STATE COLLEGE, PA – OCTOBER 21: Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates with Trace McSorley #9 after catching a 42 yard touchdown pass in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines on October 21, 2017 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The College Football Playoff picture is about to come into view.

This week will mark the final one of the college football season before the College Football Playoff selection committee gets to work with their weekly rankings. We are seeing some separation between legitimate contenders and pretenders, but the upcoming week will help provide a little more clarity before the committee starts doing their job.

Penn State is really good. Will they beat the Buckeyes?

What Penn State did to Michigan’s defense was a tad surprising, but it probably shouldn’t have been too surprising at all. I expected Michigan’s defense to keep Penn State tied down enough to keep things close. I suspected it would be a race to 20 points given the way the defenses had been playing this season. Penn State won that race to 20 points. Then they won the race to 30 points. And then, for good measure, Penn State won the race to 40 points.

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has the luxury of playing chess with a few extra knights and bishops, which allows him to make even the best defensive coordinators and defenses like Don Brown’s Michigan defense look like they are playing with red and black checkers instead. The battle between Moorhead and Brown was a great one for one half of play, but Moorhead continued to show why he is one of the top offensive minds in the game today, and why he will be getting phone calls from some programs that could be looking for a new head coach in the next few months.

Penn State’s next challenge is a big one this week at Ohio State. The Buckeyes have had a year to think about their last meeting with Penn State, and a bye week to rest up and plan for it. It should be another fun battle between Moorhead and Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and the Buckeyes’ stacked defense. If Penn State survives this road test, there will not be anything stopping them from getting back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game, where a rematch with Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown likely awaits.

Early gut instinct is Penn State wiggles out of Columbus with a win. That feeling may change as the week goes on, but make no mistake about it. This Penn State team is really freaking good.

But so is Ohio State.

Florida State’s poor 2017 shouldn’t be cause for panic in Tallahassee

I won’t spend much time expanding on the hot seats of Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, because by now you know those stories following blowout losses in conference play. One of the surprising coaches seemingly being thrown in the hot seat discussion for some has been Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. And on the surface, that feels deserved for Fisher given the Noles are 2-4 and heading toward their first season without a bowl game since 1981.

Injuries are a part of the game for every team, but let’s take a look at the injury toll on Florida State this season.

That is brutal. And for that one reason alone, I am willing to give Fisher a pass this season. Florida State may miss the postseason this year, but anyone who is ready to push Fisher out the door is misguided right now. This dude, who drew a reaction from Fisher and a challenge to come down to the field to say things to his face, is misguided.

There are so many good running backs in college football this season

I thought the last few years were full of really good running backs in college football, and they were. In the past few years we have seen players like Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffery, Leonard Fournette and Joe Mixon. But this crop of running backs in 2017 is sure fun to watch. Enough can not be said about Saquon Barkley and Bryce Love, but each passing week appears to be giving more deserved attention to Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor and Notre Dame junior Josh Adams.

Adams was unstoppable on Saturday night as the Irish routed USC, 49-14. He rushed for 191 yards and three touchdowns and now must be considered in the Heisman Trophy conversation as Notre Dame begins to surge (big game this week, though). Adams averaged 10.05 yards per rushing attempt against the Trojans, marking the third game of the year with an average rushing total per attempt in the double-digits.

Taylor continues to lead the Big Ten with 1,112 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, and Ohio State’s freshman J.K. Dobbins is very good to (775 rushing yards, 5 TDs). A conference already loaded with running backs with Barkley, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, Michigan State’s LJ Scott, and Iowa’s Akrum Wadley is incredibly deep at the posiiton this season.

Also not to be forgotten is Alabama’s Damien Harris with 10 touchdowns this season. LSU running back Derrius Guice hit a snag in the running game over the past month, but he’s back on the scene with a 276-yard performance against Ole Miss. And remember Oregon’s Royce Freeman? Things may not be going well for the Ducks, but Freeman rushed for 160 yards a week after going for 143 yards against Stanford. He just hasn’t recorded a rushing touchdown since Sept. 23.

