The Daily Nole

FSU Football: Rivalry with Clemson Has Surpassed In-State Foes in Terms of Importance

Jeremy Esbrandt/FSU athletics

Ask any Florida State fans who the Seminoles’ three biggest rivals are on the football field and there would probably be a pretty solid consensus: Florida, Miami, Clemson.

The first two are of course the more obvious choices. Throughout the 1990s, the annual contest between the Gators and the Seminoles was played with a national championship on the line for at least one team every year. Often times, it was in play for both.

The FSU-Miami match-ups of the late 1980s and early 1990s featured unbelievable collections of athletes. Too often for Florida State, it came down to a kick.

Rivalry contests in the Sunshine State for the longest time brought huge national implications, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years. In the six match-ups since Jimbo Fisher took over as FSU head coach in 2010, the Seminoles are outscoring Miami by 13.5 points per contest. They’re outscoring Florida by 14.5 points per contest in six games, despite dropping the 2012 contest 37-26.

Enter Clemson.

In every year since 2009, the winner of the Florida State-Clemson contest has gone on to win the ACC Atlantic. Since 2011, each contest has featured a pair of ranked team, including top-10 match-ups in 2012 and 2013.

The annual contest had its moments through the years. There was the famous “puntrooskie” play in 1988, a Charlie Ward engineered rally in Death Valley in 1992 and nine “Bowden Bowls” where FSU head coach Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles faced his son Tommy’s Tigers. But only on rare occasions was the game of national importance for both teams.

Over the past several years, the rivalry contest has not only been the biggest in the ACC, but one of the most important games of the entire college football season. It’s hard not to acknowledge that the contest has surpassed rivalries with Florida and Miami when putting it in the context of competing for championships.

It’s true that the in-state rivalries might carry bigger implications when it comes to recruiting, but Florida and Miami have combined to come into their annual contest against FSU ranked just four times in 12 total meetings since 2010.

It’s doubtful that the rivalry with the Tigers will ever have the widespread disdain among opposing fans and players that rivalries with Florida and Miami have, simply because it doesn’t have the same history. Fans may not be eager to embrace it, but what makes the FSU-Clemson rivalry different is the fact that the Seminoles and Tigers actually need one another.

We live in a day and age where programs are judged more on conference affiliation than ever before. No matter how many high draft picks FSU has, how many bowl games it wins or how many tough non-conference foes it schedules, its accomplishments tend to be downplayed based on being part of the ACC. The conference is arguably the most maligned of the Power 5.

To some extent, the Seminoles could benefit from Florida or Miami playing well. The Gators made strides under first-year head coach Jim McElwain last season and there is reason to believe that Miami could improve under former Georgia coach Mark Richt, but the Seminoles benefit as much on the recruiting trail from a second-tier in-state rival as they do an enhanced strength of schedule.

As is the case with FSU and Clemson, the Seminoles do share a conference with the Hurricanes, but the two are in opposite divisions. Even with a loss to Miami, which FSU hasn’t experienced under Fisher, Florida State still controls its own destiny in the ACC.

Perhaps most important is that while Miami is trying to once again become a national power, Clemson has already reached that threshold. Since 2011, Clemson has won at least 10 games in every season. Over that span, the Tigers have defeated LSU, Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame, FSU twice, Auburn twice and Oklahoma twice.

Had it not been for a pair of special teams blunders in the fourth quarter against Alabama, Clemson might be carrying the title “defending national champions” into 2016. Last week, the school signed head coach Dabo Swinney to an extension, so it’s unlikely the Tigers will be going quietly any time soon.

The same is true for Florida State, which has averaged more than 12 wins per season over the last four years. That span includes four major bowl appearances, three ACC titles, a national championship and three top-10 finishes.

With quarterback Deshaun Watson returning for Clemson and plenty of talent for FSU, including DeMarcus Walker, Derwin James and Dalvin Cook, it’s possible that the Oct. 29 match-up in Tallahassee could serve as a de facto national quarterfinal.

Only time will tell whether McElwain or Richt are the right guys to lead FSU’s in-state rivals back to national prominence, but for now, the annual marquee match-up for the Seminoles is Clemson. The in-state rivalries are still key for FSU to win recruiting battles, which plays a major role in winning championships. As it stands right now however, the annual meeting between Florida State and Clemson leads to championships in a much more direct manner.

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