Game Preview

CLEMSON, S.C. -- After pondering it for a couple of days, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney claims to know what version of Florida State his team will get Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

"We'll get the very best version of Florida State this week," Swinney said.

That may be true, but does anyone really know what that best version is?

After losing quarterback Deondre Francois in a season-opening loss to Alabama, the Seminoles have floundered to a 3-5 record, losing three games by six points or less.

"I know Jimbo (Fisher) is probably incredibly frustrated simply because they've had some tough games, a quarterback who got hurt and they've had a lot of other injuries," Swinney said. "They had three games come down to the last play of the game, and those things affect your momentum and confidence, but let me just tell you -- this is a very talented team.

"I know there are a bunch of people here who keep up with recruiting rankings and we haven't won a battle (against Florida State) yet. They've got a bunch of cats who can play."

Cats or not, No. 4 Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) can clinch its third consecutive Atlantic Division title and continue its quest for a third straight ACC Championship Game victory with a win against the Seminoles, who are 3-4 in the ACC.

That means it will be "orange pants time" on Saturday, and no one is more tickled about that prospect than junior quarterback Kelly Bryant.

"We're bringing the orange pants out," Bryant said. "That means there's a championship on the line."

Either Clemson or Florida State has won the Atlantic Division each of the past eight years, with one of the two league kingpins winning the ACC Championship Game each of the past six years as well.

"It seems like one of us is always in the championship game," Swinney said. "I'm sure when a lot of people looked at the schedule this year, they thought there was a good chance that it would come down to Clemson and Florida State.

"This time it's really not different for us. Nothing has changed. It's good to be in a situation where you control your own destiny."

Led by Bryant, who's one of three Clemson players with more than 500 yards rushing this season, the Tigers have maintained a position among the nation's elite despite the loss of star quarterback Deshaun Watson and a bevy of other standouts from last season's national championship team.

A defense that returned eight starters once again ranks among the national leaders.

"You're playing a great team on their home field," said Fisher, whose team is a 16-point underdog in the game. "You better be ready to play a great game. There's a lot on the line as far as pride things like that and how you want to be perceived."

Florida State dominated the series for years, but the teams have split their last 10 meetings. Clemson has won the past two games.

"I felt this all along, even when we were winning those games, they were a tremendous program," Fisher said.

"We were just fortunate enough to make one more play. And lately, the last few years, they made one more play. It's kind of nip and tuck. But they've done a great job in their commitment to things and their investment."

Even if they lose to Clemson, the Seminoles can still finish 6-6 and keep their record 35-year bowl streak intact, thanks in large part to a soft closing schedule that includes Delaware State (1-8), punchless Florida (3-5) and a rescheduled game against Louisiana-Monroe (4-5) that originally was postponed by Hurricane Irma.

Freshman quarterback James Blackman, who was thrust into the starting role when Francois went down, has had his good and bad moments, and freshman running back Cam Akers is coming off a 199-yard game in the Seminoles' 27-24 win against Syracuse last week.

The Seminoles also may get a boost from the expected return of running back Jacques Patrick, who was injured last month but has recovered quickly.

"We know what we're capable of," Florida State cornerback Levonta Taylor said. "We're finding ourselves right now, and we can be a very dangerous team going forward."

He doesn't have to convince Swinney of that.

"They're big and strong and athletic, with speed everywhere," Swinney said. "These are the biggest wideouts we'll face. Those guys are huge on the perimeter. The quarterback has gotten better. He's a young player, very talented, and he can throw the ball down the field."

Swinney just wants his team to continue its quest.

"This is where you hope to be," Swinney said. "This is what it's all about. You work all season to put yourself in position to have a chance to achieve your goals. The rest of our season hinges on these four quarters. This is championship football for us."

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