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Shaking up the playoff picture: Three top four losses leave playoff rankings jumbled

It was a wild weekend for college football, and one the College Football Playoff committee will have to contend with come Tuesday evening. Going into the weekend, the playoff picture looked pretty stable since only one of the top four teams was facing a ranked opponent, and that was No. 4 Washington facing No. 20 USC at home. That was a favorable matchup for the Huskies so no big games were staring at the four best teams in the country. 

Things unraveled quickly. 

It started with No. 2 Clemson facing a 5-4 Pittsburgh team whose best win was over a then-unranked Penn St. team. The Tigers were heavily favored at home but from the beginning Pitt showed they were not a team to be taken lightly.

Clemson’s highly touted defense couldn’t stop the Panthers from running all over them and gave up 156 rushing yards along with 308 passing yards. There were some questionable penalties called on the Tiger defense, but at the end of the day they were unable to handle Pitt’s offensive scheme. 

The Clemson offense was able to go toe-to-toe with them but were unable to put the game away when they had the chance. 

Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw three interceptions, two of which were in the red zone, which ultimately cost the Tigers. Clemson fell 43-42 off a game winning field goal from Pitt’s Justin Blewitt to ruin their perfect season. They sit at 9-1 overall and can still clinch the ACC Atlantic division with a win over Wake Forest

next weekend. 

Next up, No. 4 Washington was facing No. 20 USC at home. By the time the Clemson game ended, Washington was down 17-6 going into the half and more than a few people were raising their eyebrows. 

Washington came into the game with the second highest scoring offense in the country, averaging over 48 points per game. 

Washington got the momentum in the second half. After scoring a 70-yard touchdown when a Trojan defender slipped in coverage, the Washington defense came up with an interception to put the ball back in their star quarterback’s hands. However, that drive led to a field goal attempt that was blocked, swinging things back towards USC. 

The Trojans took advantage of the opportunity and extended their lead to 24-13 with a touchdown and never looked back. The defense would add on a safety to make it 26-13 but the Trojans never had to worry about Washington’s offense. The run game was non-existent and USC did a great job pressuring quarterback Jake Browning. The Trojans won it 26-13 to hand the Huskies their first loss of the season as well. 

They are now 9-1 and are sitting in the second spot in their division. However, they still have a chance to win it when they play Washington State later in the season. 

Finally, No. 3 Michigan was facing 5-4 Iowa team on the road. Of these three games, this one was the one some analysts warned to watch for. 

It was a classic Big 10 football game with defense being the star of the show. It wasn’t until there was four minutes left in the first quarter that the Wolverines scored the first points of the game on a field goal. It was a bit surprising since Michigan’s offense was ranked third nationally entering the game, but Iowa’s defense was up

to the task. 

The score was 13-11 late in the fourth quarter when Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard threw an interception. It looked like the game was over and fans in Iowa City were quiet. 

The Hawkeye defense was not giving up on the game and they stopped Michigan to force a punt before the end

of regulation. 

On the kick, the Wolverines were flagged for a facemask penalty which set Iowa up at the Michigan 36 yard-line with under 1:30 to play. Keith Duncan drilled a 33-yard attempt as time expired to give the Hawkeyes a 14-13 victory and ruin Michigan’s

perfect season.

The Wolverines are also now 9-1 but are tied for first in their division. They control their own destiny when they face Ohio State in a couple of weeks. 

So, what does all of this mean for Clemson’s

playoff hopes? 

There are several scenarios that could unfold, and with two weeks still left in the regular season it is hard to predict exactly where teams will end up.

Obviously, losing to an unranked opponent at home will hurt the Tigers and they will take a tumble in the rankings. How far they fall is the interesting part. In the current rankings, Louisville is ranked at No. 6. The Cardinals beat Wake Forest on Saturday 44-12 after a slow start. 

Clemson beat Louisville earlier in the season and unless Clemson loses to Wake Forest, the Cardinals will not have a chance to compete in the ACC Championship game in December. 

It looks like, for now, Louisville will be ranked ahead of Clemson and will probably even move into the top four this week. That could change if Clemson wins out and wins the ACC later in the year. 

With Michigan now sitting at one loss along with Ohio State, one of those teams will finish with at least two losses after the head-to-head matchup. That means you can write off at least one of them from playoff contention. Assuming whichever one wins the head-to-head also goes on to win the Big 10, that team still has an excellent shot at making the final four. 

Washington is a bit more questionable. The playoff committee already showed their doubts about the Huskies when they ranked them No. 5 in the initial rankings despite their perfect record, putting a then-one loss

Texas A&M team ahead of them. 

Now that they lost, it seems likely the committee will punish them for it. However, USC was a ranked opponent unlike the other two top four

losses on Saturday. 

The Pac 12 is a mess and it seemed that Washington was the conference’s only chance at getting a team into the playoffs. That dream isn’t quite dead yet but it is hanging on by a thread. 

This week’s rankings will most likely look very odd assuming the committee moves teams up in the order they currently are. If that is the case, the top four will be Alabama, Ohio State, Louisville and Wisconsin. A two loss Wisconsin team in the top four? It looks like it. 

In a week where there were no big “upset alerts” brewing, the entire playoff picture got turned upside down. The committee will have to decide what to do with all of these teams as well a few other one-loss teams who have been playing well in recent weeks. 

Going into Tuesday’s selection show there is only one certainty; Alabama

will be the No. 1 team. 

The new rankings will be unveiled on Tuesday, November 15 at 9 p.m. on ESPN. 


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