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Who Will Still Be in the Playoff Hunt? Big Questions for Week 6 in College Football

Texas A&M’s title chances–and Kenny Hill’s Heisman hopes–could rise or fall this weekend.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With six games between ranked teams, this is the first real Showdown Saturday of the year that will shake up the playoff race. Here are the big questions as we enter Week 6:

Who Will Be Left Standing in the SEC?

With so many games between ranked opponents this week, it’s no surprise that several of them take place in the SEC. No. 3 Alabama faces its toughest test of the year with a road trip to No. 11 Ole Miss for the first ‘College Gameday’ appearance in Oxford. No. 15 LSU will be starting true freshman Brandon Harris at quarterback against No. 5 Auburn. And Heisman candidate Kenny Hill leads No. 6 Texas A&M against No 12 Mississippi State.

While it’s entirely possible a one-loss SEC team could still sneak into the college football playoff, a loss this week would leave zero margin for error throughout the rest of SEC play—an unappealing concept to any team with championship aspirations.

Can the Big Ten Make a Playoff Run?

After Week 3, like many observers, I was ready to completely write the Big Ten off as irrelevant in the playoff hunt. And while the conference is certainly weak overall, this week’s matchup between No. 19 Nebraska and No. 10 Michigan State could not only be a preview of the Big Ten title game, but could actually have legitimate playoff implications.

Last year, Nebraska largely outplayed the Spartans, but turned the ball over five times to give MSU a 41-28 victory. This year could be a high-scoring affair as the Spartans’ defense is not as solid as last year’s top-ranked group, but the offense is third in the nation in scoring (50.3 ppg). Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah could give a big boost to his Heisman candidacy with a strong performance. He leads the nation in rushing and has three 200-yard games this season. He rushed for 233 yards in two previous matchups with the Spartans. All eyes will be on Abdullah if Nebraska is going to pull off the road upset and score its first road win over a top 10 team since 1997.

If nothing else, this game should be good for comic relief, as noted by this week’s exchange between the Faux Pelini Twitter feed and MSU punter Mike Sadler.

Faux Pelini. Always good for some spot-on football analysis.

Can Oklahoma Keep Rolling?

With each passing week, No. 4 Oklahoma looks more and more like a championship contender. Two weeks ago, they passed a tough test against West Virginia’s high-powered offense. But this week, they’ll face a different challenge against No. 25 TCU and the Big 12’s leading defense. The Horned Frogs have always played OU tough and are one of just two teams to hand Bob Stoops a home nonconference loss (back before they joined the Big 12 obviously), so expect this one to be close. If the Sooners can take care of business here, they will likely be double-digit favorites in every game until a November 8 showdown with No. 7 Baylor.

Just How Good Is Notre Dame?

There’s no question that Notre Dame has improved this year with Everett Golson back under center. But we don’t know just how good the Fighting Irish really are, as the four teams they’ve faced this year are a combined 7-11 and none have beaten a Power 5 conference team. But we’ll have a much better idea this week if Notre Dame is for real after the Irish host No. 14 Stanford, a team that’s beaten them four of the past five times.

This will be a classic strength-vs.-strength matchup, as the Irish offense that has scored 30-plus points in all four games this season (the first time since Notre Dame’s national championship season of 1943) goes against a Stanford defense that leads the nation in both scoring and total defense (6.5 points and 198 yards per game).

How Long Can Brady Hoke Last?

Just to be clear, Brady Hoke is going to be fired for Michigan’s failures on the field, not because of Shane Morris’s concussion. But his botched handling of his quarterback’s medical issue and even worse handling of the PR situation in the aftermath just gave UM all the ammunition they need whenever they decide to pull the trigger. Things have gotten so bad that thousands of Michigan students flooded the university president’s front lawn in a rally calling for the firing of Athletic Director Dave Brandon.

At this point, the only variables are when Hoke gets canned and under what circumstances. Does Brandon fire him sooner rather than later in an effort to save his own skin? Or do the two of them go down fighting together until the end of the season? The only thing saving Hoke right now is UM President Mark Schlessel, who has a background in the Ivy League, admits that he is out of his league when dealing with big-time athletics. Given that he’s only three months into the job, he may be leery of making such a high-profile move during the middle of the season. But if this PR tidal wave against the UM administration by Wolverine faithful continues to grow, he may not have much of a choice.

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