Editor’s note: Saturday Down South concludes its annual Top 25 preview week with a look at the games that matter most in college football this season.

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The final year of the 4-team Playoff will have a different feel. Starting next year, saying a game will have “Playoff implications” will kick off most Power 5 broadcasts involving teams with a pulse.

But this year, we’re still in a place where a game with “Playoff implications” carries a bit of extra weight.

To have Playoff implications, we’re very likely talking about a game with 2 teams that are playing in the Top 25, and obviously, late-season contests carry even more weight. I’ll default to those a bit more.

So here are the top 25 games that’ll impact the Playoff picture in 2023:

25. Clemson at South Carolina, Week 13

It certainly impacted it last year. South Carolina handed Clemson its first home loss in 6 years and spoiled its Playoff path. This year in Columbia? Even in what some (myself included) expect to be a bounce-back year for Clemson with Garrett Riley running the offense, I wouldn’t say anything is a given.

24. LSU at Ole Miss, Week 5

This game is being slept on amidst a trick start to the 2023 slate for LSU. Let’s not forget that Ole Miss had a halftime lead in Death Valley last year. Could a healthy dose of tempo and Quinshon Judkins be too much for LSU to overcome when it has 4 games vs. Power 5 teams with winning records? Absolutely.

23. Florida State at Florida, Week 13

Wait, what? Why include this one? Anthony Richardson went hours without a completion in Tallahassee for a Florida squad that had a decimated group of receivers against a red-hot Florida State squad, and yet, this was still a down-to-the-wire game. Winning in The Swamp is by no means a given, especially if Florida’s defense finally shows signs of life with new 20-something defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong.

22. Texas A&M at LSU, Week 13

It’s the regular-season finale for a pair of teams that will likely start in the AP Top 25 (I disagree that a 5-7 team should start ranked, so the Aggies weren’t in my preseason Top 25). It’s also a revenge game for LSU after the Aggies spoiled their 2-loss Playoff path last year with a beatdown in College Station. Can A&M play spoiler again? Or perhaps even more intriguing, could both of these squads have just 1 loss with Playoff hopes on the line? I wouldn’t rule it out.

21. Texas vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas), Week 6

The last Red River Showdown as Big 12 foes should be loaded with intrigue, and perhaps it’ll be loaded with opportunity. Imagine if Texas beat Alabama in Week 2, or alternatively, it’s trying to avoid that second loss against an Oklahoma squad with a very favorable start to its schedule. This could definitely be a top-10 matchup.

20. Alabama at Texas A&M, Week 6

We don’t really talk about how even in A&M’s disappointing 2-year stretch in 2021-22, it played Alabama down to the wire twice and split those 2 games. Back in the place where Alabama suffered its lone regular season loss in 2021, the Aggies could threaten to derail the Tide’s revenge tour if indeed the offense takes that next step under Bobby Petrino’s guidance.

19. Texas at TCU, Week 11

Last I checked, it was TCU that played in a national championship, not Texas. While the Horned Frogs didn’t win the Big 12, they still went 12-0 in the regular season and reached the Playoff, which is the mission for Steve Sarkisian’s squad. This is a mid-November road game for Texas. It could be a legacy-defining day for Quinn Ewers, or it could be the 8th time that TCU handed its in-state rival an “L” in the Playoff era.

18. Oregon State at Oregon, Week 13

Yep. That’s right. Playoff implications for the showdown formerly named The Civil War. Who would’ve thunk? Anybody paying attention to Jonathan Smith knows this isn’t far-fetched at all. I doubt either will be unbeaten because the Pac-12’s final year actually has loads of depth, but in the regular-season finale, maybe Oregon State’s experienced squad can play spoiler once again.

17. Penn State at Ohio State, Week 8

I know you think I should have this higher on my list, but here’s why I don’t. The Lions have lost 5 in a row in Columbus and their lone win in the rivalry in the past decade came on a wild blocked field goal return in 2016. Yeah, it’s possible that Drew Allar is the real deal and Penn State has a legitimate Playoff shot, but tell me the last time James Franklin pulled off a true road upset. I’m skeptical this one will feel like a true test by game’s end.

16. Oregon at Washington, Week 7

Washington spoiled Oregon’s Playoff shot last year in Eugene (Dan Lanning’s clock management also spoiled that). Could the Ducks to the same in Seattle? There’s a good chance that both teams will be undefeated for this mid-October showdown, which will future a pair of top-5 quarterbacks in Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr. The future Big Ten squads should have a dandy in their final Pac-12 showing.

15. Utah at USC, Week 8

The Utes singlehandedly ended USC’s Playoff hopes last season. It’s rare that the Heisman Trophy winner returns with 2 losses to avenge to the same team. This is a massive test for what USC hopes is a revamped defense. If that group can handle the physicality of Kyle Whittingham’s squad, the Trojans might finally be Playoff-ready.

14. Utah at Washington, Week 11

You’ll notice I put this game slightly ahead of Utah-USC. Why? I have Washington in the Playoff, not USC. Michael Penix Jr. vs. Cam Rising should be one of the better quarterback showdowns of 2023, and in the second week of November, it could determine who plays for a Pac-12 Championship.

13. Tennessee at Alabama, Week 8

How big was that game in last year’s Playoff picture? Huge. It gave Tennessee a path, and ultimately, it played a massive part in Alabama not making the field … a field that would’ve been terrified to see the Tide. This time, we’ll have 2 new starting quarterbacks. Josh Heupel’s offense showed it could put up points against Nick Saban, and even with a bunch of new weapons — Alabama will be delighted not to see Jalin Hyatt — there’s an expectation that’ll be the case again.

