By Will Vandervort
Clemson understands what’s at stake this Saturday night when fifth-ranked Florida State comes to town for an 8:22 kickoff in Death Valley.
The Tigers will be putting an undefeated record on the line. They’ll put a seven-game win streak on the line. They’ll put an 11-game conference win streak on the line and they’ll be putting a 13-game home winning streak against conference foes on the line.
Oh by the way, their No. 3 national ranking and any chance they have at playing for a national championship will be put on the line, too.
And though all of those things are big, they are not the most important thing the Tigers are considering when they go on the field and take on the Seminoles. No, Clemson is focused on one thing and one thing only right now – completing their next goal.
“The next goal for us is to win the division,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said Tuesday from the WestZone in Memorial Stadium. “This sets the line for us to do that. The goal after that is to win the conference. That sets the line to do that.
“I mean, it kind of puts things in perspective. It puts them in front of you when you have a game like this.”
No one at Clemson or Florida State will say it, but the winner of Saturday’ game in Death Valley will more than likely be the representative of the Atlantic Division in December’s ACC Championship Game. And despite this being the first ever meeting between two top five teams in the 71-history of Clemson Memorial Stadium, this game is more about winning the division than anything else.
The reason? They can’t play for a conference or national championship if they do not win the division, first.
“Listen, the loser of this game is probably still going to be in the top 10 with a half a season to play and a lot of football and a lot of things and opportunities from a national standpoint,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “The loser of this game is going to be against the eight‑ball from a division standpoint probably, but anything can happen. But that’s just the way it is.
“You can’t do anything about that.”
But what the Tigers (6-0, 4-0) can do in the meantime is control their emotions and stay focused on what is in front of them and that’s first beating Florida State. After that, they will cross that bridge when it comes.
“I can honestly say that the mindset doesn’t really change, and again, I think that shows that the team has grown up because when you make one game more significant than the other, I think that’s when you can have a lack of focus,” Boyd said. “This game does mean more in a sense because it puts you in the driver’s seat in the division. It actually puts you in a sense where you can do the things that you want to do.”
And then after that the next game becomes the most important game and so on and so.
“This week, for us, it’s the biggest game of the year, just like last week was the biggest game of the year, just like next week will be the biggest game of the year,” Swinney said. “They’re all big. Some have special circumstances attached to them like this one, but come next Monday, Maryland will be the biggest game of the year.
“When it’s not, y’all let me know. Let me know when it’s not the biggest game of the year, and I might feel better. That’s just our mentality.”