Florida State enters Saturday’s game at Clemson with an abysmal 3-5 record, but FSU has the talent to stay competitive with the Tigers and pull off a big upset.
The Seminoles have finished higher than Clemson in recruiting for nine consecutive years, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, but have been unable to put everything together this season, partly because of injuries.
Still, FSU has shown flashes at times of reaching its potential. The Seminoles will need to lean on an athletic defense and emerging star at running back in Cam Akers to have a shot to beat Clemson.
“I know we’ve got a lot of people here that keep up with the recruiting rankings, and we haven’t won a battle yet,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said this week. “I don’t think we’ve ever beat Florida State in recruiting. Maybe we have, I don’t know. But I don’t think so. I think they’re one or two every year. They’ve got a bunch of cats that can play.”
Florida State’s defense is loaded with five-star prospects, including safety Derwin James and defensive end Josh Sweat.
James is second on the team in tackles with 53, leads the Seminoles in pass breakups with nine and recorded his first interception of the season last week against Syracuse.
He was the consensus top defensive back in the country for the class of 2015 and was named a freshman All-American before missing most of the 2016 season with a knee injury.
FSU’s secondary also features cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, another former five-star recruit, who was named preseason All-ACC for 2017.
“He’s a 6-2 creature that plays corner that picked us off last year. That’s one of the best in the country,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “Derwin James is back. He missed the game last year. He’s got a lot to prove. Those are potential NFL guys. I’m talking very, very high draft picks.”
Sweat is third on the team in tackles with 43 and leads FSU in tackles for loss with 10.5, which is good for seventh in the ACC.
Sweat is joined at defensive end by Brian Burns, another former five-star recruit.
“You’ve got Sweat and Burns, who are two of the most athletic, freaky guys I’ve seen coming off the edge,” Elliott said. “They know that some of those guys are playing for their future and their opportunity to showcase. Some of the best talent in the country is going to be on display, and then again it just goes back to pride.”
Offensively, FSU has struggled, particularly on the offensive line. The Seminoles also start a true freshman at quarterback who has had his ups and downs.
But freshman running back Cam Akers was the No. 1 back in the country for 2017 and is drawing comparisons to Dalvin Cook with his play as of late.
Akers rushed for 199 yards last week against Syracuse and has totaled 695 yards with an average of 5.5 yards per carry on the year.
“He’s an excellent player, very explosive. Got great instincts and excellent speed, runs through trash. He can really accelerate,” Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “I think early in the year you want to get outside a lot, but now he’s playing in between the tackles, but he can hit it full speed in about two steps and divide the defense really quick.”