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College Football Playoff race gets wild in home stretch

If only we’d been a little more patient. We could’ve saved a lot of breath, spared ourselves many a conversation about teams that — now we know — absolutely will have no part in the first College Football Playoff.

There are some smart folks out there, the kind who don’t need to know everything all the time, who tuned out the chatter, understanding much of it would be rendered moot on the last weekend of November. It is, after all, a traditional time of tumult toward the top of the national rankings.

But Saturday, particularly, was a day to remember. It had nearly every imaginable kind of craziness as far as polls and conference races are concerned. Add the context of the playoff, and it all seemed to take on added meaning.

Some of it was straightforward and simple. For example, No. 4 Mississippi State lost 31-17 at Egg Bowl rival Ole Miss and that was that as far as the upstart Bulldogs contending for a Southeastern Conference title or a playoff invite. The game was riveting, though, with Dan Mullen’s team seemingly a play away at all times from wresting control of things from the Rebels.

A lot of it was scary and stressful. That was true for No. 1 Alabama, which trailed 15th-ranked Auburn 33-21 in the third quarter of the Iron Bowl before rallying to win 55-44, and for the powerhouse SEC, which almost saw its prominence in the playoff picture just plain disappear.

It definitely was true — yet again — for high-wire act Florida State, the defending national champion. The No. 3 Seminoles survived four interceptions thrown by Jameis Winston to sneak past unranked, offensively challenged Florida 24-19 in Tallahassee.

“I made a few mistakes that hurt us,” said Winston, acknowledging the obvious.

No. 7 Baylor, a team many felt was destined for the top four, lost quarterback Bryce Petty to a concussion and then nearly lost every bit of a 25-point second-half lead at Big 12 bottom-feeder Texas Tech. The Bears hung on for a 48-46 victory to remain tied atop the league standings with TCU, a team they earlier beat. But does Baylor really seem worthy of a playoff spot now?

“It was a little too exciting,” said Petty, whose status for next weekend’s must-win game against Kansas State is unknown.

Injuries also made Saturday scary, and also confusing. What to make of No. 6 Ohio State after its 42-28 win over downtrodden Michigan in a rivalry game that has lost much of its luster? Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett — one of the best in the land — was lost for the season to a fractured and dislocated right ankle. The playoff selection committee now must deliberate on the worthiness of a team on its third quarterback, the utterly untested sophomore Cardale Jones, of what was supposed to be a magical year.

“A lot is going on,” said OSU coach Urban Meyer, who then repeated himself. “A lot is going on.”

A lot always goes on in college football this time of the season. It’s what makes it all so much fun. And stressful. And rarely simple. And sometimes moot.


Twitter: @slgreenberg