Even with the NCAA College Football Playoff's arrival, every week still bears a major impact on the championship outlook.
Take the season's opening week, where South Carolina saw its CFB chances go bye-bye after getting steamrolled by Texas A&M. Clemson and Wisconsin aren't looking good either after suffering Week 1 losses, but Clemson and LSU both climbed up the recent AP poll.
|Week 2 NCAA Associated Press Poll|
Some seismic changes already shook college football, yet the top four remained the same. With the new system, those are the spots we're watching closely.
Here are the latest predictions for which four teams will occupy playoff spots at the end of the year.
|College Football Playoff Predictions|
|RANK||TEAM||WEEK 2 OPPONENT|
|2||Oregon||No. 7 Michigan State|
|Author's predicted rankings|
Change is almost certain atop the rankings after No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 Michigan State clash. A Spartans victory would propel them into the playoff picture while plummeting the Ducks down next week's rankings.
That makes Saturday's showdown a must-watch for all college football fans. Let's take a look at the pivotal matchup.
Game of the Week: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oregon (Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET)
Week 1 only stood to amplify this matchup's meaning. UCLA's sluggish 28-20 victory over Virginia helped solidify Oregon as Pac-12 favorites, and Braxton Miller's season-ending injury allows Michigan State to leapfrog Ohio State in the Big Ten.
Both teams are favorites to win tough conferences, but the loser will hold no wiggle room going forward. As for CFB aspirations, a signature victory against a Top 10 opponent would go a long way.
ESPN's Ted Miller called it "a Rose Bowl matchup the first weekend of September." Only instead of wrapping a neat bow on a successful season, this bout sets the tone for the remainder of the year. As Miller explained, this also creates a scenario where each squad wants the other to stay elite after this weekend so they look better by the transitive property.
"A further twist is that both teams after the game become each other's biggest fans, with both winner and loser wanting the other to make the result a more impressive measure of itself," Miller said.
This brawl represents a tale of two widely contrasting teams. While Oregon's high-powered offense compiled 565 yards and 45.5 points per game last year, respectively ranked second and third in the FBS, Michigan State instead ranked second and third in yards and points allowed.
Opponents mustered 252 yards and 13.2 points per game against the Spartans, and they played to that average when allowing 244 total yards against Jacksonville State last week. It's a battle of offense against defense that the Ducks have lost before.
Fox analyst Charles Davis compared Michigan State to Stanford, a program that has soured Oregon's championship aspirations in each of the past two years. He told USA Today's Joe Rexrode:
Their nemesis, their kryptonite in recent years has been Stanford. What's Stanford's style of play? Heavy-duty running the ball on offense, being extremely physical, excellent tackling team on defense, which makes you run more plays. All those yards after catch, yards after contact, open-field plays that Oregon's used to getting, that hidden yardage, they weren't getting against Stanford.
On the bright side, at least the Pac-12 powerhouse knows what to expect. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost is prepared for MSU's corners to press cover throughout the game, a physical formula that has served the Spartans well.
"Everybody that plays them knows what they're going to run," Frost told MLive.com's Mike Griffith. "They just run it really well, so we have to be prepared for it and we have to execute."
Yes, a similarly styled Stanford beat Oregon twice, but the Cardinal did so by a combined nine points, including an overtime victory two years ago over a freshman Marcus Mariota. That 2012 defeat marks Oregon's last loss at Autzen Stadium.
ESPN's Power Football Index gives the Ducks a high probability of riding their offensive juggernaut to victory.
ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB
According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Oregon has 83.4% chance to beat Michigan State #MSUvsUO http://t.co/jEa4P7Xb7u2014-9-4 02:33:10
It won't come easy, but Oregon finally conquers a hard-nosed defense due to Mariota's maturation and a crucial home-field advantage. A win also vaults Mark Helfrich's squad into No. 1 consideration.
Prediction: Oregon 31, Michigan State 27