TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - No one around the Florida State football team wants to call Saturday's game against No. 5 Notre Dame a must-win. Reality could tell a different story.
The No. 2 Seminoles last week dropped from the top of the rankings for the first time since Dec. 1, 2013 despite a 6-0 record. Florida State simply hasn't been as dominant as during its 2013 title run. Mississippi State passed the Seminoles in the poll with a victory over then-No. 2 Auburn.
An undefeated FSU team should be a lock for the College Football Playoffs. Things, however, could change drastically with a loss to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are the last ranked team on Florida State's schedule and the last chance to make a significant impression on the selection committee.
"I'm sure if Florida State lost this game the immediate reaction after would be, well, they're done," said Danny Kannell, former FSU quarterback and ESPN college football analyst. "Because they play in the ACC, which is one of the weaker conferences in college football, because the remaining schedule, there aren't too many tests where they can make a statement down the road as it looks now."
Notre Dame has those opportunities upcoming against No. 17 Arizona State and No. 22 Southern California. The other undefeated teams in the top five -- No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 4 Baylor -- all have at least two more ranked teams to play. The Rebels and Bears have three.
"Anytime you play a high-ranked opponent you want to be successful because it gives you tons of credibility," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "There's no doubt about it. We don't look at it as an end-all game. It's a very important game.
"We can't concern ourselves with those thoughts. ... It does carry weight because Notre Dame has had an excellent year and they have an excellent team."
Some things to watch Saturday:
HELP ON THE WAY: The Florida State linebacking corps has been a weak spot after 2013 starters Telvin Smith and Christian Jones headed to the NFL. Fisher said sophomore Matthew Thomas has finished an indefinite suspension because of an undisclosed NCAA issue. Thomas was a five-star recruit out of Miami as a freshman and played in four games before shoulder surgery ended his season. There are high expectations for the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder.
5 VS 5: Saturday night will be a quarterback showcase. FSU's Jameis Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and has a national championship ring. Notre Dame's Everett Golson led the Irish to the national championship game at the end of the 2012 season. Winston ranks No. 10 in the country averaging 321.0 passing yards per game and Golson is No. 21 with 280.5. Both are mobile and Golson is responsible for 122 points this season to rank No. 6 in the nation. Golson's 209 rushing yards ranks second on the team in rushing.
RECORD SETTER: Florida State receiver Rashad Greene set the school career receptions record at 215 last week. He's on pace to break Ron Sellers' record of 3,598 receiving yards and could reach Peter Warrick's record 31 receiving touchdowns. Greene's 113.8 receiving yards per game ranks No. 7 in the country and his 44 catches is tied for 14th. At 6-0 and 180 pounds, Greene isn't physically imposing, but he runs clean routes and has a knack for big plays. He has caught passes in 35 consecutive games.
BALL SECURITY: While Golson has just four interceptions this season, he has fumbled five times in the last three games. The team has worked on this in practice this week, with Golson taking part in some running back drills. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, "He's tired of answering the question about turnovers. I've seen him single-handedly take on that approach of, 'I'm going to eradicate this.' ... He knows he needs to do a better job of taking care of the football. ... He's the leader on offense. He's the guy. We're sinking or swimming with what Everett does on offense."