No. 1 Clemson
ACC Record: 5-0
Record vs. FSU: 8-20
Head Coach Dabo Swinney
Head Coaching Record: 69-26
Record vs. FSU: 2-5
Five Questions For FSU
QB Deshaun Watson: 154-219 for 1,936, 20 TDs, and 7 INTs. 78 carries for 386 yards and 4 TDs
Watson is the best player on Clemson's roster, and one of the best players in the country. He is dangerous with both his arm and his legs, and keeping him contained will be one of the most important tasks for the Florida State defense.
RB Wayne Gallman: 159 carries for 874 yards and 7 TDs. 9 catches for 47 yards.
Gallman is arguably the best running back in the ACC not named Dalvin Cook. He runs through contact very well, and beats up on teams as they go along. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney called him the most complete player on the Clemson roster.
WR Artavis Scott: 47 catches for 514 yards and 4 TDs. 1 carry for 3 yards and 1 TD.
Scott is arguably the best slot receiver in the entire country. Clemson likes to hit him with short passes and let him use his athletic ability to get upfield. Stopping him will be one of the toughest tasks for the Florida State secondary.
DE Shaq Lawson: 30 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks
Lawson is Clemson's best defensive lineman. He leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks, and is sixth on the team in tackles. Florida State will have to make sure they know where this guy is at all times, and have help for the lineman charged with blocking him.
CB Mackensie Alexander: 13 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 3 pass break ups.
Alexander is in the same position as Florida State cornerback Marquez White right now. Teams are refusing to throw to the receivers they're covering.
Wayne McGahee III:
Florida State comes into this game as a 12-point underdog, and deservedly so. The Seminoles have struggled at times this season, including the last second loss to Georgia Tech, and Clemson has been destroying teams and getting coaches fired.
On offense the Clemson defensive line has a big advantage. Florida State will need to have two blockers on Shaq Lawson nearly every play, and that will free up the rest of their defenders. Florida State will need to find a way to get the ball down field against a very good Clemson secondary to take the pressure off Dalvin Cook and the run game. If Florida State can get the passing game going, they will have a chance to pull off the upset.
On defense the Clemson offense presents so many problems. Florida State won't be able to completely stop the Clemson offense. They'll have to settle for slowing them down. Limiting the big plays will be key for the Florida State defense. If they're able to force Clemson to drive the field for their points, it will limit possessions and keep the Seminoles in the game.
Unfortunately, I don't think that Florida State will be able to score enough to beat Clemson. For the first time in the two and a half years since I've started making predictions for this site I will be picking against the Seminoles. I have Clemson beating Florida State 34-24.
Clemson has been playing like the best and most complete team in the country over the first half of the season and has been hitting their stride over the past few weeks while Florida State limps into this matchup with a young and banged-up team that has sputtered on the road all season. But the Seminoles do get Dalvin Cook back from hamstring and ankle injuries, Terrance Smith from a high ankle sprain, and Mario Pender from a collapsed lung that cost him six weeks. All told, this could be the recipe for a Clemson blowout or a surprising upset from the one ACC team that has had Clemson’s number the past three seasons.
FSU does have several things in their favor, most notably a very good defensive front that should be able to limit Clemson’s ground game without committing safety help and one of the best pairs of cornerbacks in the nation in Jalen Ramsey and Marquez White. That combination should help mitigate Clemson’s biggest matchup advantage: slot receivers Artavis Scott and Hunter Renfrow against FSU’s Star and safety positions.
Much like FSU’s own offense, Clemson has depended on big plays all season, and FSU will need to find ways to keep the Tigers from gashing them in the passing game. Look for the Noles to challenge Clemson with Ramsey and White on the outside while providing safety help on the inside of the field and using freshman Derwin James in a “robber” role to take away the middle of the field while shadowing Deshaun Watson in the run game. Ideally, this should work to force Clemson either to be very patient offensively (and then win battles in the red zone) or start gambling downfield against FSU’s outstanding corners.
Offensively, it’s all about whether FSU can get Dalvin Cook into space—and about whether the inconsistent FSU offensive line can at least give breathing room against a very good Clemson front. Clemson’s linebackers have struggled in coverage all season, so Cook (and possibly Pender) should have advantageous matchups in the passing game. As good as the Tigers’ front is, it is not as deep as last season’s defense, so FSU’s aim will be to keep this game close going into the fourth quarter and ultimately wear the Tigers down up front. Clemson’s secondary is as good as any in the country, and whoever is at quarterback for FSU (I expect to see primarily Sean Maguire in this game) will need to be very careful with the football. An early turnover or two could lead to a blowout in this matchup in this environment.
At the end of the day, I think FSU hangs closer than the spread, but I’m going with the team with the great quarterback to make the key plays and win the game down the stretch. I have Clemson beating Florida State, 30–24 (80% win probability).