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Florida State defense dominates in ACC title game win, but offensive struggles may raise playoff questions

Florida State’s defense did its best to show the undefeated Seminoles were deserving of a College Football Playoff berth in the ACC title game. But the offense gave the committee reason for pause.

The No. 4 Seminoles beat No. 15 Louisville 16-6 on Saturday night in Charlotte as No. 3 QB Brock Glenn started for FSU. The true freshman got the nod because of star QB Jordan Travis’ season-ending left leg injury in Week 12 and a head injury that backup QB Tate Rodemaker suffered in the regular season finale against Florida.

Glenn looked very much like a true freshman making his first start. He had numerous passes that could have and should have been intercepted and struggled to connect with his receivers. Florida State’s best offense came when the team went to the wildcat formation and split Glenn out wide. After Louisville tied the game at 3-3 midway through the third quarter, FSU quickly scored its only TD of the night after Lawrance Toafili broke a 73-yard run to set himself up for a short score.

The Seminoles’ defense took it from there. After Louisville cut the Seminoles’ lead to four at 10-6, the Cardinals had a prime opportunity early in the fourth quarter after they broke free to tackle Florida State punter Alex Mastromanno at the FSU 12 before he had the chance to even think about punting.

But LB Tatum Bethune made an incredible play to break up a touchdown pass on first down and then came up with an interception on a pass over the middle in the end zone on third down to prevent the Cardinals from taking the lead.

The Seminoles (13-0) made it nightmarish for Louisville QB Jack Plummer, who was just 14-of-35 passing for 105 yards. Louisville coach Jeff Brohm tried nearly everything he could to get his team’s offense on track and nothing worked as Jared Verse and Braden Fiske wreaked havoc up front. The Seminoles sacked Plummer seven times.

Very few things worked for the Florida State offense, either. Toafili’s 73-yard run was the only highlight. Glenn was overmatched in his first start as Louisville (10-3) sacked him four times and showed little fear of the passing game. Glenn finished the game 8-of-21 passing for 55 yards.

It was naive to expect that Florida State’s offense would look anything like it did with a healthy Travis on Saturday night. But the rockiness was still a bit jarring and made the struggles with Rodemaker a week ago look like no big deal. The Seminoles had just 229 total yards and were 2-of-16 on third downs.

It’s reasonable to expect that Rodemaker would be able to return for the College Football Playoff. But it’s also reasonable to wonder how the committee interpreted Florida State’s overall performance too. No undefeated Power Five team has ever missed the playoff. But there have also never been seven teams at the end of conference championship weekend with one loss or fewer.

Will the committee see what Florida State’s offense did on Saturday night as an aberration because of a third-string quarterback? Or was the ACC title game combined with Rodemaker’s 12-of-25 effort for 134 yards in a 24-15 win over Florida enough to jump a one-loss team over the Seminoles?

The playoff possibilities

Let's set the stage for Sunday. Michigan and Washington are both in the playoff at 13-0 and with healthy star quarterbacks. It'll be a surprise if the Wolverines and Huskies aren't the top two seeds.

Things will really get interesting from there. There are five teams vying for the remaining two spots, or four teams for one spot if you believe that Florida State is the third team in and would (likely) face Washington in a playoff semifinal.

We can probably discount Ohio State from the conversation too. The Buckeyes (11-1) were the only team in the top eight that didn't play on conference championship weekend. The breaks Ohio State needed to go their way on Saturday simply didn't happen.

That leaves either four teams for two spots if you think FSU isn't a lock or three teams for the final spot if you're penciling in FSU at No. 3. Alabama, Georgia and Texas are all 12-1 after the Longhorns won the Big 12 championship game and the Crimson Tide beat Georgia for the SEC title.

Texas beat Alabama in Week 2 in Tuscaloosa and has been ahead of the Tide in every set of playoff rankings. Georgia, meanwhile, entered the week at No. 1 and no No. 1 seed entering conference championship weekend has fallen out of the top four in the final rankings.

But this is clearly no normal year. What has or has not happened in the past nine years shouldn't matter given the uniqueness of this season at the top of college football. The committee first needs to determine if Florida State is worthy of being part of the field despite playing a backup quarterback. And once it figures that question out, it then needs to sort out how the 1-loss teams stack up against each other.

The playoff contenders

The playoff field will be announced shortly after Noon ET on Sunday on ESPN. Here are the top seven teams ranked by record and alphabetical order. Who would your four playoff teams be?

Florida State (13-0): Beat No. 15 Louisville 13-6 in ACC championship game

Michigan (13-0): Beat No. 16 Iowa 26-0 in Big Ten championship game

Washington (13-0): Beat No. 5 Oregon 34-31 in Pac-12 championship game

Alabama (12-1): Beat No. 1 Georgia 27-24 in SEC championship game

Georgia (12-1): Lost to No. 8 Alabama 27-24 in SEC championship game

Texas (12-1): Beat No. 19 Oklahoma State 49-21 in Big 12 championship game

Ohio State (11-1): Didn't play

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