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Inside the Pocket: Todd Gurley injury latest twist in playoff race

If you were still watching Georgia's surprising destruction of Auburn on Saturday night, you might have stuck around for one of the most unfortunate injuries of the college football season.

With just over five minutes left and his team up 27-7, star running back Todd Gurley took a handoff for six yards in a play that ended with him tearing his ACL. It was a devastating injury for Gurley, Bulldogs fans and NFL scouts. The junior has widely been considered the best running back in college football (sorry Melvin Gordon) and had just come back from a four-game NCAA suspension that a lot of people thought could have been a positive for Gurley since it would keep him fresh for a late-season run. That fact was readily apparent when Gurley took a kickoff return 105 yards for a touchdown -- later negated by a penalty -- that showed just what kind of playmaker he is for the team.

With as much talent as Georgia has on the roster -- with Gurley in the backfield to team with freshman powerback Nick Chubb and an improving quarterback in Hutson Mason -- the team was perfectly capable of beating anybody in the West Division in the SEC title game next month. That would throw a huge wrench into the national title picture, of course, but I'm not so sure that's the case with Gurley going through rehab the rest of the season following surgery. There are few players who can change a game with their presence, but Gurley is one of them. With him out, the national title race is a bit clearer when it comes to the SEC and the rest of the sport.

That's not the only injury to play a part in the race to be one of the College Football Playoff's final four teams, however.

» Florida State: The Seminoles have been affected by key injuries at linebacker and defensive line, but the Seminoles' resume has been impacted just as much, if not more. Take Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who left Saturday's game against Georgia Tech with a knee injury, a game Clemson lost. This probably takes another top-25 win away from FSU at the end of the year with the Tigers likely dropping out of the rankings.

The same is true of Florida State's win over Louisville, which was hampered offensively because of the absence of senior wideout DeVante Parker. If you don't think he would have made a difference in losses to Virginia and Clemson, you are sorely mistaken. That's at least two teams Florida State has beaten who could have boosted the Seminoles' number of quality wins when it comes time for the selection committee to determine who among the final four teams gets to play a semifinal closer to home.

» Ohio State: It's also not a stretch to say that Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury during fall camp played a part in the Buckeyes' only loss, a 35-21 defeat to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6. As good as **J.T. Barrett** has been since then, the inexperienced redshirt freshman was not equipped to handle Bud Foster's blitzing defense that night in Columbus and now that loss is like a giant albatross holding back a team that is playing as well as anybody in the country. If the Buckeyes were undefeated, we'd be discussing whether they were better suited to play in the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl.

» Auburn: The Tigers, who at one point had the inside track to being the second SEC team in the CFB Playoff, have really started to feel the impact of losing offensive lineman Alex Kozan and pass rusher Carl Lawson as it's gotten into the thick of conference play.

» Ole Miss: The Rebels, once No. 4 in the CFB Playoff rankings, have seen their stud left tackle Laremy Tunsil miss time, and the loss of linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, the heart and soul of the defense, cannot be underestimated.

»USC: The Trojans still might wind up winning the tough Pac-12 South, but they have seen at least five starters lost for the season on a team that is already hampered by scholarship limitations.

» Notre Dame: The Irish, who looked like a potential threat to get to the national title game a few weeks ago, have managed to navigate the season without a starting cornerback, defensive lineman and leading wide receiver due to an academic scandal. None of those subtractions might be as costly for the Irish's chances at a great season as the loss of linebacker Joe Schmidt. Like Nkemdiche, he leaves behind a leadership void and was the tough tackler in the middle of the defense. It should come as no surprise that the team has lost its two games since Schmidt went out with a broken ankle and that the defense has given up 30-plus points in five straight games.

It's also worth mentioning -- because the selection committee has several times -- that Oregon has been mixing and matching its offensive linemen just about every week of the season. The Ducks have managed to survive, for sure, but in the end it could be the difference between playing at the Rose Bowl and playing on the road against an SEC/Florida State team in the Sugar Bowl. Tyler Johnstone has been out for the season, and Jake Fisher, Hroniss Grasu, Matt Pierson and Andre Yruretagoyena have all missed time. Throw in the fact that Heisman Trophy favorite Marcus Mariota has been without his top wide receiver all season -- Bralon Addison, who tore his ACL during the spring -- and it's pretty remarkable the Ducks are the No. 2 team in the country with a rough Pac-12 schedule.

