Tajh Boyd

CFT Predicts: Florida State-Clemson

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For the second time this season, and about the fifth or sixth time the past three years, we have yet another Game of the Year/Century/Millennium on tap.

The latest iteration lugging around the “Game of the…” tag that’s enveloped sports in general and college football in particular is, of course, Florida State-Clemson. While taking a jab at the hype surrounding this and other such games, there’s little doubt that this matchup is dripping with ACC and, more importantly, BCS title implications.

Clemson comes into the game in Death Valley ranked No. 3 in the country. Florida State, thanks to Stanford’s upset loss, climbed into the Top Five at No. 5. Simply put, the winner will keep itself squarely in the mix for a spot in the BCS championship game while the loser see its title hopes diminish significantly.

How significantly?  The last 10 BCS title games have featured nine one- or two-loss teams; six of those came from the SEC, and none from the ACC.

A loss won’t end any and all title hopes for either team, but it will make the BCS row tougher to hoe. And force it to not only win out but to rely on the teams above them to stumble down the stretch.

At least statistically, FSU and Clemson are about as even as you can get, even as the oddsmakers are making FSU three-point favorites on the road.  Nationally, the Tigers and Seminoles are ranked in the Top 30 in every major statistical category but two: Clemson’s rush offense and rush defense.  For the statistical Tale of the Tape…

FSU-Clemson Stats

Of course, statistics only scratch the surface and doesn’t even begin take into account intangibles.

The game will be played in Tiger Stadium, one of the most electrifying and, for visitors, hostile environments in college football.

Getting his first start in such an environment is Jameis Winston.  While the redshirt FSU freshman has seen himself injected in the Heisman conversation after just a handful of starts, his only road tests thus far have been at Pittsburgh and Boston College.

On the flip side is Tajh Boyd, a battle-tested three-year starter who is among the best players at his position in the country, even as he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves.

Hype aside, the game has all of the makings of an instant classic.  How will it play out?  Let us here at CFT peer into our collective crystal balls (stop giggling and grow up, people) and take a shot at it.

KEVIN MCGUIRE
There is no doubt this game is the game of the year in the ACC. A pair of Top-Ten teams and Heisman contenders has all the makings of a conference championship game, but unfortunately we will not get a chance to watch this one again at the end of the season. While I have been impressed by what freshman sensation Jameis Winston has done for Florida State this season, we will finally get the chance to answer one of the few unanswered questions about him: how will he handle leading the offense in an environment that will be pumping the volume up from the start? If Aaron Murray, a seasoned quarterback with plenty of big game experience, failed to get out of Death Valley with a win, why should I bank on Winston being able to do so in his first real road test (sorry Boston College fans). I think Winston gets a bit of an eye-opener on the road at Clemson, but he’ll make his plays.

The big question for me comes down to defense. Can Clemson limit the big plays by Florida State? Can the Seminoles find a way to force Tajh Boyd to make some mistakes? I think Boyd and Sammy Watkins come up with enough plays to get the Tigers one step closer to the ACC championship game, allowing them to begin sniffing around for something a bit more enticing.

Prediction: Clemson 35, Florida State 28

CHRIS HOUSTON
This one should be a shootout on the magnitude of last year’s game, which the Seminoles won, 49-37. However, I think the tables will be turned this time, with Clemson coming out on top. As good as Jameis Winston has been for FSU, he has yet to go up against a quality defense with high-level athletes. I think the game will be won in the first half, with the Tigers and Tajh Boyd coming out sharp and jumping out to a lead while FSU struggles to get rolling.

However, I think Winston adjusts and gets hot in the second half and makes a game of it. But it won’t be enough and the Tigers will stay undefeated by the skin of their teeth.

Prediction:: Clemson 41, Florida State 38

JJ STANKEVITZ
FSU hasn’t really played anyone, but then again neither has Clemson since Week 1. I like the Georgia win, but basing a prediction off one game that happened a month and a half ago doesn’t seem safe.

Mainly, though, I’m drinking the Jameis Winston Kool-Aid. His stats are nuts: 90/123, 1,441 yards and 17 touchdowns in five games. FSU had an extra week to prepare while Clemson underperformed against Boston College. It’ll be close, but ultimately I think Winston makes the plays when it counts, and FSU sneaks out a win.

Prediction: Florida State 31, Clemson 27

JOHN TAYLOR
For every five times I’ve picked Clemson in my head, I’ve picked Florida State the same amount.  Yes, that’s how close this game should be.  FSU has a top-10 defense, while Clemson’s unit is underrated and undervalued.  While I think Boyd will outplay Winston (slightly) based solely on experience, I see the QB position being essentially a wash.

