GameDay Kickoff: Rivalry Week games with CFP implications

As if bragging rights and recruiting interests weren't high enough stakes, some of college football's best and most storied rivalries have taken on additional meaning in the era of the College Football Playoff.

In the Big 12, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be spectators this week, as both teams have a bye before Bedlam. That game, too, will carry heavy significance, as the Big 12 champion still has a legitimate shot to finish in the top four. The other Power 5 conferences will take center stage in Week 13, when losses become particularly untimely.

Here's a look at the rivalry games that will mean the most to the College Football Playoff, ranked in order of greatest potential impact to the committee's final top four on Dec. 4:

1. No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State

If Michigan wins: The Wolverines win the East Division and will play for the Big Ten title, and Penn State and Ohio State are done. The Buckeyes will have two losses, won't win their division and will lose their chance at sneaking into the top four as a team that didn't win its conference championship game. The finality of an Ohio State loss will be resounding, and will also help keep the Big 12's hopes alive because it wouldn't have to worry about competing against a one-loss Ohio State team in addition to the Big Ten champ if Penn State wins the East.

If Ohio State wins: The Buckeyes still need Penn State to lose to Michigan State to win the East, but an Ohio State victory would eliminate Michigan from the playoff. The Buckeyes would then have four wins against CFP Top 25 teams and a résumé that could rival any in the country. There's no question the committee would consider Ohio State for a spot in its final top four, but it would also have to balance the Buckeyes' résumé with its protocol, which requires the committee to use conference championships and head-to-head results as tiebreakers when résumés are comparable. The question is, would anyone else's résumé really compare?

2. No. 23 Washington State at No. 5 Washington

If Washington wins: The Huskies would clinch the Pac-12 North, and it's possible they could move into the top four, assuming the loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game drops out. A one-loss Washington is still a very viable candidate that can punctuate its résumé with a conference championship, and it will have to hope the Pac-12 title and what should be three wins over ranked opponents (Stanford, Utah and the South winner) will overcome a weak nonconference schedule.

If Washington State wins: The Cougars would win the Pac-12 North, which could eliminate the Pac-12 entirely. With an FCS loss on its ledger, Washington State is not going to finish in the top four. The Pac-12 South winner is guaranteed to have at least two losses and would then be playing a Washington State team in the conference championship game instead of a top-five team in Washington. In that scenario, the committee would take a good, long look at the Big 12 winner.

3. South Carolina at No. 4 Clemson

If South Carolina wins: Bye-bye, ACC. Clemson would have two losses to teams with a pedestrian combined record of 13-9 before it even gets to the ACC title game, where it is likely to face an unranked opponent from the Coastal Division. It's not that a two-loss ACC champ can't be in; it's that in this particular scenario, Clemson's two losses (to Pitt and South Carolina) wouldn't stack up with Oklahoma's (Houston and Ohio State), Wisconsin's (Ohio State and Michigan) or even that of Penn State, which also lost to Pitt (in addition to Michigan).

If Clemson wins: The Tigers stay in the top four and then must avoid an upset in the ACC title game to stay in the playoff.

4. Michigan State at No. 7 Penn State

If Michigan State wins: The Nittany Lions are eliminated from the East Division race and the playoff conversation. Ohio State will win the East if it beats Michigan and Penn State loses. If Michigan wins, it wins the East, regardless of this game's outcome.

If Penn State wins: The Nittany Lions also need Michigan to lose to Ohio State to win the East. If that happens, Penn State has a shot at the top four if it can win the Big Ten championship, but it would have to win a résumé comparison against a two-loss Big 12 champion. It's unlikely Ohio State would get in instead of Penn State, but there's a chance Oklahoma could get in instead, leaving the Big Ten out entirely. Nobody is talking much about a top four that could include Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Washington -- but it could happen.

5. No. 22 Utah at No. 9 Colorado

If Colorado wins: It clinches the Pac-12 South Division and keeps its playoff hopes alive but would still need help. The best-case scenario would be for the Buffs to beat a highly ranked Washington team in the Pac-12 championship game, but even then its résumé would have to impress the committee more than a two-loss Big 12 champ. Assuming Alabama, Clemson and the Big Ten champion are in, the fourth spot would come down to the Pac-12 champ, Big 12 champ and possibly a one-loss Ohio State that didn't win its league title.

If Utah wins: USC wins the South, which could make for an intriguing rematch in the Pac-12 title game if Washington wins the North, as it would be a chance for the Huskies to avenge their regular-season loss to the Trojans. If USC were to beat Washington again to win the Pac-12 title, it would at least enter the conversation as a potential semifinalist.

6. No. 13 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama

If Auburn wins: Alabama would still be a top-four team, but then it would be in must-win mode heading into the SEC title game against Florida. Alabama would then be measured against the other top one-loss teams, and any movement in the top four affects seeding. The committee will not put the No. 1 team at a geographic disadvantage in the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 31. As long as Alabama stays No. 1, it should be headed to familiar territory: Atlanta, for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

If Alabama wins: The Tide should remain the No. 1 team in the country, and would be the only Power 5 team to finish the regular season undefeated.

7. No. 15 Florida at No. 14 Florida State

If Florida wins: The Gators would be on a three-game winning streak heading into the SEC title game against Alabama, and if they could pull off an epic upset, they definitely would be considered by the committee for a spot in the top four -- just like two-loss Oklahoma, and a potential two-loss Big Ten champ (Penn State or Wisconsin).

If Florida State wins: The Gators would drop to three losses, and a team that was already a long shot would need a miracle to finish in the top four.

8. Minnesota at No. 6 Wisconsin

If Wisconsin wins: The Badgers will clinch the Big Ten's West Division with a win or a Nebraska loss on Friday. Wisconsin needs to win, though, to validate its playoff candidacy. If the Badgers win the Big Ten title, and their only losses of the season are to Ohio State and Michigan, they would then have to hope their résumé impresses the committee more than the Big 12 champion's.

If Minnesota wins: The Badgers would likely be eliminated from the playoff conversation, and would then need Nebraska to lose to win the division. If Nebraska beats Iowa, though, and Wisconsin loses to Minnesota, Nebraska will win the division.

9. Notre Dame at No. 12 USC

If Notre Dame wins: USC is officially eliminated from the playoff conversation, even if it wins the Pac-12 South and the conference title. Four losses, at least in theory, should be far too much to overcome to be considered a top-four team.

If USC wins: The CFP hasn't seen a two-loss team yet, let alone a three-loss conference champion as a semifinalist, so there's no precedent to go on, but USC has clearly impressed the committee down the stretch. The Trojans would have ended the regular season on an eight-game winning streak but would still need Utah to beat Colorado to win the South.


Player in the spotlight: Michigan's QB. Last week was the first chance for the selection committee to see what Michigan looked like without injured starting quarterback Wilton Speight, and his backup, John O'Korn, completed 7 of 16 passes for 59 yards in a 20-10 win over Indiana. It didn't make a dent in the committee's latest ranking because the committee likes Michigan's three wins over CFP Top 25 teams and the Wolverines' defense. Still, Michigan will need more from its passing game to beat the No. 2 team in the country. Michigan had to rely heavily on its running game against IU and looked one-dimensional and often predictable. Who will be Michigan's QB in Columbus, and can he help topple the Buckeyes?

Matchup to watch: Auburn's rushing offense vs. Bama's run defense. Auburn leads all Power 5 schools in rushing yards per game while Alabama's run defense also leads the Power 5 in the same category.

Upset watch: Michigan State at Penn State. The Spartans have nothing to lose, and are a well-coached team in spite of their 3-8 record. They just pushed Ohio State to the brink, and have the potential to do it again in Happy Valley.

Don't forget about: The Commonwealth Cup. Virginia at Virginia Tech is an overshadowed rivalry game this week, but one that could have playoff implications as the Coastal Division winner will have a chance to upset Clemson in the ACC title game. The Hokies will clinch the Coastal with a win or a North Carolina loss against NC State.

Under-the-radar game: Wyoming at New Mexico. This game matters to the New Year's Six Bowl picture because even though Boise State is the committee's top Group of 5 team right now at No. 19, the Broncos still need Wyoming to lose Saturday to clinch their division in the Mountain West. The highest-ranked Group of 5 champion is guaranteed a spot in a New Year's Six bowl, so if Boise doesn't even win its division, undefeated Western Michigan should take the lead.

Dubious distinction: Sorry, Georgia Tech, this one goes to you. Georgia has won 13 of the past 15 games in this rivalry, including last season. Small victory for the Jackets: Georgia Tech won the last meeting in Athens in 2014.