The knock on Clemson is that it lacks the championship-caliber defense that Florida State has quietly been able to rebuild under coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff. It's been a fair assessment.
Despite an impressive performance in their Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU last season, the Tigers' Discover Orange Bowl debacle against West Virginia seems to forever haunt them in the court of public opinion.
You would think that Clemson's defense would be better this fall in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables, but until the Tigers consistently play at an elite level on defense and dominates its opponents up front, Florida State will have the edge in that category -- and possibly the race to a national title.
Florida State, though, is a slight step behind offensively (it's hardly as if the Noles couldn't move the ball), but that gap could increase even more this year if rookie Jameis Winston doesn't turn out to be The Answer many predict him to be:
Defense, as the saying goes, wins championships. Both programs, though, have been to the Orange Bowl in the past two years. If you're the coach, which would you choose in your hunt for a national title -- Clemson's offense or Florida State's defense? Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Heisman hopeful quarterback Tajh Boyd? Or Christian Jones and Lamarcus Joyner?
Florida State's defense returns four starters and will be under the direction of first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Clemson has Sammy Watkins. Florida State has Mario Edwards Jr. All four starters have to be replaced on FSU's defensive line. Clemson lost leading rusher Andre Ellington and standout receiver DeAndre Hopkins. They've both got big shoes to fill in 2013, but have also recruited well enough to reload.
If you take Clemson's offense and Florida State's defense, you'd have the ACC's dream team. But you can't. So pick the one you want on your way to a national title.