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What the win over Clemson means for Florida State and the Tigers

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Audio by our friend Jeff Cameron.

Clemson is so, so loud. Last week offensive tackle Tarlos Thomas, of the 1999 team, told us Clemson was the loudest place he played (including the Swamp and the old Orange Bowl). It's hard to disagree. Many of the photographers on the field actually wore ear plugs, something I would have also wanted had I stayed down on the field for the game. I didn't because I needed to be in the press box, but damn was it loud.

And Clemson's intro is awesome. Even better than it is on TV. Clemson fans pack the place early. I can't speak to what they do in other games, but the Tigers had 80,000 in the house 20 minutes before kickoff. That's impressive.

I personally think hopping on the bus is sort of stupid, but the rest of the intro is certainly not.

I was right under the goalpoast to see Dabo lead the Tigers down the hill. It was perhaps the last smile he had all night.

And there are balloons. This looks cooler in person than I captured with my cell phone.

The collapse

The intro was the best thing Clemson did Saturday. In many ways, the game mirrored the introduction. The buildup seemed to take forever. But once the main event arrived, it was over almost as soon as Florida State walked in.

As I thought about the arguments for the Clemson side, I realized almost all were soft factors. They were based on emotion and hope.


Death Valley



Their year

As I visited with Clemson faithful Saturday before the game, those themes continued to come up. Clemson fans were confident. They had beaten two SEC teams in the last six games (LSU in the bowl game and Georgia to open the year).

They believed. And that belief made the shock so much more profound.

What's missing from the list of reasons why Clemson should win? Talent. The Clemson fans, who were extremely nice, almost never argued that the Tigers had more talent. They were putting their faith in the power of Death Valley to reduce FSU's talent advantage.

And it's important to note the entirety of the advantage on display Saturday. It's not just Jameis Winston. FSU has better players than Clemson at almost every position, except punter. I've seen Clemson fans say that the turnovers were the deciding factor in the game. That is not true. At all. FSU more than doubled Clemson's yards/play in their own house.

Here is an awesome video of the pre-game from the ACC Network.

Programs going in different directions

This win isn't just a win. It's bigger than that. It's the type of win that can change a program.

For Clemson, one has to wonder if fans will ever fully believe in Dabo Swinney again? Swinney was pitching the idea that Clemson, a program that has not been nationally relevant in almost a quarter century, could win a national title. Not just an ACC title. But a national championship.

Now, that seems quite silly. The best Clemson team in forever, crushed at home.

And in front of a ton of top recruits. Recruits who saw the fans, at a fever pitch just a few hours earlier, quit on their program early in the third quarter.

That's important. In my mind, after seeing the teams in person, there are two major differences between the programs: recruiting and development.

Plain and simple, FSU does a much better job of physical (and probably mental with its horde of staffers and mental performance coaches) development than Clemson. And when a program does that with much better starting material (recruits) than the other, it is going to dominate.

I like the photo below by Street Lecka because the blurred Seminole defenders symbolize the power and speed advantage held by FSU Saturday.

Clemson is not going to have the season needed to kick its recruiting to the next level to compete with Florida State. And it's certainly not going to happen next year, either, given all that Clemson will lose off its current team.

Clemson was supposed to have 2013. But its time was up early.

That's not to say that Clemson's program will fall off the map. There is too much commitment to winning for that to happen. But this is a bad, bad loss for that program. They needed the great year to load up on recruits and show that they can trade punches with Florida State. Instead, they got knocked out in the first round. And one has to wonder when they'll get up off the mat to again try to be en elite team.

In the last six quarters, with starters in, Florida State has outscored Clemson 86-16. Clemson has punched in a late touchown in 2012 and 2013 to make it look a little bit better, but both scores came against FSU's backups in the final minute.


There's already a big difference between the two programs. And the gap is widening.

I was asked Monday night if Florida State was back.

Finally, I can say yes.

I can say yes because of how quickly this happened. After, Losing 11 NFL players and 7 coaches off a championship 2012 team, FSU has put together one of its best teams in program history. Everyone expected this in 2014. Not 2013. It's now. And that's scary, because even if all of the reasonably possible early NFL departures from this squad jump to the league, 2014 still projects to be better.

Those are the type of discussions regularly had in Tallahassee during the dynasty years.

I can say it because it's not just about Jameis Winston. If Clemson had Jameis Winston and Florida State had Tajh Boyd, it still wins Saturday, because of the advantage at almost every position.

And I can say it because FSU is 25-3 in its final 28 games. That, after going 12-7 in its first 19 under coach Jimbo Fisher, who has matured a lot as a coach during his time in Tallahassee.

The timing for the program is amazing, particularly for fundraising and recruiting.

On the fundraising side of things, Florida State just came off a huge drive for the indoor practice facility. If the Seminoles had not had this type of team this year, it may have been difficult to come back and ask for more for other projects. Not now. People will support such an elite product because they want to continue (or begin) to be a part of something special.

And in recruiting, believe it or not, FSU has a ton of space in the coming class. The Seminoles will be able to take 30+ recruits this time. Just as boosters want to be a part of something special, so will other recruits who may not have previously considered the Seminoles. Having this special season with that much space available on the roster is something that doesn't come around all that often. It's hitting the bike ramp at just right right spot while pedaling as hard as you can.

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