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Inside the Pocket: CFB Playoff contenders have plenty to prove


Last Saturday was one of those days when you were at a significant disadvantage if you didn't have multiple televisions at your disposal, especially during the late primetime windows, when action was fast and furious among ranked teams -- there was almost too much to keep up.

What did we see from the afternoon to well past sunset? Plenty of chaos, that's for sure. If that was our first real taste of November football this season, we're in for a wild ride the rest of the way. Many of the games had College Football Playoff implications, but there's still work left to be done for a number of teams if they're to make the inaugural football version of the final four.

With that in mind, here's what the remaining contenders have to do down the stretch in order to prove to the committee that they belong in one of those four spots.

Florida State, Alabama, Oregon

Need to: Win out and you're in.
Best argument: Florida State would be the only undefeated power conference team and the ACC champion. Alabama would emerge out of the SEC West as the league champion. Oregon would survive the toughest conference title path out of anybody and represent the Pac-12. The only question would be seeding.

Mississippi State

Need to: Win out, and the Bulldogs are in, simple as that. If they were to lose (perhaps to Alabama this weekend), however, they'll need some help to be the second team from the SEC in if they don't win the league. If they have two losses, there's no way they're in the conversation.
Best argument: The best team most of the season from the best league if undefeated. They have a Heisman candidate in quarterback Dak Prescott and a defense that has tightened up when needed. Biggest hole on the resume is the non-conference slate, which is the worst of anybody on this list, and something you'll hear about plenty down the stretch.


Need to: Win out, and TCU would finish as co-Big 12 champion at worst, looking like one of the most impressive teams on the field this season. A loss at any point from Baylor would enhance the Horned Frogs' argument because it would throw out their head-to-head loss, which will be a big obstacle for TCU to overcome in the eyes of the committee.
Best argument: Their one loss came on the road to another top-15 team by three points. They led in the fourth quarter against the Bears, and a controversial call denied them the chance to close out the game. They've played a better non-conference slate than Baylor or Mississippi State, plus own wins over the same teams Alabama and Florida State played earlier in the season. Mix in the fact that few teams are playing as well as Gary Patterson's squad and the team has a good argument.


Need to: Win out and hope TCU struggles down the stretch while not losing a game. Also, root for some upsets in the Pac-12 and SEC while blowing teams out by 30-plus points the rest of the way.
Best argument: Yes, the Bears have a weak non-conference schedule, but they would be Big 12 champions at the end of the year with a win over TCU, a blowout of Oklahoma in Norman and a nice win over Kansas State. Morgantown -- where Baylor suffered its lone loss this season -- is a tough place to play, too. Baylor isn't just an offensive powerhouse, either. The defense is feisty and for real with players like Shawn Oakman leading the way.

Arizona State

Need to: Win out, and the Sun Devils are in.
Best argument: ASU would own wins over seven teams who were ranked at the time they played, at least five of whom will probably finish in the top 20 at the end of the regular season. Blowing out Notre Dame helps tremendously from a star-power standpoint, and a win against 11-1 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game would be the most impressive win on the slate. Mix in the fact that their one loss came on a Thursday night when their backup quarterback was making his first start -- and to a good team in UCLA that might finish in the top 10 -- and Arizona State has a good argument they should be in with a few more wins.

Ohio State

Need to: Win out, beat an 11-1 Nebraska in the Big Ten title game, continue to blow out opponents, hope for a little chaos.
Best argument: This might be the most improved team in the country from Week 2 until today. J.T. Barrett has been terrific and Urban Meyer has really shored up the two areas where the Buckeyes figured to struggle: the offensive line and the back seven on defense. Their biggest issue is playing in the Big Ten, but this isn't a typical team from that conference, considering their skill-position and defensive-line talent could go toe-to-toe with just about anybody in the country. The Buckeyes might have a chance to sneak into the final four if the conversation comes down to them and, say, Arizona State and Baylor for the final two spots. The case against a two-loss SEC team will be just as close, and Ohio State might suffer from Big Ten bias at the end of the year that keeps them out of the playoff.

Stat of the week

According to Sports Source Analytics, the Ohio State loss was only the third time in 152 games as a defensive coordinator since 2001 that Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi has given up 49-plus points.

Check out the top images from the 11th weekend of college football play.

Stats to chew on

» With their win over the Spartans, the Buckeyes set a new Big Ten record with 21 consecutive Big Ten regular-season victories.

» Melvin Gordon has rushed for an average of 171.5 yards in Wisconsin's six games against opponents from the Power Five conferences, the best mark of any player in the country. Pittsburgh's James Conner ranks a distant second at 153.3 yards per game vs. Power Five opponents.

» Drew Hallett passes along this nugget: In the last five seasons, Michigan has scored five touchdowns total vs. Michigan State. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrettdid that by himself on Saturday.

» TCU improved to 26-3 when taking the field as a top-10 team under Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs also have a sack and interception in 11 straight games.

» Louisville's Gerod Holliman recorded his 11th, 12th and 13th interceptions on the season against Boston College; he needs one more to tie the NCAA record of 14 in one season.

» Kansas interim coach Clint Bowen has as many Big 12 wins as Charlie Weis and Turner Gill do.

» Washington's John Ross III has scored six touchdowns this season. The avgerage length of those scores is 71.2 yards after he returned a kickoff 100 yards against UCLA.

» Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion passed John Elway in the Pac-12's record book with his 78th touchdown pass on Saturday.

Quote of the Week

Utah's Kaelin Clay on dropping the ball short of the goal line on a crazy play that saw Oregon run it back for a touchdown: "We would have went up 14-0, so criticism and blame, whatever you want to throw out, I'll take full credit for it, I don't even care. I place it all on my shoulders, I take it all."

Sound from Saturday

Here's Brian Estridge of the TCU radio network calling Aaron Green's mesmerizing 65-yard touchdown run.

Tweet of the Week

Sideline standouts

Gold medal:*Kevin Sumlin*, as nobody expected the Aggies to beat Auburn at Jordan-Hare. Texas A&M reverted to early-season form and captured its second surprise win in the state of Alabama with a freshman quarterback.

Silver medal:*Urban Meyer*, who kept Ohio State rolling in the regular season while rolling over budding rival Michigan State in an emphatic statement win.

Bronze medal:*Art Briles*, who pummeled Oklahoma for Baylor's first-ever win in Norman against the Sooners.

Pre-snap read

Mississippi State at Alabama: The Bulldogs' biggest test of the season awaits in Tuscaloosa. The run game will be key to setting up play-action passes against a normally sound Crimson Tide defense. Alabama quarterback Blake Sims has been terrific at home, and that should provide a nice boost to an offense that will likely have running back T.J. Yeldon at less than 100 percent due to an ankle injury. Don't be surprised to see another close, thrilling SEC game.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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