1. Clemson, Florida State and the ripple effect of the Playoff. Because Clemson held on to beat Louisville and because Florida State couldn't hold off North Carolina at home, we've arrived to a Clemson-FSU game that feels like a big game but won't really carry the weight of one. This game, which has become the ACC's answer to LSU-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State and Texas-OU, will have a fired up crowd of tomahawk choppers playing before an ABC Saturday Night Football audience that will could hit eight figures.
But in a departure from BCS-era college football history, Clemson doesn't have to win this game to reach the College Football Playoff. Sure, the Tigers want to win, but they don't have to do so. Put simply, a back-to-back ACC champion Clemson team with wins over Auburn and Louisville is good enough to reach the CFP -- full stop. Sure, a loss to FSU could retroactively eliminate Clemson should another bump in the road arrive, but a loss on Saturday night alone won't do it.
If they're not playing for survival, what is Clemson playing for? Seeding. The Tigers are competing with Alabama for a No. 1 seed and a virtual home game in the Peach Bowl semifinal. Losing the No. 1 seed means a trip cross-country to the Fiesta Bowl semifinal.
Saturday night in Tallahassee is always one of college football's best scenes. But, for one team at least, it'll essentially be an NFL game.
2. Does Washington have to beat Utah to reach the Playoff? At 7-1, Utah is hoping to become the 2016 version of 2014 Ohio State or 2015 Oklahoma. Washington, meanwhile, is sitting pretty at 7-0. And they'll remain that way... as long as they remain undefeated.
The Huskies' non-conference schedule is Baylor-like: Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. Stanford was ranked No. 7 when the Huskies stomped them 44-6 on Sept. 30. Utah is ranked No. 17 right now. Other than that, there isn't another ranked foe on U-Dub's schedule, previous, present or future. (Washington State is the first team out of both polls, however.)
A putrid non-conference slate and the untimely demises of Stanford, Oregon and USC mean a 1-loss, Pac-12 champion Washington may have to throw itself into the muck with other 1-loss non-champions for one of the four golden tickets.
3. The Big 12's best hope relies on... a defense? West Virginia has been the fastest riser of the season -- the Mountaineers didn't receive a single vote in either major preseason poll and now rank No. 9 in the coaches' poll and No. 10 in the AP. They should probably be higher.
Who else this season could hold Texas Tech and TCU to 27 points -- combined? West Virginia's defense isn't just Big 12 good, it's good, period. As Andy Staples points out, the key is a 3-3-5 defense that can just as easily rush six or drop eight while not going anything away pre-snap:
To understand what this mix does to a quarterback, imagine the quarterback as a batter and the defense as a pitcher. The rush-three, drop-eight plays are like facing an in-his-prime Greg Maddux. The pitches are only in the mid-80s, but they're located so perfectly that a grounder to short is the most likely outcome. The zero blitzes are like facing an in-his-prime Nolan Ryan. The ball might come down the heart of the plate, but it's coming at 98 mph—and that looks even faster after seeing the Maddux stuff. What makes Gibson's defense so tough is that Maddux can turn into Ryan (or vice versa) in the middle of his windup, and the batter doesn't know exactly what he's facing until just before the ball leaves the pitcher's hand.
WVU faces a challenge no one else in the Power 5 does: geography. The Mountaineers cross a mountain range, a time zone and a whole lot of flyover country every time they play a conference road game. But Oklahoma and Baylor must come to Morgantown this year. They have two road trips in November, to Texas and Iowa State.
That leaves Saturday's trip to Stillwater to face an Oklahoma State offense that averages 17.2 yards per completion, completes 62.6 percent of its throws and has tossed 15 touchdowns to two interceptions. Should Tony Gibson's defense confuse and bruise Mason Rudolph enough Saturday, the schedule sets up extremely well for West Virginia.
4. Nebraska faces its first test. The Huskers have risen from the ranks of the Also Receiving Votes category to No. 7 in the AP poll (they're tied for sixth in the coaches' poll) not on the strength of who they've beaten, but on the fact they haven't lost. Who has Nebraska beaten? Let's examine:
1-7 Fresno State
Wisconsin sits four spots behind Nebraska despite beating LSU due to losses to Michigan and Ohio State -- by seven points apiece.
The Badgers can hang with the best teams in college football. We don't know yet about Nebraska, but we'll find out Saturday.
5. Charlie's latest last chance. The unofficial bar Charlie Strong needs to clear to return to Texas is eight wins. The Longhorns are 3-4, and Baylor comes to town on Saturday. The math does itself from there.
As does this note from Mike Finger in the San Antonio Express-News:
Friday, the Longhorn Foundation will conduct a meeting of its advisory council, and later that day, UT’s developmental board will gather. Both events were scheduled months in advance, but the result is that most of the Longhorns’ biggest boosters and most powerful alumni will be at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
“There will be more heavy hitters (at the Baylor game) than at any game this year,” the donor said.
There is a greater-than-zero chance Strong and the Longhorns put on a show for that highly-powerful audience. Strong's teams have always gotten up for Baylor -- it's become a bona fide rivalry now that the Bears have gone from doormat to bully -- and this year's Bear bunch is completely untested, especially on the road. Their only road trip of consequence to this point required a 17-point rally to beat Iowa State.
And, finally there is this. What do Mack Brown, John Mackovic, David McWilliams, Fred Akers, Darrell Royal and Ed Price have in common? Each of those men -- Texas's only coaches from 1950 through Strong's hiring in 2014 -- lost to Baylor in his final season.