Playoff pulse: Alabama not fading away; Ohio State escapes

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Posted: Oct 03, 2015 8:55 PM
Playoff pulse: Alabama not fading away; Ohio State escapes

Facing the possibility of being out of the playoff picture five weeks into the season, No. 13 Alabama announced it is far from finished.

Facing the possibility of being upset in Indiana, No. 1 Ohio State wiggled out of a tight spot to keep its winning streak going. Whether it was good enough to keep the Buckeyes in the top spot remains to be seen.

The first Saturday of October was dominated by huge conference showdowns and ranked vs. ranked matchups that will start to shape the College Football Playoff race. Alabama looks as if it is going to be part of that picture for a while.

The Crimson Tide (4-1) rolled into No. 8 Georgia knowing another loss would be devastating to its national championship hopes and ran right over the Bulldogs, 38-10.

Two weeks after people were asking whether Nick Saban's Crimson Tide was a fading dynasty, Alabama put together maybe the most dominant effort by any team this season in game that was very much suited to its preferred style. Sure Alabama's offense has stepped into the spread, up-tempo age with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. But Alabama is still power at heart, both on offense and defense. Georgia is, too, but the Bulldogs were no match for Derrick Henry, Reggie Ragland and the Tide.

While Alabama looked great, the pressure isn't off the Crimson Tide. That loss to Mississippi doesn't disappear off the Tide's resume. 'Bama still needs some help just to win the SEC West and cannot afford another loss.

Hoping to reach the final four with two losses and no conference championship is a long shot. The Tide have plenty of tough SEC tests left, but considering the way Alabama responded facing maybe its biggest obstacle, you have to like its chances.

As for Georgia, technically the loss wasn't devastating for its playoff hopes. If the Bulldogs win out and win the SEC, and their schedule sets up relatively manageable the rest of the way, they could reach the College Football Playoff. But after that performance, it's hard to imagine Georgia easily righting itself. The Bulldogs might be going back to square one in its search for a quarterback who can lead them to a title.

Poll voters might be searching, too, on Sunday. Who should be No. 1 in the country after the Buckeyes' great escape from Bloomington, Indiana?

Ezekiel Elliot had three long touchdown runs in the second half, but Ohio State turnovers kept Indiana (4-1) in it right to the end — even with a backup quarterback and backup running back leading the Hoosiers offense. A bad snap blew up Indiana's final play on fourth-and-goal and the Buckeyes (5-0) won 34-27.

Ohio State 2015 is starting to look like Florida State 2014. Much like last year, the defending champions have been far less than dominant. But they are unbeaten. The winning streak is now 18 in a row, but you have to wonder if the Buckeyes will be No. 1 on Sunday in the AP Top 25.

If not the Buckeyes, then who? No. 2 Michigan State (5-0) needed a late stand to hold off Purdue 24-21 at home. No. 3 Mississippi was playing No. 25 Florida in the Swamp and the early returns were not good for the Rebels.

No. 4 TCU and No. 5 Baylor both won huge. What about No. 6 Notre Dame, playing No. 12 Clemson at soggy Death Valley?

The opinions that matter most won't be revealed for another month. The first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings come out Nov. 3.

Winning ugly was fine for Florida State last year because the Seminoles won them all until the semifinals. Ohio State will likely be afforded the same courtesy. As would pretty much any team from a Power Five conference.

There is plenty of time clear some things up. Or make them even more muddled. Probably the latter.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP