Played in/Played out: Washington rises, Stanford falls

Each weekend during the regular season, USA TODAY Sports will be highlighting the race for the College Football Playoff. Here are three teams moving up and three teams moving down in the sprint for the four-team field after Week 5 of the regular season:


Washington. On the same night the university honored its national championship-winning team of 1991, the Huskies looked every bit like a team capable of taking this year’s title in ripping through divisional rival Stanford.

The win justifies all the hype placed on Washington, which was pegged early this offseason as a potential breakthrough team coming out of the Pac-12.

Clemson. Home-field advantage, just enough defense and terrific quarterback play lifted Clemson past Louisville and into the driver’s seat in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It doesn’t get much better than that for the Tigers, who can now focus on fine-tuning their efforts leading into a game against Florida State later this month and begin to imagine another unbeaten regular season. Beating the Cardinals was just a reminder of how good Clemson can be when the lights are on.

North Carolina. Good news, bad news — but the good news far outweighs the bad. It’s true that Georgia’s loss to Tennessee doesn’t help UNC, which lost to the Bulldogs in the season opener.

Still, to win at Florida State opens up the Tar Heels’ potential path to the Playoff, which entails an unbeaten record in ACC play and a win against the Atlantic Division champion in the conference title game.


Stanford. The prime-time flop at Washington puts the Cardinal in a tough position when it comes to the Playoff. For starters, Stanford now sits a game behind the Huskies and lose the head-to-head tiebreaker, so winning the North Division would demand a perfect finish and some help.

In addition, future games against Notre Dame and Oregon simply won’t move the needle.

Louisville. It’s not over for Louisville: Clemson can still lose, perhaps to Florida State, and the Cardinals have an ace up their sleeve with a matchup against Houston in November.

But it’s hard to imagine Louisville leapfrogging Clemson now that Clemson, like Washington when it comes to Stanford, owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. Seems as if the program might have to settle for Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman.

Wisconsin. The Badgers can — and likely will — still take the West Division in the Big Ten Conference, perhaps setting up a rematch with Michigan. But a loss was almost certainly coming during a brutal midseason stretch against the Big Ten’s best.

Falling on Saturday to the Wolverines revealed even larger concerns, such as the pitiful play of an offense that has played below expectations thus far in 2016.

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