CLEMSON — Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson understands the higher stakes this week for the third-ranked Tigers against No. 17 Florida State and plans to keep calm the only way he knows how — by not thinking too much about it.
“My main focus right now is getting these tests done this week and finishing up school,” he said Monday. “And then football.”
The football is many other minds this week.
Clemson (8-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is widely expected to be one of the four College Football Playoff teams when the committee’s first rankings are unveiled Tuesday night.
On Saturday, the Tigers can lock up a spot in the league’s title game on Saturday when they face Florida State (7-1, 5-1). They can also exact a measure of revenge from a couple of years ago. The Seminoles scored the most points ever by an opponent in stadium history in a 51-14 Death Valley debacle that spoiled Clemson’s last long, undefeated run to start a season in 2013.
Watson was just a high school senior watching in the stands in that game.
“At least until halftime,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott joked.
The quarterback said players won’t worry about what happened in the past with Florida State, even though the Tigers have lost four of the past five meetings in the series -- all which determined the ACC Atlantic Division winner.
That should happen again. If Clemson wins, it will be 6-0 in the league with every other division opponent having at least two losses. Should the Tigers lose, Florida State would have the tiebreaker in the battle of one-loss teams.
“Regardless what the past has brought to us, we’re still going to be motivated just because of the opportunity we have,” Watson said. “Each week is the biggest game of the week and now this is the biggest game.”
And Watson could be the biggest difference maker.
He was pitch perfect last week when Clemson’s highly rated defense stumbled, passing for 383 yards and five touchdowns in the 56-41 victory over North Carolina State. Watson also rushed for a touchdown. His performance earned him national offensive player of the week honors by the Walter Camp Foundation, along with the ACC weekly award as the top offensive back.
Will Watson by locked into the broadcast when the top-four CFP teams are released? Probably not, he says. Watson has tests this week in his sign language and mass communication courses. He’s also got athletic leadership assignments due.
“I’ll probably find (the rankings) on Twitter,” Watson said.
Florida State enters off a 45-21 home win over Syracuse where the Seminoles were without injured starters in quarterback Everett Golson and tailback Dalvin Cook. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was hopeful Cook would be back for Clemson but unsure about Golson’s playing status.
Fisher was most disappointed with Florida State’s special teams, which allowed a punt return TD.
“We’ll get that cleaned up and get better and get ready to play a great Clemson team,” Fisher said.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was pleased his team was able to win ugly this past weekend and continue its longest win streak (11 straight games) since the program’s national championship season of 1981.
“For our guys to keep finding a way to win every week is a beautiful thing,” Swinney said. “It’s come in a lot of different ways.”
Swinney, like his players, is wary of putting too much stock in early CFP rankings. He pointed out that three of the top four teams in last year’s first ranking — Mississippi State, Auburn and Mississippi — did not make the playoffs.
Still, Clemson center Jay Guillermo anticipates an extra buzz around practices and meetings once the rankings come out.
“I’m not going to lie and say that’s not really cool,” Guillermo said. “But it doesn’t matter until after November.”