It’s the game the Atlantic Coast Conference has been waiting for.
The past seven seasons have all ended with a Southeastern Conference team winning a national title and further cementing the conference’s place atop the college football landscape. And along the way the ACC has seemingly fallen further and further behind.
But Saturday — in the first battle between top-five teams this season — it’s all about the ACC.
When No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State take the field at Death Valley, it will mark the kind of national showdown the conference has been missing since its last top-five tilt in 2005.
“That’s what we’ve been needing as far as from a national standpoint,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “Listen, our league has been good, and there’s been a lot of good football played. It’s just been very … there’s been a lot of parity.
“We haven’t produced a dominant team, the 12-0, 13-1, whatever, 11-1-type team like some other conferences that have always had one or two teams at the end of the year that have been there.”
This year the ACC could have as many as three of those teams (with the University of Miami also undefeated and in the top 10) and two of them will be showcased nationally Saturday night.
“The other conferences have had those games and now it’s up here and you get to bring some notoriety to this conference,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We feel like we have great football in the ACC, and now we get a chance to showcase it. And it’s great for the country to understand we have two top-five teams that have national championship-contender aspirations and abilities, and I think it’s great for our league.”
Clemson — which many felt represented the ACC’s best chance at a national title before the season started — has the home-field advantage and recent history on its side. FSU has not won in its past five trips to Clemson.
But the Tigers also have all of the pressure.
With redshirt senior quarterback Tajh Boyd in his final season and star wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ NFL prospects looking as strong as ever — the time is now for Clemson.
FSU, on the other hand, might as well be playing with house money. The future is bright for a Seminoles team that has largely arrived ahead of schedule.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has mounted an early season Heisman campaign (1,441 yards, 17 touchdowns, two interceptions) that has him receiving the same kind of hype as Boyd. And despite having lost an NCAA-high 11 players to last year’s NFL Draft, FSU is ranked third nationally in both scoring and points allowed.
Of course, FSU’s youth movement also hasn’t faced an atmosphere as hostile as Death Valley promises to be on Saturday night.
“People are talking about a national championship-type game, that’s a great team,” Winston said. “We have to give them the utmost respect and, hopefully, they respect us enough so we know it’s going to be a battle out there.”
Seminoles senior defensive back Lamarcus Joyner took it a step further when he said he expects it to be a street fight.
“You don’t know if you’re going to get knocked out or if you’re going to knock them out you pretty much just have to keep fighting,” Joyner said.
“We don’t care about the scoreboard, as long as we can pull out a win.”
By the sounds of it, the ACC probably shouldn’t worry too much about the scoreboard either. When8 o’clock rolls around the nation tunes into two dueling top-5 ACC schools with Heisman contending quarterbacks — they’ll have already won.