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Which Week 1 Games Have the Biggest College Football Playoff Implications?

In this week's mailbag, questions on the Week 1 games that will impact the playoff, the logistics of walk-on scholarships and an intriguing mascot battle.

It’s finally game week. Hallelujah! Naturally, you have questions…

From @Fields4Heisman: What Week 1 game has the biggest College Football Playoff implications? Assuming Auburn vs. Washington.

I love the way @Fields4Heisman structured his question, because our parents did warn us what would happen when we assume. Unfortunately, that’s all we can do until foot hits ball on Thursday.

The two most logical candidates are Auburn-Washington in Atlanta and Michigan-Notre Dame in South Bend, and the way in which they are important could wind up being related. Unlike some people, I don’t think a Washington loss to Auburn immediately sinks the Pac-12 in the playoff race. If the game is close and Auburn winds up having a great season, a 12–1 Washington with a Pac-12 title probably would be forgiven for a narrow loss two hours from Auburn’s campus. (Heck, the defending national champ was forgiven for a 12-point loss at Auburn that happened eight days before the playoff teams were selected.)

But here is the nightmare scenario for the Pac-12. Auburn beats Washington but then winds up only being above-average in the SEC. Meanwhile, Notre Dame beats Michigan in South Bend but then Michigan goes on to win the Big Ten East or maybe even the whole conference. Notre Dame then beats USC and Stanford. If all this happens and Washington turns out to be the class of the Pac-12, the Pac-12 might be sunk. The Fighting Irish actually hold more of the Pac-12’s playoff fate in their hands than Auburn does because of those two games. And remember, Notre Dame’s beatdown of USC effectively ended the Pac-12’s playoff chances last year.

The best-case scenario this week for the Pac-12 is that Washington beats Auburn and Auburn then goes on to win the SEC. Then Notre Dame beats Michigan, Michigan goes on to win the Big Ten and Notre Dame goes on to lose to USC and Stanford but not anyone else.

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There are a few other games that could have playoff implications. While no one is giving Miami much of a chance to wrest the ACC title away from Clemson, what if the Hurricanes beat the Tigers, LSU winds up winning 10 games and Miami doesn’t lose a game until a squeaker in the ACC title game against Clemson? That could be a recipe for two ACC teams in the playoff. Or what if LSU beats Miami, Miami wins the ACC Coastal (or the ACC outright, which seems less likely) and LSU finishes a close second to Alabama or Auburn in the SEC West? These games matter in terms of tiebreakers when the playoff committee deliberates.

Another intriguing one is Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma. I’m curious how FAU’s explosive offense will fare against a Sooners defense that—in certain games—is as good at allowing points as Oklahoma’s offense is at scoring them. I’m still picking Oklahoma to win this game, but if Lane Kiffin and company can pull the upset, it could be bad news for the Big 12.

From Jake: Can you explain a bit about how walk-ons get scholarships from a logistics perspective? Just a small number of extra scholarships available or what? Sorry, I don't understand.

This is a great question, because we’ve spent the past week getting a little dusty watching walk-ons learn they've been put on scholarship at various schools.

We saw it at FAU…

We saw it at Florida…

And the best one from last week may have been Arkansas…

So how are these scholarships available when coaches work year-round recruiting players to fill the 85 slots the NCAA allows? Because the numbers don’t always work out, and that occasionally frees up a scholarship or two that can be used to reward a hard-working walk-on. (Which in turn inspires the walk-ons and scholarship players alike.)

Sometimes, players unexpectedly leave a program between National Signing Day and the first game. Maybe they’ve decided to transfer. Maybe they’ve decided to medically retire. Maybe they’ve been dismissed. Schools have already budgeted to spend on 85 scholarships, so why not reward a walk-on who has become a valuable member of the team over his time with the program?

Another possibility is the coach left a few scholarship slots open before National Signing Day because he had some outstanding offers that he hoped would be accepted. And perhaps those offers weren’t accepted. That also would free up a scholarship that could go to a walk-on—preferably announced by a video that will make us cry.

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From Colin:

I’m not sure if Matt Wells has ever competed in a rodeo, but his analysis seems spot-on.

Sparty is built like a brick wall, and if we are to believe his backstory, he was raised in an environment that forges toughness and a willingness to fight to the death.

Big Blue isn’t an actual bull, so Sparty needn’t fear a 2,200-pound weight disadvantage. Unfortunately for Sparty, Big Blue is something even more terrifying. He’s a freaking minotaur. In Greek mythology, cuckolded King Minos—there was a whole thing with Poseidon making Minos’s wife fall in love with a bull who was supposed to be sacrificed but wasn’t—hired Daedalus to build the Labyrinth to keep the Minotaur, the offspring of that cursed union, from eating random citizens of Crete. (Minos figured the imprisoned Minotaur could feed on Minos’s political enemies.)

Sparty doesn’t have the luxury of a Labyrinth. Spartan Stadium, where the Aggies will face the Spartans in Friday’s season opener for both teams, doesn’t offer anywhere to hide. Sparty won’t even have the Hot Gates to help him manage the combat. I just can’t see him winning this one.

I do, however, predict that Michigan State will win the game.