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September provides CFP answers but leaves questions, too

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College Football Sights & Sounds Week 4 (1:55)

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The time to make September statements is over, but there is one more month to impress the College Football Playoff selection committee before it releases its first ranking on Nov. 1.

At this point, the playoff picture is somewhat premature, as teams are just now entering the heart of conference play, and the committee holds league titles in high regard. Technically, any team with a chance to win its league should still be in the conversation. (Oklahoma: "So you're saying there's a chance?")

The perception of wins and losses will also change as the season evolves. Will Houston's win over Oklahoma carry as much weight in November as it did in Week 1? Not if the Sooners slip into oblivion. Alabama beat USC ... well, so did everyone else. The same can be said for Texas' thrilling double overtime win against Notre Dame in the season opener, as the Irish are now 1-3 after losing at home to Duke.

A win over a Power 5 nonconference opponent will continue to resonate with the committee and help separate those teams from other comparable programs with weaker schedules, but as the teams evolve, so does the playoff picture.

Here's a look at what we know after four weeks, and what questions still linger heading into October:

September answers:

Alabama is still the team to beat. The defending national champs entered the season with questions about their quarterbacks and running backs, but after a 4-0 start have reasserted themselves as the premier team in the country. It was the gritty win over Ole Miss, which had beaten the Crimson Tide the previous two seasons, that made the biggest statement and cemented Bama's perch atop the SEC West. The biggest concern right now is staying healthy, as the top two running backs, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, were injured against Kent State.

Notre Dame and USC aren't top four -- or top 25. They both fell far fast and are off to 1-3 starts, major disappointments for programs that entered the season with playoff aspirations. The Irish suffered their worst upset in two decades on Saturday when they lost at home to Duke, which was a three-touchdown underdog, and USC lost a heartbreaker to Utah on Friday night. The Trojans simply haven't looked good enough to contend for the Pac-12 title, let alone a spot in the top four.

Louisville has legitimate national title hopes. After embarrassing then-No. 2 Florida State 63-20, Louisville flipped a switch from playoff darkhorse to contender. It has looked like the best team in the ACC's Atlantic Division, and will have played both FSU and Clemson before the first ranking comes out. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is a frontrunner for the Heisman trophy, but Louisville's defense has made the Cardinals the total package entering October.

The Group of 5 has hope. Houston's win over Oklahoma wasn't a fluke. Clearly the Cougars were the better team, but they still need a perfect season plus a little bit of help to get into the top four. It's not impossible, but the Thursday night game against Louisville (see above) on Nov. 17 has grown in importance. Houston has to finish undefeated, it needs OU to be relevant in the Big 12 race, and for the committee to acknowledge a few of its American Athletic Conference opponents in their top 25.

The Big 12 is in a precarious position. Oklahoma is 1-2 and hasn't even started conference play. The excitement around Texas fizzled with its loss at Cal. TCU lost in double overtime to Arkansas, and Oklahoma State's controversial loss to Central Michigan (which just lost to Virginia) was a microcosm of the hand-wringing Big 12 fans have gone through this season. So the league turns to Baylor, a program mired in controversy, as its highest-ranked team. Whoever emerges as the league champ will likely only be afforded one loss by the committee.

Tennessee controls the SEC East. What streak? Butch Jones can exhale after overcoming an 18-point deficit in the second half to beat Florida and snap an 11-game losing streak in the series. Equally as important is the win propelled the Vols to the top of the East standings as the frontrunner to win the division, especially after Georgia's dreadful performance in the 45-14 loss to Ole Miss.

Lingering questions:

Can anyone beat Alabama? Not even Ole Miss could do it this year. LSU certainly doesn't look capable. With its win over Arkansas, Texas A&M became the lead contender to challenge the Tide in the SEC West, but Alabama will have home field advantage in that game on Oct. 22. Tennessee also has new life in the East and could have two shots at Bama, and in case you didn't notice, rival Auburn still has a pulse. Anything can happen in the Iron Bowl.

How will the committee view Baylor? The Bears are now the Big 12's highest-ranked team after their win over Oklahoma State, and West Virginia is the only other undefeated team in the league. For the third straight year, Baylor's nonconference schedule is laughable compared to others, but is the Big 12's most polarizing program also its best? Can the Bears remain relevant in the conference race? If so, will the committee members be able to separate what has happened on the field with the transgressions off of it?

Can Wisconsin keep it up? The Badgers have one of the most impressive September résumés, knocking off two top 10 teams in LSU and Michigan State. Remember, though, that Wisconsin made it to the Big Ten championship game in 2014 and was dismantled by Ohio State and its third-string quarterback. There's no doubt the Badgers found their quarterback in Alex Hornibrook, but they also face back-to-back top five opponents in Michigan and Ohio State.

Is Utah for real? The Utes are off to a 4-0 start, but they also did that last year, and were 3-0 to start 2014, but haven't been able to sustain it through conference play. Utah next travels to Cal, and should also be leery of a surging Colorado team in the ever-unpredictable South Division, which has had four different champs in each of the past four seasons.

Will the ACC need its third-party tiebreaker? It's a longshot, as several things need to happen: Clemson has to beat Louisville, AND Florida State has to beat Clemson, AND none of them can lose again this season, finishing with 11-1 records. If that happens, the ACC will turn to SportSource Analytics for its No. 7 tiebreaker, using the highest-ranked team according to their team rating score metric to determine the Atlantic Division winner.

Ohio State or Michigan? It was clear in the home loss to Wisconsin that Michigan State has issues, and Sparty didn't look ready to return to the Big Ten title game. So which one is it? Ohio State or Michigan? The Buckeyes have the better résumé right now thanks to a road win over Oklahoma, and they also have to travel to Wisconsin on Oct. 15, in addition to facing Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan. The Wolverines host Wisconsin on Saturday.