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What we learned about the top 10 playoff contenders

What we learned about the top 10 playoff contenders

There was ample drama in Week 2 — Kentucky beat Florida for the first time in 11,620 days, Colorado won at Nebraska for the first time since 2004, and Kansas won on the road for the first time since 2009 — but the top 10 teams in the Associated Press poll all won.

Every. Single. One.

The preseason favorites for the College Football Playoff, also the front-runners to win their respective leagues or divisions, remained status quo in the playoff picture, but there were lessons learned from each game. Here’s a deeper dive into where each top-10 program stands heading into Week 3:

1. Alabama

The Tide have been a playoff semifinalist in each of the past four seasons and have given every indication of continuing that trend this year — full throttle. After its 57-7 win over Arkansas State, Alabama has now outscored its first two opponents 108-21. Fourteen of the past 16 semifinalists entered bowl season ranked among the top 10 nationally in average scoring margin, including all eight teams the past two years. Will Nick Saban continue to rotate quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts? Doesn’t seem to matter. They’re both winners. ESPN’s Football Power Index favors Alabama in each of its remaining games, but keep in mind Alabama doesn’t face one ranked opponent before the selection committee meets for the first time and the first ranking is revealed on Oct. 30. Alabama’s first ranked opponent is at No. 11 LSU on Nov. 3. Something else to consider: The selection committee compares common opponents. Alabama and Clemson both will have played Louisville and Texas A&M. It will be interesting to see whether those games factor into the debates, especially if Clemson is on the bubble because of a struggling ACC.

2. Clemson

The Tigers desperately needed to beat Texas A&M because of how unimpressive the rest of the ACC has looked so far. Clemson was able to overcome its loss to Syracuse last year and its loss to Pitt in 2016 because there were ample wins against other ranked opponents on the schedule to compensate for those losses. This year? Clemson might not play one single ranked team during the regular season. That means the Tigers have to win, and look good doing it. All 16 past semifinalists averaged 4.1 wins over AP-ranked opponents during the regular season. How Texas A&M fares down the road could change the perception of the Tigers’ win, but considering it was a night game on the road in one of the sport’s most unforgiving venues, it will still carry weight with the selection committee — especially when compared with the nonconference schedules of other potential Power 5 conference champions.

3. Georgia

There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the SEC East capable of challenging Georgia, especially after the way Georgia walloped South Carolina, and considering Kentucky beat Florida. This doesn’t feel like a knee-jerk reaction. It looked like reality. The question is whether Georgia can win at LSU on Oct. 13 and beat Auburn on Nov. 10. With a nonconference schedule that includes Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and UMass, it needs to make the most of those SEC West crossover games. If Georgia can run the table but lose a close one to Alabama or Auburn in the SEC championship, the committee might consider two SEC teams (again).

4. Ohio State

The Buckeyes have looked top-four good, but against Oregon State and Rutgers. Not until Saturday’s game against No. 16 TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington will Ohio State truly be tested. It is the third and final game of coach Urban Meyer’s suspension, and ESPN’s FPI still gives the Buckeyes a 80.6 percent chance to win without him. Based on how well Ohio State has played, though — far more dominant and complete for eight quarters than both Michigan State and Penn State — the Buckeyes remain the team to beat in the Big Ten East. Still, Ohio State has to travel to both Michigan State and Penn State to actually win it.

5. Wisconsin

Behind a trademark running game led by Jonathan Taylor and an exceptional offensive line, Wisconsin has plowed over Western Kentucky and New Mexico. The problem? It’s Western Kentucky. And New Mexico. Followed by BYU. Once again, the best in the Big Ten West is going to face schedule questions en route to what should be another Big Ten championship game appearance, but the difference this year is that the Badgers have to travel to Michigan and Penn State — two games they are not favored by the FPI to win.


6. Oklahoma

Wait, Kyler Murray is even better at another sport? Instead of heading straight to the Oakland A’s, the Sooners’ new quarterback accounted for five touchdowns in the win over UCLA. So yes, OU can still contend for the playoff without Baker Mayfield. There are some things worth believing after just two weeks of games, and Murray’s ability to be a game-changer is one of them. The status of the Sooners’ star running back, Rodney Anderson, is uncertain, though, after he left the game with a leg injury. OU travels to Iowa State this weekend for its first road game but has a great chance to be 6-0 heading into its second road trip of the season — Oct. 20 at TCU.

7. Auburn

The Tigers stayed focused following their important Week 1 win over Washington and didn’t look ahead to Saturday’s game against No. 11 LSU. They took care of business against an overmatched Alabama State team and also got several freshmen and younger players valuable playing time. Now Auburn has to play its second top-15 team in three weeks. Nothing is going to come easy for Auburn against the SEC West opponents, but the win over Washington did give the Tigers some margin for error. They need to save it, though, for November road trips to Georgia and Alabama.

8. Notre Dame

The jury is still out on the Irish — in large part because it’s hard to tell how good Michigan is, and the win over Ball State wasn’t exactly convincing. There were times when the offensive line’s protection broke down, and when the defense allowed too many big plays. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush threw three interceptions and finished with negative-17 rushing yards — the first time in his career he had negative rushing yards. Notre Dame is right where it should be at 2-0, but in order to be taken seriously in the playoff race, it first has to leave no doubt over the next two weeks that it’s better than both Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. Then it has to win back-to-back games against what should still be ranked opponents in Stanford and Virginia Tech. Only then will we start to know whether the Irish have staying power this year.

9. Washington

The Huskies were able to rebound from their devastating loss to Auburn with a convincing 45-3 win over North Dakota, and they learned this weekend that Stanford will be their biggest challenger in the Pac-12 race — not USC. The Huskies don’t face Stanford until Nov. 3, but it seems likely Washington will have to run the table in order to have a shot at the playoff as the Pac-12 conference champion. The loss to Auburn certainly didn’t eliminate the Huskies, but it put tremendous pressure on them to finish strong.

10. Stanford

It was an important conference win for Stanford and should propel the Cardinal to a 3-0 start heading into Oregon on Sept. 22 (assuming Stanford beats UC Davis this week). The more Stanford and Washington win, the better it is for the Pac-12. And don’t forget about Bryce Love. After rushing for just 29 yards against San Diego State last week, Love racked up 136 yards against USC. Thirteen of the past 16 playoff semifinalists had a player finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting that season.

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