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Oct 3, 2014 3:53 AM

Big games will sort playoff contenders, pretenders

The Associated Press

Time to get down to brass tacks and begin separating the contenders from the pretenders. The fun started Thursday night with Arizona's upset of No. 2 Oregon. Who'll go down next?

Here's a look at some of the Saturday tests awaiting teams that have aspirations of being among the teams invited to the four-team College Football Playoff:

IRISH EYES STANFORD: No. 9 Notre Dame comes into October unbeaten for the second time in three years and facing high-risk, high-reward road games at Florida State in two weeks and at Arizona State and Southern California next month.

First, to get where they want to go, the Irish (4-0) must protect their home field against No. 14 Stanford (3-1) and the Cardinal's stout defense.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says nickeling and diming Stanford won't be enough. Everett Golson will have to go vertical against a defense that has surrendered only five plays of 20 yards or longer.

"We won't win if we don't get big chunk plays," Kelly said. "But we are not going to go 5, 7, 10 yards and score enough points to win. We'll have to create opportunities and we'll have to make some plays down the field, there's no question."

THOSE PESKY FROGS: No. 4 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) took care of business against Tennessee and West Virginia and now hits the road to face a No. 25 TCU team that coach Bob Stoops calls "probably" the Sooners' best opponent to date.

The Horned Frogs (3-0, 0-0) have a knack for causing trouble for Stoops. They won in Norman in 2005, and the last two years in Big 12 play the Sooners have beaten the Frogs by a combined 10 points.

With Trevone Boykin leading its new "Air Raid" offense, TCU has outscored three opponents 134-21, including an impressive 30-7 victory over Minnesota.

HUSKERS' STATEMENT GAME?: No. 19 Nebraska (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) hasn't won a road game against a top-10 opponent since 1997 and hasn't started 6-0 since 2001. The Cornhuskers can accomplish both with a win over No. 10 Michigan State (3-1, 0-0).

Aside from a close call against FCS McNeese State, the Huskers have been impressive. Still, there are six one-loss teams rated ahead of Nebraska.

"The ranking will take care of itself," Huskers' defensive star Randy Gregory said. "As long as we're winning games, we'll move up."

Michigan State has that 19-point loss to Oregon on its tab. If the Spartans are to have any chance at the playoff, they probably have to win out, and be impressive doing it.

REBELS WITH A CAUSE: No. 11 Mississippi (4-0, 1-0 SEC) has allowed two touchdowns while going unbeaten through four games for the first time since 1970. No doubt, after losing 10 straight against Alabama, the Rebels are lying in wait for the No. 3 Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0).

A two-loss SEC team surely could get into the playoff, but an early-October loss narrows the margin of error for whichever team comes out of this one with an 'L.'

AUBURN'S GAUNTLET: No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC) starts an arduous stretch of games with an SEC West showdown against No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1). LSU was the only team to beat Auburn in the regular season last year. With its remaining schedule, a loss at home to LSU would make it tough for Auburn to win the division, let alone get to the playoff.


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