The Clemson Tigers (8-1, 6-1 ACC) have made it to the point in the season they had hoped for -- championship season.
This week’s game against the Florida State Seminoles (3-5, 3-4 ACC) marks the first time this season the Tigers can break out their orange pants because will play for the Atlantic Division championship Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPN).
The Tigers enter this year’s contest with the Seminoles riding a two-game winning streak in the rivalry that dates back to the 1970 season. Clemson will need to extend the streak to three games if it wants to defend back-to-back ACC titles as well as keep its hopes alive for a third-straight College Football Playoff appearance.
Who to watch when Clemson has the ball
- Deon Cain (WR): Clemson’s junior wide receiver extended his streak of consecutive games (32) with at least one catch last week against the N.C. State Wolfpack — the 10th-longest streak in the nation (43, Allen Lazard of Iowa State).
But not only did Cain extend his streak in the Tigers’ win over the No. 23 Wolfpack, he also had a career-high in receptions with nine catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Cain needs only two touchdown receptions to become the fifth player in Clemson history with at least 20 touchdown receptions in a career — a mark he could reach this week against the Seminoles.
- Kelly Bryant (QB): The Tiger signal-caller demonstrated to the nation over the last two games that he has fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered earlier this season and a concussion suffered in the Tigers’ loss to Syracuse.
Former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has tweeted: “He will be better than me!” Many scoffed at the statement, but it has turned out to be true in some aspects.
Bryant is 161-247 passing this season, a .652 completion percentage (Watson finished the 2016 season with a .670 percentage), for 1,773 yards and seven touchdowns. Bryant has thrown just four interceptions and is averaging 7.2 yards per attempt and 11.0 yards per completion.
Last year, Watson finished the season completing 67 percent of his passes for 306 yards per game and averaged 7.9 yards per completion with 17 interceptions. But if Bryant wants to stake his claim as one of the greatest quarterbacks to don the Tiger uniform, he must first win a championship — something he can do this week.
- Derwin James (DB, FSU): Redshirt sophomore Derwin James is a semifinalist for the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards and a quarterfinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
The defensive back, who missed last year’s game against the Tigers, is second on the Seminole team with 53 tackles — adding 2.5 tackles for loss, a half sack, an interception, nine pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.
A dangerous kick returner as well, James has established himself as a weapon not only on defense but special teams.
When Florida State has the ball
- Clelin Ferrell (DE): Ferrell had a big day last week in Clemson’s 38-31 victory over N.C. State, amassing a career-high 12 tackles — including nine first hits. Five of the nine first hits in the game were tackles for loss, including one sack, and finished the game one tackle for loss from tying the Clemson single-game record.
This week, against a porous-at-best Florida State offensive line, Ferrell will have an opportunity to have yet another big day. The Seminoles rank last in the ACC (14) in sacks allowed, giving up 3.13 per game.
- K’Von Wallace (DB): The sophomore defensive back was asked to step up last week in the absence of fellow defensive backs Marcus Edmond and Mark Fields — who were both unavailable to the Tigers due to injury. And step up he did.
Wallace had the two biggest plays of the game on the final two plays of the game. Wallace broke up a potential game-tying touchdown pass on the goal line. Then on the final play of the game, he intercepted a pass and returned it 55 yards as time expired, sealing the Tiger victory.
With Edmond listed as “questionable” and Fields listed as “out for this game,” Wallace will have to step up once again if the Tigers want to emerge as Atlantic Division champions.
- Cam Akers (RB, FSU): Running back Cam Akers has been putting together one of the top rushing seasons by a true freshman in Florida State history. Akers leads the Seminoles in rushing yardage (695 yards) and climbed to third on the Seminoles single-season list for true freshmen with his 199-yard performance last week against Syracuse.
With a true freshman at quarterback, James Blackman, and an offensive line that has been mediocre at best, the Seminoles will lean heavily on Akers to keep them in the game — and their chances for a bowl game alive.
The last time the Tigers wore their “orange britches” they were walking off the field as the winners of the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship. Now they are wearing them because the first step to defending that championship is upon them.
That first step is winning the Atlantic Division championship and securing a spot in the ACC Championship Game Dec. 2.
Should the Tigers win this week, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney could not only secure his third consecutive division title and sixth in nine full seasons as head coach, but would also move into a tie for fourth place among ACC coaches with 98 wins.
The Tigers are sure to get the Seminoles’ best shot as Florida State looks to keep its chances for a 36th consecutive season with a bowl appearance intact. But at the end of the day, there is a reason that the Seminoles are a 3-5 team and the Tigers are 8-1 — Clemson is simply better.
Clemson 38, Florida State 17