From Deion Sanders to Deshaun Watson, Florida State-Clemson has become a stomping ground for some of the greatest players in college football history to emerge as superstars. Often, the champion of the ACC is determined when the Noles take on the Tigers.
The very first game in the series history came in one of Bill Peterson’s final games as FSU head coach before heading to the NFL. Houston Oilers executives were taking notice when Peterson’s innovative passing game confused Clemson 38-13 in Tallahassee. Clemson used a second-half rally to overcome a 9-0 halftime deficit to grab their first win in the series 15-12 in legendary head coach Bobby Bowden’s first season at the helm in 1976.
In the era before FSU joined the ACC, Clemson didn’t take on the Noles again for another 12 years. By the time the Tigers welcomed Florida State to a rain-soaked Death Valley in 1988, Bowden had completely flipped the roster and the entire program’s outlook. But that didn’t stop Clemson from forcing FSU to empty their bag of tricks in an instant classic.
A top-ten matchup that was neck-and-neck all afternoon, the incomparable defensive back Deion Sanders lined up for a punt return in the third quarter, turned to the sidelines, and called his shot. Sanders raced up the middle for a memorable 76-yard touchdown, serenaded by Clemson fans with trash as he celebrated in the end zone. Late in the game, still knotted up at 21 after a wacky Clemson touchdown, Bowden called one of the gutsiest fake plays not just in FSU history but college football history.
Deep in their own territory on their own 21-yard line in a tied game, defensive back and punt formation upback LeRoy Butler was handed the ball on a misdirection fake punt. When the other 10 Noles swept to the right, Butler caught Clemson completely off-guard and took it 78 yards down the left sideline. FSU escaped 24-21 behind the “Punt-rooski.”
Revenge was on the mind for Clemson the next year when they busted out to a 28-10 halftime lead, and cruised for a 34-23 victory. The loss dropped FSU to 0-2 but set the stage for the Seminoles to run the table the rest of the way in the third year of their Dynasty era.
In 1992, quarterback Charlie Ward struggled early but pulled it together in the second half, throwing a game-winning 9-yard touchdown to Kevin Knox with 2 minutes remaining in the first of many clutch plays in his career. Beginning that season, Clemson and FSU suddenly had a budding rivalry as ACC conference opponents.
Now an annual game, Clemson was knocked around 57-0 the next season as Ward was nearly perfect with 317 yards and 4 touchdowns. In one of the highest points of Bowden’s legendary tenure, a strategy where the second team offense lined up for a play to start the drive led to a 78-yard touchdown.
Florida State handled Clemson fairly easily each of the next three seasons from 1994-1996. Tailback Warrick Dunn had 188 yards on just 12 carries in 1995, and you could cut up a highlight reel just from his four games against Tigers.
In 1997, Wideout Peter Warrick showed he may have taught Randy Moss the art of “Moss-ing” when he snared a 48-yard touchdown over a defender to take the lead in the third quarter. One of the greatest performances in FSU history, P-Dubb (8 catches for 249 yards) had another 80-yard touchdown catch and a 90-yard punt return touchdown to pace #5 FSU in a 35-28 win.
Back at home, FSU bulldozed Clemson again both in 1998 and 2000. From 1993 to 2000, Florida State outscored the Tigers 210-10 in Tallahassee! This included the memorable 98-yard deceptive touchdown to Snoop Minnis from Chris Weinke, which sparked one of the loudest crowd reactions in Doak Campbell history.
Sandwiched in between was 1999, or as it is more commonly known, the very first Bowden Bowl. Clemson hired Tulane head coach Tommy Bowden, Bobby’s son, in 1999. It was a no-brainer after Tommy had a 12-0 season with the Green Wave in 1998. The elder Bowden racked up his 300th career win when all-world kicker Sebastian Janikowski sealed the deal over Clemson with a late field goal.
Florida State won the first four Bowden Bowls to extend their winning streak over Clemson to 12. But the younger Bowden came back with wins of his own in four of the next five games versus FSU to end his career at Clemson 4-5 against the Noles.
Fired mid-season in 2008, Tommy Bowden was replaced by a little-known wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney as head coach of the Tigers before their game with FSU. Running back Antone Smith busted loose for a 41-yard touchdown to welcome Swinney with a loss. Clemson blew out Christian Ponder’s throwing shoulder and blew out the Noles 19-0 in the fourth quarter in 2009. Kicker Dustin Hopkins was the hero with a 55-yard field goal as time expired the next year.
The rivalry between Clemson and FSU moved into a modern era beginning in 2011. On the way to their first ACC title under Swinney, Clemson overcame a spirited effort from Noles quarterback Clint Trickett and receiver Rashad Greene, but FSU couldn’t contain breakout freshman Sammy Watkins (141 yards and 2 touchdowns).
After not facing an 11-win Clemson team in their first 40 years of the matchup, Florida State suddenly was tasked with handling an 11-win Tiger squad in 7 of 8 seasons from 2012-2019. E.J. Manuel denied back-to-back wins for the Tigers with the finest performance of his career in a primetime College Gameday win in 2012.
In one of the greatest single-game showings in Florida State football history, Jameis Winston made sure FSU “was bringing that swag back” in a second straight College Gameday showdown. #5 Florida State creamed #3 Clemson 51-14 in Death Valley to catapult themselves into the National Title picture.
Clemson kept chipping away at Florida State’s stronghold over the ACC, but couldn’t take down the sans-Winston Seminoles in 2014, falling in overtime to a Karlos Williams game-clinching touchdown run. Greene caught a 74-yard touchdown with 6 minutes left to help extend Florida State’s lengthy winning streak.
After splitting time as a freshman, quarterback Deshaun Watson made sure to seal the deal the next season back at home in a 23-13 win. Tigers linebacker Ben Boulware made an incredible tackle on Dalvin Cook on a key fourth-and-one late in the game.
One of the most entertaining losses in FSU history came in 2016, when a Seminole squad that had started the year 3-2 took eventual National Champion Clemson down to the wire. Dalvin Cook was simply unstoppable with 169 yards and 4 game-breaking touchdowns, but Watson passed for 378 yards and threw the game-winner with 2 minutes left.
Florida State fought hard to keep it close in 2017, but lost a third straight to Clemson. Swinney exposed former FSU head coach Willie Taggart’s teams the past two seasons in dominating blowouts.
This Saturday, FSU (2-6, 1-6 ACC) returns home to face #4 Clemson (7-1, 6-1 ACC) in the 34th meeting between the two programs.
Year-By-Year Results (FSU 20 Wins, Clem 13 Wins)
1970: Florida State 38, Clemson 13
1975: Florida State 43, Clemson 7
1976: Clemson 15, Florida State 12
1988: Florida State 24, Clemson 21
1989: Clemson 34, Florida State 23
1992: Florida State 24, Clemson 20
1993: Florida State 57, Clemson 0
1994: Florida State 17, Clemson 0
1995: Florida State 45, Clemson 26
1996: Florida State 34, Clemson 3
1997: Florida State 35, Clemson 28
1998: Florida State 48, Clemson 0
1999: Florida State 17, Clemson 14
2000: Florida State 54, Clemson 7
2001: Florida State 41, Clemson 27
2002: Florida State 48, Clemson 31
2003: Clemson 26, Florida State 10
2004: Florida State 41, Clemson 22
2005: Clemson 35, Florida State 14
2006: Clemson 27, Florida State 20
2007: Clemson 24, Florida State 18
2008: Florida State 41, Clemson 27
2009: Clemson 40, Florida State 24
2010: Florida State 16, Clemson 13
2011: Clemson 35, Florida State 30
2012: Florida State 49, