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Eyes on the Nation: OSU-PSU and ND-Stanford offer chance at clarity in playoff race

We talk the two top 10 matchups, as well as ranking the playoff contenders so far.

Ohio State v TCU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Last week was about avoiding upsets. Goodbye Virginia Tech, TCU, Oklahoma State and Mississippi State.

Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Stanford, you lived to fight another day.

This week is about the teams starting to rise to the top. Two top 10 matchups offer a chance for the country to separate the contenders.

The aforementioned No. 8 Stanford Cardinal travel for the second straight week, trading the vibrant greens of Eugene, Ore. for Touchdown Jesus and No. 7 Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC).

The Irish built a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter last year in Palo Alto, but Stanford’s K.J. Costello tossed two touchdowns to spark a 38-20 victory for the Cardinal.

Brandon Wimbush was under center for Brian Kelly then, but now the reins are with junior quarterback Ian Book. After leading the Irish to a 21-3 halftime lead over the Wolverines on opening weekend, Wimbush threw four picks in the ensuing 10 quarters.

Book got the start against Wake Forest last weekend, and went 25-of-34 for 325 yards and two touchdowns, adding three more scores on the ground.

With a veteran line and two 6-foot-4 wideouts in Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin, Book offers the Irish a chance to fully take advantage of their offensive weapons. Combining that potential with the defense that harassed Michigan in Week 1, and Kelly’s team looks dangerous.

Meanwhile, Cardinal head coach David Shaw has been forced to air it out with teams loading the box to stop Heisman favorite Bryce Love. Last year’s Doak Walker Award winner ran for just 29 yards against San Diego State, and mustered 89 on 19 carries versus Oregon.

Costello threw for over 300 yards in each of those two games, so Notre Dame may not be able to only throw the kitchen sink at Love.

Kelly needs this one to make the College Football Playoff. If he loses, these are the teams left on the schedule:

@ Virginia Tech, Pitt, Navy (in San Diego), @ Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and @ Southern Cal.

Not exactly a murderer’s row.

Stanford is fighting for the entire Pac 12 Conference’s respect, as Washington tripped against Auburn in the other top 10 non-conference matchup. The playoff committee has only chosen a team from out west twice since the format changed four years ago.

Without marquee wins, one-loss Washington and Stanford teams would likely be relegated to bowl games in Pasadena and Phoenix.

Kicking off at the same time is No. 4 Ohio State entering the White Out at No. 9 Penn State (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Last year was a classic, with J.T. Barrett leading the Buckeyes back from multiple double-digit deficits for a 39-38 triumph. With Barrett gone, you’d think Penn State would be breathing easier.

Enter Dwayne Haskins, the cause of all respiratory problems among Big Ten coaches.

The sophomore has nearly 1,200 yards passing in less than three games of action, as well as 16 touchdowns and a single pick.

With J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber — 323 and 299 yards rushing, respectively — lining up next to him, Haskins is leading Urban Meyer’s offense to 54.5 points a game, good for No. 2 nationally.

Here’s the rub: the No. 1 team is Penn State at 55.5 a contest.

As FOX’s Joel Klatt said this week, quarterback Trace McSorley is “diet Baker Mayfield.”

The senior is not quite as accurate as last year, hitting only 54 percent of his throws. He does have 764 yards passing with eight scores and just two interceptions, as well as 235 yards rushing with six touchdowns.

At home, and with the Buckeyes missing Nick Bosa, the McSorley-Mayfield comparisons could be uncanny.

This one likely comes down to whose defense shows up. Ohio State allowed 31 points to Oregon State, while Penn State ceded 38 to Appalachian State in an overtime survival. The Buckeyes allowed more than 500 yards two weeks ago to TCU, while Penn State made a Lovie Smith offense look competent with 24 points.

If Penn State loses, games against No. 21 Michigan State, No. 14 Michigan and No. 15 Wisconsin can get them back into playoff consideration. Ohio State has the Michigan schools, but no Wisconsin, so a loss puts them behind the eight ball if they can’t win the conference.


No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC), ranked #1

The defending national champions earn the benefit of the doubt until someone knocks them off their perch. SB Nation’s Richard Johnson talks about how this Crimson Tide offense is reaching historic levels.

Next game against Louisiana-Lafayette (12 p.m., SEC Network)

No. 2 Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC), ranked #2

One of the more underrated blowouts of the young season was the Bulldogs’ 41-17 destruction of previously No. 24 South Carolina in Columbia. Kirby Smart’s team can get complacent — see last week’s 43-29 victory as Missouri — but they show up for big games.

Next game against Tennessee (3:30 p.m., CBS)

No. 3 Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 BIG), ranked #4

See above. They won’t move higher until their defense locks a good offense down.

Next game at No. 9 Penn State (7:30 p.m., ABC)

No. 4 Louisiana State (4-0, 1-0 SEC), ranked #5

No team boasts two better wins — 33-17 over Miami and 22-21 at Auburn — than Ed Orgeron’s Tigers. They survived a hangover against Louisiana Tech, and are en route to their best start since 2015.

Since losing to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game in 2012, LSU hasn’t finished a season with less than three losses. With all the hype around Buckeye transfer Joe Burrow, he’s still completing less than half of his passes. Are the Tiger quarterback woes truly behind them?

Next game against Ole Miss (9 p.m., ESPN)

No. 5 Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC), ranked #3

The weirdness of the Texas A&M game slides down Dabo Swinney’s team. It’s hard to remove the Aggies’ fumble at the goal line from my evaluation.

Unfortunately, the ACC lacks a worthy foe. Duke is ranked No. 22, I guess? Should Clemson get credit this weekend if they avenge its loss to Syracuse?

Next game against Syracuse (12 p.m., ABC)

No. 6 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12), ranked #6

Kyler Murray has been a worthy replacement for Baker Mayfield. The junior has compiled 1,028 yards at a 68 percent clip, also tossing 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

The Sooners, however, scuffled with an inferior team for the second straight week. First, they battled with Iowa State in Ames, and followed that with an overtime win over Army.

They need to ratchet up the intensity with the Red River Shootout against No. 18 Texas looming in two weeks.

Next game against Baylor (3:30 p.m., ABC)

No. 7 Notre Dame (4-0), ranked #8

See above. Let’s see if this team takes off with Ian Book.

Next game against No. 7 Stanford (7:30 p.m., NBC)

No. 8 Stanford (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12), ranked #7

See above. They got their mulligan against Oregon.

Next game at No. 8 Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC)

No. 9 Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC), ranked #10

Jarrett Stidham is the difference between an undefeated and one-loss Auburn team. His first interception against LSU gave the Tigers confidence, and he managed only 17 yards passing in the pivotal fourth quarter.

After the 22-21 loss, Gus Malzahn limited Stidham against Arkansas. He threw for nearly 300 yards in the opener against Washington, so when will he be ready to approach those numbers again?

Next game against Southern Mississippi (4 p.m., SEC Network)

No. 10 West Virginia (3-0, 1-0 Big 12), ranked #12

Why the Mountaineers over the Nittany Lions? Will Grier is performing at a higher level than McSorley against similar competition — 74-percent passing, 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns against Tennessee, Youngstown State and Kansas State.

In fact, Dana Holgersen’s team has barely struggled at all, while James Franklin’s struggled for a half against Pitt, three quarters against Illinois and all game long versus the other Mountaineers from Appalachian State.

Expect Penn State to rise considerably if they hold serve against Ohio State. Meanwhile, West Virginia gets a suddenly formidable road test against No. 25 Texas Tech.

Next game at No. 25 Texas Tech (12 p.m., ESPN2)

Other mentions: Penn State, Washington, UCF