If you don’t think college football has a playoff system, well…you’re right. But this is the closest thing to a playoff game that college football has and this game should be a beauty. Fifth ranked Florida State will make the trek to Death Valley to face third ranked Clemson in an ACC showdown that could determine not only the ACC championship, but a spot in the BCS title game, providing either team running the table.
The Seminoles have had a rather easy schedule, as only one ranked team has been on their schedule so far. On the other hand, Clemson survived a snarly Georgia side in the opening game of the season, and still have South Carolina on the docket in the regular season finale. With Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State still undefeated while LSU is lurking with one loss, both teams will treat this game like a playoff game, with the loser most likely out of the BCS title picture.
When Florida State Has The Ball:
What is surprising about Florida State’s success is the play of freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. Even though the schedule is soft, Winston’s numbers are impressive. A 72.3% completion percentage, 1,446 yards, 17 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions in five games. However, this will be Winston’s stiffest test so far, and with a national television audience watching, Winston will be under considerable pressure to take Florida State to the next level. Don’t forget, Winston will also have to deal with one of the most hostile environments in all of college football. Death Valley (with apologies to LSU supporters) is an intimidating venue, with 81,000 crazed fans screaming at the top of their lungs. How the fresh-faced quarterback deals with the adverse conditions will go a long way, in determining the outcome.
One thing that could ease the pressure off Winston is a strong running game. Devonta Freeman isn’t the biggest back, but the junior does possess excellent speed and vision. Freeman leads the Noles with 395 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. James Wilder Jr. is the power back in the FSU scheme. The son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back James Wilder is used mainly in short yardage situations. The junior running back is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and brings a nice balance to the offense.
Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene aren’t the biggest receivers in college football, but they are a dangerous duo with playmaking abilities. Greene is considered the faster of the two, while Shaw can excel in punt return duties if need be. Shaw is also considered the better route runner than Greene. However, both are vulnerable to physical play at the line of scrimmage aka press coverage, so expect the Clemson cornerbacks to be physical with the FSU receivers. If Clemson can exert their will on Shaw and Greene, Florida State will have a difficult time in getting their passing game on track. The key for Shaw and Greene is to get separation from the secondary and stretch the field. This could be the critical matchup that decides the game.
When Clemson Has The Ball:
Tajh Boyd is emerging as a Heisman Trophy candidate and a possible first round pick in next year’s NFL draft. The senior quarterback is enjoying an outstanding season, completing 66.5% of his pass attempts for 1,783 yards, 15 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions in six games. Boyd is a dual threat as he is second on the Tigers roster in rushing yards, gaining 187 yards on the ground. What Florida State will need to do is contain the pocket and force Boyd to become one-dimensional. Easier said than done. Boyd is a smart, strong quarterback who reads his progressions well. Another big game for Boyd will see his draft stock rise, and his Heisman aspirations grow.
Clemson doesn’t run the ball very often, but look for Roderick McDowell to play a factor in this game if the Tigers are to be successful. The senior running back isn’t an every down type of back, but does have speed and quickness to spare. His 4.9 yards per carry could be valuable in a close game. Clemson will need to show a balanced attack so look for more carries from McDowell.
Sammy Watkins is simply one of the best receivers in college football. The junior wideout is enjoying a sensational season, and the thought of leaving early to ply his trade in the NFL is very tempting for Watkins. So far this season, Watkins has recorded 36 receptions for 582 yards and 4 touchdowns. Clemson likes to use Watkins in various roles and patterns. Sure, Watkins is a deep threat that can stretch secondaries, but he is also used in screens and option plays as well. Florida State will have to be aware of Watkins at all times as Clemson will try to involve their star receiver at every opportunity.
It was touched on earlier, but how will the freshman Winston handle the pressure of his first huge college game? There is no doubt that the Seminoles quarterback has been magnificent this season, but the competition has been less than stellar. This is Winston’s first major test and the Clemson crowd won’t make it easy on him. Meanwhile, Clemson has a habit of choking in the big game. Since their only National title in 1981, the Tigers have had a bad habit of coming up short, when the stakes are high. Florida State holds an 18-8 advantage over Clemson which includes a 49-37 victory last year in Tallahassee. However, Florida State has not won in Clemson since 2001. Demons will be exorcised one way or another in this game.
Expect a high-scoring game with big plays galore. Even though Florida State’s defense is ranked third in the nation, they haven’t played anybody of note yet. Clemson can move the ball and score at will on just about anybody. Just ask Georgia. The deciding factor here is home field. Clemson is very tough at Death Valley and the crowd will be a major factor in the game. Winston will have his time in the future but this is Tajh Boyd’s moment. Clemson wins a wild one 45-38.
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