The running back crop this year is quite good.

Ranking the Once-Beaten

Starting this week, we should begin to start getting some clarity with the College Football Playoff picture as we see programs hoping to be in the running start going head-to-head in key matchups down the final stretch of the regular season. This weekend, in addition to Penn State facing Ohio State on the road in a pivotal Big Ten battle, we will see one-loss NC State travel to one-loss Notre Dame. It is a game that could effectively determine which team can keep playing for a spot in the playoff and which team should focus on just trying to get into the New Year’s Six rotation.

This got me thinking over the weekend about the one-loss teams still in the running for the College Football Playoff. Technically, at this stage, they are all in the running. And who you have beaten will almost always carry more weight compared to who you lost to. But let’s put aside the wins for a moment and focus specifically on the losses. Which team has the highest quality loss, and which team has the worst? Here’s how I stacked them up.

  1. Notre Dame (lost to Georgia): Nobody has hung as close to Georgia this season as the Irish.
  2. Virginia Tech (lost to Clemson): Home loss for the Hokies, and it wasn’t particularly pretty, but Tigers were on another level.
  3. Ohio State (lost to Oklahoma): Buckeyes couldn’t keep up with Sooners in The Shoe, but Oklahoma may win Big 12.
  4. Oklahoma State (lost to TCU): The Horned Frogs may be legit, and even losing at home may not be shameful.
  5. Michigan State (lost to Notre Dame): Spartans are looking solid, but Irish are looking like a playoff contender.
  6. Marshall (lost to NC State): The Herd may have a higher-quality loss than Clemson, Oklahoma, and Washington.
  7. Toledo (lost to Miami FL): The Rockets may have a higher-quality loss than Clemson, Oklahoma, and Washington.
  8. Memphis (lost to UCF): The Tigers may have a higher-quality loss than… OK, you get the idea.
  9. NC State (lost to South Carolina: NC State dominated the season opener in every facet except in the final score, but Gamecocks are 5-2.
  10. Washington (lost to Arizona State): Being upset by the Sun Devils isn’t a travesty, but scoring just 7 points is rough.
  11. Clemson (lost to Syracuse): Friday night loss on the road when the starting QB was injured.
  12. Oklahoma (lost to Iowa State): Doesn’t look horrible now given Iowa State in the top 25, but Sooners have no business losing as huge favorite at home.
  13. Washington State (lost to Cal): The Cougars were blown out on the road against the Bears. It was not a good look.

We will wipe at least one of these names off the list this week with Notre Dame facing NC State, and we know that there will be a guaranteed loss for Clemson-NC State, Ohio State-Michigan State, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State and Washington-Washington State before all is said and done. And there is always the chance Penn State takes care of Ohio State to remove the Buckeyes from the running in the one-loss candidate campaign. So this will all sort itself out in the coming month.

Box Score of the Week

Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls poured one on North Texas right from the jump, and now Kiffin is having his name thrown around a good number of coaching rumor mills once again. Tennessee? USC? Forget about those, but Kiffin has the Owls off to a 3-0 start in Conference USA play and they are looking like a solid contender in the conference. Could Kiffin be one and done in Boca Raton?

Bowl Eligibility Tracker: Army is going bowling for a second-straight season

Total Bowl spots: 78

Total bowl-eligible teams: 28

Who became bowl eligible in Week 8: Army, Auburn, Colorado State, LSU, Marshall, Memphis, Miami, Michigan State, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Toledo, UCF, Virginia Tech

Army is going to their second bowl game in as many seasons for the first time since 1984-85. After coming back in thrilling fashion to top Temple on Saturday, the Knights formally accepted their reserved spot in the Armed Forces Bowl, as arranged by a contract with the bowl game for the 2017 season. Army becomes the first program to have their bowl destination confirmed, while the rest of the bowl picture will have to wait until the end of the regular season to come into focus.

