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.
Florida State's impressive domination of Clemson in Week 7 last season propelled the Seminoles on their way to the national title. The Seminoles will be looking to do the same thing Saturday night in Tallahassee -- but will have to play the first half without their Heisman-winning quarterback.
Everyone knows Jameis Winston has been suspended for the first half, and that definitely adds an element of mystery to the contest. Backup Sean Maguire has been tasked with playing the first half, and there is some doubt as to whether he and his offensive teammates can be effective against a solid Clemson defense. That, in turn, has created some doubt as to whether FSU will be in a comeback mode when Winston enters in the second half.
The flipside: Clemson's offense is a big question, and FSU's defense would seem to have the upper hand in that matchup even if Winston never sets foot on the field. Clemson's offense did nothing against Georgia's defense in the second half of the opening-week loss to Bulldogs -- the same Georgia defense that South Carolina moved the ball on easily last week. The same Clemson offense won't necessarily take the field Saturday, but it's tough to see the Tigers being that productive against FSU's defense.
And, frankly, that is good news for those hoping to see an ACC team in the four-team playoff at the end of the season.
Not that the polls really are indicative of a team's strength, but FSU currently is the only ACC team in the top 20 of either major media poll (heck, only two league teams are in The Associated Press Top 25 and just three in the coaches' poll) and a Seminoles loss potentially could be devastating for the league's hopes of having a team in the playoff.
The league has seven undefeated teams, but does anyone outside their most ardent fans really think all that much of unbeatens Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pitt or Syracuse? The likelihood of any of those teams running the table seems infinitesimal. A one-loss Clemson team would have some cachet, especially if most (all?) of the other league champs also had at least one loss.
But the ACC team with the most cachet obviously would be an unbeaten FSU squad, which is why the league's playoff hopes could be dashed if the Seminoles lose on Saturday.
Other games with implications
» Auburn at Kansas State on Thursday night: To some, Auburn is the best team in the SEC -- and thus the SEC's No. 1 playoff contender. As usual, K-State is being overlooked, but if the Wildcats can win in front of what is going to be a raucous crowd, they become a Big 12 contender -- and thus a playoff contender. Plus, old-school coach Bill Snyder vs. space-age coach Gus Malzahn is a tremendous matchup.
» Florida at Alabama: There's a bit of intrigue about this one. Florida has some talent, especially on defense, and can show it's a contender in the SEC East with the upset. This is the start of an interesting four-game stretch for the Tide: Florida, at Ole Miss, at Arkansas and Texas A&M.
» Mississippi State at LSU: If Mississippi State can win in Baton Rouge, you'd have to take the Bulldogs at least somewhat seriously as a SEC West title contender. And any team that wins the SEC West is a playoff contender. That said, LSU also looks like a SEC West title contender, is playing at home and absolutely owns Mississippi State: The Tigers have won 14 in a row (scoring at least 30 points on 12 occasions) and 21 of the past 22 against the Bulldogs.
» Oklahoma at West Virginia: WVU has a puncher's chance in this game because of its offense. OU's offense should put up a lot of points; can WVU's offense follow suit? OU has four road games left, and this might be the toughest of the quartet.
» Virginia at BYU: BYU is going to have trouble making a four-team playoff field even if it finishes unbeaten. At the same time, an unbeaten BYU obviously would give the selection committee something to think about. Virginia's speedy, aggressive defensive front seven makes this one of the toughest remaining games on BYU's schedule.