(11) Florida State (2-1) at (21) Clemson (3-0) (-2)
Usually, when I write game previews, I try to approach it like I would if I were betting real money on it even though most of the time I’m not…as far as my wife knows. But with Florida State at Clemson on Saturday (the former Bowden Bowl), I just can’t. So instead I’m going to send out a warning to my fellow gamblers out there so that no one gets suckered in just because it’s a big football game happening in the South. The only people who should gamble on this game are alumni. That’s it. Just to prove my point, here are six reasons why you should keep your money the hell away from this game:
1. E.J. Manuel is hurt
Not that he’s been lighting the world on fire, but IS the Seminoles’ best playmaker on offense. He’s their Tajh Boyd, as it were. The coaches were just figuring out how best to use Terrelle Pryor’s clone when he hurt his shoulder against Oklahoma. It’s not a major injury, but that’s what makes this a good reason to save your money. It’s impossible to tell whether Manuel will play until game time. His presence drastically alters FSU’s offensive approach and whatever crap Clemson is planning on throwing together on defense too.
Backup Clint Trickett seems to have some skills and a good arm, but on an offense devoid of anything remotely interesting, or even a running game, Manuel is the only guy who can take them to the next level. When he’s healthy.
2. Clemson is Clemson
When Scouts Inc. is making references to your program’s history of unpredictability on ESPN, it’s probably more than just Bowden residue that’s holding the program back. I make it a point to never bet on Clemson in any game and usually go out of my way to make fun of their massive failures. I don’t know why. Just part of the fun of college football. But if Clemson is involved, you might as well not bother trying to figure out how they stack up against the spread.
3. Week-after hangover
Remember when Clemson ended Auburn’s 17-game winning streak? Yeah, that was only last week AND it was in front of the home crowd just like this week. Not that Clemson fans need an excuse to drink more heavily than usual. Living in South Carolina is reason enough (ZING!).
Besides, that’s a mediocre Auburn team that Clemson barely beat, not the Cam Newton Tigers from last season. It’s not 2011 Clemson’s fault Auburn was over the SEC’s hard salary cap and had to get rid of some key players (Double ZING!), but it’s not like Clemson beat Oklahoma last week either.
4. The Defenses
Florida State has the athletes and coaching on defense to stop Clemson’s offense. I have no inside information but I know Clemson’s OC has been in Tajh Boyd’s ear all week about getting rid of the ball quickly because FSU’s front seven is the same scary-good it was during Bobby Bowden’s heyday. There are, of course, fewer big names on the FSU defense than there were then, but they’re still fast and physical, which means Clemson’s finesse offense might be in for a rude surprise.
Even OU’s badass offense could only muster 23 points on Florida State, and the Sooners owned that game from beginning to end. The Seminoles will make Clemson take 12-16 plays to get down the field and score, and they’re going to bet that the Tiger offense isn’t experienced enough to handle that for an entire game.
Clemson’s defense, like the rest of the program, is totally unpredictable. They could do a good job taking advantage of a weakened FSU offense and make enough stops to win comfortably. Or they could do what they did in the Auburn game and play just well enough to pull out a close shootout. Head coach Dabo Swinney was FAR too happy with that win, which shows exactly what he really thought heading into it.
5. The offensive lines
Especially if you take “offensive” to mean the other definition besides “being on offense.” Neither one protects the quarterback very well (that Tajh Boyd wasn’t sacked at all last week is something of a major miracle), and both quarterbacks hold the ball too long anyway. Florida State’s line hasn’t been able to run-block since before Lorenzo Booker was there, a shocking development in the last decade of the Bowden Era. Clemson’s line is simply unproven against a front seven as good as Florida State’s, which is a recipe for disaster if the Seminoles bring it early on Saturday. One more reason not to bother with this game.
6. Tajh Boyd is still a first-year starter
So he’s got an upset under his belt and he’s been living the real on-campus celebrity life for a week now. While I don’t think it’s going to Boyd’s head, I do think that the week-after hangover will be especially strong with Clemson’s young, potentially program-saving quarterback. He was better than good against Auburn, and most seem to expect the same level of performance out of him again this week even though FSU’s defense is significantly better than Auburn’s.
There’s a level of experience some quarterbacks reach where they can handle two weeks in a row of vitally important games. Maybe Boyd is the real deal and will prove me wrong. But you shouldn’t bet on this game until he does. Otherwise you’re just as much of a mark for him as every Clemson fan.