Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and the Seminoles are looking for a win tonight against Clemson that will keep their national title hopes alive. (Reuters)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With a gargantuan showdown looming Saturday at No. 3 Clemson, junior running back Karlos Williams calmly slid into his seat in the Florida State media room Monday afternoon wearing a T-shirt inscribed with a slogan the team adopted at the beginning of the year.
It read simply, “It’s our time.”
And for the No. 5 Seminoles’ championship aspirations, that time is now.
Saturday’s Top 5 showdown — the first of the 2013 college football season — will send one of these two national powerhouses on a collision course for a conference crown and potential berth in the BCS title game, while the other will likely see those dreams evaporate.
“No pressure at all,” Williams grinned. “It’s gonna be fun.”
It should also be epic.
Some are labeling the 27th meeting in the rivalry the biggest game in ACC history — and that’d be hard to argue. The nationally televised prime time duel features a pair of Heisman candidates leading two of the nation’s most explosive offenses against defenses ripe with NFL prospects. The matchup has even attracted ESPN’s College GameDay crew to deafening Death Valley, where Florida State will enter as a surprising 3-point favorite considering its recent dismal history in South Carolina.
Dismal, as in, five straight losses.
Might that mess with the Seminoles’ psyche?
“I don’t think so. What happened to those other teams is not this team,” FSU fourth-year coach Jimbo Fisher said of the Seminoles’ 12-year drought since the program’s last victory at Clemson in 2001. “You can’t worry about those things. You can’t worry about the past. Even if we had won 10 in a row (at Clemson) doesn’t mean you can go up there and win this week.”
Williams, a safety-turned-running back this season, was on defense last year when FSU beat Clemson in a shootout in Tallahassee, 49-37. Now he’s leading the Seminoles (5-0, 3-0 in the ACC), who are coming off a bye week, with six touchdowns and is part of the nation’s fourth-ranked total offense, which is also third in FBS in scoring (53.6 points per game) and second in passing efficiency.
That’s thanks in large part to freshman quarterback Jameis Winston — aforementioned Heisman candidate No. 1 — and his 19 touchdowns and 73.2 percent completion percentage, which is tied with reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel for second in the country. And while Winston is coming off a head-turner of a game against Maryland — 393 yards and five TD passes in a 63-0 rout of the No. 25 Terps — the 19-year-old former No. 1 high school QB recruit in the nation has never been on a stage this big.
But Fisher has worlds of confidence in Winston, who will be chased all night by a Tigers defense that leads the NCAA in sacks (4.0 per game) and tackles for loss (10.2). When asked if his young QB’s relative inexperience makes him even the slightest bit nervous, the coach was emphatic in his response.
“No,” Fisher said.
He is, however, concerned about Clemson’s own Heisman threat, senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, who leads the ACC’s top-ranked passing offense (342 ypg) and has thrown for 1,783 yards and 19 touchdowns already this season. But what scares Fisher the most isn’t Boyd’s numbers this year, it’s that he’s been doing this his entire career. And it’s a career that will end this season with Boyd (9,836 yards) overtaking Duke’s Thaddeus Lewis (10,065) as the conference’s second all-time leading passer.
“His consistency (is what makes him great),” Fisher said of Boyd, who rallied Clemson (6-0, 4-0) to a 24-14 comeback win against Boston College last week. “That’s the thing we all get bored with. That’s what you don’t want to write about. You want to write about something spectacular. Great players are consistent in how they perform … Does he do it every week? To me, that’s key to any great player. He’s definitely done that.”
But something will have to give Saturday when Boyd tries to air it out against the Seminoles. FSU’s passing defense, led by All-ACC First-Teamer Lamarcus Joyner, is No. 2 in the nation, allowing opponents just 149 yards a game on average. Florida State also has the NCAA’s third-ranked scoring defense (12.0 ppg) and is coming off a historic beatdown of Maryland and quarterback C.J. Brown, who came into the game as the conference’s top individual offensive leader. But Brown but was all but shut down by FSU from the opening series, leading to the final 63-point margin of defeat — the largest ever in ACC play.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn’t need to see that score to know the danger that’s headed to Death Valley this weekend.
“They have no weaknesses. It’s a very complete, balanced team. They’ve got great players on both sides of the ball. And they got a special player (in Winston). He doesn’t look like a freshman. He looks like a full-grown man to me,” Swinney said Tuesday. “They’re a great team, but I think they know we’re a great team, too. Some games, you got a little more margin for error than others. This game, we don’t have a lot. They don’t either.”