With the first college football playoff poll out and several big games between ranked teams on the schedule, this could be the first true elimination week in what should be a wild month of college football. Here are some of the big stories this week:

Can Jarrett Stidham Keep Baylor Rolling?

Eyebrows were raised around the country when one-loss Alabama got into the playoff final four ahead of several undefeated teams, notably Baylor. With three ranked teams on the schedule in November, the Bears will certainly have the chance to make a statement for the committee. But they’re going to have to find out if they can do it with a true freshman under center.

Jarrett Stidham will take over Baylor’s top-ranked offense on Thursday night at Kansas State. He is stepping in for quarterback Seth Russell, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken bone in his neck. At the time he went down, Russell had been leading the nation in quarterback rating, yards per attempt and passing touchdowns. Although teams winning a championship after losing their starting quarterback for an extended time are not unheard of (1985 Oklahoma, 1994 Nebraska, 2014 Ohio State, etc.), Stidham will face a baptism by fire over the next month against Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU.

Is LSU-Alabama an Elimination Game?

LSU v Alabama
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LSU and Alabama have won the SEC West seven of the last 10 years and this could well end up being a play-in game for the conference championship. But believe it or not, the loser could still be very much alive for a playoff spot. In announcing the first poll, committee chair Jeff Long made it clear the committee was going to value victories over winning teams. While the SEC may be down a bit this year, it’s still the strongest top-to-bottom conference in football and, assuming they don’t get blown out and drop too much in the polls, the loser of this game would still boast several of those and have time to pick up more. (After this week, LSU still must face 4–4 Arkansas, 7–2 Ole Miss and 6–2 Texas A&M, while the Crimson Tide closes with 6–2 Mississippi State, an FCS non-conference game and 4–4 Auburn).

No. 18 Ole Miss technically controls its own destiny to win the SEC West (although they still have to play No. 2 LSU and No. 20 Mississippi State). If that were to happen, the committee will face a real dilemma in deciding how to seed a one-loss LSU or Alabama who didn’t even win their own division.

Can Clemson Make Its First Title Run in More Than 30 Years?

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For No. 1 Clemson, the scenario is very easy: win out and they’re going to be in the playoff. The Tigers have gotten it done on both sides of the ball this year, ranking fifth nationally in total defense and 19th in total offense (11th in scoring). Quarterback Deshaun Watson has worked himself into the Heisman mix after accounting for 1,130 total yards and 12 touchdowns in his last three games.

Statistically, the Tigers have the easiest remaining schedule of any of the top four in the poll but they first must get past longtime nemesis Florida State. The No. 16 Seminoles thought they’d come into this game competing for a title themselves, before giving up that unforgettable blocked field goal return against Georgia Tech. Now Florida State is playing for redemption and a shot at its fourth straight ACC title. The Seminoles hold a 20–8 lead all time in this series and have won four of the last five match-ups.

This is the first time that Clemson has been ranked No. 1 in any poll since the final two polls of the 1981 season, when the Tigers won the national championship.

Can Oklahoma State Pull a Big 12 Surprise?

Oklahoma State v West Virginia
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For all the (deserved) talk about Baylor and TCU, there could be another undefeated Big 12 squad in the playoff mix. No. 14 Oklahoma State is 8–0 for just the third time in school history and could really start something special with a win over No. 8 TCU this weekend.

The Cowboy offense has been rolling (128 points the last two weeks) and should have success against an injury-riddled TCU defense. But the question mark will be the Cowboys defense. After leading the conference in most defensive categories for much of the season, OSU was torched for 53 points and 642 yards in last week’s win over Texas Tech. How will the Cowboy defenders rebound against Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin, who leads the nation in total offense (431.4 YPG)?

Who Should Be on Upset Alert?

While we understandably focus on the big match-ups between ranked teams, there are some other playoff contenders out there who really better not get caught looking ahead to bigger games.

Texas v Iowa State
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Oklahoma is hosting a 3–5 Iowa State squad that is coming off a 24-0 shutout of the same Texas team that beat the Sooners just two games earlier. And don’t let the record fool you: four of the Cyclones’ five losses are to teams that are currently undefeated (Iowa, Toledo, TCU and Baylor).

Like Clemson, Notre Dame is in a good “win and you’re in” situation for the playoffs. But they better not look past a solid Pitt squad whose only losses are to undefeated Iowa and one-loss North Carolina.

On paper, unbeaten Iowa has a clear path to the Big Ten title game, as nobody on its remaining schedule has a winning record. But 4–4 Indiana has been backed into a corner by a four-game losing streak and will be playing with some desperation. The Hoosiers have scored 26-plus points in seven of their eight games this year and have had a bye week to prepare for the Hawkeyes.

Ole Miss controls its own destiny in the SEC West, but with LSU and Mississippi State still on the horizon, the Rebels—who are playing their 10th game in as many weeks—better not look past 4–4 Arkansas. After a tough start, the Razorbacks have won their last two. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly leads the SEC in interceptions (12) and, if the Razorbacks can capitalize on some turnovers, all bets are off.

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