In the College Football Playoff era, one loss need not be a death sentence to a team’s playoff hopes. The CFP’s first two champions both suffered a September loss and still managed to come all the way back to win the national title.
Contrast that to the BCS era, when every champion that came outside of the SEC finished the season undefeated. (The SEC managed to claim five titles with one-loss teams and another with a two-loss team – but that’s a story for another day.) With four teams having a chance to vie for the national championship, a September loss isn’t necessarily catastrophic.
But it’s just about October now.
This weekend, three games will match up top 10 opponents (in the AP poll), each with playoff consequences. Two of those are intra-divisional showdowns, meaning the loser could be barred from playing for its conference title, therefore any hopes of getting into the playoff field. This is what befell Ohio State last year, when its lone loss to Michigan State denied it the chance to repeat as national champions.
The flip of the calendar also means that each one of the Power 5 is now playing conference games, so the stakes are higher for every team with an aspiration to get into the playoff field. Every week from now on there’s a potential for the winners to move on and losers to go home.
Let the elimination games begin …
Game of the Week
Louisville (-2) at Clemson, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
The ACC quarterback everyone touted as the Heisman frontrunner entering this season was Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, yet the one that everyone is talking about now is Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. And for good reason – Jackson has led the Cardinals to No. 3 in the AP poll after a stunning rout of Florida State. But Watson, who took the Tigers to CFP title game last season, will have a lot to say about who wins this game and therefore the ACC Atlantic championship.
Also keep an eye on
Wisconsin at Michigan (-10.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Perhaps the surprise team of the early season, Wisconsin has already scored two huge upset wins over LSU and Michigan State. With redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook now starting at quarterback, the Badgers have become much more dynamic offensively to complement their suffocating defense. Michigan has a nasty defensive unit of its own, which has recorded 17 sacks through four games. Because they’re in different divisions, a loss in this showdown might not be fatal to either team’s playoff hopes as they may meet again in the Big Ten championship game.
Stanford at Washington (-3), 9 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN
After two ho-hum seasons, Chris Petersen has returned Washington to be among the elite of the Pac-12. Now comes the test to see if the Huskies are truly a national powerhouse as this North division showdown might prove to be a winner-take-all. Both Stanford and Washington struggled offensively last week and needed a last-minute TD and overtime, respectively, to escape with wins. Expect this to be a low-scoring affair as well with the Cardinal – more accustomed to play in pressure-packed big games – trying to eke out a fourth straight win over the Huskies.
Player to watch
San Diego State (-19.5) at South Alabama, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNews
Who, you ask, is Donnel Pumphrey? Let’s see, he only leads the nation in rushing with 599 yards (in just three games), seven touchdowns and an 8.2-yard per carry average. He’s now the all-time leading rusher in the history of San Diego State, breaking the record set by Marshall Faulk (perhaps you’ve heard of him?)
Pumphrey, a senior who’s generously listed at 5-foot-9, is a dynamo and a workhorse. He rushed for 281 yards in a 45-40 victory over Cal and has led the Aztecs to a 3-0 record and No. 19 ranking in the latest AP poll. Like Faulk in 1992, Pumphrey has a large hurdle to clear in the Heisman race as most of his games are against non-Power 5 opposition and aired on non-major networks. Faulk eventually finished second to Miami’s Geno Torretta in that year’s Heisman race and Pumphrey should get at least an invitation to New York if he keeps up his production.