KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
SERIES: Florida State leads the series, 18-8, although Clemson has beaten the Seminoles five consecutive times at home.
RANKINGS: Florida State No. 5, Clemson No. 3
KEYS TO THE GAME
One of Clemson's keys to success in its 6-0 start has been the Tigers' ability to get contributions from a wide range of offensive players. Just six games into the season, a school-record 11 different receivers have caught touchdown passes and 13 different offensive players have reached the end zone.
"Most of the time, when I'm happy, it's because more guys are touching the ball," Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "When you have a lot of guys contributing, that means we're doing the right things."
That diversified offense could come in handy once again this week as No. 3 Clemson plays host to No. 5 Florida State in a highly anticipated Atlantic Coast Conference showdown at Memorial Stadium.
The battle of unbeaten teams has far-reaching repercussions, not the least of which are chances of winning the Atlantic Division title, earning a berth in the ACC championship game and remaining in contention for the national title.
To keep those dreams alive, the Tigers would be well-served to continue "spreading the wealth."
"That's just a philosophy we have," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "The more playmakers you have, the tougher it is for defenses to concentrate on one guy."
Three different Clemson running backs have scored this season, and that list doesn't include starter and leading rusher Roderick McDowell. All three of Clemson's tight ends have caught a touchdown pass, as have all six of the team's top receivers.
"I think it says that we're pretty comfortable in how we substitute," Swinney said. "We're confident in all of those guys, and we have some good experience mixed in with all the youth."
Even standout receiver Sammy Watkins has embraced the concept, saying he "can't focus on yards."
"It's all about the team and winning," Watkins said.
Watkins also has proven to be quite the decoy.
"He's as good of a decoy as there is in the game -- that's one decoy they cover," Swinney said. "He's pretty good bait, and that keeps them guessing and creates opportunities for other people."
And for Clemson, that seems to be a formula for success.
Some are labeling the 27th meeting in the rivalry the biggest game in ACC history -- and that would be hard to argue. The nationally-televised primetime duel features a pair of Heisman candidates leading two of the nation's most explosive offenses against defenses ripe with NFL prospects. The matchup has even attracted ESPN's College GameDay crew to deafening Death Valley, where Florida State will enter as a surprising three-point favorite considering its recent dismal history in South Carolina.
Dismal, as in, five straight losses.
Might that mess with the Seminoles' psyche?
"I don't think so. What happened to those other teams is not this team," FSU fourth-year coach Jimbo Fisher said of the Seminoles' 12-year drought since the program's last victory at Clemson in 2001. "You can't worry about those things. You can't worry about the past. Even if we had won 10 in a row (at Clemson) doesn't mean you can go up there and win this week."
Williams, a safety-turned-running back this season, was on defense last year when FSU beat Clemson in a shootout in Tallahassee, 49-37. Now he's leading the Seminoles (5-0, 3-0 in the ACC), who are coming off a bye week, with six touchdowns and is part of the nation's fourth-ranked offense, which is also third in FBS in scoring (53.6 points per game) and second in passing efficiency.
That's thanks in large part to freshman quarterback Jameis Winston -- aforementioned Heisman candidate No. 1 -- and his 19 touchdowns and 73.2-percent completion mark, which is tied with reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel for second in the country. And while Winston is coming off a head-turner of a game against Maryland -- 393 yards and five TD passes in a 63-0 rout of the No. 25 Termps -- the 19-year-old former No. 1 high school QB recruit has never been on a stage this big.
But Fisher has worlds of confidence in Winston, who will be chased all night by a Tigers defense that leads the NCAA in sacks (4.0 per game) and tackles for loss (10.2). When asked if his young quarterback's relative inexperience makes him even the slightest bit nervous, the coach was emphatic in his response.
"No," Fisher said.
