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Forde's Fab Four: College Football Playoff picture becomes clearer

Each week of the season, I will be a one-man College Football Playoff selection committee, picking the four teams that should be in the bracket if Selection Sunday were today. Call it Forde’s Fab Four, and call it an invitation to debate and discuss.

There still are 11 unbeaten teams, but the contender crop is altered after a flurry of defeats for one-loss ranked teams. Even the most inclusive of CFP candidate lists couldn’t number more than 15 teams at this point. If chaos erupts and we start including two-loss teams in the mix, you could add a couple more. (Most notably Wisconsin, which has lost twice to undefeated teams by a total of 14 points.)

But as of today, this is a fairly tidy process. The teams controlling their own destiny are two from the Southeastern Conference (Alabama and Texas A&M), three from the Big Ten (Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska), Clemson and Washington. Everyone else must hope for outside help.

How it currently breaks down:

Alabama defensive back Eddie Jackson returns a punt for a 79-yard touchdown against Tennessee. (AP)

PEACH BOWL: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington
The defending champion Crimson Tide (7-0) erased any doubts about who deserves the top spot by demolishing Tennessee in Knoxville, 49-10. This is the second straight week Alabama has gone into an opposing stadium and hung 49 on the board. Lane Kiffin is doing great work with true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, but don’t overlook Alabama’s remarkable ability to score in all phases of the game. The Tide tallied touchdowns against Tennessee on defense (pick-six) and special teams (punt return), running their total of non-offense scores for the season to an astonishing 11. What’s next for Alabama: home against undefeated Texas A&M, a game which will go a long way toward decided the Western Division and further define the playoff picture.

Washington (6-0) benefited from a bye week, and from the struggles of Clemson at home against North Carolina State. If the Wolfpack don’t make a terrible play call in the final minute, suffer a four-yard loss on a sack and then narrowly miss a short field goal on the final play, Clemson would have a bad loss on its résumé. As it is, the lucky escape is enough for me to drop the Tigers from the bracket for the time being – knowing full well that at least one team in the bracket is going to lose in the weeks to come. But anyway, back to Washington: the Huskies’ résumé got a bit of a bump from Christian McCaffrey-less Stanford winning at Notre Dame, and the second half of the schedule is growing in rigor with the resuscitation of USC and Washington State, and the continued winning by Utah. Next for Washington: home against Oregon State, which might be the worst team in the Pac-12.

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett scrambles against Wisconsin. (AP)

FIESTA BOWL: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan
The Buckeyes merit a slight (and meaningless) edge of the Wolverines because their two biggest victories are on the road – at Oklahoma and at Wisconsin. Michigan has played exactly one road game to date, and it was at Rutgers, which really doesn’t count. Ohio State was fully challenged in Camp Randall Stadium Saturday night, falling behind by 10 points and trailing most of the night before rallying for an overtime victory. Worth noting in a game that close: The Buckeyes’ kickers were stellar. Punter Cameron Johnston averaged 53.8 yards per punt, and walk-on Tyler Durbin made all three of his field-goal attempts and remains perfect (8 for 8) on the season. Next for Ohio State: at Penn State, another road game against a team that had an extra week to prepare for the Buckeyes.

The Wolverines also had an off week, allowing coach Jim Harbaugh to cheekily work the chain gang at a recruit’s game in California. (It’s always something with Harbaugh.) But Michigan’s résumé was bolstered during the bye week by Colorado’s blowout of Arizona State, and Wisconsin’s near-win over Ohio State. Next for Michigan: another glorified scrimmage, this time at home against Illinois, the last part of a three-week spa treatment for the Wolverines (Rutgers, bye, Illini).

Dropped out: Clemson.

Also considered:

Clemson, Texas A&M, Louisville.

Big 12 unbeatens Baylor and West Virginia still are not worth consideration, having beaten exactly no one to date. And given the state of the conference, that can only change so much.

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