One of the most anticipated and important games of the college football season will take place Saturday night between the Florida State Seminoles and Clemson Tigers. The stakes of the game are high, as the winner will have the inside track on winning an ACC championship and keep their hopes alive for a national championship.
The teams are evenly matched with phenomenal offenses and Heisman-caliber quarterbacks, but in the end, Clemson’s home-field advantage will be the difference in the game.
It’s virtually impossible to distinguish these two teams from one another at this point in the season. Both remain undefeated and both have looked the part of a top-five team. Florida State’s score lines have been a little more impressive, but Clemson’s schedule has undoubtedly been more difficult. In most instances of games between such equally-matched teams, the advantage will go to the home team, and that will be the case on Saturday.
Clemson’s Death Valley is one of the most intimidating atmospheres in the country. It’s a genuine difference-maker, which is why the Tigers haven’t lost a home game against a conference opponent since 2010. It’s also why the Tigers were able to pull out a win over the Georgia Bulldogs to open the season, a win that set the tone for their season and put them on the path towards a national championship.
As impressive as redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has been for Florida State this season, he hasn’t experienced a road atmosphere anywhere close to the one he’ll experience on Saturday night. Road games against Pittsburgh and Boston College earlier this season pale in comparison to a trip to Memorial Stadium, and won’t have him adequately prepared to face the crowd and environment he’ll have to contend with in Death Valley.
His poise and his performance have been impressive this season, but there’s a period of adjustment for young players when venturing into a hostile environment for the first time. Even if that period of adjustment for Winston is only a few drives, that’s long enough to be the difference in the game.
Clemson has been in position to ascend to greatness before, and they’ve stumbled. But this year could be different, and their fan base senses that, which could be the lift they need to get over the hump this year. On Saturday night, it’ll provide the boost they need to beat Florida State.