Written by Heather Dinich at ESPN.com
After just two weeks, three blockbuster nonconference games have already impacted the College Football Playoff race.
No. 2 Oklahoma earned what could end up being the best nonconference win of the season at then-No. 2 Ohio State. That was a true road game against what could be the Big Ten champion. No. 1 Alabama’s season-opening win over No. 11 Florida State in Atlanta will continue to carry weight with the selection committee because the Seminoles were at full strength and had starting quarterback Deondre Francois for the majority of the game. And No. 3 Clemson’s win over No. 15 Auburn will differentiate its résumé from that of another contender that didn’t play an equally difficult nonconference opponent.
Week 3, however, shifts the focus to conference play.
No. 24 Florida hosts No. 23 Tennessee in a game that will help determine the SEC East, and Clemson travels to No. 14 Louisville in a critical ACC Atlantic Division matchup. No. 12 LSU travels to Mississippi State for its first conference road game of the season, an important matchup in the SEC West.
“We can’t win the division this week, but neither can they,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We can’t lose it this week, but neither can they. But man, you can get off to a great start and really stay in control of your destiny within the division, and that’s what both teams want to do. We’re going to work our tails off to see if we can get off to a good start in conference play.”
While there are important nonconference games this week — looking at you, Texas and USC — they are only a piece of the puzzle, and teams seem to be able to overcome nonconference losses more easily than league losses, especially in a tight division race. Any Power 5 team with a shot to win its conference title has a chance at the top four, and USC’s win over Stanford last week could turn out to be more important than a win over Texas on Saturday.
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