CONFERENCE OUTLOOK: Clemson, Alabama control playoff fates
The race for entrance into this season's College Football Playoff might be winding down, but that doesn't mean the drama in each of the Power 5 conferences is finished.
In fact, far from it with only one week remaining before four of the five major conferences hold championship games - with invitations into college football's second four-team playoff likely coming from three of those title games.
As the regular season nears its end and we await the playoff committee's new rankings on Tuesday night, here is a glance at the biggest lingering storylines in each of the Power 5 conferences:
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
Here, the conference outlook is simple - with undefeated Clemson (No. 1 AP) and Coastal Division champion North Carolina (No. 11 AP) already locked in to playing each other on Dec. 5 in Charlotte for the league championship.
Playoff Outlook: A lock, if - and it's no given - the Tigers win each of their last two games, beginning this week at rival South Carolina and then against the Tar Heels the following week. Were Clemson to stumble, and North Carolina was to win its final two games, the Tar Heels would still have a chance at a playoff berth - albeit a seemingly slim one.
BIG 12 CONFERENCE
The league left out of last year's playoff, and one without a championship game, still has three teams - Oklahoma (No. 5 AP), Baylor (No. 7 AP) and Oklahoma State (No. 9 AP) - alive in the championship chase. That said, the Sooners could end the suspense and earn the conference championship with a win in Stillwater this week, thanks to their win over the Bears last week.
Playoff Outlook: Slightly better than average, if for no other reason than because independent Notre Dame (No. 4 AP) faces a difficult road game at Stanford this week. If the Irish win their final regular season game, then the Big 12 faces the very real prospect of being left out of the playoff for a second straight year.
BIG TEN CONFERENCE
Michigan State (No. 6 AP) did more than likely end Ohio State's chances at a repeat with its 17-14 win on Saturday. The Spartans also breathed some much-needed life back into their own playoff chances, something that seemed very unlikely after a 39-38 loss to Nebraska earlier this month.
Playoff Outlook: Very good, assuming Michigan State can win this week against Penn State and Iowa (No. 3 AP) can finish its surprising undefeated regular season with a victory at Nebraska. If those two teams meet in the league's championship game, the winner is all but assured of a semifinal berth.
Stanford (No. 13 AP) has already secured its spot in the league's championship game thanks to its win over Cal on Saturday. The only question whether UCLA (No. 22 AP) or USC will emerge from the South Division, with the rivals meeting this week to determine the division champion.
Playoff outlook: On life support. Stanford all but ended the conference's hopes of a playoff berth with its 38-36 loss to Oregon two weeks ago. However, the Cardinal could still play a large role in determining one of the four final teams, especially if they are able to defeat Notre Dame this week.
Despite the seeming invincibility of Alabama (No. 2 AP) as of late, the Crimson Tide must still defeat rival Auburn in this week's Iron Bowl to secure a spot in the SEC championship game opposite of Florida (No. 10 AP). An Alabama loss to the Tigers, coupled with a Mississippi win over Mississippi State, would put the Rebels in the championship game - likely ending any national championship hopes for the SEC as well.
Playoff Outlook: Given the Gators narrowly escaped in overtime against two-win Florida Atlantic on Saturday, and they face rival Florida State this week, the SEC's playoff hopes have an Alabama-or-bust feel to them.