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Postseason possibilities abound in college football

This is rivalry weekend in college football, and that takes on special meaning with so many postseason possibilities at stake, and underdogs seeking to influence the final standings.

This is rivalry weekend in college football, and that takes on special meaning with so many postseason possibilities at stake, and underdogs seeking to influence the final standings.

It doesn't appear that No. 1 Alabama will lose its rightful spot in the College Football Playoff even if it is defeated by Auburn, which is more than a two-touchdown underdog. But South Carolina could knock out No. 4 Clemson, a 24-point favorite, and Minnesota could do the same to Wisconsin, ranked fifth this week and favored by 14.

Of course, the game everyone is watching, particularly in Happy Valley, is No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are favored and, if those expectations are met, Penn State would earn its first berth in the Big Ten championship game with a win later Saturday over Michigan State. A victory by the Wolverines, meanwhile, thwarts the Nittany Lions' hopes.

However, it is likely that the Michigan-Ohio State winner gains one of the four openings in the playoff, meaning the Buckeyes could get in without even appearing in the conference title contest. If they advanced ahead of Penn State, the howls from the Keystone State would be loud.

But if you listen to Kirby Hocutt, chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee, head-to-head competition, such as the Lions' 24-21 win over the Buckeyes on Oct. 22, goes only so far. Ohio State, after all, would have four Top 25 wins if it beats Michigan, compared with one for Penn State. The Lions would get a second if they defeated Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown.

Hocutt told reporters this week that there was not "a small margin of separation" between Ohio State and Penn State and that while head-to-head was a factor, "it's one among many others as we continue to go further along in the season and in our evaluation of teams."

Then again, if Penn State becomes the conference champion, would the committee put that condition as a top priority in its consideration?

Stay tuned. This is going to be fun.

Head for the Rockies

Speaking of Penn State, coach James Franklin is receiving much consideration for national coach of the year, and rightfully so considering the Nittany Lions didn't look as if they were going anywhere after being blasted at Michigan to drop to 2-2. They've done nothing but win since then.

Still, the national sentiment appears to be going with Colorado's Mike MacIntyre, and his resumé is quite impressive. Going into this season, MacIntyre was 10-27 in three seasons with the Buffaloes and 2-25 in the Pac-12, but the team has reversed its fortunes by taking a 9-2 mark (7-1 Pac-12) into Saturday's game against Utah. Colorado would clinch the Pac-12 South with a win.

Some offense

After losing to Penn State and barely defeating Northwestern, Ohio State received a lot of criticism about its passing game, that quarterback J.T. Barrett was a dynamic runner but only mediocre when throwing the football.

Well, that has changed for the Buckeyes, who broke out of their passing funk by putting up 62 points in back-to-back weeks against Nebraska and Maryland. Barrett threw for 680 yards and six touchdowns in the two games. Now Barrett will try to carry Ohio State to victory over a Michigan team that leads the nation in total defense, allowing 245.6 yards per game.

Barrett, who has been responsible for 99 touchdowns in his career, has the attention of Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh.

"Tough runner, like a running back, but he's got the vision of a quarterback, the throwing ability of a quarterback," he said. "He's an outstanding player."

Conner's journey

Thanksgiving marked the first anniversary of the cancer diagnosis that threatened to end the career of Pittsburgh running back James Conner, and his story has been an inspiration to everyone in college football and beyond. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Conner has rushed for 945 yards and 14 touchdowns this season for the Panthers, and his 53 career TDs are the most in ACC history. Conner has one year of eligibility remaining, but he has been quiet about whether he will return or move on to the NFL. He said he won't make up his mind until after Pitt's bowl game. "You can't look too far ahead," Conner said in an Associated Press story. "I don't even look a week ahead because, especially me, you don't know what's going to pop up."

Expatriate of the week

Defensive back Anthony Averett, who starred at Woodbury High School, has made nine starts this season for top-ranked and undefeated Alabama. The speedy 6-foot, 183-pound redshirt junior is fifth on the team with 26 unassisted tackles and has contributed one forced fumble and seven pass breakups. The Crimson Tide defense is second in both total yards (252.6 per game) and points (11.4 per game) allowed.