This is not exactly what we expected when the season began. Five-loss Florida State comes to Death Valley trying to inch closer to bowl eligibility, not to make a claim for the ACC Atlantic Division title or push for the College Football Playoff like many anticipated at the start of the season.
On the other hand, Clemson is right where it hoped to be, sitting inside the top four in both of the selection committee’s rankings to date. The Tigers haven’t been perfectly clean and struggled when quarterback Kelly Bryant was injured. But the junior signal-caller looked plenty healthy in last Saturday’s win over NC State, and as a result, the offense again took off.
FSU has won 20 of the 30 meetings between the two schools, although Clemson has won the last two matchups, victories that propelled them into the playoff.
Florida State at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Clemson -16
Three Things to Watch
1. Florida State offensive line vs. Clemson defensive line
This looks like a complete mismatch, and if it is, the game could get really ugly. Florida State’s offensive line was not good last year, and it has been even worse in 2017. Despite having an electric freshman running back in Can Akers, the Seminoles are 91st in rushing offense this season. Their 3.13 sacks allowed per game ranks 120th despite ranking 112th in passes attempted. Now comes their biggest challenge, at least since week one: the Clemson defensive front. Star tackle Dexter Lawrence is battling an ankle injury, but even if he is not 100 percent, the Tigers have Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins and Clellin Ferrell ready to do damage. Somehow, some way, Florida State needs to play to a stalemate up front at least, and that will be a tall task.
2. Can the FSU defense rise up?
Early in the season, the Florida State defense was playing at a high level, despite getting little help from its offensive brethren. As the season has gone on, it is evident that the unit has been worn down, perhaps as much mentally as physically. The fact of the matter is that there are still talented players all over the defense. Derrick Nnadi can play. Derwin James can play. Josh Sweat can play. So can Tarvarus McFadden, Matthew Thomas and DeMarcus Christmas. And they are going to have to play on Saturday, because it is unlikely that the FSU offense puts up a lot of points. The Seminoles’ only hope in this game is that all of those talented defenders dig deep this weekend and shut down the Clemson offense.
3. Clemson running back production
If you take out Tavien Feaster’s 89-yard touchdown dash, the Clemson running backs ran for just 47 yards on 14 carries last Saturday. The Clemson ground game consisted of 20 Kelly Bryant carries for 80 yards. While it is true that this is a sign that Bryant is back to good health, it’s doubtful that Dabo Swinney wants a quarterback coming off a foot injury to carry the ball that many times against the Seminoles. Running backs Travis Etienne and Feaster will need to provide a little balance for the Clemson offense this week.
The talented Florida State defense will come into this game ready to play. The Seminoles' defenders know that they will have to shoulder much of the load, and they are capable of giving any offense a hard time. But once again, they’re going to be on the field a lot; perhaps more than ever. The Clemson defensive line should have its way with the Noles and make life miserable for Cam Akers and freshman quarterback James Blackman. It may take a while, but Clemson will do what many others have done and wear down the Florida State defense, pulling away in the second half.
Prediction: Clemson 28, Florida State 13
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.