Every Thursday during the season, we'll take a look at the big game(s) during the upcoming weekend that will have the biggest impact on the playoff chase.
Before the season, this weekend was expected to be one of the biggest of the year. What do you know: The weekend is here, and it is big.
There are three games involving one-loss teams ranked in the top 14 of the College Football Playoff rankings, and the higher-ranked team is at home in each one. In addition, there are three other games in which one-loss teams are playing ranked two-loss teams. Expect some major reshaping of the top 25 because of this weekend's results.
Here's a look at the key games; all rankings are the selection committee's.
No. 10 Notre Dame at No. 9 Arizona State
The implications for Arizona State: The Sun Devils were blasted by UCLA in late September, and everybody wrote them off. But here they are, with just that one loss and playing in a huge game in November. The offense is explosive and should cause all sorts of problems for the Irish, and the Sun Devils' defense has made incremental progress seemingly each week. There are games remaining against Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona after this, and potentially a Pac-12 title-game appearance (presumably against Oregon). Make no mistake: If the Sun Devils win out, they would deserve a playoff berth.
The implications for Notre Dame: The Irish looked good in their narrow loss at Florida State -- but that might have been their best performance. The best win is over a Stanford team that already has lost four games. The only other team they've beaten with a winning record? Rice. There are games left against Northwestern, Louisville and USC, and the Cardinals and Trojans are solid teams. Still, this is the toughest test left, and to pass it, the Irish need a big game from QB Everett Golson and from their defense. Golson should deliver. The defense? That's another discussion entirely.
No. 14 Ohio State at No. 8 Michigan State
The implications for Michigan State: The one-loss Spartans are the highest-ranked Big Ten team in the selection committee's top 25 and look to be the most complete team in the league. They also look to be -- right now, at least -- the only Big Ten team with a shot at a playoff berth. This is their final tough regular-season game, as Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State follow. But there also would be a Big Ten title game, where Nebraska (the Spartans already beat them once), Wisconsin or maybe even Iowa would lurk. Still, this is the toughest test remaining for the Spartans.
The implications for Ohio State: The Buckeyes' home loss to Virginia Tech continues to look worse on a weekly basis, but a win in this one would make them viable as a potential playoff team (they still would need a lot of losses by others, but at least they now would be in the conversation). There's a semi-tough game next week at Minnesota, but the Buckeyes close the regular season with eminently winnable games against Indiana and Michigan. There also would be a Big Ten title game. As with Michigan State, this is the toughest test remaining for the Buckeyes.
No. 7 Kansas State at No. 6 TCU
The implications for Kansas State: K-State's one loss was a six-point home setback to Auburn. The Wildcats have the most physical defense in the Big 12, and that defense needs to come to the fore if they're to pull the upset. This is the first of three huge road games left for K-State, which won at Oklahoma; the Wildcats have a Thursday night game at West Virginia on Nov. 20, then close the regular season at Baylor on Dec. 6. Even with a win in Fort Worth, there still will be work to do for the Wildcats.
The implications for TCU: The Horned Frogs have one loss, blowing a 21-point fourth-quarter lead in falling to Baylor. But if they win this one, write it down in pen -- TCU will finish 11-1. The Horned Frogs have Kansas, Texas and Iowa State to finish out the season. An 11-1 TCU team would have a legitimate chance at a playoff berth, but the Horned Frogs would need some help in terms of losses by others to nab the bid.
Other games with playoff implications
» Texas A&M at No. 3 Auburn: This looked like a tough game for one-loss Auburn about four or five weeks ago; no more. The Tigers' offense should be able to slice and dice the Aggies' defense. The one question is whether A&M's offense -- which looks to have hit a wall -- can put any kind of pressure on Auburn's defense, which is adequate at best. Auburn is at Georgia next week and at Alabama on Nov. 29.
» Virginia at No. 2 Florida State: Virginia's aggressive defense will tax FSU's offensive line, which has underachieved this season. But it's hard to see Virginia's mediocre offense having much consistency against FSU's defense. The Seminoles have a much bigger game next week, when they travel to play Miami.
» No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 LSU: Alabama has one loss and is in the playoff picture; two-loss LSU can remove the Tide from that picture. LSU's defense should be able to hold its own, but LSU's offense isn't going to scare the Tide. This is the final road game of the season for Alabama, which has two monster games left: next week vs. Mississippi State and Nov. 29 vs. Auburn.
» No. 12 Baylor at No. 15 Oklahoma: Baylor has one loss and remains alive in the playoff hunt; Oklahoma has two losses and is looking to play spoiler. Both have a legitimate shot at one of the playoff affiliated bowls. Don't expect much defense. OU is 21-2 all-time against Baylor, including 11-0 in Norman. If Baylor wins this and remains alive in the playoff hunt, it has just one tough game left: Dec. 6 at home against Kansas State.
» UT Martin at No. 1 Mississippi State: Yeah, OK. (Forgive Mississippi State if it's looking ahead to next week, when it plays at Alabama. There's also the regular-season finale at Mississippi on Nov. 29.)
» No. 4 Oregon at No. 17 Utah: One-loss Oregon's issues along the offensive line have cropped up again, and two-loss Utah leads the nation with 39 sacks. Thus, life could get difficult for Ducks QB Marcus Mariota. But Utah's one-dimensional offense -- it's all about the run -- shouldn't be enough to take down Oregon. This is the toughest remaining regular-season game for the Ducks, who have Colorado and Oregon State after this.