This Saturday night the No. 5 Florida State Seminoles will travel to upstate South Carolina to take on the No. 3 Clemson Tigers in a football game that has developed into one of the most important rivalries in college football and will certainly have national championship implications surrounding it. It’s not the longest rivalry, it’s not the most bitter, and it probably isn’t even the most relevant game year in and year out, but for some reason this game has become so compelling and important in shaping the ACC landscape. This game has become the most storied rivalry in the Atlantic Coast Conference, in large part due to the success of both programs over the last 40 years. Clemson has the most ACC Championships with 14, but Florida State is a close second with 13 trophies of their own. The Tigers and Seminoles have met only 26 times, with Florida State leading the all-time series 18-8, but Florida State has not won in Clemson since 2001.
The two teams did not meet as ACC opponents until 1992, but they first played in 1970 with Florida State claiming the inaugural victory in the series. However, the rivalry really took off in the 1988 meeting at a rain-drenched Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC. Florida State was ranked No. 10 in the country, while Clemson was sitting at No. 3 in the polls. The Danny Ford-led Tigers had national championship aspirations, but the scoreboard read 21-21 with less than two minutes to play. On fourth-down, Bobby Bowden sent out his punt unit and Clemson seemed poised to receive the ball with a chance to have a potential game-winning drive in the waning seconds. However, the ball was snapped to upback Dayne Williams who sneaked the ball in between the legs of LeRoy Butler, and Butler took off for a 78-yard run. The “puntrooskie” play set up the game-winning field goal for the Seminoles.
After Florida State joined the ACC, they dominated the series in the 1990s led by players such as Charlie Ward, Derrick Brooks, Peter Boulware, Peter Warrick, Warrick Dunn, Travis Minor, Danny Kanell, Chris Weinke, and many other greats. The Seminoles solidified themselves as the team of the 90s as Bobby Bowden had created a feared defense and an offense that had speed at every position. The 90s were a struggle for the Clemson Tigers against Florida State, despite having players like Raymond Priester, Patrick Sapp, Rod Gardner, Anthony Simmons, and Keith Adams. From 1992-2002, Florida State won 11 straight meetings against the Tigers which left the Clemson faithful wondering if they would ever capture another ACC championship. However, the rivalry took on a new life when Clemson hired Bobby Bowden’s son, Tommy Bowden, to coach the Tigers.
Tommy and Bobby became the salt and pepper of the series and first squared off on a cold October night in Clemson in 1999. Despite Woody Dantzler‘s heroics, the No. 1 ranked Noles escaped with a 17-14 win in the first Bowden Bowl. I can remember being in the stands at that game and thinking that Clemson would never beat Florida State again, but four years later Clemson gave its fans hope for the future. In 2003, Clemson was sitting at 5-4 and coming off an embarrassing 45-17 loss to Wake Forest. Many thought that Tommy Bowden would certainly lose his job with another loss, especially with their next game being against No. 3 Florida State in Death Valley. Clemson was a huge underdog, but led by players like Charlie Whitehurst, Kevin Youngblood, and Derrick Hamilton, the Tigers pulled off the most shocking upset of the series winning 26-10. In the head-to-head games, Bobby finished with a 5-4 advantage over Tommy.
Florida State won in 2004, but from 2005-2007 the unranked Tigers beat the ranked Seminoles each year. Tommy and Bobby are gone, but the rivalry has continued to be the best in the ACC. Since 2009, the winner of this game has gone on to with the Atlantic division each year. Clemson won the ACC Championship in 2011 while Florida State won the conference crown in 2012. Last season these two teams met as top-10 opponents with Florida State coming out on top with a 49-37 victory in Tallahassee, but this season will mark the first time that the Tigers and the Noles will clash as top-5 opponents. A new chapter will be written in this storied rivalry Saturday night, and the players on the field will prove why this is the most storied rivalry in the ACC.
Travis Patterson, Writer For ACC Rantsports.com. Follow on Twitter @tpat20. https://twitter.com/tpat20