FSU vs. Clemson: Who wins?

No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State will have fans divided all over the country this week as to which team is actually going to win this game. We’re here to help. ACC reporters David Hale and Heather Dinich each came up with three good reasons each team can pull off the win. Check them out, and then cast your vote as to who will finish Saturday atop the Atlantic Division standings.


1. Tajh Boyd. The story of the game and the most intriguing matchup will between the quarterbacks, Boyd and Jameis Winston. They both have had fantastic seasons so far, and are both winners, but Boyd has the edge in experience, and that will be the difference in the game. He’s beaten Georgia. He’s beaten LSU. He’s experienced the pangs of losing and matured from the setbacks. He is also a senior in his last chance to win a national title. Winston hasn’t gotten that far and hasn’t faced a lot of adversity. His biggest spotlight on the national stage was in the season opener at Pitt. Boyd has already played in front of a nationally televised GameDay crowd -- and won. Overall, Winston’s numbers have actually been slightly better, but Boyd’s intangibles and experience will outweigh the stats.

2. Defensive improvement. This isn’t the same defense that allowed FSU 49 points and 667 total yards last year. Clemson’s defensive progress has been the missing link in the Tigers’ hopes for a national title. Defensive end Vic Beasley leads the nation in sacks, and the Tigers are good enough to pressure Winston into some mistakes. Clemson’s defense has now held five straight opponents to 14 points or less and is 10th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 16.2 points per game. Clemson, which has built its success on Chad Morris’ offense, actually has a higher national ranking in scoring defense than scoring offense (17th, 40.8) right now. Clemson opponents have converted just .237 on third down, best in the nation. It is even better in ACC games as opponents have converted just 11 of 65 opportunities, just 17 percent. The Tigers also rank fourth in the nation in red zone defense, first in the nation in sacks, first in tackles for loss per game, and 12th in forcing turnovers.

3. The 12th Man. It ain’t easy to win in Death Valley. The home field advantage cannot be overlooked in this game. In 10 of the past 11 years, the home team has won in this series. Clemson has won five in a row against FSU in Memorial Stadium with the Noles last win coming in 2001. No freshman quarterback has won in Death Valley since former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in 2007. Boyd, meanwhile, is 17-1 as a starter at home. This is a nationally televised night game, the GameDay crew will be there, and Clemson has experienced it all just eight weeks ago against Georgia. If Death Valley is anything like the scene it was on the opening week, the crowd alone is worth a few points.

-- Heather Dinich


1. Jameis Winston. The quarterbacks are obviously going to get most of the attention heading into this game, and Clemson has the guy with the better credentials so far. But through five career starts, Winston has exceeded every expectation, so it's certainly possible he'll deliver his best performance yet on the biggest stage. In his three ACC games so far, he's thrown for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns in each, and his 91.0 adjusted QBR ranks fifth nationally -- 36 spots ahead of Tajh Boyd. Winston is coming off his best game (393 yards, 5 touchdowns) and has had an extra week to prepare for Clemson's D. For a quarterback with a remarkably flat learning curve, that could be a recipe for another big game this week.

2. The running game. There's no questioning the playmaking ability of Clemson's defensive line, with the Tigers leading the nation in tackles for loss. But it's also worth noting that on runs that cross the line of scrimmage, Clemson is allowing 6.6 yards per carry this year. In fairness, Clemson's competition -- Todd Gurley (UGA), Jerome Smith (Syracuse) -- have certainly had a lot to do with those numbers, but Florida State has a trio of tailbacks capable of big games, too. Last year, FSU averaged 7.2 yards per rush and scored five times on the ground and Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams will be looking for a repeat performance in Death Valley.

3. The secondary. Boyd and Sammy Watkins are as good a playmaking duo as there is in the ACC, and Florida State's defenders don't try to hide their admiration for Clemson's stars. But while Boyd and Watkins are off to an excellent start this year, they haven't played a defense quite as good as Florida State's either. The Seminoles held Watkins to just 24 receiving yards and Boyd to his second-lowest QBR of the season in last year's win. So far in 2013, FSU's secondary is allowing just 149 passing yards per game (fifth fewest in the country), and opponents are converting just 22 percent of third-down throws (ninth nationally).

-- David Hale