By KAREEM COPELAND
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Everyone at Florida State has tried to downplay this week’s showdown at Clemson.
Coach Jimbo Fisher has done his best to sell the it’s-just-another-game line. Players were well-coached and did a nice job of practicing the art of omerta when asked about the matchup between the fifth-ranked Seminoles and No. 3 Tigers.
Everyone tried, but there is no denying what will be one of the most significant games in Atlantic Coast Conference history. It’s only the fourth time ACC teams ranked in the top 5 have played.
The showdown has become must-see television. Even Fisher finally acknowledged the magnitude of game.
“It’s very important in the national title hunt, it’s very important in the Atlantic Division, in the ACC, all those things,” Fisher said. “That’s why you come to Florida State, to be in those games, to be in those positions.
“You’ve got to manage it but you’ve got to embrace it at the same time. You’ve got to understand the implications of the game, but it’s not a one game season, but it’s a very, very important game for what we want to do and our goals and what we want to reach. … We understand that part of it, too. But keep it in perspective and let it be what it is and enjoy the moment. Don’t worry about the moment, enjoy it.”
This game has drawn the kind of national interest the conference hasn’t had in a while. The league has been heavily criticized for its quality of play recently, but this game has dominated headlines.
No matter who wins, the ACC can’t lose.
The winner will stay in the title discussion with top-ranked Alabama of the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten’s Ohio State and Oregon out of the Pac 12.
The ACC will let Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Jameis Winston showcase its product.
“You definitely hear it, but you definitely have to tune it out as well,” Florida State tackle Cameron Ewing said. “Everybody doesn’t get these types of opportunities. When we get these types of opportunities, you have to seize them.
“I play football because I love it. When you love to do something, all the preparation, all the tough days, it’s all worth it. When next Saturday comes and we’re getting ready to play, everybody’s going to be amped up, everybody’s going to be ready to play.”
The stakes are huge. The scenario is not “just another game” when your season-long goals can disappear on a single Saturday.
“Huge challenge this week, obviously,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is a great football team we’re getting ready to play, possibly the best team in the country. (Our) guys, they don’t hope to win. They expect to win.”
Boyd added, “Of course, this game does mean more because it puts you in the driver’s seat and puts you in a position where you can do the things you want to do.”
Boyd is the reigning ACC offensive player of the year while Winston is Florida State’s dynamic freshman. Both are either No. 1 or No. 2 in the conference in total offense, total offensive touchdowns, yards passing per game, pass efficiency, completion percentage and touchdown passes.
The Seminoles have the No. 3 scoring defense in the country while the Tigers are No. 10. Florida State is the No. 3 scoring offense and Clemson is tied for No. 17.
And the Seminoles are well aware the program hasn’t won in Death Valley since 2001 — even if they claim that’s inconsequential.
“We’re trying to stay calm and treat it like any other game. It’s hard to do,” Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith said. “Obviously we’re here for a reason. These are the games that we live for. This game and Florida, those two games that you come to Florida State and say I can’t wait to play in and show my talent and show what I can do
“There’s so many great players on the field at the same time, who’s going to stand out? Who’s going to step up? Big time players show up in big time games.”