CLEMSON — The ACC calendar of events lists Dec. 5 as the date for the conference championship game, but anyone who has followed the ACC over the past several years knows that this weekend’s match-up between Clemson (8-0) and Florida State (7-1) is the real championship game.
The Tigers have played all year to prove themselves despite a lack of national respect. This week, Clemson got that respect as the College Football Playoff committee had the Tigers at No. 1 in their initial rankings. They will have to continue to earn that respect though, as it took just a day before Dabo Swinney was asked if his Tigers would be ready or if they would “Clemson” again this weekend.
The rivalry between the Tigers and Seminoles has exploded over the last 16 seasons. The hiring of Tommy Bowden at Clemson began the Bowden Bowl as his Tigers clashed with his father’s FSU team each year. Florida State has a 20-8 advantage in the series, but the Tigers have slowly made up ground since 1999 when Bowden was hired.
Dabo Swinney has struggled in his tenure, going 2-4 against the Seminoles, but Clemson has won five of the last six in Death Valley.
The Seminoles come into the game looking to prove something to the nation. FSU was all but written off following a loss to Georgia Tech, but the Seminoles want to show they belong in the discussion for the College Football Playoffs.
With what Dabo Swinney calls the best running back in the nation, and two very capable quarterbacks, the Seminoles have a strong case in their favor. Despite the wealth of talent however, FSU has struggled at times against mediocre teams.
Florida State’s defense has been another story this year. The Seminoles have bent at times defensively, but have held opponents to 16.8 points per game. They will have their work cut out for them Saturday as they face the best offense they have seen by far in 2015.
Clemson fans spent the early portion of the season wondering how much the Tiger offense had improved over 2014 if at all. Those questions have been quickly forgotten as Deshaun Watson and company put together two consecutive games with over 50 points and three games with over 500 yards of offense.
This game will be key as the only loss Clemson has had when Deshaun Watson played most of a game was last year’s heartbreaker in Tallahassee.
Clemson’s defense, meanwhile, will be looking to prove that last week’s game in Raleigh was a fluke. N.C. State’s 41 points were the most the Tigers have allowed since the 2014 opener against Georgia.
The challenge for the Tigers this week will be containing Dalvin Cook and trying to find a way to slow down a passing game featuring either Everett Golson or Sean Maguire. Golson has been one of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks this season and Maguire engineered a come from behind victory against Clemson in 2014.
Reach James Inabinet at 803-635-4016.