Over the last two seasons, the Clemson Tigers have had a stranglehold on the ACC. That was not always the case though. From 1992-2005, the ACC football championship ran through Tallahassee, Florida. The Florida State Seminoles won at least a share of the conference title twelve times, including ten outright championships. The Seminoles ACC dominance was unchallenged for more than a decade after joining the league. Relative newcomer Virginia Tech won three of the next five titles. Since 2011, the Clemson Tigers and FSU have split the last six championships.
The two powerhouse programs meet this Saturday, and with a win, Clemson would be back in the ACC title game looking for its third straight crown. The Tigers have only lost two conference games in the past three seasons. The Tigers run of ACC dominance began with the emergence of Deshaun Watson and company but is now extending to a new lineup in orange. They have dispatched their two most bitter conference rivals in the last two weeks, with wins over Georgia Tech and N.C. State. For the past few seasons, this game has determined who would win the ACC, even though there is a conference championship game. Clemson will look to strengthen their stranglehold on the rest of the conference, while FSU is looking to salvage its season and get to .500 in the league.
The Seminoles have struggled this season, currently sitting at 3-5 is not what they are used to. It all began week one in a loss to number one Alabama. With the 24-7 loss already decided, FSU was driving late and quarterback Deondre Francois was injured, taking yet another big hit. He was lost for the season in the first week. The high expectations of their 2017 season went with him. With games being postponed and rescheduled due to hurricane damage, freshman quarterback James Blackmon never got a chance to get his feet wet before conference play.
Blackmon has held up admirably after being thrown into such a tough spot. His numbers are decent but not great. He comes in at right around 59% completion percentage, with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has shown flashes of talent, but also the inconsistencies expected from a true freshman unexpectedly thrust into the starting job. The struggles protecting him, and Francois before him, have not gone away. The Clemson defensive line is not who you want to see when you have issues protecting your quarterback.
The Expected Freshman
Cam Akers was a five-star recruit and was expected to be a play-maker the moment he got to campus. He is starting to show off that potential from the tailback position. Akers had his third 100-yard game of the season last weekend. He ran for a career-high 199 yards in the win over Syracuse, also getting in the end zone twice. With a young quarterback learning on the job, a strong running game can be his best friend. Akers and junior Jacques Patrick have combined for over 1,100 yards this year. Due to the inexperience at quarterback and a struggling offensive line, the Seminoles have had trouble turning yards into points. Florida State is averaging only 18.6 points per game.
Coming into the year, everyone looked at the FSU defense as being one of the strongest in the nation. They haven’t quite lived up to that billing, but it is not all on them. The inconsistencies of a young offense have left them on the field to long, and in some precarious situations after turnovers. Led by safety Derwin James, the Seminole defense has been stout in every game but the blowout loss to Boston College. They have done enough to give their offense a chance to win most games. Three of their five losses have been by less than a touchdown.
Clemson Closing In
Clemson has flexed its ACC dominance for three seasons now. A third consecutive conference title would be a huge accomplishment for the Tigers. Of course, they still have a match-up with the undefeated Miami Hurricanes from the Coastal Division before that happens. However, beating FSU for a third-straight season would also be a statement that has not been made since the Seminoles joined the league. The Tigers are looking to extend their recent run of ACC dominance. Despite a down year from Florida State, beating them still sends a strong message.
Ground And Pound
Clemson was able to survive against the Wolfpack this weekend. Despite giving up a season-high 491 yards, for the second-straight year Clemson won a game against N.C. State they likely should’ve lost. This is as much down to the Tigers making the plays they needed to win as it is the Wolfpack not finishing them off when given the chance.
Clemson overcame an unusually bad defensive performance by rushing for 224 yards and three touchdowns. This time it was Tavien Feaster with the big play, breaking out for an 89-yard touchdown run. He ended up with 105 yards on just seven carries. Kelly Bryant once again led the Tigers in attempts with 20, gaining 88 yards. It’s a risky proposition to run your signal caller that much, especially when he has already had an ankle injury and concussion this season. Bryant currently has 53 more rushing attempts than any other Clemson player. This is despite both Feaster and freshman Travis Etienne averaging more than seven yards a carry between them.
Clemson was once again in the top four as the College Football Playoff committee released its second rankings this week. If the Tigers continue winning, they will once again have a shot at making a playoff run. Florida State is not having its best year, but that doesn’t mean this team is void of talent. They would like nothing better than to upset the Tigers and ruin their chances at defending their title. The Seminoles have a chance to not only make a late push for a bowl game but to also salvage an underachieving season by derailing one of their rivals national title hopes.
Clemson, on the other hand, is looking to cement its ACC dominance. Florida State has held that title since they entered the league. However, a third-straight ACC crown and a trip back to the playoff would give the Tigers all they need to stake their claim. This game should be a lot closer than the records would indicate, as both teams are filled with highly rated players. The question will be can Clemson get back to dominating on defense against a weak FSU offensive line, or can the Seminoles finally put it together and grab a huge road upset?
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