By Scott Rhymer
Playtime is now officially over. We can all be thankful for that.
For Clemson and Florida State, September 22nd has been circled on the calendar since the ACC (finally) released the schedule this past Spring.
The month of September has been full of fluff, simple filler to work out kinks and establish depth charts for both the Tigers and the Seminoles.
Yes, Clemson stepped on the big stage in Atlanta to kick off the season with the Auburn Tigers. But after winning a National Championship two years ago, Auburn has looked more like Vanderbilt than a title contender. Ball State and Furman in weeks 2 and 3 were the equivalent of a leafy salad with simple dressing on it and without croutons. Nothing any grown man would want to eat for their meal.
Florida State did not even play real football games in week 1 and week 2 and then followed it up with a woodshed whooping of Wake Forest last Saturday. While the point spread raised my eyebrows a little bit, beating Wake Forest does not cause much more than a golf clap for the Tallahassee faithful.
So now, finally, it is time to play big boy football between the two most prestigious football programs in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Game Day from ESPN will stop by and the game will be broadcast nationwide at 8:00 p.m. Anxious excitement for this weekend's game is already entering many of our souls.
But no matter what you do this week, don't fall prey to what you will be told about this game and how it will hold the key for the ACC Atlantic Division crown. What you will hear will be wrong.
The prevailing story line is that the winner of this game will earn the chance to play in Charlotte for the ACC Title. You will be told that the past three years the Atlantic Division Champion was the team that won the regular season battle between Clemson and Florida State. And that would be an accurate statement.
What they won't tell you in that statement is that neither of these teams has made a run through the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season with less than 2 conference losses in a long, long time.
Clemson has not lost less than 2 games in the ACC since 1991 when Clemson went 6-0-1 with a tie to Virginia as the only blemish on the record. Every year since 1991, Clemson has lost at least 2 games in the conference, including last year when Clemson won the conference championship. To put in perspective, the only current players that were alive in 1991 are the seniors on this year’s team.
Florida State has gone through the ACC with less than 2 losses more recently than Clemson, but it has been longer than most of you may have thought. The last time the 'Noles were able to do it was way back in 2003 when FSU went 7-1 in the ACC when most of their current players were in elementary school.
So any grand proclamations that the winner on Saturday night will punch their ticket to Charlotte will be presumptuous, premature, and without much merit based on recent history.
Granted, one team will leave Doak Campbell Saturday night in much better position than the other. It would certainly be more beneficial for either team to get the win on Saturday and hold the tiebreaker between the two teams.
But Clemson has plenty of potential stumbling blocks left after the 'Noles, so a victorious Tiger team Saturday night certainly can't feel like anointed champions considering what lies ahead with teams that have given Clemson fits over the past few years. While the trip to Wake now does not look as daunting, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are more than capable of beating Clemson and NC State owns scoreboard currently on us.
Florida State, with a win on Saturday, also can't feel untouchable. The Seminoles still have trips to NC State, Miami and Virginia Tech on the schedule that seems (historically speaking) like traps waiting to happen.
If, and that is an if, these two teams repeat recent history, the winner Saturday night will lose at least 2 more games in the conference. Therefore, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the loser Saturday night could still represent the ACC in Charlotte even considering the advantage the winner will have over them in the tiebreaker.
The flip side is also true. If (and that is an if) these two teams are worthy of their top 10 rankings, the loser still has plenty to shoot for as September turns to October. If the winner Saturday night does not stumble twice down the stretch, they will more than likely head to Charlotte. But the loser could still make a run after the loss on Saturday and position itself for a BCS At-Large bid. A one or two loss ACC team at the end of the year will still be very attractive to the BCS considering both of these teams current rankings, fan support, and the general politics that fall into BCS at-large berths.
So the game on Saturday night will be big and breathtaking in scope and pageantry. It will place one team in the driver's seat for Charlotte. It will propel the winner into the National Championship discussion. It will feel really good for the fan base.
But it won't punch the ticket to Charlotte. Regardless of what you will hear this week.
The Tiger Pregame Show will broadcast from Bullwinkles (http://bullwinklessaloon.com/) in Tallahassee from 2:00-5:00 this Saturday. Come by and join us.
Scott Rhymer can be reached at email@example.com
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