Florida State hosts Clemson on Saturday night in an ACC showdown. Despite two early losses, the Seminoles are dangerous and can be a spoiler in the College Football Playoff race.
Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) travels to Florida State (5-2, 2-2) this week for an ACC Atlantic division showdown on Saturday night that, coming into the season, was expected to be a battle of College Football Playoff contenders.
However, with the season’s first CFP rankings set to be released next Tuesday evening, only Clemson can consider itself a real contender heading into the contest taking place in the Sunshine State.
Still, FSU looms as one of the Tigers’ toughest opponents on their 2016 slate. And that fact is not lost on head coach Dabo Swinney.
During Wednesday’s weekly ACC coaches teleconference, Swinney praised FSU and recognized the challenge that his team will face as it tries to claim another Atlantic Division crown.
“This is a great football team,” Swinney said of FSU. “A Top-12 team that is capable of beating anybody in the country, and [I’ve] just always have had a lot of respect for Florida State. Always incredibly well-coached and skilled players everywhere, always good in the trenches. It’s just really kind of the same old story with Florida State year-in and year-out.
“And Clemson-Florida State, it’s a special game to be a part of always. A hard-fought game by both teams, and I think both teams have a lot of respect for each other.”
In last year’s showdown, Clemson beat FSU in Death Valley to clinch a berth in the ACC title game. The Tigers came into the contest ranked No. 1 in that week’s College Football Playoff rankings, and it served as a changing of the guard in the ACC, as the Tigers would eventually advance to play Alabama in the national title game.
Jimbo Fisher’s squad would like to make sure Clemson’s reign atop the ACC doesn’t last too long, but the Seminoles have certainly had a disappointing—and wild—season thus far.
The ‘Noles stormed back to beat Ole Miss in the season opener after falling behind by 22 points in the first half, but it was a sign of bad things to come. A few weeks later, they were destroyed, 63-20, by Louisville, and it was clear that there were major issues, especially on defense.
Following a win over USF, the ‘Noles suffered their second setback of the year, this time a 37-35 home loss to UNC. While the unit has looked much better the last two times out in victories over Miami and Wake Forest, coordinator Charles Kelly’s defense—which is loaded with talent—has wholly underwhelmed this season.
Containing Deshaun Watson and the Clemson offense will obviously be quite the chore for the ‘Noles this week, especially given the news that safety Derwin James is unable to return for the contest. Unless the Tigers stub their toes and continue to be turnover-prone (they have 16 giveaways on the year) or Deondre Francois and the FSU offense can win a shootout, Fisher’s squad could be looking at a third loss.
Nonetheless, Swinney is correct when he labels the ‘Noles as dangerous. And the game will be under the lights at Doak Campbell Stadium, which should house a boisterous crowd. It’s also a place where Swinney has not yet won while serving as the Tigers’ head man. He has never won there as the leader of the Tigers.
“There’s probably not many coaches out there that [have] a lot of wins in Tallahassee, that’s for sure,” Swinney said. “It’s a tough place to play, and they usually [have] pretty good players that take a lot of pride in their performance.
“It’s a place we definitely have had opportunities to win, but you’ve got to finish. You’ve got to make the plays to win the game when they present themselves, especially when you’re on the road against a really good team.”
We’ll see on Saturday night if the Tigers have the goods to escape with a win and continue their march toward a berth in a second consecutive College Football Playoff.