Looking ahead in college football, clear paths for some, imposing gauntlets for others

College football season is nearly halfway over and it's possible to project some tough calls already for the final four-team playoff.

A couple teams appear to have a clear path to their conference title games. Oklahoma is in the driver's seat after edging Texas on Saturday and no Big 12 team has really stood out besides the two ticketed for the SEC next year. Look for a December rematch for the conference title.

Florida State also should be in good shape in the ACC. The Seminoles got a victory at Clemson, and don't play the two other top contenders, Louisville or North Carolina. The Cardinals and UNC don't play each other, either, so it's anyone's guess how the ACC title game will shake out.

The SEC is down to one undefeated team, top-ranked Georgia. It would take quite an upset for the Bulldogs to falter. Their toughest games are at Tennessee and Ole Miss at home, but whoever emerges from the SEC West for the conference title game will be well-tested.

The Big Ten is fairly straightforward, with the Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State round-robin on the way. The first meeting between those three is PSU at OSU on Oct. 21.

The Pac-12 has its own killer round-robin with Oregon, Washington and USC, with the Ducks and Huskies meeting this Saturday in Seattle. The Pac-12 seems to be at a distinct disadvantage, though, because while no other Big Ten team appears to be a threat to the top three, the Pac-12 leaders also have to face some combination of Utah, Oregon State, Washington State and UCLA.

Who would have thought, in its final year or existence, the Pac-12 might be too strong for it's own good. But if one of the West Coast teams survives undefeated, who gets left out of the playoff? It shouldn't be a Pac-12 team.

Sinking feelings:

It was a rough weekend for the in-state FCS teams. Southern Illinois was ranked No. 5 in the coaches' poll after a 4-0 start, but got thumped 31-3 at Youngstown State on Saturday. Illinois State lost at home to defending FCS champ South Dakota State 40-21. Eastern Illinois, after a 4-1 start in nonconference games, dropped its Ohio Valley opener in overtime 28-27 to UT-Martin. The Panthers went for 2 after scoring in OT and didn't get it.

One in-state consolation was Northern Illinois' 55-14 victory at Akron. Junior RB Antario Brown was the highest-rated running back in Division 1 by Pro Football Focus after rushing for 280 yards on just 13 carries.

Local player of the week:

North Central WR DeAngelo Hardy (Lakes) piled up 278 yards and 4 touchdowns on 7 receptions, including a 93-yarder from QB Luke Lehnen, as the top-ranked Cardinals beat Carroll University 69-24.

Results-based top 5:

1. Oklahoma, 2. Florida State, 3. Texas, 4. Alabama, 5. Oregon State

Interesting game of the week:

Oregon at Washington is the best matchup, but this is a good weekend for double-digit ranked matchups with UCLA (18) at Oregon State (15), Miami (25) at North Carolina (12), and USC (10) at Notre Dame (21).

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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