Lucky you, college football. For a second consecutive week, two undefeated teams in the top five of the AP poll will square off. On Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC), No. 2 Florida State hosts No. 5 Notre Dame.
While both teams have mined the first half of the regular season unscathed, neither is playing perfect football. The winner likely won’t have to play perfect football to win Saturday, though. The game could come down to which team cosmetically covers its flaws better and creates advantageous matchups.
Matt Fortuna offers three reasons why the Fighting Irish will win and Jared Shanker provides three reasons for the opposite -- a Florida State victory.
Shanker's three reasons Florida State wins:
1. Everett Golson is not only turning it over, but it’s turning to easy points for Notre Dame’s opponent.
While Florida State is not finding the same success forcing turnovers as it did a season ago, the Seminoles did pick off two passes when Syracuse was in the red zone Saturday. Golson has sufficiently cooled off from his hot start and has been turnover-prone the last three games. Last Saturday against North Carolina, all three of his turnovers were converted into easy touchdowns. One was on an interception return, and twice he fumbled near his own end zone. Against Stanford, he threw a critical red-zone interception and fumbled inside his own 10 in a game where points were at a premium. When the Irish played Syracuse, a Golson interception was returned for a touchdown and he fumbled twice, one of which was inside the red zone. At times, Golson has been the Irish’s own worst enemy. If Florida State is patient, history suggests Golson will offer a lending hand to his opponent’s cause.
2. FSU has the country’s best kicker, Roberto Aguayo.
Florida State and Jimbo Fisher enjoy a comfort no other team in the country has in a kicker who is as automatic as it gets. Aguayo, the reigning Lou Groza Award winner, has missed just one kick during his Florida State career. Two weeks ago, Aguayo converted all five of his field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder. With Aguayo, the field shrinks for Florida State in its pursuit of points, which could be hard to come by against a tough Irish defense. Aguayo is a weapon on kickoffs, too. Instead of blasting it through the end zone, he purposely kicks the ball shorter but higher, which allows the athletic FSU coverage team to pin opponents inside the 25.
3. Jameis Winston is still Florida State’s quarterback.
The obvious caveat is no one is quite sure if that will be the case Saturday, as Florida State officials notified Winston last week he will face a disciplinary hearing and could be charged with violating as many as four student code of conduct policies. That news came less than a day before the Seminoles played Syracuse, and in that game Winston was 30-of-36 passing for 317 yards and three touchdowns. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is no stranger to playing with off-the-field clouds hanging over his head, and he’s been statistically better in 2014 than he was a season ago. In the games Winston has started, Florida State is averaging 42 points per game, and he’s come up with big plays this season when the Seminoles have needed one.
Fortuna’s three reasons Notre Dame wins:
1. The good version of Everett Golson is, well, very good.
Yes, Golson has turned the ball over nine times in Notre Dame’s last three games, nearly costing the Irish two victories. These are correctable mistakes, however, and Golson will be the reason behind an Irish victory if they can beat FSU and get to 7-0. The Seminoles defense just isn’t what it was last year, missing key leaders such as Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks. Florida State has struggled to defend mobile quarterbacks this season, as Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (296 total yards despite not starting) and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett (397 total yards) had little trouble moving the ball against the Seminoles. For all of its talent, Florida State is just sixth in the ACC in scoring defense and eighth in total defense. Golson has been a better runner than both Watson and Brissett, ranking 26th nationally in rushing among quarterbacks with 209 yards.
2. Notre Dame relishes the underdog role.
One of the themes for the Irish’s 2014 season is plastered across T-shirts that the players wear: “You don’t rise to the occasion. You sink to the level of preparation.” Make of that what you wish, as the Irish were clearly caught somewhat off-guard by North Carolina on Saturday and were extremely sloppy offensively in a Sept. 27 win over Syracuse. Still, they are clearly aware of the test that awaits them Saturday in Tallahassee: the defending national champions, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, a team that has not lost since November 2012. The preseason Las Vegas line for this one was 24 points. Irish players had hoped to get the Seminoles undefeated going into this contest. The Seminoles have the far-more-complete roster, but it will be surprising if they don’t get the Irish’s best shot, which would certainly make things interesting.
3. Florida State could be facing more turmoil.
We know that Winston is always in the news. We know that Jimbo Fisher doesn’t believe that it is necessary to address his team each time a new off-the-field issue arises. We know all Florida State has done is go out and win, regardless of the clutter. Still, as of now, there is no certainty as to what Winston’s fate is for Saturday, and perhaps beyond that, after colleague Mark Schlabach’s report Friday night about Winston’s impending disciplinary hearing. This thing probably won’t get any prettier anytime soon, and FSU looked plenty vulnerable without Winston on Sept. 20 against Clemson, as the Tigers gave away several chances to put the nail in the Seminoles’ coffin and ultimately lost in overtime.