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Did Clemson blow the best chance to knock off Florida State?

FSU has looked somewhat vulnerable through five games, but the best chance to knock them off in the regular season may have already passed.

College football should be mad at Clemson. FSU was without Jameis Winston, the best QB in college football, while Clemson had its phenom in Deshaun Watson. The Tigers had the shot and they missed. FSU may be able to get to the playoff with a loss, but probably not if the loss came against Clemson, because that would have meant no conference championship game and no conference title.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney lamented the Florida State game Wednesday on the ACC coaches teleconference.

"We played better at Florida State than we did at [North] Carolina," Swinney said. "Sometimes you can play great and not win."

For how Clemson didn't get it done, read How the hell did Florida State beat Clemson? Though, that is now secondary to this issue.

Florida State has not played like a superpower this year, though, in fairness, nobody really has and college football seems to be lacking the obvious "no doubt" type championship teams.

Entering the weekend, FSU had played the toughest schedule of any undefeated team -- something for which it received seemingly no credit, but it had not really dominated in those games.

That toughest schedule stat is no longer true, but there are also now far fewer undefeated teams thanks to some of them finally playing a difficult opponent. Having got through its slate, FSU sat back this weekend and watched five of the top eight teams go down as the Seminoles played Wake Forest. It'll happen again this weekend, as FSU plays Syracuse, which just lost its QB and demoted its offensive coordinator. The Seminoles, with two wins over ranked teams and another over a likely bowl team, could hold out some still-injured starters to make sure they are healthy for the Notre Dame game.

Meanwhile, TCU faces off against Baylor, Mississippi State plays Auburn and Oregon faces UCLA.

Why hasn't Florida State dominated?

Part of that is because the Seminoles had to replace NFL players Kelvin Benjamin, Bryan Stork, Devonta Freeman, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones, Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Terrance Brooks, plus some key reserves.

But the bigger part, it seems, is that FSU cannot seem to put a similar lineup on the field from week to week, as I noted for Bill Connelly.

They should be playing better than they are, but while the injury bug mostly left FSU alone in 2013, it has come to Tallahassee with vengeance in mind this time around.

  • Backup quarterback Sean Maguire injured his hand against Wake Forest and will miss some time.
  • Starting running back Karlos Williams injured his ankle against Wake Forest and will likely miss this week's game against Syracuse. Backup running back Mario Pender missed the NC State game with a concussion.
  • Leading receiver (and one of the best in the country) Rashad Greene suffered a concussion against Wake Forest.
  • Center Austin Barron fractured his arm early against Wake Forest.
  • Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. missed the NC State game with a concussion, as well as the second half of the Clemson game.
  • Defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample is out for the season with a pectoral injury. His replacement, Derrick Mitchell, missed the Wake game with a knee injury suffered against NC State. Backup tackle Demarcus Christmas suffered a high ankle sprain against Wake and is out against Syracuse.
  • Markus Eligwe has missed all year with a foot injury and returned to play limited snaps against Wake Forest.
  • Defensive back Trey Marshall missed the Wake game with a concussion, and starting cornerback P.J. Williams battled a hamstring injury early in the year.

And that's just the injuries. To that, we can add the Jameis Winston suspension against Clemson, the Jesus Wilson (starting receiver) suspension against Oklahoma State, Chris Casher (starter/key reserve DE) being held out for academic reasons against Oklahoma State, Terrance Smith (starting LB) being suspended against Wake Forest, and potential starting LB Matthew Thomas missing every game so far thanks to an NCAA suspension (may soon be lifted).

And that's to say nothing of the players who have missed practice! For instance, sources told us that P.J. Williams barely practiced during the first month of the season due to his hamstring issues, while others have battled undisclosed maladies. With some guys not practicing much during the week and then going on game day, the sync just hasn't been there.

Yet, within the program, the mood is one of optimism and confidence -- much more so than from the fan base.

Thursday, Fisher said that corners P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby (two top draft prospects) are "finally" getting healthy again from their hamstring and lingering leg issues.

The optimism may change if more players suffer serious injuries, but as of now, only Lawrence-Stample and Barron appear to be out long term.

Eligwe, who likely could have been a starting linebacker, is being worked back in. Fisher said earlier this week that he is optimistic that Thomas, who is one of the most freakish athletes on the team and was expected to be a starter, will be back for Notre Dame. And Thomas has been receiving a lot more reps with the first and second team in recent weeks, backing up Fisher's assertion. Greene is progressing well from his concussion, and sources indicate that while he may be held out of the Syracuse game, he should be full go for the October 18 contest against Notre Dame.

The injuries have indeed slowed FSU's development, but they haven't occurred in such a fashion as to severely limit FSU's future potential.

And in the meantime, freshmen from FSU's recruiting juggernaut have stepped up. That could create better depth down the line.

Florida State is not at all guaranteed to go 12-0 -- it will be favored by less than two touchdowns against Notre Dame, and likely at Louisville on a Thursday night.

But if FSU continues to get healthier and starts to get some continuity of lineup, it probably won't be blown out by anyone. And that means an opponent would have to win a close game. With college football's best QB and kicker on FSU's side, that's extremely tough to do.

The rest of the college football world may soon feel like it's watching The Empire Strikes Back, or No Country For Old Men. Clemson should taken advantage of what may have been the best shot to beat FSU in the regular season and finished them off when it had the chance.