For the second year in a row, Clemson and Florida State will put the ACC under the national spotlight in a contest of top ten teams. The last time the ACC had two top-ten teams play each other in a conference game before last year’s top ten clash between Clemson and Florida State was when Matt Ryan was leading Boston College on an improbable BCS Championship run. The Eagles were ranked second in the AP poll and traveled to No. 8 Virginia Tech for a Thursday night football game. Boston College escaped the game with a 14-10 victory but their BCS dreams were shattered a couple of weeks later with a home loss to Florida State. That game between the Hokies and Eagles was played on October 25, 2007.
Now it is up to Clemson and Florida State to show off just what the class of the conference is capable of doing once again.
No. 3 Clemson hosts No. 5 Florida State in one of the biggest games in the conference’s history, at least in recent memory. The showdown has all of the makings for a classic battle with division bragging rights and a chance to pursue a BCS Championship awaiting the winner. The winner of this particular match-up has gone on to play in the ACC Championship each of the last four seasons, and the two have won the last two ACC championships.
ACC championships are nice of course, but it has been a while since the ACC had a national title contender. Could the winner of this game enter that role last filled by Florida State in 2000*?
If Clemson wins…
The ball is in Clemson’s court. Or, to use a football metaphor instead of a basketball analogy, the Tigers will be in the red zone. A win will give Clemson two wins over top five teams, including the season opening win over Georgia. A quick glance at the remaining schedule shows some favorable match-ups the rest of the way in ACC play. Clemson plays their next two games on the road but they come against Maryland and Virginia. Clemson should be the favorite in those games, and despite looking to be an improved team this season the Terrapins of Maryland were blasted by Florida State, 63-0. Clemson may not put together that same kind of result, but the Tigers should be a solid favorite in each of their two games heading in to a bye week.
The rest of the November schedule could set Clemson up nicely for a final push in the rankings, if they end up needing it. Getting Georgia Tech at home after a bye week will be a nice bonus. Georgia Tech may be able to play some defense, but Clemson’s offense should be able to overcome any threat. The big test will come against rival South Carolina. Clemson travels to Columbia for the rivalry game. South carolina enters this weekend ranked 11th in the country. Could the Gamecocks move up a few more spots to give Clemson one more win over a top 10 team?
A win over South Carolina would help push Clemson over the edge, but a win over a top ten Miami team in the ACC Championship Game would also help the cause. Clemson’s best bet would be to have Miami continue to run the table, which would include a win over Florida State.
Tajh Boyd would likely benefit in the Heisman race with a win as well. Clemson has never had a Heisman Trophy winner.
If Florida State wins…
The road back to national prominence will continue, but heir path to a potential spot in the BCS Championship Game should be trickier to navigate. Rivalry games against Miami and at Florida will not be easy, but are certainly games Florida State can win. Aside from Miami, the ACC schedule the rest of the way is favorable for the Seminoles. Florida State gets North carolina State, Miami and Syracuse at home and the only ACC road game left is at Wake Forest. Florida State also gets a home game against Idaho before traveling to Gainesville to play Florida.
The the question becomes who would Florida State play in the ACC Championship Game, and would that opponent be able to help push Florida State past a conference champion from the Pac 12 (Oregon?) or Big Ten (Ohio State?). If all goes to plan for Florida State, they will have already beaten Miami, but the Hurricanes could realistically be set up for a rematch in Charlotte. Or would it be best to beat Miami and hope Virginia Tech does the same the following week? The Hokies are ranked in the top 20 right now, and could start moving up the rankings enough to crack the top ten if things work out. That would be the scenario Florida State fans would be hoping for to pad their BCS profile.
Like Boyd for Clemson, a win over the Tigers would help push freshman quarterback Jameis Winston in to the leading candidate category for the Heisman Trophy. The Seminoles have had two players win the award before (Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke), and the freshman stigma has already been shattered, so the door is open.
* Miami played for the BCS National Championship in the 2001 and 2002 seasons, but did so as a member of the Big East.