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.
The release of the College Football Playoff selection committee's first top 25 rankings of the season has led to numerous "what if?" scenarios in terms of the four teams that will be selected for the playoff.
For instance, what if Florida State loses to Louisville on Thursday night? And what if a Pac-12 or SEC team has two losses -- does it fall out of the running for one of the four spots?
There's a lot of those "what if?" questions that will be floating around this weekend -- enough, in fact, that we are going to discuss the topic Thursday and Friday this week. This story will focus on No. 2 Florida State; Friday, there will be a piece talking about the one-loss teams and which ones look to have a legit shot at making the playoff field.
Florida State's season would make for a great soap opera, as there seems to be some off-field issue that crops up weekly. This week, the issue centers on starting tailback/leading rusher Karlos Williams. Thus far, FSU has been able to put aside the issues and get it done on the field (though home wins over Clemson and Notre Dame were anything but easy). This week, FSU has taken its team and its accompanying baggage on the road to play Louisville.
Normally, a Bobby Petrino-coached team would be a threat because of its offense. That's not the case this season. Louisville's defense is stout (allowing just 244.8 yards per game in ACC play) and gives the Cardinals a chance to upset the Seminoles. The irony is that Petrino's offense doesn't look to be good enough to cause FSU any issues.
If Florida State wins
The implications: FSU looks good for an unbeaten regular-season if it can beat Louisville. And an unbeaten Seminoles team obviously is going to be in the playoff. The rest of the schedule after Thursday night: vs. Virginia, at Miami, vs. Boston College and vs. Florida. Even when you include Louisville, FSU's defense faces just one potent offense the rest of the way, and that's Miami's. Louisville, UVa, B.C. and Florida scare no one with their offenses. And while UM's offense is good, its defense isn't. In short, a win Thursday night and FSU is in excellent shape -- the best of anyone -- for the playoff.
If Florida State loses
The implications: The issue for the Seminoles is that if they lose, the remaining schedule doesn't provide them an opportunity for a marquee win. Thus, a loss to Louisville almost certainly takes FSU out of the playoff discussion, assuming there isn't a rash of losses by teams that currently have one loss. The win over Notre Dame is a good one. But that's the only opponent currently in the selection committee's top 20. Clemson is 21st this week and shouldn't lose the rest of the way, but the Tigers don't have a win over a team in the top 25 and won't have the chance to get one. Thus, a loss at Louisville and an FSU team that is the most talented in the nation likely is looking at an Orange Bowl berth.
Other games with playoff implications
» Utah at Arizona State: Both these Pac-12 South schools have one loss; that means the winner will keep its playoff hopes alive and the loser is going to have a tough time winning the division. And if the winner can finish the regular season (including the Pac-12 title game) with one loss? It will be in the playoff, considering the schedule it will have played.
» Auburn at Mississippi: The biggest game of the weekend (and one that will be discussed more in depth Friday) matches two one-loss teams. Ole Miss can go from potential national titlist to potentially heading to the Citrus Bowl in a two-week stretch if it loses for the second week in a row; the Rebels are coming off a physical loss to LSU. As for Auburn, the Tigers already have lost at Mississippi State, play in Oxford this weekend and also have road games left against Georgia and Alabama. In short, if the Tigers get through the regular season with one loss, they undoubtedly will deserve a playoff spot.
» Arkansas at Mississippi State: The top-ranked Bulldogs had to exert themselves last week to win at Kentucky. They will be at home in front of their cowbell-ringing fans this week, and while the Razorbacks certainly are dangerous on the ground, they also are one-dimensional offensively. Top-ranked teams don't lose to one-dimensional offenses. (Well, they shouldn't, anyway.)
» TCU at West Virginia: TCU is the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the playoff committee's ranking and this is the toughest remaining road game for the Horned Frogs. Their toughest remaining game overall is next week, when Kansas State visits Fort Worth. TCU already has beaten Oklahoma and lost to Baylor, when it blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead. As for WVU, the two-loss Mountaineers aren't going to be in the playoff, but they still have a shot at the Big 12 title if they win this. And they also have an opportunity to end TCU's playoff hopes.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.