GameDay Kickoff: Nonconference rematches filled with playoff potential

It's quite possible that no team in the College Football Playoff era has experienced the benefits and consequences of aggressive nonconference scheduling like Oklahoma.

In 2015, the Sooners' gritty win at Tennessee was a major reason they finished No. 4 in the selection committee's final rankings. Last year, their 0-2 start against Houston and Ohio State was the main reason OU was left out of the playoff -- in spite of going on to run the table and win the Big 12. As Oklahoma heads to Columbus on Saturday (ABC & ESPN App, 7:30 p.m. ET), it again finds itself in a high-profile nonconference matchup that will help determine the final rankings on Dec. 3.

While it's not an elimination game for either team, it could separate the winner from a Power 5 conference champion down the stretch, just like it did for Ohio State last year.

"I'm not sure Ohio State would have been in the playoff this year, if it hadn't gone and played Oklahoma," said CFP executive director Bill Hancock on the day the four playoff teams were announced last year. "So every season is different. But I believe, I feel strongly about this, that the way to be sure you get in the playoff is to let your players show what they can do against the best competition."

Here's your chance, Ohio State and Oklahoma.

"In a big game like this, everything matters," Ohio State defensive end Jalyn Holmes said. "Every little thing I can do, or anybody else on this team can do to win, we're going to do it."

In a weekend highlighted by several nonconference rematches with playoff implications, Oklahoma arguably has the most to gain. The Sooners haven't lost since last year's meeting with the Buckeyes, and this should be their toughest opponent all season. A win in a true road game against the No. 2 team in the country could wind up being the most impressive nonconference win of the season. The game will feature two Heisman hopeful quarterbacks in OU's Baker Mayfield and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, along with an intriguing coaching matchup in 34-year-old rookie Lincoln Riley and veteran Urban Meyer.

Mayfield, who completed 19 of 20 passes in the Sooners' 56-7 season-opening win against UTEP, will face an Ohio State defense that intercepted two passes in the Buckeyes' win last week at Indiana. The matchup between OU's seasoned offensive line and Ohio State's grizzled defensive line, which returned all four starters from last year, and combined for 10 tackles and four sacks against IU, will be critical.

Last year, Barrett threw four touchdown passes to lead the Buckeyes to a 45-24 win that catapulted them into the semifinals in spite of not even winning their division.

"At the end of the day, regardless of who had won that game last year, I think both teams will be very motivated and excited to play this game, so I don't honestly believe that will be a factor in this one," Riley said. "I think we've got to go out there and try and play a lot better than we did last year, play more up to our capabilities, so that will be our main focus."

Riley said the revenge factor against Ohio State on Saturday "is a little overrated."

The impact it will have on the College Football Playoff, though, can't be understated.

Revenge factor

Riley's not buying it, but we are. Here's a look at three high-profile nonconference rematches that impacted the CFP last year and have the potential to do so again:

No. 13 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson (Saturday, ESPN & ESPN App, 7 p.m. ET): Clemson opened its national championship season last year with a 19-13 win at Auburn. If this season is truly going to be different for Auburn, and if the SEC really is deeper than No. 1 Alabama, the proof will be found in Clemson. The implications of this game increased the minute Florida State learned it lost injured starting quarterback Deondre Francois for the rest of the season. Clemson is now the ACC's highest-ranked team, and a win over Auburn would solidify its place as the ACC's top national title contender. Auburn is now the toughest remaining game of the season for Clemson, according to ESPN's FPI.

No. 14 Stanford at No. 6 USC (Fox, 8:30 p.m. ET): It's one thing to open the season with a lopsided loss to the No. 1 team in the country at a neutral site, as USC did last year to Alabama. It's another to start the season 1-2 as the Trojans did in 2016 after losing 27-10 at Stanford. In order to legitimize the preseason hype and take USC seriously as a national title contender, the Trojans can't lose to Stanford again, especially at home. While a loss certainly wouldn't eliminate USC from the playoff, it would instead turn the spotlight to Stanford in the Pac-12. USC could still win the Pac-12 South and face Stanford again in the Pac-12 title game, but a loss on Saturday would drastically shrink the Trojans' margin for error just two weeks into the season. This game is sure to be different in at least one way, as USC starting quarterback Sam Darnold, who only played in the fourth quarter against Stanford last year, is now the face of the Trojans' offense.

Pittsburgh at No. 4 Penn State (ABC & ESPN App, 3:30 ET): Maybe -- just maybe -- if Penn State had won at Pitt last year, the selection committee would have been able to overlook the Nittany Lions' embarrassing 49-10 loss at Michigan. The defending Big Ten champs were snubbed, in favor of an Ohio State team they beat head-to-head. In order to make sure that doesn't happen again, the Nittany Lions should go 3-0 against a weak nonconference schedule that includes Akron, Pitt and Georgia State (all at home). No. 8 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State are Penn State's only two ranked opponents during the regular season, and if the Nittany Lions don't beat Pitt, they'll probably have to win both of those games to stay in contention.