Where the tide will turn in favor of the Seminoles is in the running game.  The Tigers have been susceptible to the run at various points this season, and Clemson has yet to face a three-headed ground-game beast like Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr.  And that’s without even mentioning Winston’s ability to make/keep plays alive with his legs.

This game will be close, as close as most observers expect.  The whole Death Valley aura, especially, has me teetering back and forth on a selection.  I have to pick somebody, though — and if you asked me in two hours the answer might be different — so, based on everything up to and including a flip of the coin, I’m going with…

Prediction: Florida State 38, Clemson 34

Deshaun Watson wins Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award

RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 31:  Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after throwing a touchdown during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on October 31, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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He probably won’t win the sport’s most important individual award, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson took home a nice consolation prize on Tuesday.

Watson was announced as the winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the top senior or fourth-year junior quarterback in college football. A three-year starter for the Tigers, Watson has completed 775-of-1,115 career passes for 9,489 yards with 86 touchdowns against 30 interceptions while also adding 1,829 yards and 23 scores on the ground.

Most importantly, he’s led Clemson to back-to-back ACC championships and consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff. His 2nd-ranked Tigers will face No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.

Watson was named a Heisman Trophy finalist on Monday for a season in which he’s thrown for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns.

Recent winners of the Unitas award are Colt McCoyAndrew LuckMarcus Mariota and, in 2015, Connor Cook. Watson will accept the honor at a ceremony in Baltimore on Friday night before jetting up for the Heisman ceremony on Saturday.

Navy to don 1963 throwbacks vs. Army on Saturday

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 13:  Brendan Dudeck #81 of the Navy Midshipmen carries the American flag on the field before the start of their game against the Army Black Knights at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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On Monday, Army displayed the World War II-themed uniforms the Black Knights will wear against Navy on Saturday.

On Tuesday, it was Navy’s turn.

With President-elect Donald Trump in attendance, the Midshipmen will put their 14-game winning streak on the line by channeling one of the best Navy teams of all-time — the 1963 bunch.

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That 1963 team was led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach and finished the season ranked No. 2 in both polls, falling to No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

The ’63 game remains one of the most memorable in the 116-year history of the game, played on the insistence of Jacqueline Kennedy amid talk of canceling the contest following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

And, oh by the way, Navy won that fabled game, 21-15.

Report: Christian McCaffrey to declare for NFL Draft

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (5) leaps over the line of scrimmage trying to score near the end zone against Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Christian McCaffrey will declare for the NFL Draft, according to a report from Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.

He would join Texas’s D'Onta Foreman and LSU’s Leonard Fournette among early entrant running backs.

McCaffrey, of course, offers a different skill set than those two and any other running back. Just as much a threat catching the ball or as a returner, McCaffrey set the FBS single-season all-purpose yardage record — rushing for 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns, receiving for 645 yards and five scores, accumulating 1,070 kick return yards with one touchdown and returning punts for 130 yards and a touchdown. He finished runner-up to Derrick Henry in the Heisman Trophy voting while leading Stanford to the Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl victory.

This season, McCaffrey’s profile dropped as Stanford dropped from the national title conversation, but he actually improved as a running back. McCaffrey’s averages jumped in both yards per game (145.1 vs. 144.2) and yards per carry (6.3 vs. 6.0).

Assuming he does indeed declare, McCaffrey will wrap up his Cardinal career as Stanford faces North Carolina in the Sun Bowl (2 p.m. ET Dec. 30, CBS).

Former Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam dies at 42

15 Oct 1994: COLORADO RUNNING BACK RASHAAN SALAAM BREAKS INTO THE OPEN FIELD DURING THE BUFFALOES 45-7 VICTORY OVER THE OKLAHOMA SOONERS IN A BIG EIGHT GAME AT FOLSOM FIELD IN BOULDER, COLORADO.
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Former Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam died on Tuesday, a family spokesperson announced Tuesday. He was 42.

Salaam was found dead in a Boulder, Colo., park on Monday night. Authorities said there were no signs of foul play.

“The Buff Family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff today,” CU athletics director Rick George said in a statement Tuesday. “We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time.”

Salaam was best known in college football for winning the 1994 Heisman Trophy, beating out Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter, the late Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair and Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins after a season in which he rushed for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns on 7.61 yards per carry. Salaam also claimed the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back after helping the Buffs to a season in which they finished 11-1, beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 3 in the AP poll.

Salaam was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears in the 1995 NFL Draft and became the youngest player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. His career fizzled from there, though, as a broken leg derailed his career and his yearly totals dwindled to 496, 112 and later two yards with the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999. Salaam later tried comeback efforts in the XFL and CFL before calling it quits.

Oddly enough, Salaam is the first Heisman winner in more than half a century to pass away.

“He was very coachable,” former CU coach Bill McCartney said. “He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn’t take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive.”