Written by Heather Dinich at ESPN.com
Week 3 is the kind of lineup that could throw the College Football Playoff contenders into the air just to see where they land.
Several one-loss teams, namely Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Ole Miss, are facing must-win situations. But there are also games that could start a chain reaction of chaos. Here’s a look at how each conference could be impacted by the biggest games of the week:
Potential chaos: USC beats Stanford
That’s all it would take to start a tailspin of confusion in the Pac-12 pecking order. USC was manhandled and embarrassed in its season opener against defending national champ Alabama, but everything is still on the table as far as the Pac-12 title goes. The Trojans could get right back into the CFP conversation, and the committee wouldn’t leave out a one-loss Pac-12 champ with a lone loss to Alabama in the opener. (Granted, USC won’t win the Pac-12 if it plays against Stanford the way it did against Bama). Stanford’s season has typically been a reflection of the outcome of its game against USC. A win last year was parlayed into a Pac-12 title. A loss in 2014 sank Stanford into a five-loss season. After finishing No. 6 last year, David Shaw’s crew knows how tough it is to crack the top four as a two-loss team. With back-to-back road trips to UCLA and Washington looming, plus a trip to Notre Dame on Oct. 15, Stanford needs to win its home games.
Potential chaos: A three-way tie in the Atlantic Division
The scenario: Louisville beats FSU, Clemson beats Louisville, and FSU beats Clemson. (Scratching your head? The selection committee will be, too.) If Louisville is for real — and who really knows after routs against Charlotte and Syracuse — the ACC’s Atlantic Division race could be a jumbled mess of one-loss teams, with Clemson, Louisville and FSU all playing each other. It starts Saturday, when No. 2 Florida State travels to Louisville, a game that features the two new Football Power Index favorites to win the ACC. Should the Cards win, FSU will need to hope Clemson fares better and beats Louisville, but the Noles then couldn’t afford to lose at home to Clemson. Head-to-head results are one of the criteria the selection committee considers when evaluating comparable teams, but this chaos might also be the league’s best hope at having two teams in the CFP.
Potential chaos: Alabama loses at Ole Miss and Auburn beats Texas A&M
If that happens, the SEC West will enter Week 4 with six of its seven teams already having a loss (assuming Arkansas starts 3-0 after a win against Texas State). Oh, it’s possible. Ole Miss has beaten Alabama in each of the past two seasons, and while that hasn’t kept the Tide out of the playoff, a loss to Ole Miss this year would definitely put the pressure on throughout the rest of the season, especially if Auburn finds a way to enter the conversation. The Tigers lost a close one to Clemson, but that has zero impact on their SEC title chances, and any team with a shot to win the SEC has a chance at the committee’s top four. Auburn still has a lot to prove but seems to have found its offensive identity with Sean White at quarterback. ESPN’s FPI is basically considering this one a toss-up, projecting Auburn with a 54.5 percent chance to beat A&M.
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