Best best to reach the playoff? It isn’t Alabama or Michigan

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Clemson is in the best spot of any team to advance to the College Football Playoff. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Ever utilize three devices — phone, laptop and good ol’ TV — to follow a huge day and night of college football while on assignment at an historic World Series? Uh, me, neither. Takeaways from Week 9:

1. Alabama remained a near-unanimous No. 1 in the new AP Top 25 poll released on Sunday. Great, that’s as it should be. Michigan stayed at No. 2. Cool, I can dig it.

But understand this: The team with the best chance to advance to the playoff is third-ranked Clemson, and it isn’t even close. The Tigers have Syracuse at home, Pittsburgh at home, Wake Forest on the road and not-what-it-used-to-be South Carolina at home to close the regular season. Where we come from, that equals 12-0 heading into the ACC title game against another inferior foe.

Alabama still has to play at LSU this weekend, against surging Auburn down the line in the Iron Bowl and probably Florida — in increasingly tough out — in the SEC title game. Michigan must play at Iowa and at Ohio State and potentially has a rematch with Wisconsin looming in the Big Ten title game. It’s not inconceivable that both the Wolverines and the Crimson Tide could have multiple losses to come.

But Clemson? Easy Street, baby.

2. Baylor: gone from the ranks of the undefeated. West Virginia: ditto. Big 12: out of the playoff. No, not maybe. Not probably. O-U-T.

3. Tip of the cap to Northwestern, which proved itself anew Saturday in a hard-fought 24-20 defeat at Ohio State. The Wildcats played the Buckeyes essentially even on both sides of the ball and are nothing like the bewildered, off-kilter group that opened the season with losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. For what it’s worth, this is the best 4-4 team in the country.

4. Speaking of 4-4, Texas’ upset of Baylor was another huge moment for beleaguered Longhorns coach Charlie Strong. Hey, when the guy actually wins a game, he has a way of making it count. Would love to see him get another year to turn the corner.

5. And speaking of Western Michigan, the Broncos, up to No. 17 in the AP poll, now are the only remaining unbeaten team in the Group of Five conferences. To review: P.J. Fleck has gone from 1-11 in 2013 — his first season as a head coach — to this. And the native of Sugar Grove in the far western suburbs is only 35. What a future.

6. And how did your game go, Illinois? Never mind.

7. No. 4 Washington barely escaped Utah with a victory, but that’s a high-quality outcome against a dangerous team playing on its home field. Playoff-wise, the Huskies don’t need to worry from here about anything except for putting the “Dub” in Ws. Not a single style point is needed. USC and Washington State loom as challenging opponents.

8. Heisman update: Louisville played rather poorly at Virginia, but quarterback Lamar Jackson led a clutch drive and put up more award-worthy numbers. He’s miles in front.

9. We see you, Penn State. The 20th-ranked Nittany Lions have won four straight Big Ten games, solidified coach James Franklin’s standing and indicated that they’re closing the gap on the superpowers of the Big Ten East. That 45-7 second half at Purdue Saturday was impressive.

10. Tennessee: so done. Surprising? Nope. As a coach, Butch Jones sure is a heck of a recruiter. Let’s just leave it at that.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.


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