As fifth-ranked Florida State gets set to head to Death Valley to take on third-ranked Clemson, all eyes around the college football world will be focused on the ACC. Most feel that Saturday’s contest will serve as a de facto ACC semifinal, but there is little doubt that the match-up between Florida State and Clemson could have major national championship implications.
Florida State has remained a big name throughout even the 7-6 finishes, but the Seminoles didn’t draw the mass appeal that they did all throughout the 1990s. Highly-anticipated rivalry games against Miami on Labor Day drew large audiences and were close, entertaining games, but by season’s end, the contests played no role in the larger national championship picture or for that matter, even the ACC race.
From time to time, the Seminoles have been able to rise to the occasion beating Virginia Tech for the 2005 ACC Championship and teams like second-ranked Boston College in 2007, Alabama that same year, Virginia Tech again in 2008 and a top 10 BYU team in 2009, but a lack of consistency for the remainder of the season kept Florida State as an afterthought.
After being a second-tier team for much of the last decade, the big game has returned for Florida State and now, with regularity. Last season, ESPN’s College Gameday was in Tallahassee for the same marquee match-up as fourth-ranked Florida State used a big second half to down #10 Clemson 49-37. Florida State would go on to win the ACC, tie a school-record with 12 wins and finish ranked in the top 10 for the first time in nine years.
The previous season, top-ranked Oklahoma and fifth-ranked Florida State met in a highly anticipated match-up in Tallahassee. Florida State rallied from a 10-point deficit in that one, but a big fourth quarter by the Sooners propelled Oklahoma to a 23-13 victory. Florida State would go on to finish just 9-4 that season while Oklahoma also disappointed going 10-3.
There is a feeling surrounding Saturday’s game at Clemson that much more may be on the line than just an ACC title. Clemson already has a signature win beating Georgia 38-35 to open the season. The Tigers’ biggest remaining threat following Florida State is a visit to South Carolina and perhaps an ACC championship game.
For Florida State, Saturday’s game in Death Valley is the beginning of an uphill climb. The Seminoles still have Miami, Florida and perhaps an ACC title game on the slate should they win on Saturday. But FSU was expected to be tested last time out against Maryland and Florida State passed that test with flying colors winning 63-0.
The quarterback showdown featuring Clemson senior Tajh Boyd and Florida State freshman Jameis Winston may also have Heisman implications. The two have combined for 39 total touchdowns this season with just four combined interceptions. Winston has had little troubling replacing E.J. Manuel, who led Florida State to its first ACC crown in seven years a season ago and was the first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. Boyd on the other hand, may be the best quarterback ever to play at Clemson as the senior tries to lead the Tigers to their first national championship in more than three decades.
Love ’em or hate ’em, Florida State is relevant again and not just in the case of the ACC or the state of Florida. With Winston being just a freshman and already one of the best quarterbacks in America and head coach Jimbo Fisher well on his way toward landing a seventh straight top 10 recruiting class, the case can be made that the Seminoles are here to stay for quite some time.
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