Fourth-ranked Clemson hosts Florida State at 3:30 p.m. today in Death Valley with a lot on the line for the Tigers.
With a win, Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) can clinch a spot in next month’s ACC Championship game for a third straight year. It will also mark the Tigers’ sixth Atlantic Division title under head coach Dabo Swinney. Clemson can also clinch the division with an NC State loss at Boston College.
As for the Seminoles (3-5, 3-4 ACC) they need to win three of their final four games to become bowl eligible. FSU has qualified and played in a bowl game every year since 1982. The Seminoles have not had a losing season since 1976, Bobby Bowden’s first year at Florida State.
So who has the edge?
FSU’s offensive line vs. Clemson’s defense: Last year, Clemson battered and bruised FSU quarterback Deondre Francois, sacking him six times and hitting him more than 10. Due to an injury, Francois will not have to take that punishment this year, but his replacement, James Blackman, might. The Seminoles offensive line isn’t much better than a year ago and might be worse considering all the injuries the unit has suffered throughout the season. So far, FSU has allowed 25 sacks, which ranks 11th in the ACC. The ‘Noles are also struggling to run the football, averaging just 143.8 yards per game on the ground, though freshman running back Cam Akers is starting to come around. He has 199 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Syracuse. Clemson’s defensive front is arguably one of the best in the country and they have played that way for much of the year. As a whole, the Clemson defense has played well, and ranks second in the country in sacks with 33. The Tigers are also tied for sixth nationally in tackles for loss with 75. Advantage: Clemson
Blackman vs. Clemson’s defense: Last week, NC State quarterback Ryan Finley carved up the Clemson defense, throwing for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 31-of-50 passes. But Blackman is not at Finley’s level, yet. Though the true freshman has shown signs, he is completing just 59.1 percent of his passes for 1,285 yards. He has thrown 8 touchdowns, but also has 7 interceptions. He is still trying to come into his own and is developing as a quarterback. Today will be Blackman’s biggest challenge this season. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables brings all kinds of looks and pressures that can confuse a veteran quarterback, much less a freshman. The Tigers can also get pressure with just their front four, which allows Venables to do even more on the back end. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s offensive line vs. FSU’s defensive line: It’s hard to imagine that with guys like Brian Burns, Josh Sweat, Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas that the Seminoles would rank next to last in sacks (14) in the ACC and 11th in tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Regardless of the numbers, the Seminoles are still capable of making plays and are extremely talented up front. This will still be one of the Tigers’ offensive lines biggest challenges. However, Clemson’s offensive line is starting to gel at the right times it seems. The Tigers have not allowed a sack in each of the last two games, including last week’s win over NC State with a front four that is considered one of the best in the country. The Wolfpack had just two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Also, the Tigers are averaging 220.2 yards per game on the ground, second in the ACC, while the Seminoles are allowing 157, which ranks ninth in the ACC. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s Alex Spence vs. FSU’s kick block team: Alex Spence has struggled to make field goals since becoming the starter following Greg Huegel’s season-ending knee injury. Spence has made just 4-of-9 field goals and is 1-for-6 from 30-plus yards. Spence also has a low trajectory on his kicks, which can be a big concern against the Seminoles. FSU is first in the ACC and tied for 3rd in the NCAA with four blocked kicks this season. The ‘Noles have a punt block and a field goal block in the same season for the first time since 2010, and the four total blocks are the most in a season under Jimbo Fisher. FSU blocked two field goals in last week’s win over Syracuse. Advantage: Florida State
Bottom line: It’s Clemson vs. Florida State. It is still the best and biggest game in the ACC and because of that, Florida State will not be feeling sorry for itself. The Seminoles will come in and play hard. They would love nothing more than to spoil the Tigers’ chances of winning another ACC Championship, while also knocking the Tigers’ out of the College Football Playoff picture. On the other side, Clemson knows what is at stake. They also feel like they owe their fans for not clinching the division last year at home when they had Pitt in Death Valley. Both teams are hungry to prove themselves, which should make for an interesting game. The Seminoles will give Clemson all they have and will make this game closer than people think, but in the end, the Tigers will pull away late.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Florida State 17