Labor Day Special: Stats and matchups

For the past two years, FSU has opened its season live on ESPN in games with some of the highest ratings in the history of college football openers. On top of that, these closely-watched games have given FSU a check in the "W" column against Miami. However, this season brings a change of pace as Florida State travels to Clemson with the hopes of taking a win out of Death Valley.

In addition to a good record on Labor Day, Florida State has a reputation as a team that opens with a bang winning 16 of their last 17 season openers and Coach Bowden is 27-4 in openers during his tenure at FSU. Another assurance to Seminole fans is that FSU's Bowden is 5-3 over Clemson's Bowden as we enter the 9th "Bowden Bowl" this coming season. However, recent history is not exactly comforting for the Seminole faithful considering that Clemson currently holds a 2-game winning streak and has won 3 of the last 4 ‘bowl' matchups against Florida State.

This is the year that FSU brings a secret weapon. It's not exactly a secret and reasonable to assume that defensive-minded Tommy Bowden knew a lot about tendencies and the mentality of brother and former offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden. This year, however, with the arrival of Jimbo Fisher, a highly-respected offensive disciplinarian and Broyles award finalist, the familiarity factor has changed for Tommy and his Tigers and Fisher and the Seminole staff have made efforts to keep practice in Tallahassee quiet to maintain that unfamiliarity.

Attrition has hit Clemson hard this year as well while Florida State comes in with a strong returning class of eight starters on defense and nine on offense (although not all will start next season). A top-notch Tiger defense in 2006 lost a cornerstone in Gaines Adams and the loss may be large enough to where 2007 may be a transition year for Clemson taking a year to fill his shoes as a player and leader. With that in mind, look for guys like young rush end Ricky Sapp and Florida native cornerback Chris Chancellor to step up and fill gaps in the defense. On offense, the Tigers still maintain one of the best backfield tandems in the nation with "Thunder" James Davis and C.J. "Lightning" Spiller but the off-season question for this group has been about what guys will step up and block for them. Attrition also took a toll on the offensive line with only one returning starter in star tackle Barry Richardson which creates chemistry and experience issues that may offset with the rebuilding process and growing pains of Florida State's offensive line.

Quick hit stats: Bowden is 27-4 in openers at FSU including 16 of the last 17 season openers. FSU is 2-0 on Labor Day against in-state rival Miami (1@FSU, 1@MIA) "Bowden Bowl" record: FSU 5 Clemson 3 Clemson has won the last 2 matchups and 3 of the last 4 (2@CLE, 1@FSU) Greg Carr has never scored a TD against Clemson In the last game, there were a combined seven fumbles but only 2 were recovered (both by Clemson)


Position Matchups:


Quarterback

Cullen Harper had an impressive spring game throwing for 147 yards and three touchdowns against a rebuilding defense but he has not started a game prior to this season and only threw 20 passes all season in 2006. Clemson fans and other outside analysts believe that if Harper balks under pressure freshman sensation Willy Korn could challenge him for the starting job. Drew Weatherford has certainly had ups and downs in his career but also has a great deal of experience entering the game starting for a third straight season. Backup quarterback Xavier Lee is also expected to contribute in the season opener and his athleticism is unmatched by any quarterback on either team. Look for both quarterbacks to show some improvement with the arrival of reputed quarterback mentor Fisher in Tallahassee. Advantage: Florida State


Running Back

The tandem of CJ Spiller and James Davis are considered two of the top running backs in the ACC and one of the best tandems in the country. Look for both of these backs to get their fill of carries as Cullen Harper is broken into the starting position. FSU has Antone Smith, the #1 back in the country coming out of high school, poised and ready to break out with a banner year provided he can stay healthy. Behind Smith, Jamaal Edwards has shown dependability but loses some of the "it" factor that Smith brings to the table. Look out for tailback-turned-fullback Marcus Sims to make some shifty moves and keep the defense on their toes. Advantage: Clemson



Receivers

The loss of receiver Chansi Stuckey leaves a considerable void in the Tigers' passing game. Young Jacoby Ford will look to make up for that loss but without another game breaking receiver to complement him he will likely get some extra attention. Tight end Michael Palmer is dependable but not a serious threat. Florida State lost senior number one receiver Chris Davis to the NFL draft but in his place Preston Parker has stepped up to fill roles similar to those of Davis when lining up in the slot. Additionally, senior De'Cody Fagg has been a serious thorn in the side of the secondary and new starter Richard Goodman brings speed, agility, and impressive blocking skills. Look for Maxwell candidate Greg Carr getting a lot of time rotating in to continue creating match-up problems for shorter corners and record his first TD catch against Clemson. The loss of transfer Brandon Warren from TE is substantial but Jimbo Fisher's offense does not need a star TE to thrive. Advantage: Florida State



