When one thinks of the Florida State versus Clemson rivalry, memories of LeRoy Butler’s “Puntrooskie” to spoil No. 3 Clemson’s national title hopes in 1988 or DeShaun Watson’s late-game heroics at Doak Campbell Stadium in 2016 often come to mind.
From that fateful day in 1988 to the present, Clemson and FSU have given the college football world an array of classic moments. Many times, the rivalry has carried major implications for both programs in both the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and national title races. Unfortunately for fans, this time around only the No. 2-ranked Tigers come into Tallahassee with something significant to play for. Clemson marches into Doak Campbell at 7-0 (4-0 in ACC) while the Seminoles are mired in a state of mediocrity and enter the contest at 4-3, 2-3.
Head coach Dabo Sweeney has turned Clemson from a good program into one of the country’s best since replacing Tommy Bowden in 2008. Clemson is now an NFL factory and has won three league championships and a national title in the past three seasons. The Tigers, and not the perennial juggernaut ‘Noles, have separated themselves from the rest of the ACC and have just two conference losses since 2015.
In his first season in Tallahassee, former Oregon coach Willie Taggart has been tasked with returning once great FSU to heights of 2013 and ‘14 and the hallowed Bobby Bowden era. The premier squad in the ACC since its entry in 1992, FSU has fallen on hard times, including last season’s abysmal 7-6 mark in Jimbo Fisher’s last year at the helm. A victory against the Tigers would snap a three-game losing streak to Clemson and give the ‘Noles a marquee victory for the first time in several seasons.
For Florida State to have any shot, its offensive line must fend off the dynamic Clemson defensive front. Clemson’s trio of Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, and Dexter Lawrence has led a Tiger defense that ranks third in scoring defense nationally and held its last two opponents to less than seven points. After a shaky start, the Clemson D has returned to form and presents a massive challenge for the Seminole offensive line.
FSU quarterback Deondre Francois has performed admirably in his return from a devastating knee injury suffered in the 2017 season opener versus Alabama. An anemic Seminole run game will mean Francois has to make a ton of big plays to keep the game close. If the ‘Noles can’t keep Francois upright, the Tigers will roll to victory for sure.
Additionally, Clemson’s well-balanced offense presents troublesome matchups for the mediocre Seminole defense. Highly-touted quarterback Trevor Lawrence (1,176 yards/11 TDs) has taken the mantle from recently departed Kelly Bryant and lived up to the lofty expectations heaped upon him. Tiger running back Travis Etienne has ripped through opposing defenses and is currently averaging 8.2 yards per rush. If FSU can’t slow Etienne, Clemson will make short work of the ‘Noles.
Although the 1988 game is the rivalry’s most memorable contest, the two teams didn’t play every year until FSU joined the ACC. FSU and Clemson have spilt the last six encounters with FSU winning from 2012-14, and Clemson currently enjoying a three-game streak. The ‘Noles lead the all-time series 20-11 and have won 15 league championships to Clemson’s four since ‘92. The winner of the past seven matchups has gone on to win the league title.
FSU will be pumped for the No. 2 Tigers’ trip to Doak Campbell and will play inspired early on. However, Clemson has better coaches, better talent, and will pull away in the second half thanks to its stout defense and the tandem of Lawrence and Etienne. H&A
Kickoff for Clemson versus FSU is 12 p.m. CDT on ABC
All photos courtesy Clemson Athletics