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USATSI

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud can clinch the Heisman Trophy on Saturday against Michigan State. Well, that's if Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III doesn't do it first. Bite into that juicy sidebar prior to the first big College Football Playoff elimination game of this month.

To the victor in No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Michigan State goes, well, at least another week of CFP relevance. The loser is all but out of the race. The teams have gotten here with big help from their two stars.

If Stroud stays on track, he will be the fifth Ohio State quarterback in a row to lead the Big Ten in pass efficiency. (The total picture including accuracy, yardage, touchdown passes and interception rate.) That accomplishment would go all the way back to J.T. Barrett and includes Justin Fields being No. 1 in back-to-back seasons (2019-20).

Walker is looking for his eighth rushing performance of at least 126 yards. Since Oct. 2, he has 819 yards rushing, more than four FBS teams have gained all season. Walker already has had his Heisman moment(s) with five rushing touchdowns against Michigan.

Stroud has been a savior of sorts, the most consistent player on a team that lacks defensive shut-down ability. (See: Purdue putting up 31 points and 477 yards last week.) The redshirt freshman is already on pace to throw the most passes by a Buckeyes QB since Dwayne Haskins in 2018.

Safe to say, Ohio State's hopes rest on Stroud. Same for Michigan State and Walker considering Stroud will face a generational defense. Generational in that MSU not only has the worst pass defense in the country, it's the worst of any team in the last four years.

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker's strategy will obviously be to play keep away with Walker. Good luck with that. Michigan State is last among Big Ten teams in time of possession. Take Ohio State and the 19 points and run to the bank.

Whatever the outcome, it's generally assumed the Big Ten is going to have a spot in the playoff. With three one-loss teams, one of them will break through, right?

Both of these scenarios are possible: The Big Ten could put two teams in the playoff (if Michigan State and Michigan win out), or the league could no teams in the field if the top three all lose a second game in the next two weeks. 

What a MUSS! Big indicator that No. 3 Oregon is in trouble at No. 23 Utah: The Ducks are a 3-point underdog at Rice-Eccles Stadium to the 7-3 Utes. Credit that to Utah's homefield being one of the most underrated "pits" in the country thanks to MUSS -- the Mighty Utah Student Section. The Utes have won 17 of the last 18 at home and are peaking. Their only loss was last year MUSS wasn't able to be in the stadium for USC. Those 18 visitors have been held to only 16.7 points. Utah has won by an average of 18.8 points.

All that's at stake are Oregon's season and the Pac-12's spot in the CFP. The winner clinches a Pac-12 Championship Game berth. The loser might do the same depending on Pac-12 results elsewhere on Saturday. Oregon may lose either way. An Ohio State win could vault the Buckeyes ahead of the Ducks in the CFP Rankings. A Michigan State win diminishes the impact of Oregon's victory at The Shoe on Sept. 9.

Hog Mild: While No. 21 Arkansas is much improved, and defensive coordinator Barry Odom found a bit of the secret sauce last season, these pigs should be roadkill at No. 2 Alabama. It will be worth paying attention to Will Anderson Jr., who long ago locked up an All-America berth and the Butkus Award (nation's best linebacker). The Crimson Tide's star linebacker leads the country and already has the third-most sacks for Bama in a season (12.5, only Derrick Thomas has more). But it's his efficiency that stands out. Of his 67 tackles, 23 have been for lost yardage (34%). Should Arkansas pull off the upset, get the statue ready outside of Razorback Stadium for coach Sam Pittman.

Swamped? We already know Dan Mullen has until the end of the season -- at least. Does a loss at Missouri put a time stamp on his departure from Florida? The Gators and Tigers are 5-5 all-time against one another, though Florida has a 5-4 edge since Mizzou joined the SEC and consecutive wins in the series after Mullen lost his first meeting back in 2018. Both teams have substantial issues on defense, so this total could get up there.

In the Wake of a championship: Some, not all, is forgiven if Clemson can beat No. 12 Wake Forest. In a forgettable season, coach Dabo Swinney can still make the ACC Championship Game if he beats Wake and somehow the Demon Deacons lose their finale to Boston College while No. 20 NC State falls to either Syracuse or North Carolina. The Tigers haven't lost three conference games since 2010. A 33-game home winning streak explains why one of the worst Clemson teams in years is a 4.5-point favorite. Wake can clinch the ACC Atlantic by beating Clemson or Boston College to finish the season.

Something rarely seen in Oklahoma: No. 10 Oklahoma State (at Texas Tech) is now the Big 12's best CFP hope. Coach Mike Gundy didn't see this run coming, having built this team on a defense that is his best in 17 seasons in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The Cowboys are eighth in scoring defense and lead the country in sacks (37) with 15 over the last two games. Eighteen teams don't have 15 sacks this season. Opponents are being sacked once every 8.8 drop backs. No worries about Gundy and crew being homered in Lubbock, Texas. The two biggest threats have been removed.

Pluck of the Irish: The surest New Year's Six berth -- besides No. 1 Georgia most likely being in the playoff -- might belong to No. 8 Notre Dame. It finishes the season with two 3-7 teams, Georgia Tech and Stanford, and obviously does not need to play a conference championship game. An 11-1 finish would almost certainly put the Fighting Irish in a major bowl, coach Brian Kelly's fourth in the last seven seasons.

Game of the week, Group of Five edition: SMU at No. 5 Cincinnati could go a long way toward determining the futures of both coaches. SMU's Sonny Dykes remains a heavy favorite at TCU. Cincinnati's Luke Fickell remains a national coach of the year favorite. But if the Bearcats fall to the Mustangs, they many not even play in the AAC Championship Game.  Meanwhile, No. 24 Houston (vs. Memphis) is already waiting for its title game opponent. The Cougars quietly have tied for the third-longest winning streak (nine games).

The Match Game: Match these nonconference punching bags with the SEC teams that are going to punch them this week.

A. Prairie View A&M
B. Charleston Southern
C. New Mexico State
D. Tennessee State

1. Mississippi State
2. Georgia
3. Kentucky
4. Texas A&M

Answer key: A-4, B-2, C-3, D-1

Quick Kicks: Sadly, UCLA-USC is mostly interesting for what's happening off the field. The Trojans are looking for a coach. The Bruins may be looking for one. Donte Williams is the first USC interim coach to have a losing record (3-4). The embattled Chip Kelly can get the Bruins to their first bowl game since 2017 with a win … Jinx alert: Ohio State's 16 field goals are the most without a miss since Boston College went 20 for 20 in 2013 … Arizona State (at Oregon State) breaks a streak of facing three interim coaches in a row (Washington State, USC, Washington). Such is life in the Pac-12 where three of the 12 coaching changes nationwide have occurred. The Sun Devils (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) are still alive in the Pac-12 South … if No. 6 Michigan doesn't get to the playoff, time to consider the Wolverines strongly for a Fiesta Bowl bid. Michigan hasn't been to the desert since 1986, following Jim Harbaugh's junior year in 1985