The ACC’s best rivalry is now a series were the two teams are going in two totally different directions
When he played for Clemson back in 2003, Tony Elliott remembers not being much of talker. The former wide receiver, who walked on to the team years earlier, led by example. However, following his team’s 45-17 loss to Wake Forest, he knew he had to say something.
The Tigers were about to face No. 3 Florida State in Death Valley. No one was giving them a chance to win the game and talk all centered around then head coach Tommy Bowden’s job status.
At the time, Clemson had lost 11 straight to the Seminoles, and in most cases, the games were not even close. However, Elliott knew he had to do something so he called for a players’ only meeting and then uncharacteristically, said what was on his heart.
“I think that resonated with some of the guys and we came back and decided all that mattered is what is in the locker room and what was in our football building and that’s what we are playing for,” Elliott recalled. “Everyone is going to count us out, but these are the last memories we are going to have for the rest of our lives so let’s just go out and play for each other. Who cares what the score is and let’s be confident knowing that when we walk away we know we gave everything that we had the last couple of games of that season.”
When Clemson hit the field that night it was a different team. The Tigers, who were 5-4 at the time, looked like the No. 3 team in the country as they crushed FSU, 26-10. It was a game that changed the rivalry and how it is looked at today.
“You have a little bit of confidence knowing you kind of laid the foundation, but what happened after that you have to give credit to the coaching staff and players after that because they really, really changed the mindset and the mentality and kind of set us on the course of direction that we are at right now as a program,” Elliott said.
Since that cold November night 14 years ago, Clemson has got the better of the Seminoles in the series. In fact, you can say the power has sifted between the two programs.
Thanks to Saturday’s 31-14 victory in Death Valley, Clemson has a 9-6 edge in the series since 2003. Saturday’s victory was the Tigers’ third straight over Florida State, just the second time that has happened in the 31-year history of the rivalry.
All week leading up to the game, Clemson’s players and coaches spoke about how FSU is their equal. The Seminoles have a lot of guys that Clemson recruited and could easily play on their team. And that’s true, however, I wouldn’t call Florida State Clemson’s equal right now.
Right now, the two programs appear to be headed in different directions. Since the Jameis Winston led-Seminoles went 13-1 and made the first College Football Playoff in 2014, FSU has slipped, while the Tigers have risen.
In 2015 and ’16, FSU’s win totaled dropped to 10 wins in both seasons, and there were signs in both years things were not the same. The ‘Noles lost to an upstart Houston team in the 2015 Chick-fil-A Bowl and then the following year were embarrassed 63-20 at Louisville.
Then of course there has been this season. Granted, losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois in the season opener will affect a team, but what has happened this season is not just because they are missing their starting quarterback.
No, there are other issues at hand. What are they? I don’t know. Obviously, I don’t cover the FSU program, but there is something wrong. There is too much talent in the FSU program for the Seminoles to be 3-6.
While Florida State is struggling, Clemson is still thriving. Of course Clemson is the defending national champions, and has played for it each of the last two years.
In a year the Tigers were supposed to be down and fall back a little bit, the Tigers head into the last two weeks of the regular season with a lot to play for.
Clemson is once again right in the thick of things when it comes to the College Football Playoff and if it can win out, which could include a win over an undefeated Miami team in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 2, then the Tigers will win a third straight ACC Championship and will make the CFP for a third straight year.
It’s crazy to think about how the Florida State-Clemson series used to be. It used to be all Florida State, but now it’s flipped. Clemson now owns the series and subsequently has gained control of the ACC.
It’s a story of two programs headed in two different directions. One appears to be on the way up, while the other is on the way down.