Offensive Line

It's very hard to speculate on who will have the stronger offensive line come gameday this year. Clemson lost a lot of starting talent to attrition after last season but returns star tackle Barry Richardson who is a mobile mammoth on a 6'7" frame packed with 337 pounds of mean. Florida State got a surprise center sensation in Ryan McMahon who came to college on the defensive side before moving over. Also, FSU returns key starters Jacky Claude, Shannon Boatman, and David Overmyer that will help bring chemistry to the line. Young star tackle Daron Rose will also bring talent to the group and Rick Trickett will have an instant impact on improvement of line play over last year. That being said, the rebuilt and lean line is unproven and still needs plenty of time before Trickett or Fisher will be satisfied. Advantage: Clemson (slight)



Defensive Line

Clemson loses a weapon of offensive destruction in blue-chip defensive end Gaines Adams and has so far struggled to fill that void in the preseason. Young Ricky Sapp is given the opportunity for spotlight but will need some time to take full advantage of it. Look for Sapp to develop throughout the season and be more of a factor in later games. Junior Phillip Merling is solid on the other side but not blatantly impressive. In the center, Clemson will hold its ground but not produce major problems for opposing teams. Florida State holds a blue-chip defensive tackle in senior leader Andre Fluellen who often draws double teams to open up things for his counterparts. Young sensation Budd Thacker has impressed opposite Fluellen and Letroy Guion creates havoc in the center. Strong Paul Griffin is also expected to contribute this season but may need time to prove both to coaches and himself that his ACL tear is fully healed. Look for senior end Alex Boston to make a name for himself in his final shebang and, if healthy, Everette Brown and Kevin McNeil can provide consistent pass-rushing and backfield disruption. Advantage: Florida State



Linebacker

Clemson has a trio of overachievers in Tramaine Billie, Nick Watkins, and Cortney Vincent. These three can provide solid coverage and good run protection. However, linebacker is an Achilles heel in Clemson's defense with a lack of playmaker ability and leadership. Look for opposing teams to exploit the linebacker corps with the short game and try and hold off the defensive front. Despite the losses of two of the team's top tacklers in NFL draftees Buster Davis and Lawrence Timmons, the linebacking corps has talented starters that can control the tempo if they can stay healthy. Healthy and ready MLB starter Derek Nicholson displays strong leadership, ball radar, and heavy hitting. Returning starter and fellow defensive leader Eugene "Geno" Hayes is a speedy tackling machine that lays eye-opening hits for a guy his size. Dekoda Watson has shown solid preseason play and will share time with young star Marcus Ball, who plays at an unmatched intensity level while remaining aware and maintains good position in coverage. Look for freshman Kendall Smith, young Recardo Wright, and junior Toddrick Verdell to step up if the injury bug can't be shaken off. Advantage: Florida State



Secondary

True freshman Crezdon Butler gets a nod at cornerback for Clemson and is expected to come in and contribute early. Redshirt freshman and Florida native Byron Maxwell is also expected to rotate in and pull his weight out there. Sophomore Floridian Chris Chancellor is expected to step up and lead the Clemson secondary this season, Chancellor provides solid coverage on one side of the ball and Butler should also hold his own if he lives up to his hype. Chris Clemons and Michael Hamlin also provide decent deep coverage and hitting power. Look for DeAndre McDaniel to rotate in and also provide a spark back there. Florida State has a clear advantage in experience here led by heralded shutdown corner Tony Carter who is complimented by New Jersey speed demon Michael Ray Garvin. Look for the Robinsons (no relation), Jamie and Patrick, to also contribute significantly and match up well with tall possession and slot receivers, respectively. Senior safety Roger Williams is a question mark as far as dependability but also led the team in interceptions last season and has a reputation for delivering the big hit. Finally, academic All-American, Maxwell and Thorpe preseason watch list, ACC Preseason All-American and the list goes on for true sophomore rover Myron Rolle, who led the team in tackles last season as a freshman All-American and recorded the game-sealing and his first career interception in last season's bowl victory over UCLA. Advantage: Florida State



Special Teams

Clemson struggled in the last meeting with two blocked kicks both of which were returned for points by Tony Carter. The kicker is not yet finalized on Clemson's depth chart although high school local sensation Richard Jackson is primed to beat out John Early for placekicking duties. Redshirt junior punter Jimmy Maners was on backup duty until this season so his game punting abilities remain to be seen. Returners Jacoby Ford and CJ Spiller are a dangerous threat against the best of teams provided they get decent blocking up field and with the increased kickoff length look for them to be a factor. Florida State has a veteran kicking group in senior place kicker Gary "Weed" Cismesia and punter/kicker Graham Gano. Cismesia sits atop the school record for PAT accuracy and third in FG accuracy with .977 and .717, respectively. Gano struggles at times with accuracy but provides a very powerful leg for the deeper kickoffs, punting duties, and possibly the longer field goals. Last year's returners Michael Ray Garvin and Joslin Shaw retain their jobs at this point and have the potential to break for TD's. PR Preston Parker is agile and elusive and looks to impress in his first year at the job. Advantage: Florida State



Coaching

Without going into detail my pick here is due to Clemson's staff being in place and most of the players being in the system and knowing the playbook more than Florida State. Look for this match up to reverse dramatically in future matchups beyond this season. Advantage: Clemson (slight)


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