SportsPulse: Dan Wolken reacts to the second College Football Playoff rankings and believes Ohio State can get into the playoff without qualifying for the Big Ten championship game given the committee’s track record.


It would take some truly wild happenings to alter the playoff picture at this late stage, but truly crazy happenings have been part and parcel in college football for decades.

Even bearing that in mind, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Notre Dame aren’t likely to be knocked from their perches this weekend. The Crimson Tide’s once-anticipated date with LSU is now a mere footnote thanks to the Tigers’ 2020 tumble, and the Fighting Irish host 1-9 Syracuse in what amounts to a tune-up for the ACC title game in two weeks.

We’ll turn our attention to the quest for the remaining coveted spots among the top four around the power leagues.

Here are the five games with the most potential impact on the race:

No. 3 Clemson at Virginia Tech

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

A few weeks ago, this looked like the toughest remaining test on Clemson’s schedule before its expected rematch with Notre Dame for the ACC title. It still might be, but the Hokies were last seen getting rolled by the same Pittsburgh team the Tigers just demolished.

Clemson running back Kobe Pace umps into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half against Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium. (Photo: Hyosub Shin, Pool Photo)

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence showed no signs of rust after over a month without throwing a live pass. That is not good news for the Hokies’ defense that is surrendering nearly 275 yards a game through the air, but periodic protection issues on the Tigers’ line could allow Hokies’ DE Justus Reed to generate some heat. Virginia Tech’s ground attack, led by RB Khalil Herbert and also featuring QB Hendon Hooker, must also help by keeping the Clemson offense off the field. LB Baylon Spector will lead the efforts of the Clemson defense to keep the Hokies bottled up.

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No. 6 Texas A&M at Auburn

Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN

The Aggies, barring an extremely unlikely Alabama collapse, aren’t going to win the SEC. They must get to the finish line with just the one loss to the Tide to present their best case to the playoff committee. The Tigers, also victimized by said Crimson Tide in their most recent outing, are now just trying to salvage a winning season.

Texas A&M was not sharp against LSU after some extended down time. QB Kellen Mond will look to rebound against the Tigers’ reeling defense, though he doesn’t have Alabama’s array of weapons. RB Isaiah Spiller can help if he can find his way around LBs Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe. The Tigers