After a wild Saturday filled with big upsets, the ripple effect in the College Football Playoff continued Thursday night, when No. 5 Louisville was thoroughly outplayed by Houston in a 36-10 loss, sending reverberations throughout the selection committee's entire Top 25.
The ACC took a direct hit, as No. 4 Clemson now stands as its lone CFP contender, but that was just the start.
It impacted the Big Ten, which solidified its position as the conference with the best chance to get two teams into the top four.
It impacted the Big 12, which takes another breath of hope each time there is an upset in the top 10.
It impacted the Pac-12, where one-loss Washington no longer has to worry about passing the eye test against a Louisville team that was ranked ahead of the Huskies before suffering its second loss of the season.
It impacted the Group of 5, as Houston should now be ranked after beating two top-10 teams (Oklahoma and Louisville) but is still unlikely to win its division, let alone the American Conference.
That's what's so fascinating about this playoff system. Rarely is a loss by a contender confined to the box score of those two teams. The immediate and most obvious repercussion from Thursday night, of course, is that Louisville's playoff hopes are likely over. The Cardinals didn't look anywhere near a top-four team, and couldn't overcome their fourth slow start of the season. Louisville was fortunate to beat Duke, Virginia and Wake Forest in spite of pedestrian performances, but in this case, Houston was simply the better team.
So all eyes turn to Clemson, where the pressure to win out is immense -- not just on the road against an improved Wake Forest team, but also against rival South Carolina.
If Clemson wins at Wake Forest on Saturday, the Tigers will clinch the ACC's Atlantic Division. If they don't, Louisville will win the division and play in the ACC title game -- against a Coastal Division opponent that probably will be unranked.
In that scenario, the committee could possibly be comparing the résumés of two-loss conference champions from three leagues: the Big Ten (Penn State or Wisconsin), the ACC (Louisville) and the Big 12 (Oklahoma). The best-case scenario for the ACC would be for Clemson to beat Wake Forest and South Carolina, then win the conference title, leaving no doubt it's a top-four conference champion.
One thing we know for sure: Clemson and Louisville aren't getting in now.
The Big Ten is the only conference with any legitimate hope of two playoff teams, but that's assuming that Ohio State wins out but doesn't win its division. Fans have to remember that winning a conference title is one of the tiebreakers the committee uses to rank teams with comparable résumés. If it comes down to Ohio State or Penn State, and the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten title, the Buckeyes would have two strikes against them in the committee's protocol.
Assuming Alabama, Clemson and the Big Ten champion are all in the final top four, the Buckeyes would then be compared with the Pac-12 champ and Big 12 champ, and they'd probably need some help to unseat one of them (unless Wisconsin wins the Big Ten and the committee values Ohio State's head-to-head win above the Badgers' league title, which would be an entirely different debate).
The one thing Ohio State doesn't have to worry about?
The same can be said for the Pac-12, whose top contender, No. 6 Washington, dropped behind Louisville in the latest ranking after the Huskies lost to USC. Washington's strength of schedule has been called into question by the committee, and its loss to USC opened the door to debate whether a one-loss Louisville team could trump a one-loss Pac-12 champion with the worst nonconference schedule in the country.
Now Washington should be the committee's top bubble team at No. 5, barring any upsets in Week 12.
That means the Big 12 still needs all the help it can get for No. 9 Oklahoma or No. 14 West Virginia to finish in the top four, but Houston's win had a direct impact on Oklahoma's résumé because the Sooners lost to Houston in the season opener. It would help the Sooners' résumé if the selection committee ranked Houston because then their only two losses of the season would be to CFP Top 25 teams (Houston and Ohio State).
Houston should be ranked this week after beating two of the committee's top 10 teams (No. 9 OU and No. 5 Louisville), but it needs Navy to lose its final two regular-season conference games -- at East Carolina and at SMU -- just to win its division. It's an unlikely scenario, as ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Midshipmen at least a 60 percent chance to win each game. Plus, Houston would have to overcome Boise State and undefeated Western Michigan, teams that could both still win their respective leagues.
Remember, it's the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion that earns a New Year's Six bowl bid, not just the highest-ranked team.
Houston is a different team when it's healthy, especially on defense. Louisville had three turnovers and 15 penalties on a night when it had the committee's attention.
"We blew it," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said.
And everyone else in the Top 25 noticed.