Apparently, it’s not enough to be the third-ranked team in the country, undefeated and playing at home Saturday against No. 5 in what’s shaping up as the Atlantic Coast Conference game of a lifetime. Clemson seems to be swimming against the tide with the lines from Vegas and the Caribbean parlors favoring Florida State by three points.
“It seems like every time we play one of those major top 10 opponents, you’re an underdog,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “I’m not sure why, in particular, we’re the underdog, but we don’t really think anything of it.
“It’s just people’s perception, what they think,” he said. “It’s up to us to go out there and change what they think.”
Boyd shrugged. If there’s a feeling of disrespect among Clemson players, he was not betraying it.
“I guess whoever comes up with that stuff thinks Florida State is better than us,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “I don’t think that really matters. This is a toss-up if you ask me.”
Clemson opened the season with a win over nationally ranked Georgia and climbed quickly to its current rung.
Winning puts either team in control of the ACC Atlantic Division and firmly in contention for an invitation to the national championship game. It also pits the ACC’s most storied programs and brings together two of the game’s most dynamic quarterbacks.
The game will be televised nationally in prime time. And ESPN GameDay, which anoints the week’s hottest venue in college football, will visit for the second time this season.
“Obviously, we have a keen sense to what’s going on. They know we’re playing Florida State. They know that it’s GameDay. They know that there’s a lot of energy going on,” Swinney said. “But I think that they’re mature enough to also understand that that’s not what’s going to win this game.
“Every game is big, but some games are just special, and this is a special moment, special opportunity.”
Swinney believes his team’s experience in high-profiles games is invaluable, referring specifically to the wins against Georgia to start this season and LSU to finish last season and the losses last season at South Carolina and FSU.
“When you’re in this type of match-up, you don’t have a lot of room for mistakes, and that’s ultimately what it comes down to,” he said. “Last year, we had some critical mistakes that cost us, and you don’t get any redoes. I think our guys have a really good understanding of how critical each play is.”
Boyd said these are the games that feed his craving for competition, when the lights are hot and the cameras are rolling and reputations are on the line.
“Games like this, we relish it,” he said. “We love it. We live in these moments.”