Has Florida State Already Clinched a Spot in the Playoff?

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The first two months of the college football season have been somewhat rocky for the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles. There have been off-field issues swirling around reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston: the upcoming conduct hearing, the table in the student union, and the autograph questions, to name a few.

There have been closer-than-expected score lines, both with Winston (a six-point victory over Oklahoma State in Week 1, for instance), and without him (a September overtime thriller versus Clemson behind backup Sean Maguire). And, most recently, there have been two straight games that the ‘Noles probably should have lost: A nail-biter against Notre Dame that came down to the Irish using an illegal play instead of a legal one to get Corey Robinson open in the end zone, followed by a comeback win at Louisville after FSU fell behind 21-0.

Throughout the ups and downs of the first eight games on the 2014 schedule, though, one fact remains constant: Florida State still hasn’t lost. The Seminoles have won 24 games in a row and, despite the drama of September and October, are in perfect position to defend their national title when the inaugural College Football Playoff bracket is assembled in early December. In fact, is it possible that Florida State has basically sewn up a slot in the four-team field even though the calendar hasn’t turned to November yet?

As things currently stand, there are only three undefeated teams left in FBS college football. And since the selection committee is so unimpressed with mid-major Marshall, to the point of not even including the Thundering Herd in this week’s 25-team rankings, only two of the three matter: No. 2 Florida State and No. 1 Mississippi State. The Seminoles arguably have the easiest remaining schedule of the top handful of contenders for the bracket: No Egg Bowl or Iron Bowl to get through, and no legitimate second-best team in the conference to outlast.

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All that separate Florida State from an undefeated season are, in order: Virginia, Miami away, Boston College, Florida, and the ACC title game. FSU doesn’t have to play another ranked team the rest of the way, with the possible exception of the ACC Championship, where No. 24 Duke, not exactly a world-beater, theoretically could await. Most likely, the toughest game facing Florida State from here on out is a November 15 trip to Miami Gardens to battle the Hurricanes. Yes, that would be the 5-3 and .500 in the ACC Hurricanes.

And here’s the thing about Florida State’s easy schedule to close the season: Jimbo Fisher’s team could very well slip up once and still sneak into the playoff bracket. With only Mississippi State as a power-conference unbeaten (assuming ot was to run the table, which is no guarantee), that leaves at least three spots for programs of the one-loss variety.

And while there are currently plenty of those — at least 15 of them to be found in Big Five leagues outside the ACC, counting independent Notre Dame — how many would be more appealing to the selection committee than a hypothetically once-beaten Florida State? You don’t think the committee will want to give the defending champ a fighting chance to repeat over a less-proven competitor? You don’t think the brains of the operation in that meeting room are aware of what a past Heisman Trophy winner (and controversial one at that) would mean to the television ratings?

The bottom line is that a 13-0 Florida State is guaranteed a chance to play for the crown. And, whether you want to admit it or not, a 12-1 Florida State is an overwhelming favorite to do the same thing. So unless Winston figures out a way to get himself suspended again between now and when the first College Football Playoff bracket comes out December 7, Seminoles fans can be forgiven for planning ahead and looking into postseason ticket prices and travel plans. Because the fact remains: If Florida State, the same team that’s won a nation-best 24 consecutive games, doesn’t lose twice over the span of five games against lesser opponents, the Seminoles are almost certainly going to be playing for college football’s biggest prize.