A lack of injuries has also helped some teams remain in conference championship races and threaten to enter the major bowl picture, as well. TCU has been relatively healthy as it has surged into the top 10 after a bowl-less season in 2013. Georgia Tech is a surprising nine-win team with an eye on the ACC Costal division, and Baylor has dealt with some early wide receiver injuries and the loss of half its offensive line but still has most of its starters available for the stretch run.

Injuries are a fact of life in college football, and from Gurley's ACL tear in Athens to the walking wounded of Oregon's offensive line, they are playing a big part in the race for the national title and College Football Playoff during a year in which there are no dominant teams.

Stat of the week

Nebraska entered the Wisconsin game 20th in the nation in rush defense but left 73rd after Badgers' running back **Melvin Gordon**'s record-setting day. The Cornhuskers had allowed three runs of 35-plus yards all season before Saturday's contest -- Gordon had four in the first half alone.

Stats to chew on

» TCU is 17-1 while ranked in the top five under Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs have 12 straight games of scoring 30-plus points and recording a sack and interception on defense.

» Melvin Gordon's record-setting day for Wisconsin also came in the coldest game at Camp Randall in 50 years. The Badgers have recorded two of their now seven games of 500-plus yards rushing in school history this season. Gordon had 189 rushing yards in the second quarter against Nebraska and 170 yards in the third quarter, both matching/breaking the school record for yards in a quarter set by Ron Dayne -- in the same game.

» According to a Notre Dame fan on Twitter, the Irish have given up 211 points in their last five games -- a school record for most given up in such a stretch.

» Arkansas won its first SEC game in 763 days when it beat LSU, snapping a 17-game losing streak in the conference.

» Ohio State's J.T. Barrett passed Braxton Miller to become the single-season leader for touchdowns responsible for. He also broke Miller's school record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a game against Minnesota and produced the longest run by a Buckeyes quarterback in school history. Ohio State has now won 13 consecutive games on the road, the longest active streak in the FBS.

» Per ESPN, Oregon State has the best home record as an unranked team against AP top-10 opponents since 2000, at 5-5, following Saturday night's upset of Arizona State (minimum 10 games).

» After rushing for 384 yards against Texas Tech, Oklahoma has won 38 straight games when surpassing the 200-yard rushing mark. The Sooners are 66-1 under Bob Stoops when hitting that mark and 85-1 when scoring more than 40 points.

Quote of the Week

"I'll steal a line from one of the greatest movies ever made, Gladiator, 'Are you not entertained?'" - Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez after the team beat Washington on a last-second field goal in their sixth game decided by one score this season.

Sound from Saturday

This is the stadium PA call of Melvin Gordon's historic run to give him the FBS single-game rushing yards record.

Tweet of the Week

Sideline standouts

Gold medal:*Mike Riley*, the Oregon State head coach, is mostly responsible for turning Corvallis into a house of horrors for highly ranked teams. Another huge upset against Arizona State on Saturday puts the Beavers back in bowl contention.

Silver medal:*Dave Steckel*, Missouri's defensive coordinator, has long flown under the radar but turned in a great performance at Kyle Field in limiting Texas A&M's potent offensive attack to just 341 yards and just 14 second-half points in a big win on the road.

Bronze medal:*Tom Herman, Ohio State's offensive coordinator, had a great game plan in the cold atmosphere of Minnesota and turned *J.T. Barrett into a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender with some terrific calls.

Pre-snap read

USC at UCLA: On a week with some mediocre matchups, this one might be the best of the bunch. USC has the talent to beat the Bruins at the Rose Bowl, but the Trojans' lack of finishing is a concerning trend, especially against good teams. Dual-threat quarterbacks have historically given the Trojans trouble, and Brett Hundley could continue to be an issue with his legs if his offensive line can protect him from star defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Home-field advantage doesn't mean much in this rivalry, but a strong finish should help UCLA squeak out a win and keep it in the hunt for a Pac-12 South title.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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