When the Atlantic Coast Conference raided the Big East for Miami and Virginia Tech, and to a much lesser extent Boston College, back in the mid-2000s it was thought the ACC would be a football powerhouse on the lines of the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, etc.
However, things haven’t worked out that way. The ACC hasn’t had a team come close to sniffing a spot in the BCS Championship Game since then. But that could change this year, all starting with Saturday night’s rare intra-conference Top-10 matchup between No. 10 Clemson and No. 4 Florida State in Tallahassee.
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The path seems potentially open to the BCS title game for the winner. The Big East is a joke, as usual. The Big Ten is already out. The SEC has four teams in the Top 10, but they will all beat each other up (although I’m sure one is in the title game). USC’s loss to Stanford was a total boon for these two ACC contenders. That’s because Oregon and Stanford, the Pac-12’s two Top-10 teams, must still play each other. In addition, the presumable winner of that game then would have to face Southern Cal for a second time in the Pac-12 title game. Stanford also could easily lose twice in the next three weeks: at Washington (Sept. 27) and at Notre Dame (Oct. 13). The Big 12 has Oklahoma and West Virginia, but they must face off and that conference looks deep enough this year to see each have at least one loss.
That’s not to say the Clemson-Florida State winner is automatically running the table, but the rest of the ACC is clearly on a lower tier. FSU must travel to Coastal Division favorite Virginia Tech and also host Florida in the regular-season nonconference finale. But I have no trouble seeing the Noles winning both of those, especially as the Hokies look rather average. If Clemson wins Saturday, it should be favored the rest of the way (Virginia Tech visits Death Valley), although a potential regular-season finale roadblock vs. South Carolina could derail things. Who knows which team emerges from the Coastal Division for the conference title game, but there’s nothing of great value on that side.
The winner of the Clemson-FSU game has won the Atlantic Division the past three seasons, and I see no reason why that changes in 2012.
Clemson at Florida State Betting Storylines
It’s hard to get a gauge on either club as combined they have played four cupcakes.
Clemson did open with what appeared to be a solid 26-19 neutral-site win over Auburn, but Auburn has looked mostly terrible through three games. Clemson has since routed Ball State and Furman. FSU opened with back-to-back FCS schools, and the results were predictably embarrassing. It was expected things would get a bit tougher last week, but the Seminoles laid a 52-0 beating on Wake Forest.
FSU’s defense has allowed just a field goal all season and is one of the best in the nation, competition aside. That unit, loaded with five-star recruits, has held its past 11 opponents to 19 points or fewer (to be fair, no ranked teams in that stretch). It hasn’t allowed a team to score more than 20 points at Doak Campbell Stadium since Nov. 6, 2010. FSU leads the nation in total defense (103.33 yards per game), rushing defense (33.67 ypg), scoring defense (1.0 points per game), pass defense (69.67) and pass efficiency defense (60.50). The team doesn’t even miss defensive end Brandon Jenkins, a future NFL first-round pick who was lost for the season after Week 1. Fellow end Bjorn Werner leads the nation with 6.5 sacks and FSU is tied for seventh in the country with 11.
Obviously, the Seminoles haven’t seen an offense like Clemson’s. The Tigers have a skill position quartet of QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington and WRs Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins that might be the best in the nation. Boyd is completing 73.3 percent of his passes for 747 yards and six touchdowns, Ellington is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and Hopkins is among the national leaders with 26 catches for 319 yards and four scores.
But the scariest is Watkins, a freshman all-American a season ago. He returned from a two-game suspension last week vs. Furman and had 119 all-purpose yards, including a 58-yard touchdown run. Last season in Clemson’s 35-30 home win over Florida State, Watkins had seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Boyd threw for 344 yards and three scores. It should be noted that FSU played that game without starting QB E.J. Manuel and star CB Greg Reid (since booted off the team).
Clemson at Florida State Betting Odds and Trends
FSU opened as a 14-point favorite, according to college football odds, with the total at 57 on WagerWeb. Clemson is 1-2 ATS this year (first true road game), while FSU is 1-1 ATS (memorably failing to cover the 67-point spread vs. Savannah State when the game was called early due to weather). “Over/under” records: CLEM 1-1, FSU 1-0.
Clemson is 8-3 ATS in its past 11 conference games. The Tigers are 0-5 ATS in their past five after a win. FSU is 5-2 ATS in its past seven ACC games. The Noles have covered just one of their past five September games. The under is 10-1 in Clemson’s past 11 road games. The under is 6-1 in FSU’s past seven games. The Tigers have covered six of the past seven meetings. The over is 6-2 in the past eight.
College Football Predictions: Clemson at Florida State Picks
While there are Top-10 matchups in the SEC almost every week these days, this is just the ninth game in ACC history in which two teams ranked so high will face off. An upset here would be historic for Clemson as it has never beaten a Top-5 team on the road -- Virginia Tech was No. 5 in last year’s ACC title game when Clemson won but that was a neutral-site; the Tigers also won at the No. 10 Hokies during the 2011 regular season. This is Clemson’s first Top-10 matchup in 12 years.
I can’t pick a straight-up Clemson upset considering the Tigers have won at Tallahassee just once since FSU joined the ACC 20 years ago. But I do think Clemson covers here. The FSU defense is awesome and Clemson’s should be improved under new coordinator Brent Venables, so take the under.
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