Noles relishing role of underdog

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Florida State might be the reigning ACC champ, but it's not the favorite to win the league again. In fact, the Seminoles were cast in the role of decided underdog when the media's preseason predictions were announced Monday, and they couldn't be happier with that status.

"When you're the underdog and everyone's against you, you're out to prove something, you're hungry, you're starting over," cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "That's how you build. You want to be the underdog, have the doubters and have that chip on your shoulder."

Clemson was the runaway favorite to win the Atlantic Division and the conference title -- a status usually afforded Florida State. The Seminoles have been picked to win the Atlantic all but one season (2008) since division play began -- until now.

It's good to be appreciated, Joyner said, but it's not always easy to wear the target on your chest. He expects that's a lesson Clemson will learn quickly.

"Good luck with that," Joyner said. "That's a lot of pressure. When you're the favorite, all you can do is go down. You've got to endure when you're on top like that and have everybody on your side. You have to find a way to find some motivation. The underdog, the ceiling is higher."

Media seemed to feel Clemson's ceiling was pretty high, too, and the rationale was simple.

Clemson returns several big stars, including quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was named the conference's preseason player of the year. Florida State, meanwhile, lost its starting quarterback, along with 12 other starters. That's pointed the spotlight squarely in Clemson's direction -- for better or worse.

"I prefer the underdog role," Boyd said. "I think, as an American, we love the underdogs. That's the nature of the business. I love being the underdog because it gives you that much more motivation, encouragement. But at the same time, when you're on the top, it's going out and performing what you're capable of."

Of course, as much as Florida State appears content to let Clemson enjoy the spotlight, Jimbo Fisher isn't conceding anything.

After happily ratcheting up expectations a year ago, Fisher said his outlook hasn't changed much.

"In your minds," Fisher said when asked if expectations weren't as high. "They are for us."

Fisher points to the significant playing time first-year starters such as Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan and James Wilder Jr. got as reserves in past seasons and said the accounting done by pundits often doesn't consider just how much success those players have already tasted.

"This is still a talented football team," Fisher said. "We have the least amount of starters back in the ACC, but we have more junior and senior starters than we had a year ago. We have a lot of guys who played significant snaps. They still played a lot of plays in big games. Even though they're not considered returning starters, they're very talented and will have a huge impact on our team."

Of course, all the preseason bluster will start to fade once the games begin, and Clemson and Florida State will settle any debate when they face off in Death Valley on Oct. 19. It's a date Boyd said he already has circled on his calendar.

"I think regardless of the situation, especially on this side of the conference, it comes down to Florida State and Clemson," he said. "It's always an intriguing game. But those guys get a chance to come to us. I talked to Lamarcus and Terrence [Brooks] over there. They're excited about it. When you have a chance to play opponents like that, it makes the game that much sweeter."