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Here come the Irish, there goes the Pac-12 and more CFP lessons

Josh Adams and Notre Dame still have some work to do with three ranked teams remaining on their schedule, but if the Irish win out, they could be tough to leave out of the College Football Playoff. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

For once, college football decided to follow the script, as there were some close calls but no major upsets in Week 8. We got some clarity instead of confusion, which should help the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee determine its first ranking for Oct. 31.

Here's a look at the biggest lessons learned in Week 8:

1. It's time to take Notre Dame seriously as a CFP contender. Few, if any, were talking about the Irish this past summer as a Top 25 team -- they weren't even ranked in the Associated Press preseason poll. Now? After drubbing USC, Notre Dame is one of the hottest one-loss teams in the country with a legitimate chance to ultimately earn a top-four ranking from the selection committee. So far, Notre Dame's only loss was by one point to SEC East favorite Georgia. While the Sept. 23 win at Michigan State continues to look good (the Spartans are still undefeated in league play), Notre Dame's win over USC was its first true statement win of the season. Beating USC was the first step in what ESPN's Football Power Index considers to be the 11th-toughest remaining schedule, as Notre Dame still has to face No. 14 NC State at home and go on the road to play No. 8 Miami and No. 20 Stanford. On Saturday, though, Notre Dame proved it's a far different and better team than it was a year ago, and it has the potential to win out. If Notre Dame finishes 11-1 against what the FPI projects to be the No. 8 overall schedule in the country, it will have a great case for a top-four finish.

2. Bring on Penn State-Ohio State. It's called karma, Michigan. Now that the Nittany Lions beat Michigan soundly in their first real test of the season -- a resounding response to last year's 49-10 loss to Michigan that ultimately kept Penn State out of the playoff -- it's finally time to turn the page to the showdown in Columbus. This is as close as we've gotten to a winner-take-all game in the CFP era, as Penn State's game at Ohio State on Saturday will be critical in determining the Big Ten's East Division race, and, in turn, the league's leading CFP contender. Don't forget, though, that Michigan State is still undefeated in league play -- and both PSU and Ohio State still have to play the Spartans. Penn State got exactly what it needed in its win against Michigan -- offensive fireworks against one of the nation's most smothering defenses -- and validated its place in the AP top four. With nonconference wins against Akron, Pitt and Georgia State, a loss to Michigan would have been devastating to PSU's playoff hopes with Ohio State looming. Instead, Penn State has positioned itself for another shot at avenging last year's CFP snub. Should PSU lose, the Nittany Lions would need significant help to get back in the East Division race, and they'd be faced with a different scenario than what Ohio State experienced last year when it sneaked into the committee's top four without winning the division. The Buckeyes' win over Oklahoma last year was the difference -- the kind of statement nonconference win Penn State is missing this fall.

3. The Pac-12 is on the outside looking in. After USC's crushing loss, the Pac-12 appears to be in the worst CFP shape of the Power 5 conferences. It's the only conference without any undefeated teams remaining, and it now has the potential for a two-loss conference champ if USC wins out. It certainly didn't help that Washington and Washington State have both already lost, and their opponents' weak strength of schedule could work against them if either emerges as a one-loss Pac-12 champ. Washington is projected to have the 63rd overall strength of schedule in the FBS, while Washington State is at No. 74. That would come into play, especially if Notre Dame continues to win, because if the Irish finish in the top four, at least two Power 5 champs would be left out.

4. The Big 12 is playing with fire. Yes, TCU is still undefeated and looking like the league's most complete team, but Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are merely surviving each week. All four of OU's conference games have been decided by one score. Two of Oklahoma State's past three games have been decided by seven points or fewer. According to the FPI, Oklahoma has just a 16 percent chance to finish with one loss, and Oklahoma State has an 11 percent chance to do the same. While both still have a shot at winning the Big 12 title, neither has looked the part of a top-four team recently. Oklahoma State lost to the only ranked team it played (TCU) and needed overtime (and a huge freshman mistake by Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, whose interception was the dagger for the Longhorns) to beat Texas. OU lost at home to Iowa State, which doesn't look quite as bad now that the Cyclones are 5-2 and have won their past three games, including two on the road. Until proven otherwise, TCU is the team to beat -- and it has a road trip to Iowa State looming.

5. The ACC looks nothing like we thought it would -- but it's entertaining nonetheless. Few, if any, would have predicted that both Louisville and FSU would be unranked afterthoughts when they met this season, but the Noles dropped to 0-3 at home this year for the first time since 1974. Fortunately for one-loss Clemson, its win over Auburn still carries enough weight that it could potentially be the difference when measured against another one-loss conference champ on Selection Day. The spotlight, though, is on NC State, undefeated Miami and Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack are leading the ACC's Atlantic Division, and Miami continues to find ways to win, but don't forget about the Hokies.