Alabama finished a grueling stretch with a great escape and Clemson turned a potentially tricky road test into a statement game.
If the Tigers are going to overcome a schedule that provides only a few chances for marquee victories to make the College Football Playoff, they will need a few more performances like Saturday, when they blasted Miami 58-0.
Meanwhile, the eighth-ranked Crimson Tide held off Tennessee 19-14 at home to win its fourth Southeastern Conference game in four weeks. Alabama now gets a week off before hosting No. 5 LSU in what sets up - again - as a pivotal SEC West showdown.
The Tide has won five straight overall since losing to Mississippi, looking every bit the playoff contender. Alabama won at Georgia, against Arkansas and at Texas A&M by a combined 106-47. Nick Saban's team had to work much harder to extend its winning streak against the Vols to nine, but be careful about trying to ding the Tide for a close victory at the end of a tough stretch.
The Tide has some offensive limitations, but the defensive front is as good as any in the country and running back Derrick Henry alone gives them a reliable weapon.
Alabama (7-1) still needs help just to get to the Southeastern Conference title game in the form of an Ole Miss loss. The 24th-ranked Rebels host No. 15 Texas A&M on Saturday night.
Clemson (7-0) won't need any help getting to the playoff if it keeps playing the way it did against Miami.
The Tigers remained unbeaten with a 58-0 victory at Miami. It was the most-lopsided loss in Hurricanes' history and surely did nothing to help the job security of Miami coach Al Golden.
Clemson is at North Carolina State next week before what could be the game of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. No. 9 Florida State visits Death Valley on Nov. 7.
Deshaun Watson and the Tigers have already beaten Notre Dame, but the rest of their schedule beyond the Seminoles provides little chance to catch the playoff selection committee's attention - unless their blowing out teams. Clemson has won its last three games by a combined 135-41.
Unbeaten will likely be enough to get any Power Five conference team into the playoff, though one-loss teams such as Alabama and Stanford (5-1) out of the Pac-12 might disagree.
The first playoff rankings come out Nov. 3, a few days before those potential showdown games between LSU and Alabama and Clemson and Florida State. The committee showed last year with Florida State that it is willing to place an unbeaten team behind one with a loss if that undefeated team has been less-than-overwhelming.
So far Clemson is doing its best to avoid a similar fate.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org