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CFB Playoff Scenarios: How Week 8 will impact playoff race

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Every Thursday during the season, we'll take a look at the big game(s) during the upcoming weekend that will have the biggest impact on the playoff chase.

Two of the nation's six unbeaten teams and two of the nation's top quarterbacks get together Saturday night when Jameis Winston and Florida State play Everett Golson and Notre Dame in a game rife with playoff implications.

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Most of the pre-game talk has centered on Winston and his various off-field issues, and as a result, the prime-time matchup has sort of been shunted to the background. That's too bad, because this is one of the top 10 games left this season.

Both teams are 6-0 and their stats are similar. Florida State has scored 234 points and surrendered 124; Notre Dame has scored 207 and allowed 103. FSU has gained 2,775 total yards; Notre Dame has 2,666. FSU has allowed 2,151 yards, while Notre Dame has surrendered 2,090.

And then there are the quarterbacks. Winston, the reigning Heisman winner, has thrown for 1,605 yards and 11 TDs in five games, and is completing 70 percent of his passes. He also has rushed for two scores. Golson has thrown for 1,683 yards and 16 TDs in six games, and is completing 62.5 percent of his passes. He also has rushed for four TDs.

Winston has one of the nation's premier receivers to work with in senior Rashad Greene, and Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary are going to cause issues for Notre Dame's secondary. (Imagine a tight end named "O'Leary" causing angst for Irish fans.) But FSU's rushing attack has been underwhelming, and a return to health by senior tailback Karlos Williams -- who missed last week's cakewalk over Syracuse with an ankle injury -- is important for the Seminoles. But the Irish rushing attack hasn't been all that consistent, either, and one of the best sub-plots this week will be whether Irish tailbacks Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston -- both of whom went to high school in Florida -- will have any running room.

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There will be ample defensive talent on view. Notre Dame sophomore Jaylon Smith is one of the most talented linebackers in the nation, and Irish junior defensive end Sheldon Day is playing at a high level and gives coach Brian Kelly a force against the run and a pass-rusher all in one. For FSU, junior defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr. (an end) and Eddie Goldman (a tackle) are forces up front, and junior cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams might be the nation's best duo.

Saturday's contest is the 11th time in school history that Notre Dame has played in a game where both teams were unbeaten and at least 6-0. The Irish are 9-0-1 in such games. But this will be just the second time that has happened since 1993, when No. 2 Notre Dame beat No. 1 Florida State 31-24 when both were 9-0. FSU still was able to go on and win the national title that season despite the loss.

Florida State implications

If Seminoles win: If the Seminoles win, go ahead and send them a playoff invitation; this is the last truly tough game on their schedule. There are contests remaining against Louisville (road) and Virginia (home), as well as rivalry games with Florida and Miami, but the 'Noles should be able to simply out-talent those teams. The off-field issues with Winston will continue as a backdrop, and how all that plays out obviously has playoff implications.
If Seminoles lose: A loss to the Irish almost certainly knocks FSU out of the playoff: There simply aren't any opponents that would give the Seminoles a "marquee" win after this matchup. And winning the ACC this season isn't going to carry any cachet unless FSU is unbeaten.

Notre Dame implications

If the Irish win: This is the first of three big road games for the Irish; if they get past the Seminoles, they still face toughies at Arizona State on Nov. 8 and at USC on Nov. 29. There's also a Nov. 22 home game against Louisville, which has a stout defense that would cause Golson some trouble. But the Cardinals' offense is mediocre, and with the game in South Bend, the Irish would be expected to win. Still, the trip to Tallahassee is the toughest game left, and the Irish would become a favorite for one of the four playoffs bid if they can get the victory.
If the Irish lose: They would retain slim playoff hopes because of the two tough Pac-12 opponents left on the schedule -- assuming, of course, those Pac-12 teams continue to win. A loss obviously would leave them with no margin for error, and their playoff hopes also would depend greatly on how other teams fare down the stretch.

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Other games with playoff implications

» Texas A&M at Alabama: The one-loss Tide must win out to keep their playoff hopes alive, and their rushing attack should be able to dominate A&M's shaky defense. The return of WR Malcome Kennedy is big for the Aggies, who have a puncher's chance because of their ability to hit some deep passes.

» Stanford at Arizona State: Stanford is out of the playoff hunt, but Arizona State is a potential sleeper. Arizona State lost to UCLA but remains a viable contender in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils have a monster remaining schedule, which is both good and bad. The "good" part comes because if ASU can finish 11-1 against a schedule that still features games against Washington, Utah, Notre Dame and Arizona as well as the contest with Stanford, the resume will be super-strong. The "bad" part: Can a team with as iffy a defense as ASU finish 11-1 against that schedule?

» Kansas State at Oklahoma: Both have one loss, with OU's coming in conference play. Thus, for the Sooners to remain legitimately alive in the Big 12 and playoff hunt, they have to win this. K-State is a potential sleeper team in the playoff race, but it, too, must win this to keep hope alive. The Wildcats are as physical a team as there is in the Big 12, and QB Jake Waters is better than his OU counterpart, Trevor Knight.

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» Washington at Oregon: Both have one Pac-12 loss and thus must win out to have a shot at the league title -- and a potential playoff berth. Washington has a talented defense, featuring the likes of DT Danny Shelton, CB Marcus Peters and LBs Shaq Thompson and Hau'oli Kikaha, but even talented defenses can struggle against the Ducks' offense. Washington's offense doesn't seem to have enough firepower to keep up.

» Baylor at West Virginia: Baylor's epic comeback last week at TCU has the Horned Frogs looking good -- for now, at least -- in the Big 12 and in the national-title picture. WVU could spoil things, though, and if the Mountaineers can pull off the upset, Morgantown residents better hide their couches. This has the earmarks of a shootout; the last time the teams met in Morgantown, WVU prevailed 70-63 in 2012.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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