Played in/Played out: West Virginia joins Playoff conversation

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 7 of the regular season:

TEAMS THAT PLAYED THEIR WAY IN

West Virginia. It’s beyond time to recognize WVU for its 5-0 start, with the latest win a 48-17 whipping of Texas Tech. With perhaps the Big 12 Conference’s best defense and a very physical offense, the Mountaineers seemingly have the ingredients needed to take the conference. Can they go 11-1 or 12-0? We’ll know much more after Saturday’s date with TCU.

Alabama. Who? Yeah, the Tide have been part of theoretical, if-the-season-ended-today Playoff fields since August. But Alabama still deserves some love for just dismantling a top-11 team in Tennessee. If the season ended today, the Tide wouldn’t just be in the field; they’d be the favorites to win it all.

Western Michigan. The Broncos are making a case for an access bowl with a style. After a 41-0 blanking of Akron, WMU is 7-0 with two wins against Big Ten competition and just one win, against Northwestern, by fewer than 15 points. That’s dominance. The Broncos deserve to be listed alongside Boise State and Houston in the race for a New Year’s Six bowl.

TEAMS THAT PLAYED THEIR WAY OUT

Wisconsin. Taking Ohio State into overtime is a moral victory, if such a thing exists for one of college football’s most consistent programs. It also speaks to how Wisconsin still deserves to remain ranked among the top 12 or 13 teams in this week’s Amway Coaches Poll. But the loss does end the Badgers’ Playoff hopes, meaning Paul Chryst’s bunch will now turn their sights to winning the West Division and drawing a potential rematch with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game.

Tennessee. The SEC East Division remains in play, but even that’s nothing close to a sure thing: UT’s head-to-head tiebreaker against Florida has been rendered less important following losses to Texas A&M and Alabama. Those two losses also officially end the Volunteers’ hopes for the Playoff. It would take total chaos for a two-loss team — even one from the SEC — to be part of the four-team field.

Virginia Tech. The Hokies had quickly risen up the ladder after an ugly loss to Tennessee. So much for that. For a week or two, at least, Tech was viewed as a legitimate contender in the ACC Coastal Division. After losing at Syracuse, the standards change in Justin Fuente’s first season: The Hokies won’t be a national factor, but can still put together a very nice finish to build toward 2017 and beyond.

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