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USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.

USA TODAY

At least one thing has gone according to plan during an unpredictable and chaotic regular season: No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama are as good as expected and seemingly destined for a postseason renewal of the cross-conference rivalry.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten is already reeling after just one week of play. An outbreak of positive test results for COVID-19 forced No. 11 Wisconsin to cancel Saturday’s game against Nebraska, highlighting how difficult it will be for the conference to cram a nine-game schedule into an unforgiving window.

The cancellation raises concerns over whether No. 3 Ohio State and the Big Ten’s top contenders will end up playing enough games to factor into the postseason debate.

The Big 12 has imploded. Texas and No. 24 Oklahoma already have multiple losses, leading the league to pin its hopes on unbeaten No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 16 Kansas State, which is perfect in conference play but has the blemish of a non-conference loss to Arkansas State.

And the Pac-12 hasn’t even started. The last of five major conferences will begin Nov. 7 with a seven-game schedule that suddenly seems ambitious.

Clemson and Alabama are on the inside track for the College Football Playoff. Should the Big Ten find a way to avoid a string of cancellations and cobble together an adequate number of games, there’s a spot in the national semifinals reserved for the conference champion, very likely the Buckeyes.

There’s another team is lurking on the fringes of the playoff race: No. 7 Cincinnati. 

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) runs during the third quarter against South Florida at Nippert Stadium. (Photo: Joseph Maiorana,, USA TODAY Sports)

Long overlooked and ignored in terms of cracking the playoff code, the bedlam and confusion caused by this unique season has carved out a path for the best team from the Group of Five leagues to slot in as the fourth member of the postseason field.

“I do think that this year creates a unique opportunity, where if you win out and with the schedule that we play and the quality of the American (Athletic Conference), that we should be in consideration, for sure,” Cincinnati athletics director John Cunningham told USA TODAY Sports.

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Cincinnati’s presence in the playoff race is rooted in back-to-back 11-win seasons under fourth-year coach Luke Fickell, which has helped to establish a level of built-in name recognition. While no Group of Five team has been given a chance to play for the national championship since college football moved away from relying on several polling systems in the 1990s, those who have come closest, such as Boise State, did so only after years of developing national credibility.

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