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October 10, 2013

FSU-Clemson will have far-reaching ramifications

30 DAYS FREE OFFER - Get Warchant.com's award-winning coverage for FSU-Clemson, Bobby Bowden's return & FSU-Miami free! Click for details.

The game everybody has been waiting for is nearly here. For months fans and media have circled the Oct. 19 Florida State-Clemson clash on their calendars. And why not?

Both teams finished the 2012 season on high notes with FSU winning the ACC and Orange Bowl while Clemson upset SEC power LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. And what has happened five games into the 2013 season has only added high-octane fuel to the fire of anticipation.

Clemson started the year defeating SEC powerhouse Georgia and has dominated every opponent since climbing up to No. 3 in the polls. Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd has already racked up nearly 1,500 passing yards, has thrown 14 touchdowns and is completing two-thirds of his pass attempts. Not surprisingly, he is in the thick of the Heisman race. And the Tigers' once-maligned defense has shown dramatic improvement and is currently ranked 16th in scoring defense.

The story is similar for Florida State. Fourth-year coach Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles firing on all cylinders thanks in large part to dynamic quarterback Jameis Winston. Like Boyd, FSU's freshman signal-caller has put up freakish numbers through the first five games (73.2% completion rate, 1,441 passing yards & 17 passing TDs) and is also in the thick of the Heisman hunt. On defense, there was some concern after a few sluggish starts but after shutting out then No. 25 ranked Maryland last Saturday it appears as though new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has his unit clicking just in time for this huge intra-conference showdown.

Television put the icing on the cake earlier this week by putting the matchup on national prime time television. And while it's not official, it's a good bet that ESPN Gameday will be setting up camp in Clemson, South Carolina before the game.

So just how big will this matchup be should Clemson take care of business Saturday against Boston College?

Pretty darn big but probably just short of game of the century status, a much-overused phrase from the late 1980's and 1990's. But in terms of conference games this is easily one of the most significant in ACC history, and one of the top two or three for Florida State since joining the ACC in 1992. The only intra-conference games that come close were in 1997 when No. 3 Florida State defeated No. 5 North Carolina 20-3, and in 2004 when FSU fell short 16-10 in Miami's first game as a member of the ACC (both teams were ranked in the top five).

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While comparing rankings and trying to rate the national buzz surrounding a game makes for interesting fodder, it really comes down to what impact the final result will have on the winner and loser.

For all intents and purposes the winner of the Oct. 19 matchup can be make their travel plans for the Dec. 7 ACC Championship game in Charlotte. It's nearly unfathomable to envision a scenario where the winner could lose two conference games allowing the other to get back in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title. While Clemson has to play at an improved Maryland club and FSU will host a ranked Miami team in early November, it would take a colossal upset for either team to lose another conference game. The remaining ACC opponents on both schools' schedules have a combined conference record of 3-8.

FSU's Top 10 ACC matchups
Year FSU rank Opp. rank Result
1997 No. 3 No. 5 FSU 20, UNC 3
1999 No. 1 No. 10 FSU 41, Ga. Tech 35
2000 No. 4 No. 10 FSU 54, Clemson 7
2004 No. 4 No. 5 Miami 16, FSU 10 (OT)
2004 No. 7 No. 6 FSU 35, UVA 3
2012 No. 4 No. 10 FSU 49, Clemson 37
*FSU joined the ACC in 1992. Miami joined the ACC in 2004.
The ramifications of next Saturday's outcome will go well beyond playing for a conference championship. The winner will get an additional boost in the rankings, will get more buzz on the recruiting trail, and will have a great shot at playing for a national championship should they run the table.

With games against Miami and Florida, FSU probably has the more difficult path but Clemson will still have to face in-state nemesis South Carolina at the end of the regular season. And regardless of who wins the Atlantic, there will be another hurdle to face in the ACC Championship game.

And don't be surprised if the quarterback of the winning team becomes the Heisman front-runner. Yahoo Sports has both ACC quarterbacks among its top five contenders for college football's top individual award. If the quarterback of the winning team puts up good numbers it's a good bet that they will take the early lead in the Heisman race.

On paper this matchup may be on par with some of the prior top 10 ACC games but the ramifications are much greater this time around.

Both Florida State and Clemson have rich football traditions and a history of success. However, success at an elite level has eluded both programs recently.

The Seminoles haven't been a legitimate national championship contender in the month of November for a decade. For Clemson the drought has been even longer. The Tigers haven't been undefeated entering November since winning national championship in 1981. Should they take down FSU, only Maryland remains until the November stretch run.

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It's been a long road for both programs but over the last few years the foundation has been built for a return to national prominence.

Following a decade of mediocre play under coaching legend Bobby Bowden, Jimbo Fisher overhauled the program and increased the talent base through recruiting. As a result, there has been steady improvement under his guidance and the first real signs of that return took place in 2012 when the Seminoles claimed their first ACC Championship since 2005, and a first BCS bowl victory since 2000.

The growth of the program is obvious and with a great start so far in 2013 it appears as though the 'Noles are ready to throw their hat into the national championship race.

Clemson might have something to say about that.

Like FSU, Clemson has struggled to find consistency and compete at an elite level since the 1980s under Danny Ford. Until 2011, the Tigers had suffered a 20-year drought when it comes to conference titles. But like Fisher, Dabo Swinney has built the program to a much higher level through recruiting and outstanding coaching hires. Following an ACC championship in 2011 and very successful 2012 season that finished with a No. 9 ranking, and being ranked No. 3 so far in 2013, it appears as though Clemson has finally shaken off the label of inconsistency that plagued the program for two-plus decades.

The ramifications for the ACC are just as great.

Next Saturday's game represents a showcase for a conference that is desperately looking for respect and notoriety. For the SEC, top 10 matchups are routine and college football fans have come to expect these clashes of intra-conference titans. For the ACC such games are extremely rare taking place just a handful of times each decade.

With Miami undefeated and currently ranked No. 13, this may not be the last top 10 ACC showdown this season. The Seminoles and Hurricanes are scheduled to meet in Tallahassee on Nov. 2. And with the 'Canes leading the way in the Coastal Division there might be another high profile ACC showdown in the Dec. 7 ACC Championship Game.

There's every reason to expect the trend of high-profile ACC games to continue in 2014. Louisville, currently ranked No. 8, will begin conference play and will have games against both FSU and Clemson. And part-time football member Notre Dame will take on Florida State in historic contest at a date to be announced.

All the fun begins on Oct. 19.

30 DAYS FREE OFFER - Get Warchant.com's award-winning coverage for FSU-Clemson, Bobby Bowden's return & FSU-Miami free! Click for details.

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