College football winners and losers: Auburn, Ohio State make playoff case despite two losses

 In U.S.

Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins celebrates his touchdown against Michigan State during the Buckeyes’ big win Saturday. (Jay LaPrete/Associated Press)

Breaking down the highlights and lowlights from Saturday’s college football action …

The path for a two-loss playoff participant looks quite a bit clearer after Saturday afternoon.

There’s the long-shot scenario in the Big Ten, which suddenly seems a bit more plausible after Ohio State smacked Michigan State, 48-3. Suppose the Buckeyes (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) win out and demolish Michigan and Wisconsin (the latter in the Big Ten title game) along the way. If there’s enough tumult elsewhere — in addition to a Notre Dame loss last night, Ohio State could capitalize on an Oklahoma loss and Alabama reducing its remaining opposition to rubble — why couldn’t it happen?

The rebuttal: Is anyone really going to forget the Buckeyes allowing 55 points to Iowa? The rebuttal to the rebuttal: If there’s enough carnage in the next couple weeks, yes.

But there’s an even easier possibility to conceive of in the wake of Auburn’s 40-17 drubbing of Georgia. Should the Tigers (8-2, 6-1 SEC) handle Alabama in the Iron Bowl and then win a rematch with Georgia in the SEC title game, that would constitute a considerable closing stretch for the Tigers. Even with road losses to Clemson and Louisiana State, they could be semifinal material.

Ohio State needs plenty of help, though Auburn can handle business on its own. Either way, the Buckeyes and the Tigers were the playoff contenders who helped themselves the most in Saturday’s early games.

WINNERS

* Miami. The last two weeks couldn’t have gone any better for the Hurricanes (9-0), who dominated both Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in highly anticipated home games. Miami forced another four turnovers in a 41-8 rout of the Fighting Irish on Saturday night in a contest that was effectively over by the end of the first quarter.

Like Clemson in the other half of the ACC, Miami has a three-step process to make the playoff. If quarterback Malik Rosier and the Hurricanes can handle Virginia and Pittsburgh, there’s a good chance their ACC title game encounter with Clemson will function as a de facto national quarterfinal.

* Baker Mayfield. It’s looking more and more like the Heisman Trophy is Mayfield’s to lose. The Oklahoma quarterback was 18 of 27 for 333 yards and three touchdowns against Texas Christian’s capable defense as the Sooners pulled away early for a 38-20 victory over the Horned Frogs.

Oklahoma (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) closes the regular season with Kansas and West Virginia before a likely date in the conference title game. Three more strong outings from Mayfield will likely lock up the individual honors — and go a long way toward getting the Sooners into the playoff.

* Army. It’s still anyone’s guess how good the Black Knights really are. Of the eight teams they’ve defeated, only 5-5 Temple is at .500 or better. But that misses the point.

Army has eight victories in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1984-85 after its 21-16 defeat of Duke. A week after blanking Air Force without throwing a pass, quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw hoisted one attempt — a 42-yard completion.

Army has won six in a row. It could claim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 1996 next month. This is big stuff for the Black Knights, who will go for their ninth triumph in a sneaky-good game next week at North Texas.

* Southern California. The Trojans are into the Pac-12 title game, and will have a shot at their first conference title since 2008 thanks to a 38-24 victory over Colorado. Southern Cal (9-2, 7-1) has plowed through the Pac-12 South heading into next week’s date with UCLA, and will get two weeks to rest up for whichever team takes the league’s North Division. The Trojans find themselves in a good position.

* Will Muschamp. Everything’s coming up Muschamp, the South Carolina coach whose team clinched a winning season with a 28-20 victory over Florida — the same Florida that fired him three years ago, has already discarded his successor and is buried in a 3-6 dumpster fire of a season. Meanwhile, Muschamp has coaxed about as much as possible from the Gamecocks (7-3, 5-3) in back-to-back seasons. After facing Wofford next week, they’ll get Clemson to close out the regular season and stand a better chance than in either of the last two years to give their in-state rivals some trouble. A 9-4 finish certainly isn’t a stretch for a program that has largely handled its business while benefiting from a deteriorating SEC East.

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