ACC Game of the Year: Clemson vs. FSU
Posted Sep 19, 2012

Week 4 CFN Fearless Prediction – Clemson at Florida State

Clemson (3-0) at Florida State (3-0) Sept. 22, 8:00, ABC

Here’s The Deal: The lead in the Atlantic Division. Frontrunner status in the ACC. Viability in the BCS National Championship chase. Yeah, there’ll be plenty at stake in Tallahassee Saturday night.

The game of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference is upon us, with No. 4 Florida State hosting No. 10 Clemson in a game of national significance. If one team has more at stake at Doak Campbell Stadium, it’s the Seminoles. They’re home, they’re favored and they’re pining for the return to glory that has eluded the school for years. Heck, the one-time perennial shoe-in to win the conference title last sat on the mountaintop in 2005, too long for a program of this caliber. But Jimbo Fisher’s third team appears to be different. It might actually be worth the buildup. We’ll see. The ‘Noles have disappointed before, and routs of Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest come with a law of diminishing returns. Florida State has yet to be tested, but if it passes its Week 4 exam, the hype machine will be billowing out dark smoke by Sunday morning.

Clemson would like to remind everyone that it—not Florida State—is the defending ACC champ. No, the Tigers haven’t run the gauntlet to get here, but they do own an opening day win over Auburn on a neutral field. Dabo Swinney’s kids took last year’s meeting in a 35-30 thriller, but wins in Tallahassee have historically come at a premium. In fact, it’s happened just once since the ‘Noles joined the league in 1992. Clemson will arrive with a chip on its shoulder, still feeling as if it isn’t getting the respect it deserves. Winning a game of this magnitude will do wonders for its reputation.

Why Clemson Might Win: The Florida State D is fantastic, but it hasn’t seen anything this month that resembles the Tigers offense.

Now in its second year under coordinator Chad Morris, Clemson’s attack is diverse, fast-paced and chock full of exciting skill position players. Tajh Boyd is at the controls, a second-year starter who has grown by leaps and bounds form his debut. He makes good decisions, no longer forces throws and has a firm grasp on the system. Oh, he also has access to arguably the nation’s best receiving corps this side of Los Angeles. DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are elite game-breakers, with the speed and balls skills to stretch the field for Boyd. And when the defense is spread out, electrifying RB Andre Ellington gets wider lanes to traverse. For the first time this season, Florida State might notice that DE Brandon Jenkins has been lost to a foot injury, and CB Greg Reid has transferred to Valdosta State.

Why Florida State Might Win: Defense still wins championships … and marquee ACC showdowns.

The Seminoles boast the better D in this game. Strike it, the Seminoles boast one of the better D’s in America. Even without Jenkins and Reid, Florida State has been like the Florida State of old, playing faster and with more aggression than the guys on the other side of the ball. Yes, the competition has been awful, but by allowing 103 yards and a single point a game, coordinator Mark Stoops has his kids playing at a very high level. Bjoern Werner has evolved into a tour de force at one end spot, while Cornellius Carradine is making the most of Jenkins’ absence. The linebackers are stout, and the defensive backs play with an edge that’ll take Watkins and Hopkins out of certain plays. Clemson, on the other hand, is just waiting to be exposed. The Tigers rank 84th against the run and 99th in sacks, major concerns with QB EJ Manuel, RB Chris Thompson and a deep stable of receivers in the other huddle.

What To Watch Out For: Both team’s O-lines were areas of concern in August. Whichever unit performs at a higher pay grade will win this game.

All eyes will be on the Florida State front wall, a group that struggled mightily in 2011. So far, so good, but Clemson’s athletes are better than the ones from Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest. Heck, Wake’s best D-lineman, Nikita Whitlock, didn’t even dress last week. The good news for the garnet and gold is that the Tigers have produced just three sacks in three games, including none last week versus Furman. Veteran DE Malliciah Goodman has been quiet this month, a concern for a team that’s already mediocre in the front seven. If Clemson doesn’t pressure Manuel, No. 3 could be atop the Heisman race by the end of the weekend.

The Tigers O-line, which is somewhat green around C Dalton Freeman, has much bigger headaches than the Seminoles blockers do. Werner, in particular, will battle with a combination of power and quickness that’s liable to blow up Clemson’s plans in the backfield. Behind the German native is a wave of physical athletes, like LB Christian Jones, CB Xavier Rhodes and SS Lamarcus Joyner, who’ll delight at the opportunity to come hard after Boyd on the blitz.

What Will Happen: Florida State is back … for now.

All signs point to the Seminoles taking another important step forward in their quest to return to national prominence. Clemson will quiet the crowd with an occasional long ball from Ellington, Watkins or Hopkins. However, the ‘Noles will sacrifice a few battles to win the war in Tallahassee. Their superior defense will be the difference in this game. Florida State will tighten up once things settle down in the second quarter. Clemson won’t be so fortunate. The legs will eventually go out on the Tigers D, succumbing to the passing of Manuel and a long sprint or two from Thompson. With the crowd in its corner, and the offense humming, the Florida State defense will pin its ears back and seal the victory in the fourth quarter.

CFN Prediction: Florida State 37 … Clemson 24
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Florida State -14 O/U: 58
Must Watch Rating (5 – Ray Lewis: A Football Life, 1 – Frankenweenie): 5