Monday Notes: Sunshine State Showdown

Sep 15, 2012; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins (2) carries the ball during the second quarter of the game against the Furman Paladins at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-US PRESSWIRE

Well folks, we are finally here. Florida State week. The game that has been marked on everyone's calendar since the ACC released the schedules earlier this year. With all the turmoil that has plagued the ACC this year, many people consider this game as the pseudo conference championship. While the season is still young and there's a ton of football to be played, it's hard to imagine any team from the Coastal beating either of these teams in Charlotte later this year and there doesn't seem to be a team in the Atlantic that can compete with the Tigers or Noles, outside of maybe the Wolfpack.

It’s a match-up of two top-10 teams. At Doak Campbell Stadium. At night. With ESPN’s "College Gameday" in town, and a prime-time national television audience set to tune in. Saturday’s Florida State-Clemson showdown is the biggest game in Tallahassee since, well, since last September —when FSU hosted then-No. 1 Oklahoma in a down-to-the-final-minutes game the Sooners wound up winning 23-13.

This game poses potentially the toughest test of the entire season for Dabo's squad and Vegas agrees. This game opened at 12 at most places and has been bet up to 14.5 almost overnight at many books. That's a big number, especially when these teams are only separated by 5-6 spots in the popularity polls. The reason for the spread being this high is two factors:

1) Vegas, in particular the guys that set the lines, views Clemson in their power numbers significantly lower than they are ranked in the popularity polls.

2) Vegas views FSU as very strong in their numbers, especially at home.

One power rankings I saw had Clemson rated an 85 and FSU rated as a 93. When you add in FSU's home field advantage rating (4) you have FSU at 97 and Clemson at 85, the difference being 12, you have exactly where the line opened. These are how Vegas lines are set. After they are set, then the market dictates where the line goes, and Vegas has the power to shade to one side or another depending on which team they like.

The Noles are near two-touchdown faves in this battle of ACC powers, which should indicate just how much better FSU is than the rest of the conference. The Sports Club sent out Seminoles -13, so books didn't move too far from that, respecting Clemson’s ability to put points on the board. The Tigers are 5-2 SU and 6-1 ATS in their last seven meetings with FSU. Early money has bumped this up to Seminoles -13.

What can we expect out of this team this weekend? Hopefully improvement on the defensive side of the ball, clearly the biggest liability going into Saturday. Venables' squad is close your eyes worthy at worst and shaky at best and that doesn't pose well when having to face a Seminole offense that is running all over everybody. Now, their offensive output has to be taken with a grain of salt at this point, as wins over Murray State, Savannah State, and a Wake Forest team that sneaked by Liberty doesn't exactly provide a full blueprint on how they will do this weekend.

Despite this, is anyone really feeling good about this defense, especially going on the road? The secondary has looked down right awful at times, Clemson is still getting almost zero pressure with its defensive ends, and the best linebacker last Saturday was probably Tony Steward who has been on special teams all season. Yikes. If FSU can establish the run against us, thus freeing their wide receivers running free all night, this could be a long night for the defense. If Clemson can somehow contain the FSU running game, and put pressure on EJ Manuel who has looked shaky at times, this defense could have some success in Tallahassee.

The Seminoles scored 52 points, and this time it wasn’t against an FCS opponent. The ’Noles entered the game wanting to avenge last season’s loss at the hands of the Demon Deacons—and that they did, routing Wake Forest 52-0 for their second shutout of the year. After beginning the season by racking up wild numbers against outmatched Murray State and Savannah State, Florida State continued the trend with 612 yards of offense. The Seminoles have now scored 50 points in three consecutive games for the first time ever.

If Clemson is going to win this game Saturday, the offense is going to have to keep doing what it has been doing through the first three games. This will be its biggest test, facing a FSU defense, and particular defensive front, that ranks among one of the best in the country. The passing game doesn't worry me as much as the running game does. We were successful gashing Auburn for big yards three weeks ago, but this is a completely different kind of test, one with crowd noise and a vaunted front seven. This offensive line is going to have to establish the run on Saturday for this offense to click on all cylinders. Clemson still has one of the best receiving corps in the entire country so establishing the run to open up the pass is even more critical for Clemson to get its playmakers the ball.

Clemson is, at best, unproven. A tough 26-19 season-opening win over Auburn lost its luster following Auburn’s meltdown at Mississippi State and a narrow home overtime escape over Louisiana-Monroe. And it’s hard to say what we learned from blowout wins over overmatched Ball State and Furman. Tajh Boyd will have plenty of weapons to throw to, but an inexperienced offensive line which has mixed and matched due to early-season injuries will face its biggest test this week.

This team knows what they are facing this weekend, and if they don't yet, you have to believe Dabo will hammer it home all week. I tend to trust Dabo a whole lot more when we are heavy underdogs rather than favorites. Against Virginia Tech last year we were heavy dogs (8 points) and we smacked them in their mouth with our best game of the year. It's when we are favorites on the road (GT, NC State) that we lay goose eggs. Hammer home all week that Gameday is there for FSU, not for this squad, that nobody is giving this team a chance, and maybe we will see an inspired, pissed off Clemson team that plays fundamental and sounds football (on both sides of the ball) and steals a win on the road.

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