The Final Breakdown

Clemson travels to Florida State Saturday night to battle the No. 1 'Noles. Can the Tigers pull off the upset?

The Seminoles have one of the best offensive lines in the country with five senior starters up front, and they have three talented backs to choose from when they look to run the ball to balance their dynamic passing game. Karlos Williams is the leader of that trio and has 32 carries this season for 132 yards and a touchdown. Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook get some carries, as well, to spell Williams.

The Seminoles’ running game isn’t as powerful as the one Clemson faced in the season opener against Georgia, and the defensive front and linebackers lead the way on that side of the ball for the Tigers. Having Corey Crawford back for the second straight game after he missed the opener for a suspension should help the defensive front hold up well, and Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley and company should be ready for a solid showing.

Advantage: Clemson

Jameis Winston and his offensive weapons dismantled Clemson’s defense last season. He passed for 444 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-14 win, and his top two weapons from that game are back again. Rashad Greene already has 15 catches for 283 yards and a touchdown, and he had eight catches for 146 yards and two scores in this game last year. Tight end Nick O’Leary had five catches for 161 yards against the Tigers last year, and he has eight catches for 79 yards in two games this season.

But the problem for the Seminoles is that Winston won’t be available for the first half after being suspended Wednesday for the first two quarters by head coach Jimbo Fisher. That opens the door for Sean Maguire, a sophomore, to step into the starting role. He played in nine games last year and completed 13-of-21 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. He has completed 3-of-5 passes this season for 28 yards.

After the first half, Winston will be available to play, and it will be interesting to see how he plays (and how Maguire plays in the first half).

Clemson’s revamped secondary will get its first true test of the season (Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason didn’t have to do much in the opener), but the key will be the Tigers’ pass rush. If Beasley, Crawford and Jarrett don’t generate any pressure on Maguire/Winston, it could be a long night for the Clemson defense even with Winston playing just a half.

Advantage: Push

In addition to Winston last year, one of the real strengths of the Seminoles’ team was the defensive line. Some of that talent has moved on to the next level, but Florida State has recruited so well the past few years that it can just reload at many positions, and that includes the defensive front.

Clemson’s offensive line didn’t play well at all in the second half against Georgia, but having David Beasley back for the second straight game should help. This group will be challenged, and it needs to step up to that challenge if Clemson is going to pull off the upset. Another story line focuses on what the running back rotation will be and how much freshmen Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice are used. Through two games, D.J. Howard has 16 carries, while C.J. Davidson has 15, Choice 12 and Gallman 11.

Advantage: Florida State

The Seminoles have one of the best secondaries around in cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams and safeties Tyler Hunter and Jalen Ramsey. But, again, the key could be what happens up front. If Clemson’s line can protect the quarterback combo of Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson, that certainly will make things manageable. If not, it could be hard for those two inexperienced quarterbacks – at least on a big road stage like this – to get much done.

How much Watson plays has been a big question mark this week after two dynamic performances in limited time in the first two games. Stoudt has completed 38-of-60 attempts for 446 yards with just one touchdown and an interception, while Watson is 10-of-13 for 213 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Freshman Artavis Scott had a big game last week and has eight catches for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He could get more chances this week, and keep an eye on Mike Williams, Jay Jay McCullough and Charone Peake, as well. Clemson will need them to step up Saturday.

Advantage: Florida State

Ammon Lakip bounced back from his bad miss against Georgia in the opener with three field goals against South Carolina State before the off week. But he needs to be able to handle the pressure on the road with key kicks because Clemson will need any points it can get in this game. Bradley Pinion will be important, as well, because the Tigers need to win the field position battle (which they didn’t do against Georgia).

Florida State place-kicker Roberto Aguayo hasn’t missed a kick this year (6-of-6 on field goal tries and 8-of-8 on extra points). But his longest field goal is only 37 yards. Cason Beatty is pretty good from the punter slot, as well, so the Seminoles are solid in their kicking positions. If either team can get anything going in the return game, it could turn the momentum of the contest.

Advantage: Push

This game has become the best matchup in the ACC year in and year out with the winner claiming the Atlantic Division the past five years and the ACC title the past three. But the Seminoles dominated last year for one reason: turnovers. Clemson handed Florida State an early lead and never could get the game back under control, and the Seminoles took advantage in a big way.

If the Tigers have any chance for the upset, that can’t happen again. Clemson needs to play a clean game and get some help on the road against the No. 1 team (which is also the defending national champion) and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner – at least for a half.

We have to see how the Seminoles react to playing without their leader for a half. Do they rally the troops and come out on fire in the first half, or does Winston’s absence shut down the Florida State attack for two quarters? Does the Seminoles’ defense step up and hold the Tigers in check until Winston can get out on the field, or does Clemson take advantage of the suspension.

It’s not an impossible task for Clemson to win this game, and it certainly got more interesting Wednesday. It will be intriguing to see how both teams react to this unusual situation, and after going back and forth and back again on that after Wednesday’s news broke, the scenarios were just to dizzying to keep up with.

PREDICTION: Florida State 35, Clemson 30

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at Top Stories