No. 3 Clemson, No. 12 Florida State to square off
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson remembers the last time the Tigers played Florida State in Tallahassee very well.
He saw the first appreciable playing time in his career as the Tigers tried to beat the Seminoles on the latter's home field for the first time since 2006, but Florida State escaped 23-17 in overtime two years ago.
"I think we should've won," Watson said. "We had so many opportunities that we didn't capitalize on that night. We played very well, but just fell short. It was a great learning lesson for the whole team, and the young guys who got to play."
Watson, who passed for 266 yards and ran for a touchdown in that game, has gone 25-2 as Clemson's starting quarterback since and has rewritten the Tigers' record book. But he'd like nothing more than to finish his career with a winning record against the Seminoles.
The teams clash in a prime-time matchup Saturday ( 8 p.m. ET, ABC) at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.
The third-ranked Tigers (7-0, 4-0 ACC) have a bit of a cushion over the No. 12 Seminoles (5-2, 2-2) as far as the Atlantic Division race is concerned but that doesn't detract from the rivalry.
"We're 7-0, so we've reached our goals so far," Watson said. "And we're in position to control our own destiny."
The Seminoles don't. To get to the ACC championship game, they need to win this game and have the Tigers and Louisville also lose one more time to create a potential three-team deadlock at the top of the standings. That would throw the berth into the minutiae of tie-breaking procedures.
The Seminoles also are clinging to hopes that even with two losses they can finagle a way into the College Football Playoff. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher isn't campaigning for that but doesn't think such a development is out of the realm of possibility.
"If you can figure out college football right now, tell me," Fisher said. "You can't. We're in a crazy time right now. You don't know what's gonna happen. I could see it happening, I could see it not happening. But it wouldn't surprise me a lick."
The Tigers are going into the game following an open date that came at the most opportune time. Running back Wayne Gallman appears ready to go after suffering a concussion in their last game Oct. 15 against North Carolina State. He rushed for 103 yards against Florida State last year.
"We're healthy and rejuvenated and ready for this week," Watson said. "We were able to get some guys healthy and get guys to recommit to their goals and what they really want to do for this season and this team.
"Last year we played for 10 straight weeks and kind of slowed down at the end of the season. This is chance for us to build momentum for the next five weeks."
Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow returned for Clemson against N.C. State after missing four games with a broken bone in his hand and came up with several clutch catches. The former walk-on, who had touchdown receptions in four straight games dating back to last season before suffering his injury, may be Watson's most dependable target.
"It's good to have Hunter back," Watson said. "He's an all-around playmaker and another weapon for this offense."
For Florida State, running back Dalvin Cook's return to form has been a factor in the Seminoles' rebound from a 1-2 start to the season. He has rushed for 900 yards for the season, is coming off a 115-yard effort in last week's victory over Wake Forest, and rushed for 194 yards and scored the Seminoles' only touchdown in last year's loss to Clemson.
The most encouraging sign for the Florida State is their recent resurgence on defense. After giving up 177 points their first five games (a 35.4 average), they held then-No. 10 Miami to 19 and Wake Forest to just a pair of field goals the last two games. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who is second in the nation in sacks with 8.5, had two against the Demon Deacons.