The SEC has been, without a doubt, the biggest and baddest conference in the nation over the previous decade. However, the scene has shifted slightly in 2013. Both the Pac-12 and the ACC have shoved elite teams to the forefront of the game this season.
When Week 8 of the 2013 campaign kicks off, two of those teams, ACC powerhouses Clemson and Florida State, will be taking the field against one another. The winner will have the opportunity to continue its undefeated march towards knocking off an SEC (or Pac-12, B1G or Big 12) opponent in the BCS national title game. The other goes home – pure and simple.
These two programs first met in 1970, with coach Bill Peterson’s Seminoles knocking off the Tigers, 38-13. FSU continued to dominate the series, winning 11 straight games from 1992-2002.
Since 2008, however, the two have alternated wins and losses. Florida State won the 2012 meeting, 49-37, before going on to an Orange Bowl win.
Does that mean this year is Clemson’s turn to win and head off to BCS glory?
If it’s going to happen, Tajh Boyd must continue to prove his senior leadership is more valuable than young talent. Both he and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are Heisman Trophy contenders at this point, and with good reason. Boyd has tallied 1,783 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and only two picks in six games. Winston, just a redshirt freshman, has thrown for 1,441 yards, 17 scores and two interceptions himself in one less game played.
Winston’s Seminoles enjoyed a bye while Clemson struggled to put away a pesky Boston College squad, 24-14, in Week 7.
Could the extra week of rest and preparation prove the difference in what promises to be a brutal road environment?
Aside from Winston’s heroics, coach Jimbo Fisher will be expecting big things from junior running backs Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr.; all three boast more than 200 yards on the ground. Freeman is averaging a robust 7.13 yards per carry for 385 on 54 attempts. Williams is the surprise. A converted defensive back, he has tallied 244 yards on 28 rushes for an astounding 8.71 average and six scores.
Those three backs, along with Winston, will have their hands full with Clemson’s opportunistic defense. After giving up 35 points to Georgia in the Tigers’ season-opening win, coach Dabo Swinney’s underrated unit has not given up more than 14 points to any other squad. Led by senior Darius Robinson and junior Bashaud Breeland, Clemson has tallied 10 interceptions. Will they be able to pick off a few errant Winston throws?
Whether young Winston gets rattled and eventually throws an interception may be up to superstar defensive end Vic Beasley. The beastly junior has already recorded a whopping nine (nine!) sacks, to help the team total a collective 24 – good for second in the entire country. That is championship-level defense right there.
The Tigers’ defensive unit may manage to do what none other has all season, and that’s find a way to corral Winston, tight end Nick O’Leary and wideouts Kenny Shaw and Rashad Green. If that happens, can Boyd step up and dominate Florida State’s own rebuilt defensive front in Death Valley?
Florida State does not have much of a pass rush, having only recorded 10 sacks on the year. However, eight players have each recorded one (defensive back Lamarcus Joyner leads the team with two) apiece. This is a team in every sense of the word. They all get to the football – and fast. This unit shut out a Maryland team with spectacular talent at the wide receiver position, just like Clemson boasts in the elite Sammy Watkins.
Can Joyner, fellow senior Terrence Brooks and freshman stud Jalen Ramsey make life miserable for Boyd, Watkins and juniors Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant?
We have no idea, but perhaps you do. Will the offenses continue to reign supreme, just like the sports media has advertised? Or will one, or even both, defenses step up to the occasion and prove their championship mettle?
We simply do not know the answers to these questions, but luckily, the time for talk, chatter and debate is nearly at an end.
With the biggest ACC game in several years nearly upon us, there’s only one thing left to do: Settle It.