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Playoff spot for a Group 5 team this year?

Former Winston-Salem Journal columnist and ESPN Triad host Scott Hamilton is one of 61 voters in the Associated Press college football poll. Here’s how his Week 9 ballot shook out.

Gravity: Alabama overwhelmed Tennessee, 45-7, to maintain the No. 1 spot it has held since the preseason. That was the norm for the top block of my ballot, as there was no shifting between the top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 8 Clemson. Three teams in that contingent — No. 2 Georgia, No. 6 Ohio State and the Tigers — had the week off, while the remaining five won by an average score of 39-10. The only team that didn’t produce a double-digit victory was seventh-ranked Miami, which beat Syracuse, 27-19.

2012: The first College Football Playoff rankings of this season won’t be released for about another two weeks, still it’s not too soon to speculate the four-team field. That includes pondering the possibility that Notre Dame — to the delight of marketers and network executives whether they admit it or not — making the playoff for the first time. The Fighting Irish dismantled an underachieving Southern Cal, 49-14, and elevated six spots on my ballot to ninth. And you could make the argument that Notre Dame should be higher given it has the best defeat of the one-loss teams still in contention, that being a one-point defeat to No. 2 Georgia on Sept. 9. If the Irish make the playoff it could set up a rematch with Alabama, which beat Notre Dame, 42-14, in the national title game following the 2012 season. That was the last championship game of the BCS era, Alabama’s second straight and third in four years.

Deep Impact: While each team obviously controls its own destiny to some degree, one has two opportunities to play the role of spoiler and perhaps make a case to become the first two-loss team to make the playoff. Auburn beat Arkansas, 52-20, on Saturday to improve to 6-2, 4-1 in the SEC. The Tigers — who lost at Clemson, 14-6, on Sept. 9 and to Auburn, 27-23, last week — moved up one spot to No. 23. They have a long, long way to go before being seriously in the playoff conversation, but the hardest has been taken care of in the form of an accommodating schedule that should afford chances for major, attention-grabbing leaps. Auburn plays Georgia on Nov. 11 and arch-rival Alabama on Nov. 25. And winning both would likely set up a rematch with the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game.

Pacific Rim: Woe unto the Pac-12. With the Trojans — who were third on my preseason ballot — tumbling to 19th, the Pac-12 continued to give up playoff ground. It still has four teams ranked, including Washington and Washington State at Nos. 12 and 13, but the perception of the league has taken serious damage  thanks to lopsided losses both in and out of conference play.

When Worlds Collide: The good news for the American Athletic Conference: it has three teams on my ballot, including two of the eight FBS teams that remain undefeated. The bad news is that those teams will eventually cannibalize themselves by the time the regular season is over, including East Division rivals No. 15 South Florida and No. 18 Central Florida. The winner of that will likely play No. 24 Memphis (6-1, 3-1) of the West Division in the conference championship.

Signs: Could this be the year a Group of 5 team gets a playoff spot? Or could two teams from the same conference get invitations for the first time in the playoff’s four-year history? Again, weeks remain before found out. As for now, however, there is incredible parity amongst the Power 5 as each conference has four teams on my ballot. Notre Dame, a pseudo Power 5 team, is the lone independent.

This week’s rankings (previous week):

1. Alabama (1)
2. Georgia (2)

3. Penn State (3)

4. TCU (4)
5. Wisconsin (5)

6. Ohio State (6)
7. Miami (7)
8. Clemson (8)
9. Notre Dame (15)
10. Oklahoma State (9)
11. Oklahoma (10)

12. Washington (11)
13. Washington State (12)
14. Virginia Tech (14)
15. South Florida (17)
16. N.C. State (18)
17. Michigan State (19)

18. Central Florida (20)
19. Southern Cal (12)

20. Stanford (21)
21. West Virginia (22)

22. LSU (23)
23. Auburn (24)
24. Memphis (25)
25. Iowa State (NR)

You can follow Scott Hamilton on Twitter: @ScottH_Sports




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