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Michigan football weekend rooting guide -- Oct. 20-22

Washington, Texas A&M among key teams threatening Michigan

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As long as the Michigan Wolverines are in contention for the College Football Playoff, ClickOnDetroit.com will list each weekend's games that could help U of M's quest to reach the Final Four.

When it comes to looking ahead in college football, there are two very different types of fans.

Some fans absolutely love following the entire national landscape (fan No. 1). They want to know how a noon ACC game could affect the eventual Big 12 champion. Or how the winner of the Pac-12 South might affect a Big Ten teams' strength of schedule. These fans can't get enough college football. They'll stay up to watch 10:30 p.m. West Coast games on the off chance that they have an indirect impact on a team across the country.

Then there's the "everything will play out how it plays out so just let it happen" group (fan No. 2). These fans will tell you mid-October is way too early to start looking at playoff scenarios. They'll tell you other games don't matter as long as their team wins the games on its schedule.

Fan No. 1, this story is for you. Fan No. 2, I apologize for having the unmitigated gall to link 16 of this weekend's games to Michigan.

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In my defense, only four teams have a chance to play for a national championship, and the other 124 battle for various consolation prizes. Every single week matters. When the CFP committee meets, every outcome of every game will be under the microscope.

So as the second half of the season gets underway Thursday, Michigan football fans can start scoreboard watching.

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"But Michigan is undefeated, so it doesn't matter what the rest of the country does," fan No. 2 might say.

That's true, to a point. If Michigan finishes the season 13-0, the Wolverines will either be the No. 2 seed behind Alabama or the No. 1 team in the country heading into the playoff.

But what if Michigan goes into Columbus and loses? What if the Wolverines finish the season 11-1, or 12-1 with a loss in the Big Ten title game?

Aha! Never thought about that, did you, fan No. 2? One loss wouldn't necessarily eliminate the Wolverines, especially if games around the country go their way. That's where this rooting comes in: to help fans know which games truly matter to Michigan's playoff hopes.

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If you've made it this far, congratulations! Here are the teams Michigan fans should root for this weekend:

Must-haves

These are the games that absolutely have to go Michigan's way to keep its playoff hopes alive.

Michigan over Illinois (Michigan 41, Illinois 8): Let's start out with an easy one. Michigan needs to win. Duh. As long as Michigan is undefeated, the only must-have game will be the Wolverines' own matchup. A loss to Illinois at home would be a disaster for No. 3 Michigan, but all signs point to Jim Harbaugh's team taking care of business.

Toss-ups

These are the games that would help Michigan's playoff chances, and have a realistic chance to happen.

BYU over Boise State (BYU 27, Boise State 28): Boise State's chance to get into the playoff picture is very slim, even if the Broncos finish undefeated with a conference championship. But if BYU, the last real test on Boise State's schedule, can win, that will eliminate the possibility altogether.

Iowa over Wisconsin (Iowa 9, Wisconsin 17): This is a really tough one, because both teams are on Michigan's schedule, but if Iowa its next two games, Michigan will have a chance to pick up another win over a ranked team Nov. 12. Wisconsin has already proven itself to be an excellent team, so a loss at Iowa wouldn't erase Michigan's best victory.

Colorado over Stanford (Colorado 10, Stanford 5): Ever since Michigan beat Colorado in the Big House Sept. 17, that win has been the gift that keeps giving. The Buffaloes are 5-2, ranked just outside the AP Top 25 and have a chance to compete for the Pac-12 South. A road win over Stanford would put Colorado back in the rankings and ensure the road to the South title runs through Boulder.

Navy over Memphis (Navy 42, Memphis 28): If Navy keeps winning, Houston won't be able to win the AAC West Division. If Houston doesn't win its own division, it has no chance to be in the playoff, even if it has wins over Oklahoma and (in the future) Louisville. To keep Houston at bay, Michigan will root for the Midshipmen.

TCU over West Virginia (TCU 10, West Virginia 34): This would be a big one. For any teams that hope to get into the playoff with one loss, West Virginia is becoming a problem. If the Mountaineers could lose at least once before a season-ending showdown with Baylor, that would hurt the Big 12's chances at getting into the playoff.

Alabama over Texas A&M (Alabama 33, Texas A&M 14): This might be hard for some Michigan fans to hear, but for the rest of the regular season, Alabama is your best friend. Even if Nick Saban's team slips up along the way, a one-loss Alabama team will get into the playoff because of how dominant the Crimson Tide has been this decade. If Texas A&M picks up a win over Alabama, the Aggies will have the most impressive win in the country and a great chance to make the playoff. This is the SEC's chance to get two teams in.

UCLA over Utah (UCLA 45, Utah 52): It's not 2015 anymore, so Michigan fans don't have to root for Utah. If the Utes lose one more game, the Pac-12 will only have one team left with a chance at the playoff (Washington). Also, two-loss Utah would be a great team for Michigan fans to root for against Washington next weekend.

Arkansas over Auburn (Arkansas 3, Auburn 56): Arkansas has two losses in conference play, so it has no chance to win the SEC West Division. If Auburn drops this home game, it will also have two losses and be eliminated from contention. No, neither team should catch Michigan in the playoff race, but this outcome would make absolutely sure.

Either Ohio State or Penn State (Penn State 24, Ohio State 21): Michigan fans should never root for Ohio State, but if the Buckeyes are 11-0 heading into The Game, that helps Michigan. Then again, if Ohio State loses to Penn State, a loss in Columbus on Nov. 26 wouldn't automatically take Michigan out of Big Ten East championship contention. This is a matchup for the optimists. Either way, Michigan wins.

Texas Tech over Oklahoma (Texas Tech 59, Oklahoma 66): Despite its two early losses, Oklahoma has risen back into the Top 20 and could make some noise with an undefeated Big 12 season. If the Sooners lose, that officially eliminates another Big 12 contender and takes away from Houston's best victory.

Ole Miss over LSU (Ole Miss 21, LSU 38): You know helps Michigan more than a two-loss SEC team? Two three-loss SEC teams, of course! That's exactly what these two teams will be if Ole Miss pulls the upset.

Get greedy

These are games that would help Michigan's playoff chances, but probably won't happen.

N.C. State over Louisville (N.C. State 13, Louisville 54): N.C. State should have taken down Clemson last weekend, which really would have helped Michigan. Instead, the Wolfpack kicker couldn't hit a chip shot field goal and Clemson escaped. Now, N.C. State could completely end Louisville's playoff hopes with a huge upset on the road.

Virginia over North Carolina (Virginia 14, North Carolina 35): North Carolina already has two losses, but a third loss would completely end the Tarheels' hopes to back into the playoff.

Oregon State over Washington (Oregon State 17, Washington 41): Washington is the biggest barrier to Michigan slipping into the playoff with one loss. If the Huskies drop at least one game this season, their weak non-conference schedule and the struggles of the Pac-12 will really sting.

SMU over Houston (SMU 38, Houston 16): Houston is hanging on by a thread, but with every passing week, its win over Oklahoma looks better and better. If the Cougars beat Louisville Nov. 17, that would be another good win, and if Navy slips up twice, Houston could win a conference title. One more loss would squash any chance of that happening.

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