College football's biggest November storylines, by conference

Sporting News

October is in the books, and there are five November weeks left in the college football season. Those five weeks will shape the course of the conference championship and College Football Playoff hunts, and the anticipation is building toward the first unveiling of Playoff rankings on Nov. 5.

That said, each Power 5 conference faces at least one question that, for better or worse, will be answered heading into the final leg of the season.

MORE: SN Week 10 college football rankings

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Don't just assume the chalk will hold throughout November; Oklahoma’s shocking 48-41 loss to Kansas State on Saturday proved that anything can happen.

With that, looking at the biggest storyline for each of the Power 5 conferences — and Group of 5 — heading into November.

ACC: Will Clemson avoid disaster?

Imagine being the defending national champion — one that happens to be on a 23-game win streak — and still being held to an undefeated-or-else-standard with the rest of the FBS. That is the predicament for Clemson, and that’s mostly a byproduct of a conference that can’t cobble together a worthy challenger out of the ACC Coastal. The Tigers must mow through Wofford, N.C. State, Wake Forest and South Carolina — which pulled an upset against Georgia — before the ACC championship against what could be a three-, four- or five-loss Coastal champion. Clemson has no choice but to run that winning streak up to 28 if it wants to be guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma’s loss certainly helped. Speaking of the Big 12. …

Big 12: Can Baylor (yes, Baylor) carry the banner?

Oklahoma’s 48-41 loss to Kansas State was devastating for the conference’s Playoff hopes. Even if the Sooners were to run the table from here on out, would that be enough to make the committee forget it was once down 48-23 to the Wildcats? It’s not an easy question to answer. Preseason darling Texas has three losses, so the possibility of the Sooners and Longhorns having a rematch in the Big 12 championship game doesn't have as much shine as last season. That leaves Baylor as the lone unbeaten team in the conference, and the Bears face the Sooners and Longhorns in the final month of the season. If Baylor was able to sweep those two and win the Big 12 championship, then would the committee be willing to turn away an unbeaten Power 5 conference team? Remember, the Bears finished No. 5 in 2014 with one loss.

MORE: Week 10 College Football Playoff picture

Big Ten: Will Ohio State close the deal?

The Buckeyes have a strong case to the No. 1 team in the country right now. Ohio State is the only team with a point differential better than 300 after outscoring its opponents 386-63. They have three viable Heisman candidates among Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins and Chase Young, and Ryan Day has yet to lose a game as head coach. The Buckeyes also have two huge games to keep that focus with Penn State and Michigan in the final two weeks of the season. Urban Meyer was 13-1 against those teams, and those will be the big-money games for Day. Ohio State has been left out of the Playoff each of the last two seasons with one loss. This team knows that, and there are no indications it will place itself in a similar scenario. If the Buckeyes finish 13-0, then there is a decent chance they will be the No.1 seed in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

Pac-12: What's the fallout from Oregon-USC?

The biggest game remaining on the Pac-12 schedule is Oregon at USC on Saturday. The Ducks remain the conference’s best bet to claw back into the Playoff argument, and the regular-season matchup against a reeling USC is their best remaining game. Oregon needs to win that one, and by a lot, before running the table and beating Utah in the Pac-12 championship game. As for USC: Could Clay Helton beat Oregon and Utah to take the conference’s Playoff hopes with him if the Trojans show him the door? It would prove the national narrative on the conference remains a talking point for another season.

MORE: LSU in envious Playoff position after win over Auburn

SEC: Will LSU and Alabama both get in?

We have the stage for a regular-season "Game of the Century" on Nov. 9 between undefeated LSU and Alabama — the first of its kind since the two teams met in a 9-6 fistfight in 2011. With LSU's Joe Burrow — and hopefully Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa — the best-case scenario for both teams is to live up to the game of the year billing in a shootout where both quarterbacks shine. The winner goes on to win the SEC championship. The loser has the best 11-1 record in the country and snags the final Playoff spot. Don’t think it can happen? The BCS found a way to squeeze Oklahoma State out in 2011 to let the Crimson Tide and Tigers play in a second rock fight. Alabama got in without winning its division again in 2017. The Tide won the national championship in both seasons. There's no reason to suggest it can’t happen again, with some help.

Group of 5: App State or SMU? Take your pick

Appalachian State and SMU are the lone unbeaten teams among the Group of 5, and either one would generate an intriguing storyline with an unbeaten season. The Mountaineers, of course, made the climb from FCS powerhouse to Sun Belt champion, and this would be their biggest stage since beating Michigan at The Big House since 2007. Could App State pull the same trick in a New Year’s Day 6 bowl against an SEC powerhouse? SMU has a tougher road in the American Athletic Conference and would have the inside track with an unbeaten season. The Mustangs — the only program in FBS history to be given the "Death Penalty" — would be back on that stage for the first time since the “Pony Express.” Sonny Dykes might get another shot in the Power 5 as a result. This would be a redemption story worth following.

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