CLEMSON — Get ready for the first College Football Playoff game when No. 5 Florida State and No. 3 Clemson meet on Saturday.
While the four-team chase for the BCS title doesn’t start until 2014, the playoffs will probably look and feel very much like tonight’s Atlantic Coast Conference showdown between the Seminoles (5-0) and Tigers (6-0) in a jam-packed stadium, ESPN College GameDay will be on campus with a track to the national title game at stake.
There will even be at least one playoff selection committee member on hand: Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich.
Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd and Florida State’s Jameis Winston say their teams are keeping the frenzied atmosphere in perspective as they get ready for the ACC’s first matchup of top-five teams since 2005.
“We’re all about our goals,” said Boyd, who leads the ACC with 297 yards passing a game. “The next goal for us is win the division. This sets the line for us to do that. The goal after that is to win the conference. This sets the line to do that.”
Boyd became the school’s all-time passing yardage leader with his 14th career 300-yard game in a 24-14 victory over Boston College last week. Boyd’s 164 yards shy of joining ex-North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers and former Duke passer Thad Lewis as the only ACC players to reach 10,000 yards passing.
Winston, a redshirt freshman, has elevated himself alongside Boyd in Heisman Trophy talk with his play so far.
Winston has thrown two more TD passes than Boyd (17 to 15) in one less game. He’s also shown poise likely to serve him well when the Death Valley crowd turns the volume up to 11.
“They have outstanding players. They have a great offense,” Winston said. “They have a very athletic defense, a great defense we’re going to have to prepare well for.”
Here are five things to watch when No. 5 Florida State plays at No. 3 Clemson:
The ACC hasn’t had a party like this in a long time. It’s last top-five showdown was eight years ago when No. 5 Miami beat third-ranked Virginia Tech 27-7. That was back when those programs were new league entrants and that contest seemed to point to a yearly matchup for the top on the national scene. Instead, the ACC watched the Southeastern Conference beat them up and take their lunch money the past few years. But the ACC entered the week with three unbeaten teams and four schools in the top 20.
Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins became an All-American as a freshman two years ago, in large part because of the big show he put on against Florida State. Watkins, from Fort Myers, Fla., had seven catches for 141 yards and two crucial TDs in the Tigers 35-30 victory. Last season, Watkins was largely nonexistent in Florida State’s 49-37 win in Tallahassee with six catches for 24 yards, although he did throw a touchdown on a halfback pass. Watkins has said he’s worked to make sure that wouldn’t happen again.
As hard as it may have sounded before the season, young Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been this game’s most discussed performer, even more his senior counterpart at Clemson in Boyd. Winston, who also plays baseball for the Seminoles, came out on target from his team’s first game when he accounted for five TDs (four passing, one rushing) in a victory at Pitt. In his last outing, Winston passed for 393 yards and five TDs in a 63-0 win over Maryland.
Clemson has shown a fierceness on defense it hadn’t in several years. The Tigers lead the country in sacks and tackles for loss and defensive end Vic Beasley leads the ACC with nine sacks. Clemson has held its past five opponents to 14 points or less, something it had not done since the 1989-90 teams held six straight teams to two touchdowns or less.
Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner turned last year’s game with Clemson around for good with a 90-yard kickoff return to the Tigers’ 10. Two plays later, the Seminoles scored the first of what would become 28-6 run in the 49-37 victory. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said that lit the fire that his team could not put out.
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