PREVIEW: No. 10 Clemson about to find out if No. 4 FSU is for real

FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, above, and Clemson QB Taj Boyd are close friends, but that friendship will be put on the backburner today when their teams meet in Tallahassee, Fla., in a Top 10 showdown.

FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, above, and Clemson QB Taj Boyd are close friends, but that friendship will be put on the backburner today when their teams meet in Tallahassee, Fla., in a Top 10 showdown.

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WHO: No. 10 Clemson (3-0, 0-0 ACC) at No. 4 Florida State (3-0, 1-0 ACC)

WHAT: Top 10, ACC showdown between two unbeaten teams.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today.

WHERE: Tallahassee, Fla.


LINE: Florida State by 14 1/2 points.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — EJ Manuel of Florida State and longtime friend Tajh Boyd of Clemson have known each other since middle school and are now the top-rated passers in the ACC head into a Top 10 matchup tonight.

Boyd got the best of things last year in Clemson’s 35-30 win, while Manuel watched from the sidelines with a shoulder injury. Both players and teams are expected to be full strength when No. 4 Florida State hosts the 10th-ranked Tigers.

“We are both going to be opponents and competitors and want to beat each other,” Manuel said. “That’s the fun part about getting to play your friends.”

Manuel, who has played just six quarters in three games so far this season, has thrown for 525 yards and six touchdowns and one interception. Boyd has passed for 747 yards, a half-dozen scores and one pick.

Once again among those in college football’s stratosphere, the Seminoles (3-0, 1-0 ACC) have a chance to show whether they learned from last year’s early-season collapse when they host Clemson (3-0, 0-0) in today’s national marquee game.

“We’ll be ready,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher promised.

After soaring to fifth in the polls early last season, the Seminoles fell to Oklahoma, 23-13, in their third game and then lost the next two at Clemson and Wake Forest by identical 35-30 scores.

“”I think we’ve learned some lessons,” Fisher said.

None are bigger today when the Seminoles and Tigers meet in a matchup of ACC schools ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since 2007.

The Seminoles are a two-touchdown favorite and should be according to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who said earlier in the week that few teams in the nation, other than possibly top-ranked Alabama or No. 2 LSU, would be favored to win in Tallahassee this year.

“If I’m on the outside looking in, I’m probably picking Florida State too, but that’s why we play the game,” Swinney said. “They’re playing at home. That’s always a big advantage.”

He’s worried about Florida State’s defense, which has allowed just a field goal through three games.

“Defensively, they are probably as talented as anybody we’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Swinney, who is 32-19 since replacing Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 season. “If they dominate our offensive line, it’s going to be a long night.”

And then there’s Manuel, a fifth-year senior who is 16-4 as a starter and leads the ACC in passing efficiency. He’s in charge of keeping the ball away from Clemson’s offense, with Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.

“They are going to score points just like we are,” Manuel said. “We have to be ready to combat that.”

A rejuvenated running game at Florida State led by senior Chris Thompson and sophomore James Wilder Jr. will be key. Thompson, who returned from a broken back he suffered last season against the Demon Deacons, rushed for a career-high 197 yards in last week’s 52-0 payback win against Wake Forest.

“Definitely makes my job a lot easier,” said Manuel, who has never played against Boyd.

Boyd, however, must contend with the Florida State defense that ranks first nationally in virtually all categories after beating up on some overmatched FBS teams and a pitiful Wake squad.

Boyd didn’t have much trouble last season against Florida State’s defense. He threw for 344 yards and three TDs.

The winner takes a huge step toward winning the Atlantic Division and a berth in the league’s title game Dec. 1 in Charlotte, N.C., and both sides know it.

“In order to get to the goals we want to get to, we can’t drop any,” Manuel said.