!) What the Huskies need is for two-loss USC to look strong in its final two games … and then to beat up the Trojans in the Pac-12 title game. Will that be enough for Washington? Uh … maybe, possibly … probably not.

Independent: Notre Dame.

The math is simple. Win at Miami, beat Navy, finish with a victory at Stanford, and nothing can stop the Irish.

Five thoughts on Week 10

1. Clemson has the best shot to beat Alabama. Formula to beat the Tide: Mobile quarterback (Clemson’s Kelly Bryant). Multitude of offensive weapons to stress and stretch the Alabama defense (another “check”). A defensive front to stop the run and force quarterback Jalen Hurts to pass (nobody’s defensive line is better than Clemson’s).

2. Bill Clark is the national coach of the year. UAB, which had been without a football program for the past two seasons and couldn’t be expected to win more than a couple of games this year, is bowl-eligible at 6-3 following a 52-21 victory over Rice on Saturday. Clark has nicely blended a large number of junior college recruits and other transfers into a winner. Could the Blazers win at Florida on Nov. 18?

3. It’s November for Kevin Sumlin. Texas A&M lost 42-27 at home to Auburn on Saturday, which is more of the same. Sumlin’s teams are 2-8 against SEC foes in the month of November since 2014, and whether the coach will be around later this month for games at Mississippi and LSU is a dang fine question.

4. Other coaches on hot-seat watch: Arkansas’ Bret Bielema (one-point, come-from-behind win over FBS newbie Coastal Carolina); UCLA’s Jim Mora (crushed by Utah, but perhaps saved by $12 million-plus buyout); Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury (overtime loss to Kansas State dropped the Red Raiders to 1-5 in the Big 12).

5. USC is playing with joy. The Trojans played like it was trying to pass a kidney stone for most of the season, not handling well the burden of high expectations on the team and quarterback Sam Darnold, but the loss to Notre Dame was a freeing experience. In back-to-back wins over Arizona State and Arizona, USC is playing fast and loose with what is still the most talented roster in the Pac-12. USC is back on track for its first league title since 2008.

5 numbers to know

1. 2 — Consecutive weeks with at last 400 passing yards for Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who threw an un-Spartan like 56 passes, completing 33, in Saturday’s upset of Penn State.

2. 43.4 — The winning percentage for Texas since late in coach Mack Brown’s final season of 2013. The Longhorns are 23-30 in their past 53 games, including Saturday’s loss at TCU.

3. 46 — Years it had been since Florida has allowed 40-plus points in consecutive SEC games. The Gators, in their first game under interim head coach Randy Shannon, lost 45-16 at Missouri on Saturday. They lost to Georgia 42-7 in their previous game.

4. 55 — Points allowed by Ohio State in a loss to Iowa, the most ever yielded by an Urban Meyer-coached team.

5. 13,806 — Career passing yards for Washington State senior Luke Falk, who set the Pac-12 record Saturday. And that just makes it all the more curious why he was benched for more than half the game the previous week in a loss at Arizona.

5 top Heisman candidates

1. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. Mr. Moxie should soon by Mr. Heisman. The senior flung the ball for 598 passing yards and accounted for six touchdowns in the carnival that was the Sooners’ Bedlam victory over Oklahoma State. He is a 13-0 in true road games in his career.

2. (Vacant. Other than Mayfield, all the other top Heisman candidates lost games or barely played Saturday.)

3. Notre Dame RB Josh Adams. Why Adams, why here? Out of the other candidates, he has the team with the best playoff potential, had marquee games remaining — hello, Miami! — and he’s the best big-play back in the country not named Bryce Love.

4. Stanford RB Bryce Love. He ripped off another run of 50-plus yards against Washington State but was otherwise bottled up for the first time this season.

5. Arizona QB Khalil Tate. His great October still resonates — four consecutive Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week awards — and although he struggled in the first half in a loss at USC on Saturday, he rallied the Wildcats to a 35-35 tie in the fourth quarter and finished with 305 total yards. He also became the first Pac-12 quarterback to ever reach 1,000 rushing yards in a season, gaining 161 vs. the Trojans.

Five top games for Week 11

1. Notre Dame at Miami (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET) — The 1980s nostalgia will be off the charts for this high-stakes revival of “Catholics vs. Convicts.”

2. TCU at Oklahoma (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET) — The winner likely wins the Big 12 while the loser probably gets a rematch in December. Is the Big 12 sure bringing back the league title game was a good idea?

3. Georgia at Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET) — Auburn is the biggest X-factor left in the playoff chase, with homes games against Georgia and Alabama in the final three weeks.

4. Michigan State at Ohio State (Saturday, noon ET) — The Spartans can (virtually) win their third Big Ten division title in the past five seasons, which would be an astonishing comeback from last year’s 3-9 disaster.

5. Alabama at Mississippi State (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET) — The Bulldogs are 7-2 but were non-competitive in losses to Georgia and Auburn. Those were on the road. QB Nick Fitzgerald and plenty of cowbells await a tricky game for the Tide.

Bonus biggie: Washington at Stanford on Friday night.