When this season began, the Florida State Seminoles were a prime choice for the College Football Playoff.
Now they mostly are a forgotten team on the national level.
But maybe they can be ACC spoilers.
FSU can leave an indelible mark on this season Saturday night, when the Clemson Tigers (7-0, 4-0) roll into Tallahassee to face the Seminoles (5-2, 2-2).
All of the pressure is on Clemson, which has plenty to protect and hasn’t won at Doak Campbell Stadium since 2006. Clemson is 1-11 on the road against FSU in the past 25 seasons.
The Seminoles can play free and easy, the best possible stance when shooting for an upset.
How does it happen?
FSU’s offense plays out of its mind. The Seminoles outscore the Tigers.
Can it happen?
The Seminoles have teased and tantalized all season long, looking sensational at times, rolling up big totals against some statistically poor defenses, generally starting slow and eventually warming up, but mostly showing nowhere near the consistency needed to win a championship.
For example, the Seminoles accumulated 849 yards of total offense (9.2 yards per play), but managed only 37 total points in the past two games, victories against Miami (20-19) and Wake Forest (17-7).
Pass protection has been a problem. Quarterback Deondre Francois was sacked five times in the past two games.
There’s no way to sugar-coat it: Francois is getting hit way too much. The Seminoles have allowed 21 sacks, which is 111th (out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams). They also have been tackled for a loss 46 times in seven games (6.57 average), which ranks 95th nationally.
Those are sobering numbers for an offensive line that was expected to be a point of stability.
FSU’s offense was dynamic in the opening-game comeback win against Ole Miss, but the Rebels’ defense has hardly been a compelling force (ranking 107th nationally). The Seminoles looked unstoppable in rolling up 55 points and 647 yards against the University of South Florida, but the Bulls’ defense now checks in at 103rd nationally.
Clemson’s offense has been equally puzzling, not playing to its 2015 standard, but its defense, perceived as a weakness in the preseason, has picked up the slack with a No. 8 national ranking.
So here it is. FSU’s big opportunity.
Francois and the receiving corps will need to produce, but the big responsibility rests with junior running back Dalvin Cook. Want to stop Clemson’s offense? Don’t give it a chance to score. Play keep-away all night long.
Let Cook do this thing. And in recent weeks, he has become a major factor. Cook has 900 yards rushing in seven games and he has also become a weapon to respect in the passing game.
Before the season, Clemson-FSU was absolutely the ACC’s game of the year. It might decide the league title and possibly lead to a spot in the playoff semifinals.
Clemson held up its end of the bargain. Its championship dream remains alive.
For FSU, it’s largely a matter of pride, striving for the program’s fifth-straight double-digit victory season and getting to the biggest bowl game possible.
Its biggest dreams might be gone.
But if its offense shows up in a big way, FSU will still have plenty to celebrate by spoiling Clemson’s season.