It’s taken until the eighth week of the college football season to get a matchup of top 5 teams. And it’s a great one in the ACC.
No. 5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0 in ACC) visits No. 3 Clemson (6-0, 4-0) in Death Valley on Saturday night (ABC, 8 p.m.) with the stakes about as high as they can get. The winner not only takes control of the ACC’s Atlantic Division but also takes a giant leap in the BCS national championship race. The first BCS standings will be released Sunday.
“This is a great football team we're getting ready to play, possibly the best team in the country,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on Tuesday. “There's no question they've got a top-three offense, top-three defense, and explosive players at every position. They're going to be a huge challenge.”
Meanwhile, a Clemson win on Saturday night would set up the Tigers pretty well. The Tigers have already beaten Georgia and would have one remaining ranked team on the schedule – at No. 11 South Carolina to end the season.
Saturday night’s showdown could also greatly help the Heisman chances of the two quarterbacks.
Florida State redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has burst onto the college football scene in a big way. Winston has thrown for 1,441 yards and 17 touchdowns (with just two interceptions), completing 73.2 percent of his passes. He started out with a remarkable performance at Pittsburgh (25 of 27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns) and hasn’t let up. In his last game against Maryland, Winston threw for 393 yards and five touchdowns in a 63-0 thrashing of the Terps.
Winston has played on the road twice this season – Pittsburgh and Boston College. The level of difficulty goes way up Saturday night in front of a hostile Death Valley crowd.
One matchup to keep a close eye on is Clemson’s pass rushers looking to rattle Winston. The Tigers are averaging four sacks per game.
Clemson’s Tajh Boyd has thrown for 1,783 yards and 17 touchdowns (also with just two interceptions) while completing 66.5 percent of his passes. Boyd accounted for five touchdowns in the big win over Georgia earlier this season. Another strong performance against a marquee opponent will boost Boyd’s Heisman credentials.
Boyd was asked during a press conference on Tuesday about being battle-tested with the Georgia win and whether that will be an advantage against Florida State.
“We'll have to see,” Boyd said. “Personally I love being in those situations where
the ball is in your court, it's in your hand. You have to go out there and make a play when the game is on the line. It's kind of always been me. That's kind of why I love to play the position.”
It’s very clear Clemson and Florida State are among the country’s best teams. Both teams have high-scoring offenses and stout defenses. Both teams have stars all over the field. Both teams know what’s at stake Saturday night.
“It will be a very pivotal game for the season,” Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said at a news conference on Monday. “It’s an important game, but it’s not the last game. We still have seven games to play. I’ve not de-emphasized that one bit but we have to remember that we have seven games to play. This is the next one. This is the most important one because it’s the next one. We understand the implications and what it means.”