By Kevin McGuire
For the past however many years, the SEC has laid claim to being the best conference in college football. That steady footing on the perch of college football’s mountaintop seems to have loosened at least a little bit this season, with the tough and tenacious defensive style going by the wayside in exchange for high-flying shootouts in some of the conference’s top games this season. The Pac 12 has emerged from the pack to issue a challenge to the SEC as the top conference, with Oregon thought to be the top threat but UCLA begging for attention in southern California as well, which Stanford and Washington look to hold their own.
But this weekend, college football will shift its attention to the ACC. Playing in the shadows of the SEC the last few years, the ACC will offer this week’s game of the week when Clemson hosts Florida State. Unfortunately, due to the way the ACC divisions are set up, this will not serve as a conference championship game preview despite the Tigers and Seminoles likely being the top two teams in the conference.
Florida State enters the weekend as a rare road favorite in Death Valley, with a young hotshot freshman quarterback putting together his very own Heisman profile for consideration. Jameis Winston has had an immediate impact on this year’s success for the Seminoles, who do not seem to have lost a step on offense despite losing EJ Manuel to the NFL of last year’s ACC championship squad. The defense of Florida State has been one of the best in the country as well, although this weekend will serve as the biggest test yet. Aside from allowing 34 points on the road at Boston College, a team that gave Clemson a good fight as well this past weekend, Florida State has held each of its opponents to 13 points or fewer and is coming off a bye week following a 63-0 rout of previously undefeated Maryland.
That extra time should come in handy because Clemson has played four straight games. Unlike Florida State, Clemson has already been challenged by a viable threat and passed the test. A week one victory at home against one of the top teams in the SEC, Georgia, helped send Clemson up the rankings early on and now the Tigers are looking to put away their second biggest threat of the season.
While Florida State has a freshman Heisman hopeful at quarterback, Clemson has a much more seasoned Heisman candidate leading its offense in Tajh Boyd. Boyd enters this weekend leading the ACC in passing yards per game, second in the ACC in touchdowns (15, Winston leads the ACC with 17) and has just two interceptions. He has thrown for over 300 yards in each of the last three games. Last year in Tallahassee, Boyd tossed three touchdowns against Florida State but the Tigers came up short in an offensive showdown, 49-37.
The home field advantage has played a crucial role in this ACC rivalry and could once again be a factor. The home team has won in this series each of the last six seasons and 10 out of the last 11 years. The last time Clemson lost an ACC game at home was October 2, 2010 against Miami. The last time Clemson was ranked and lost an ACC game at home was September 27, 2008 against Maryland. Can Clemson keep all of those trends continuing to work in its favor? If so, Clemson’s chance to represent the ACC in the final Bowl Championship Series championship game could begin to come together.
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