He is, however, concerned about Clemson's own Heisman threat, senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, who leads the ACC's top-ranked passing offense (342 yards per game) and has thrown for 1,783 yards and 19 touchdowns already this season. But what scares Fisher the most isn't Boyd's numbers this year, it's that he's been doing this his entire career. And it's a career that will end this season with Boyd (9,836 yards) overtaking Duke's Thaddeus Lewis (10,065) as the conference's second all-time leading passer.
"His consistency (is what makes him great)," Fisher said of Boyd, who rallied Clemson (6-0, 4-0) to a 24-14 comeback win against Boston College last week. "That's the thing we all get bored with. That's what you don't want to write about. You want to write about something spectacular. Great players are consistent in how they perform ... Does he do it every week? To me, that's key to any great player. He's definitely done that."
But something will have to give Saturday when Boyd tries to air it out against the Seminoles. FSU's passing defense, led by All-ACC first-teamer Lamarcus Joyner, is No. 2 in the nation, allowing opponents just 149 yards a game on average. Florida State also owns the nation's third-ranked scoring defense (12.0 ppg) and is coming off a historic beatdown of Maryland and quarterback C.J. Brown, who came into the game as the conference's top individual offensive leader. But Brown but was all but shut down by FSU from the opening series, leading to the final 63-point margin of defeat -- the largest ever in ACC play.
Swinney didn't need to see that score to know the danger that's headed to Death Valley this weekend.
"They have no weaknesses. It's a very complete, balanced team. They've got great players on both sides of the ball. And they got a special player (in Winston). He doesn't look like a freshman. He looks like a full-grown man to me," Swinney said Tuesday. "They're a great team, but I think they know we're a great team, too. Some games, you got a little more margin for error than others. This game, we don't have a lot. They don't either."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--Senior CB Lamarcus Joyner is second on the team in tackles (25) and first in sacks (two), but if he shines in his role as a cover man Saturday, his performance in this game may barely show up on the stat sheet. That's because Joyner will be tasked with staying glued much of the night to Tigers WR Sammy Watkins -- the ACC's second-leading wideout and Clemson's most dangerous weapon outside of QB Tajh Boyd. Joyner is more then capable of playing against the best and has excelled in his new role at cornerback after switching from safety this offseason.
--Junior WR Sammy Watkins will likely break every Clemson receiving record if he doesn't opt for the NFL after this year. He has 582 yards and four touchdowns already this season, and he and Boyd hooked up for a 91-yard score in Clemson's rout of Syracuse two weeks ago, marking the second-longest play in Tigers history. When FSU coach Jimbo Fisher was asked this week how you stop Watkins, he shook his head, looked at his watch and replied, "You got about an hour?"
--Junior RB Devonta Freeman, FSU's leading rusher with 396 yards and three TDs, could have his biggest game of the season Saturday. Clemson's defense struggled two years ago, ranking near the bottom in almost every major defensive category and giving up a record 70 points in an embarrassing loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers' overall defense is vastly improved this season under new defensive coordinator Brent Venables -- they're ranked 21st in the nation -- but their run-stopping ability (64th, 158 ypg) still needs some work.
--WR Sammy Watkins is a Florida native who would like nothing more than to beat a Florida State team in what could be his final game against the Seminoles; Watkins may opt for a pro career at the end of his junior season. In the meantime, Watkins seems to have hit a mid-season groove -- he's posted three consecutive 100-yard games and has 27 catches in the Tigers' last four games.
--DE Vic Beasley has been downright beastly of late. The junior has at least one sack in each of his last four games and leads the nation with a total of nine sacks this season. In last week's win against Boston College, Beasley scored the first touchdown of his career with a 13-yard fumble return. "He's playing at a very high level right now," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. No kidding.
--QB Tajh Boyd keeps winning and keeps moving up the Clemson and ACC passing leaders lists. He enters Saturday's game against Florida State needing only 164 yards to become just the third quarterback in ACC history to pass for more than 10,000 career yards. Boyd also has 14 career 300-yard passing games, which is second-best in league history. He'd like nothing more than to end his career by beating Florida State and putting his team in the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division.