Comparing resumes

CLEMSON – Every March, college analysts pull out "blind resumes" for teams vying for NCAA Tournament at-large bids.

Let's examine some items on the "blind resume" of the team visiting Memorial Stadium Saturday night for what might be the biggest game in ACC history.

1. Hasn't won in Memorial Stadium since 2001.

2. Is the lower-ranked team in both major top-25 polls.

3. Is starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in what will be the most hostile environment he has faced in his short college career.

4. Has one top-25 win, a 63-0 blowout of briefly-No.25 Maryland.

You'd say this team wouldn't be favored to win, correct?

Well, you'd be wrong.

No. 5 Florida State is a three-point favorite over No. 3 Clemson in the teams' huge ACC showdown. Take away the three-point edge that home-field advantage typically affords, and Las Vegas is suggesting that the Seminoles are nearly a touchdown favorite over the Tigers.

Does it make sense? Not really.

It's just another sign that the nation at large hasn't quite bought into Dabo Swinney's rejuvenation of Clemson football.

Sure, betting lines are designed to generate interest in gambling and move money from bettors' pockets to the hands of Las Vegas casinos, but on some level, it must smart for Swinney and Co. Five years ago this week, Swinney was given the interim head coaching reins of a program that was faltering under Tommy Bowden's steady but unspectacular watch.

Since then, the Tigers have established themselves as an emerging elite program in college football's hierarchy: an ACC title, two outright ACC Atlantic Division titles and a piece of a third. Since January 2012, two teams have beaten them – Florida State and South Carolina. They own a pair of wins over top-10 opponents in the last month. This isn't your older brother's Clemson.

Following the season-opening 38-35 win over No.5 Georgia, Swinney unleashed an impassioned rant about how national perception of Clemson needed to change – with a group of national writers just feet away.

Guess it didn't sink in enough.

The national narratives I've noticed this week have focused on the Seminoles' rise spearheaded by Jameis Winston, their precociously talented redshirt freshman quarterback.

Make no mistake: Winston is a special talent. He's thrown for 17 touchdowns against two interceptions and is the ACC's top-rated passer. But you have to question how he'll handle the lubed-up, extremely loud environment that Clemson will provide Saturday night.

I mean, sure, Winston has a road win at Pitt under his belt. He even overcame a 17-3 deficit at the teeming cauldron of hate that is Boston College's Alumni Stadium… oh, heck, even I can't keep a straight face typing that sentence. Winston might strafe Clemson's improving defense for 500 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night. But you don't know. You can't assume.

Clemson's defensive line – led by junior end Vic Beasley – leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. They won't be easily turned away, even by the Seminoles' athletic offensive line.

And let's not forget that Florida State hasn't beaten the Tigers in Death Valley in 12 years. Christian Ponder's shoulder probably still smarts from the hit DeAndre McDaniel delivered late in that 2009 victory.

By the way, it's not exactly as if the Seminoles have been Clemson's daddy in Tallahassee, either. Clemson led FSU late in the third quarter of last season's 49-37 loss, and in 2010, it took Dustin Hopkins' 55-yard field goal as time expired to lift FSU to a 16-13 win over the Tigers.

A blowout shouldn't be expected on either side, but Clemson's overall talent level should earn some respect as well.

Both sides have NFL talent – guys like Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr., Timmy Jernigan, Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner will play in the NFL. So will Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Stephone Anthony, Martavis Bryant, Spencer Shuey, Corey Crawford and Mike Williams. Neither side has many weaknesses. Still, it's a bit surprising that national pundits don't trust the Tigers at home.

Swinney and his team didn't say much publicly about the slight this week, although Crawford saying being a home underdog "adds fire to the fire."

Once the ball is kicked off around 8:22 Saturday night, the line won't matter much – just another piece of hype and noise in a week full of it. For now, however, it's another sign that the nation hasn't quite come around to Swinney and Clemson's rise yet.

Saturday might be a case of "I told you so." Or it could be the night that those national writers – much like Swinney's first team five years ago – go "all in."

Whatever the result, it'll be fascinating to watch.

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