Week 8: Notre Dame’s playoff shot remains a reality despite FSU loss, TCU’s big win, more

It was a game so nice, we wouldn’t mind seeing it twice.

No. 2 Florida State and No. 5 Notre Dame delivered a game for the ages Saturday, a tense, well-played contest that came down to a last-second touchdown … that got wiped out by a rare penalty. With quarterback Jameis Winston playing at a Heisman-caliber level the entire second half, the Seminoles overcame an unexpected mismatch at the line of scrimmage and a breakout performance by Irish receiver Corey Robinson to win their 23rd straight game, 31-27.

Credit to heavy underdog Notre Dame, which proved the tougher team for most of the night. Behind Everett Golson’s 346 total yards and running back Tarean Folston’s career-high 120 rushing yards, the Irish went right at FSU’s defense. Meanwhile, the ‘Noles never could establish the run, averaging just 1.9 yards per carry.

But much like in last year’s BCS championship game against Auburn or earlier this season against NC State, Winston seems to play his best when an opponent presses him. He completed 15 of 16 passes in the second half, leading three touchdown drives of 70 or more yards. FSU was either tied or behind nearly the entire night before taking its first lead, 31-27, with 7:39 left.

But the ‘Noles couldn’t put Notre Dame away, and Golson got one last shot to pull off the upset. In the game’s most jaw-dropping moment, the Irish quarterback bought time on a seemingly impossible 4th and 18 to find a wide-open Robinson at the FSU 37 with 1:11 left. His 12-yard scramble took the Irish down to the 8 in the final 40 seconds. On fourth and goal at the 2, it appeared he’d thrown a game-winning touchdown to Robinson, but C.J. Prosise got flagged, correctly, for offensive pass interference. Golson’s last-ditch heave got intercepted.

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A year after blowing out everyone in its path, Florida State has gone down to the wire against every decent opponent it’s faced. It’s clearly got issues on its offensive line. But the ‘Noles are one of just five undefeated teams left, and as long as Winston remains on the field — a big if, mind you, what with his school code of conduct hearing approaching — they’re likely to stay that way awhile.

And considering selection committee members were likely watching this game, Notre Dame may actually have helped its playoff cause even in defeat. Even at 6-0 the Irish faced considerable skepticism due to their light early schedule, but you can’t say they haven’t played anyone now. And they’ve still got road games against ranked teams Arizona State and USC in front of them. 

If both teams win out, there’s a decent chance both would make the playoff. Can you say rematch in Pasadena or New Orleans?

— Stewart Mandel

MORE FROM WEEK 8

BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE: Devontae Booker, RB, Utah. The JC transfer ran wild at Oregon State Thursday night for 229 yards and three TDs. Booker now has run for 563 yards in the past three games for the Utes. Behind Booker and a fierce D-line, Utah is in the thick of the Pac-12 South race and has a chance to turn a lot of heads next week when USC visits.

COACH OF THE DAY: Tony Gibson, West Virginia DC. Undefeated Baylor was the third Top 5 team WVU has faced this season and Dana Holgorsen’s squad showed they’re a lot more than just a creative offensive team.  The first-year DC’s defense, despite being without its two starting corners, held Baylor to 4.61 yards per play and just 318 yards of offense and 3-for-16 on third downs. In the previous two meetings against WVU, the Bears averaged a whopping 8.50 yards per play.

STOCK UP: Greg Ward, Jr., QB, Houston. A few weeks ago, Ward was playing wide receiver. On Friday night, he was starting at QB and shredding one of the top-five ranked defenses in the nation, connecting on 29 of 33 passes and not turning the ball over once as UH thumped a 5-1 Temple team, 31-10.

STOCK DOWN: Oklahoma. The power of the Sooners in Norman has faded dramatically. Under Bob Stoops, OU had won 75 of 77 games at Owen Field but has now gone 14-4 after losing to K-State in Week 8. The Sooners have now lost two of their last three games and the win was against Texas, where they were outgained by a struggling Longhorns team by over 250 yards.

BEST WIN: TCU. The Horned Frogs plowed through a heart-breaking loss at Baylor where TCU had been up by 21 points in the fourth quarter, but there would be no such drama with No. 15 Oklahoma State visiting. Gary Patterson’s team put up 676 yards of offense while holding the Cowboys to just 258.

WORST LOSS: Texas A&M. The Aggies’ trip to Tuscaloosa was a gruesome one. They trailed 45-0 at the half and had been outgained by a staggering 449-51 margin over the first two quarters. The loss was the third in a row for an A&M team that has gone from averaging over 51 points per game in the first five games of the season down to 18 in the last three.

ONE THING NOBODY’S TALKING ABOUT: Duke. The Blue Devils, 6-1, beat Virginia to become bowl-eligible for the third consecutive season. The program had just two bowl appearances in the 41 years at the start of this stretch. Duke’s remaining five games are against opponents that are a combined three games under .500. The Blue Devils have a good shot of winning all of them and perhaps finishing 11-1.

— Bruce Feldman

TOP FIVE HEISMAN CANDIDATES AFTER WEEK 7

Feldman:

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

2. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

4. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

5. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana

Mandel:

1. Mariota

2. Prescott

3. Gordon

4. Coleman

5. White

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.