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How High Are the Playoff Stakes for Ohio State-Penn State and Stanford-Notre Dame?

In this week's mailbag, answering your questions on Saturday's two titanic top-10 matchups and upstart Kentucky.

Two titanic matchups on Saturday will help shape the College Football Playoff picture, and you have questions…

From @fentoozlr24: Do you consider either of Saturday's top-10 matchups a playoff elimination game? It seems like the winners will be in prime position to make the final four, but the losers can hardly be written off and still have a shot, right? (see: 2016 Ohio State).

Nobody is getting eliminated on Saturday, but the loser of one game could be in a more precarious position than the other.

The Big Ten’s dream scenario is Penn State beating Ohio State in a tight game followed by Penn State winning the Big Ten title and Ohio State buzzsawing its remaining opponents. That would be the playoff-era version of the 2011 LSU-Alabama scenario*. It’s a recipe for getting two teams into the playoff. But no matter who wins, the other team absolutely still has a shot as long as it keeps winning. It just will need some help—which probably would come from some gentlemen who wear winged helmets and have Big Ten title and playoff aspirations of their own.

*It would be kind of like last year’s Alabama-Georgia scenario, but not exactly. Georgia beat the team that beat Alabama in the SEC title game. They didn’t play in the regular season like Alabama and LSU did in 2011.

The loser of Stanford-Notre Dame is in a dicier situation. For Stanford, the Pac-12 may not have enough juice to justify a playoff berth for a 12–1 champ if the Cardinal don’t have the out-of-conference win against Notre Dame to bolster their resume. For Notre Dame, an 11–1 record given what we know now looks different than an 11–1 record would have looked before the season. In August, a schedule that included Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Northwestern and USC would offer some cushion if the Fighting Irish dropped one of those games. Now, that schedule doesn’t look so rugged. (The hot start by Syracuse has helped compensate a little, but not enough.) These teams each need this game as a playoff resume-builder, but only one is going to get it. How’s that for stakes?

College Football Week 5 Picks: Penn State–Ohio State, Notre Dame–Stanford and More

From RC: How many points does Penn State need to score to pull the upset?

Penn State-Ohio State combines two explosive offenses with two defenses that have each proven susceptible to big plays this season. That means it’ll be great theater for those of us who don’t care who wins and a heart attack waiting to happen for those with a rooting interest. Plus, we don’t yet know if Penn State is finally going to unleash backup quarterback/H-back/tailback/receiver Tommy Stevens in the Lion position. He hasn’t played yet this season because of an injury, and he didn’t play in last season’s 39–38 loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus. The 6-5, 240-pound Stevens could add an interesting wrinkle if Penn State coaches can/decide to use him.

Las Vegas bookmakers set the over/under at 66.5 and bettors have sent it up to 71 since. That number feels about right, but not strictly because of offense. Penn State has scored special teams touchdowns in each of the past two meetings. Is this the year Ohio State grabs some points in the third phase? Turnovers also should play a role. While both teams have given up some explosive plays, both have the kind of pass rushers who can force a quarterback into mistakes.

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Let’s say the gamblers have settled on the correct number. That means 36 points should win it.

From Blaine: Kentucky football seems to be riding high. Any other SEC East teams outside of Georgia that could trip up the Wildcats from winning the division?

Easy there, Blaine. Those plucky Bulldogs might provide a significant stumbling block on the Wildcats’ march to Atlanta.

O.K. We’re both kidding. (I think.) Georgia remains the runaway favorite to win the SEC East, but Kentucky could be in the midst of a very special season. If the Wildcats can beat South Carolina on Saturday—which would be their fifth consecutive win in the series—then a look down the rest of the schedule suggests it would take a surprising result or two to keep Kentucky out of a New Year’s Six bowl.

(We’ll pause here to allow Peach Bowl officials to gather themselves as they imagine a sea of blue spending a ton of green at their game.)

From a styles-make-fights perspective, Kentucky looks built to beat most of the non-Georgia teams remaining on its schedule. The Wildcats have an excellent offensive line that wears down defenses as the game progresses. Combine that with a back (Benny Snell) who seems to get stronger as the game progresses and a quarterback (Terry Wilson) who is going to deliver two or three 'Oh Wow' plays every game, and opponents are going to need to jump on Kentucky early to withstand the inevitable avalanche of second-half rushing yards. Missouri and Drew Lock might be able to do that. Texas A&M and Kellen Mond might be able to do that.

But here’s the thing that seems to be forgotten in the euphoria of Kentucky’s wins against Florida and Mississippi State and in the aftermath of South Carolina’s blowout loss to Georgia: quarterback Jake Bentley, receiver Deebo Samuel and the Gamecocks might also be capable of doing that. This one could be the most fun game on the SEC slate this weekend.

The Past, Present and Future of the Triple Option

From Kyle: Inspired by the Paw Patrol meet and greet before SMU's game on Saturday, as well as impending midterm elections: What will you accomplish if elected mayor of Adventure Bay?

Fortunately, my children have aged out of Paw Patrol. They’re now watching The Loud House and Animaniacs. (The latter is on Hulu now, and you’d better believe I’m watching it with them.) But I still haven’t forgotten the graft and governmental incompetence that plagues Adventure Bay.

The sitting executive (Mayor Goodway, who may just be a puppet for a shadow government run by her constant companion (Chickaletta) keeps awarding no-bid contracts for the city’s police, fire, sanitation and aviation services to a boy (Ryder) who uses a force of unpaid talking dogs (the pups) and military-grade tech to essentially run the city. Sure, Ryder bails Mayor Goodway out of trouble most of the time. But wouldn’t you rather have a mayor who doesn’t put the city in peril every day?