12. Michigan at Penn State, Week 11

How many losses will these teams have combined in the second weekend of November? One? Two? This feels like it’ll be a Playoff elimination game. It sort of always is. In each of the past 6 non-COVID seasons, at least one of these teams was ranked in the top 7. Will both be in the top 7 this year? Either way, we should get 2 of the nation’s top running back rooms battling it out.

11. USC at Notre Dame, Week 7

My hope is that this is the biggest USC-Notre Dame game since The Bush Push. Both teams could be ranked in the top 10 by mid-October. Notre Dame would be a top-4 team if it beat Ohio State (more on that in a minute), and perhaps the same would be true if USC cruised with its favorable front half of the schedule. This should be an excellent battle of Year 2 coaches that feels a bit more significant than most of the last decade-plus of this historic rivalry.

10. Florida State vs. LSU (in Orlando), Week 1

Both could be in the preseason top 7. The only reason — and I mean the only reason — this game isn’t higher is because it kicks off the season. History tells us Playoff implications are indeed greater in November and we tend to forgive a September loss. But at the same time, could this be a monumental victory to pad a 1-loss, non-division title winning résumé? Absolutely. It’ll have a much different feel than last year’s slop fest in New Orleans.

9. Ohio State at Notre Dame, Week 4

Did Notre Dame turning out to be a decent team help Ohio State’s Playoff chances as a 1-loss, non-division champ last year? Absolutely. That could be the case again this year. Sam Hartman gives Notre Dame perhaps its best quarterback since Brady Quinn. Can that help the Irish beat an AP top-5 opponent for the 4th time since 1999? It would be a monumental victory, and at the same time, an Ohio State win could also make a Michigan loss somewhat irrelevant for its Playoff chances if it can remain unbeaten.

8. Georgia at Tennessee, Week 12

There’s a ton of talk about Georgia’s schedule. Perhaps the only game in which it isn’t a double-digit favorite will be at Tennessee. If the Dawgs falter in this one, they won’t go into the SEC Championship with a loss to give, which they did each of the past 2 seasons. And obviously if Tennessee hands the 2-time defending national champs their first regular-season loss since 2020, the Vols would have the best Playoff-résumé boosting win imaginable.

7. Notre Dame at Clemson, Week 10

It’s strange to me that everyone always blasts Notre Dame’s schedule when it feels like the Irish alway play about 3 games with significant Playoff implications. This matchup should be one of them. In the first weekend of November, the Tigers will get a grudge match against a Notre Dame squad that rolled in South Bend last year. Both teams have talented new starting quarterbacks and new offensive coordinators. But a new setting — a place where Clemson has exactly 1 loss since 2016 — might be the difference.

6. Florida State at Clemson, Week 4

This is tricky because on the surface because these are expected to be the 2 best teams in the ACC. But remember, the ACC eliminated divisions. This September matchup could only be Part 1 of 2, even if the winning team loses an ACC game at some point. Whatever the case, FSU’s last quarterback to beat Clemson was Jameis Winston. It’s fun that this game, with a pair of teams that seemingly traded places during the Playoff era, has immense stakes.

5. USC at Oregon, Week 11

USC has a strange schedule this year because it plays in Week 0, so this Pac-12 power showdown will be the second-to-last week of the regular season for the Trojans. This game pits an elite defensive mind (Dan Lanning) against an elite offensive mind (Lincoln Riley), and because they didn’t play in 2022, this will be the first time those 2 coaches square off. Could this showdown decide a Heisman Trophy with Caleb Williams and Bo Nix? Perhaps. Will this be the most important game of the final year of the Pac-12? Well, not quite.

4. Washington at USC, Week 10

A week before USC travels to Eugene, it’ll try to keep its Playoff hopes alive against a loaded, experienced Washington squad. This was another game that wasn’t on USC’s schedule in Year 1 with Lincoln Riley. These teams might throw the ball 100 times. This has legitimate “game of the year” potential if Michael Penix Jr. and Caleb Williams get rolling. If there’s a chance for any Power 5 game to have a 2016 Pat Mahomes-Baker Mayfield feel, it’s Washington-USC. Only this time, we should be looking at 2 teams vying for a Playoff bid.

3. Texas at Alabama, Week 2

Last year’s thriller, wherein Quinn Ewers went down late in the first quarter after a scorching start, set the stage for more fireworks in Round 2. Let’s also remember this: The odds of either team going unbeaten in conference play aren’t great. At all. Even mighty Alabama only went unbeaten in SEC play 5 of 16 times in the Nick Saban era. The Tide are also coming off a 2-year stretch wherein it was a 1-score game in the 4th quarter in 12 of 16 SEC contests. And Texas, well, claiming you’re “back” after a 4-loss season tells you everything about that history in the last decade-plus. Both teams need this one. Badly.

2. LSU at Alabama, Week 10

Here’s your fun stat of the day: Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, the winner of this game played in an SEC Championship 13 of a possible 16 times. And yes, 4 of those were LSU victories, including the one that happened in Year 1 of the Brian Kelly era in 2022. Also of significance? The winner of the SEC Championship played in a national championship game in 16 of the past 17 years. Until further notice, this early-November showdown is as big as it gets.

1. Ohio State at Michigan, Week 13

Come on. This is obvious. A pair of preseason top-4 teams that will face off in the regular-season finale is the only choice for the top spot. In the past 5 years, the winner of this game not only went on to play for the Big Ten Championship, but it won it. Four of those — the 2 most recent for Michigan and the 2 before that for Ohio State — led to a Playoff berth. Of course, last year’s one-sided affair in Columbus didn’t keep the Buckeyes out of the Playoff, but it certainly muddied the waters and it all but punched Michigan’s ticket. “The Game” is as safe a bet as any to have massive Playoff hopes on the line.