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Florida State-Clemson could be start of indelible season for ACC football

David Teel

October 9, 2013

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No matter that Clemson still must play Boston College. And no matter that BC already has surpassed last season's victory total, boasts the nation's top rusher in Andre Williams and appears energized under new head coach Steve Addazio.

Thanks for appearing guys. Now take your parting gifts, fly back north and resume rootin' for the Red Sox.

That seems to be the collective outlook as ACC football braces for Florida State's Oct. 19 visit to Clemson, a potential epic collision of Heisman-caliber quarterbacks that could be a precursor to a late season unlike the conference has ever seen.

Idle this week, sixth-ranked Florida State (5-0, 3-0 ACC) thrashed Maryland 63-0 on Saturday, assuring the Seminoles a perfect record headed to Death Valley. But third-ranked Clemson (5-0, 3-0) hosts Boston College (3-2, 1-1) this week.

The Eagles, 2-10 last year, are vastly improved and were surprisingly competitive two weeks ago in a 48-34 home loss to Florida State. But a team that ranks 13th, next-to-last, in the ACC in total defense figures to crack early and often on the road against Tajh Boyd and friends.

A Clemson victory would set up only the second clash of ACC teams with top-10 rankings, perfect records and at least five victories. The other was in 1997, when No. 3 Florida State and No. 5 North Carolina, both 8-0, met in Chapel Hill.

But as good as Mack Brown's Tar Heels were defensively — Dre' Bly, Greg Ellis and Vonnie Holliday were the headliners — they were 7-point home underdogs, and sure enough, the Seminoles won comfortably, 20-3. No chance Vegas sets a similarly wide spread for FSU-Clemson, a game that ought to be far more entertaining and competitive.

That '97 quarterback matchup, FSU's Thad Busby versus UNC's Chris Keldorf, certainly doesn't approach Boyd vs. Jameis Winston. A Phoebus High graduate, Boyd is a fifth-year senior living up to the soaring expectations he created as a sophomore and junior; Winston is a Johnny Manziel-like revelation, a redshirt freshman whom no one could have anticipated being this good.

Both threw five touchdown passes Saturday, Winston against Maryland and Boyd at Syracuse. Winston ranks second nationally to Baylor's Bryce Petty in passing efficiency, while Boyd checks in at sixth.

ABC on Monday designated FSU-Clemson for an 8 p.m. kick, assuring the game 24/7 ESPN hype, big ratings and the Musburger-Herbstreit-Marshall Mathers vibe.

Indeed, the winner becomes the prohibitive favorite to win the ACC's Atlantic Division and reach the conference championship game. Most important, the winner remains a viable national-title contender.

Crazy thing is, FSU-Clemson might be only the beginning for the ACC.

Two weeks later, Miami visits FSU for what could be the first top-10 matchup in that storied rivalry since 2004. That was the Hurricanes' first year in the ACC and the only season that has produced two top-10 clashes between league teams — Florida State-Virginia was the other.

Ranked 13th this week by the Associated Press, Miami (5-0, 1-0) has a dynamic offense led by running back Duke Johnson, a much-improved defense and should dust North Carolina and Wake Forest before heading to Tallahassee on Nov. 2.

A battle of 7-0 FSU and Miami squads would flash back to 1991, when the 8-0 and second-ranked Hurricanes defeated the 10-0 and top-ranked Seminoles 17-16 en route to the national championship.

One week after facing FSU, Miami hosts Virginia Tech, with the winner likely representing the Coastal Division in the ACC title game. The Hokies (5-1, 2-0 ACC) are unbeaten since an opening loss to No. 1 Alabama and cracked the AP poll Sunday at No. 24.

Even with subsequent victories over Pittsburgh, Duke and Boston College, Tech is unlikely to reach the top 10 before Miami, but a meeting of top-15 teams between the Hokies and Hurricanes, the ACC's third of the season, would be notable.

The only year in which the ACC produced three top-15 games was 2004: FSU-Miami, FSU-Virginia and Miami-Virginia Tech.

Which brings us to Dec. 7 and the conference championship stage in Charlotte, N.C. None of the eight previous ACC title games showcased two top-10 teams — the closest was No. 6 Virginia Tech vs. No. 12 Boston College in 2007 — but this season some combination of FSU-Clemson from the Atlantic and Miami-Virginia Tech from the Coastal could make it happen.

Finally, certain results could land the ACC its second Bowl Championship Series at-large berth — Virginia Tech's in 2011 was the first — and the league's first BCS title-game appearance since Florida State lost to Oklahoma 13 years ago.

Granted, much of this forecasting is wandering far too close to the ledge, but with three 5-0 teams — Miami, Clemson and Florida State — for the first time in conference history, the ACC has never been as well-positioned for an indelible season.

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/ teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP