Though a little luster is gone because Florida State has lost two league games and has virtually no chance at winning the ACC, the game Saturday in Tallahassee is still hugely important. No. 3 Clemson (7-0) needs to keep on winning to help guarantee its spot not only in the ACC title game, but in the College Football Playoff.
No. 12 Florida State (5-2), meanwhile, would love nothing more than to ruin Clemson’s plans while keeping up the pace for a fifth straight 10-win season. Pride is on the line for the Seminoles, who learned a hard lesson from their embarrassing defeat at Louisville in Week 3.
That loss, coupled with a home loss to North Carolina, sent Florida State to its worst start in ACC play since 2011 and therefore foiled the league’s best laid plans for another blockbuster showdown between the two teams that have dominated the Atlantic Division for seven straight seasons.
Still, the rivalry between Florida State and Clemson is no less intense, and the game remains one of the most important on the schedule.
Indeed, the burgeoning rivalry really helped the ACC not only improve its perception, but also its national notoriety. The ACC is a conference filled with bitter in-state rivalries that have not necessarily resonated in the national championship discussion in recent years.
Miami-Florida State used to have that, but that matchup has failed to recapture its essence because both teams have not been good at the same time for more than a decade. Duke-North Carolina is better known for its basketball rivalry; Virginia Tech has absolutely dominated Virginia; North Carolina and NC State have not exactly been national championship contenders, and neither have Duke or Wake Forest. Go down the list of ACC rivalry games and you can say the same about them all.
But as Florida State and Clemson started to rise up together in the same division, their annual game took on greater and greater importance and started to fill that vacuum. Since 2009, the winner of their contest has gone on to play in the ACC championship game. What’s more, the winner of their contest has gone on to play in either the national championship game or the College Football Playoff since 2013, raising the stakes and the national profile even higher.
Now, the automatic reflex when checking the schedule and seeing Florida State-Clemson is: ACC championship game and potential playoff appearance ramifications!
With that in mind, the ACC has scheduled the game in the second half of the season for two straight years now, believing a slot in this window helps enhance the game, its importance and how many viewers would tune in to watch -- knowing exactly what to expect. Though Florida State has gone into the game with at least one loss in both the meetings, ACC championship and playoff implications have been just as strong.
On top of all that, it is hard to beat the passion, energy and excitement that rivalry games bring out from both sides. For proof, turn on the way Florida State played against rival Miami two weeks ago. The Clemson rivalry is a notch below that one, but this is still a game the Seminoles players want to win, and want to win badly. Same goes for everybody on the Clemson sideline, knowing full well the Tigers have lost three of their last four to Florida State and have not won in Tallahassee in a decade.
So don’t let the records or the rankings get in the way. Florida State-Clemson is just as meaningful as ever.