The NCAA finally got something right for once in its money-grubbing, hypocritical life. Tonight’s marquee matchup between Florida State and Clemson is scheduled at the absolute perfect time.
A few weeks back, the talk of the sports world centered around College Station and Alabama vs. Texas A&M. Saban/Manziel II featured a buffet worth of fireworks, including Alabama scoring at will and Johnny Football doing all sorts of Johnny Football things taking, as Saban said immediately following the game, “10 years off my life.” Somehow, the game surpassed the hype. The marquee players were just that. It was the best college football game of the season.
The only issue was the time of kickoff.
To be fair, the game was at 3:30 p.m. and the same day as Mayweather/Canelo, so there was likely some TV arrangement deal preventing it from kicking off at 7:30 or 8:00. But imagine if it had.
Back in August, I noted this about Clemson and Florida State.
How important is this game? With both teams being in the Atlantic division of the ACC, not only could a BCS bowl appearance be at stake, but also a conference championship berth as well. The ‘Noles beat the Tigers to within an inch of their lives last year, 49-37, pummeling them 35-9 in the second half. With both heavily favored to win the ACC this year, best believe this will be the game to watch–primetime, ABC, under the lights.
Even that fails to properly define how vital this game is. We’re talking the most important ACC game in damn near a decade, maybe in the conference’s history. Lost in the SEC stranglehold on college football is the fact the ACC’s relevance as a serious title contender has faded to black. Sure, the conference champion receives an automatic BCS bid. But when’s the last time an ACC squad has been a legit threat?
Florida State, Clemson and Miami are all top-10 ranked teams and suddenly the Atlantic Coast Conference is right in the thick of things again in terms of teams with punchers’ chances to win it all.
Tonight is the perfect elixir for college football with two top five teams, in primetime with narratives bursting from the seams. For Clemson, the story has been told several times in years past. The Tigers show all the talent in the world throughout the season, but when it comes down to the one statement game needed for their resume, they fold like lawn chairs. Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins have a chance to kill two birds with one pigskin. Every NFL scout will be tuned in, many probably in attendance. Both will end up playing on Sundays eventually, but games of this magnitude can mean the difference between millions of dollars, guaranteed contracts and signing bonuses. Winning also means staying within arms length of Alabama and Oregon.
And if ever a time was needed for Clemson’s defense to make a stand, led by second in the nation sack artist Vic Beasley, Saturday night is ripe for the picking.
Long gone are the days of Peter Warrick, Chris Weinke and Snoop Minnis. That feeling of dominance and – at the risk of sounding like a 50-something-year-old announcer struggling to adapt with the times – swagger had been too.
Florida State enters tonight as well-oiled on both sides of the ball as any team in the country, despite having not won at Clemson since 2001. Hence the reason they’re favored by three on the road. Lamarcus Joyner hasn’t forgotten 2011 when he and FSU’s secondary allowed Watkins (then a freshman) to scamper for 141 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the most intriguing subplot is Telvin Smith (32 tackles) and Christian Jones’ two-man spying operation on Boyd. This isn’t to say the senior linebacking duo is going to stick to him every offensive snap. They probably won’t. But their ability to at least frustrate Boyd and help the defensive line apply pressure could quiet an already bloodthirsty crowd.
Meanwhile, on offense, Florida State is a Swiss army knife capable of striking quick or putting together backbreaking drives, many times within the same quarter. Tailbacks Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams are both averaging over six yards a carry. Receivers Kenny Shaw and Rashad Green are on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. And the five touchdowns from tight end Nick O’Leary (Jack Nickalus’ grandson!) rank as the most reliable redzone target at his position in America.
Nevertheless, above and beyond all the headlines affected by the gravitational pull of Death Valley, one stands above the rest. Boyd vs. Jameis Winston under those aforementioned lights, with more than 80,000 deranged lunatic fans packed in Memorial Stadium has the potential to be…everything.
It’s the perfect symbiotic relationship of two contrasting, but Heisman-level forces. The senior quarterback from Hampton, Virginia, who has been the face of the program for four years looking to provide Clemson arguably its biggest win of his tenure and debunk the “same old Clemson” stereotype. And the freshman quarterback who, thus far, has lived up to every inch of the Paul Bunyan-hype that surrounded him before making a laughing stock out of Pittsburgh in his very first game. And yes, even in 2013 this is a topic of discussion, too, they’re both African American.
Common rhetoric preaches there’s no way this level of talent can live up to this level of intensity and anticipation. We’ve seen it one too many times for it not to. Which would be true had it not happened a month ago when these same credentials piled on the backs of ‘Bama and A&M. The big difference here is when the game is happening. Winston has less room for error, as does Boyd. A loss here could spiral national championship aspirations to Citrus Bowl realities.
It’s the Russian Roulette that is college football in late October when leaves change colors and temperatures barely reach 70 in many parts of the country. Stakes get dicier and dicier as the season trudges along. Even if the ‘Noles pull off the win, #10 Miami looms in two weeks and Florida the last week of the season. And Clemson finishes with #11 South Carolina. It’s real out here.
Appreciate the present however. #5 Florida State. #3 Clemson. Under the lights in Death Valley with legit aspirations of doing what Alabama has done the past two Januarys. Run whatever errands need to be handled during the morning and decide, by at the very latest 6:00, under what circumstances you’ll be taking the game in – drunk, sober, at a bar, at a friend’s spot or at home with candles lit if you have that much invested in either squad (which may or may not have happened during Game 6 of the Finals).
The NCAA actually gave us enough time to plan ahead. How courteous of them.