Also clinching their postseason eligibility over the weekend was Notre Dame. The Irish are thinking about making a push for the College Football Playoff, but the Irish are also becoming a potential option to squeeze their way into the New Years Six bowl lineup as part of the ACC’s bowl agreements in place if the Irish miss out on the playoff.

Who was eliminated in Week 8: Baylor, Bowling Green, Nevada, North Carolina

Two power conference programs were officially removed from postseason consideration on Saturday. Baylor, still without a win in Matt Rhule’s initial season in Waco, will officially be staying home this postseason and snapping the school’s most successful streak of seven consecutive seasons with a bowl game. UNC will also be staying home this year for just the second time since 2008 after falling to 1-7 on Saturday. The downward trend of Larry Fedora continues as the Tar Heels are facing their worst season since going 2-10 in 2003.

Who can clinch in Week 9: Appalachian State, Arizona, Boise State, Fresno State, Iowa State, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Mississippi State, Northern Illinois, SMU, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Texas A&M, Troy, Virginia, West Virginia, Western Kentucky

A handful of power conference programs can clinch their bowl eligibility this week with a win. Among those looking to hit the win minimum is Iowa State. The Cyclones just popped in the AP Top 25 this week with a 5-2 record and are looking to go to their first bowl game since 2012. Picking up that win this week will not be easy as Iowa State hosts TCU. SMU is also looking to get to their first bowl game since the 2012 season. The Mustangs are hosting Tulsa this Friday night. A loss for Tulsa would also make them ineligible for a bowl game for the first time under head coach Philip Montgomery.

Who can be eliminated in Week 9: BYU, Georgia Southern, Kansas, Massachusetts, Oregon State, Rice, Texas State, Tulsa

Group of Five Watch: New Year’s Six is AAC’s to lose, and Fresno State is rising

San Diego State took a second straight loss at home this week against Fresno State, with the Bulldogs looking like their former self as a conference championship contender. Jeff Tedford has been doing some good work in getting Fresno State back in the game in a short amount of time, and now Fresno State is in the driver’s seat in the Mountain West Conference’s West Division with a key head-to-head tiebreaker against the Aztecs. But more importantly, in the grand scheme of things, it appears the Mountain West Conference could have a very tricky time getting its champion in the New Years Six lineup at the end of the year.

This is now the AAC’s to lose, and with a healthy helping of viable contenders, it may not let it slip away this season.

UCF continues to impress following a road win at Navy, giving the Knights victories over the Midshipmen and Memphis so far this season while remaining undefeated. To me, the Knights are the top team in the conference and it may not be all that close. However, USF remains on the radar, and we could be heading to a matchup of undefeated USF and UCF in the final game of the regular season, and that could be the game which determines who is heading to the Peach Bowl (unless Memphis, with wins over Navy and Houston to get the inside track to the division championship, throws a wrench in the plans).

I’m keeping an eye on Toledo, but with one loss (to Miami), the Rockets have very little room for error with the AAC stacking up contenders down the stretch.

  1. UCF
  2. Memphis
  3. USF
  4. Navy
  5. Toledo

If the College Football Playoff started today…

Penn State’s thrashing of Michigan forced me to make some changes with my current College Football Playoff, and it may have tweaked my latest projection back a little more to toward how I started the season. So if the playoff started today, my top four would be…

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Penn State
  4. TCU

Looking ahead, I see a tough road to travel for the Pac-12. And the path could be getting tricky for the Big 12 unless TCU can survive upcoming games against Oklahoma and Texas (and Iowa State). And the ACC could be on the brink of a few difficulties as well with just Miami left standing as an undefeated team. And considering I still think Georgia stumbles on the road at Auburn, it’s looking more and more as though we could be seeing two teams from the Big Ten left standing with a good shot at making the College Football Playoff. But what about the Fighting Irish? I see a path to get in opening up.

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Penn State

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.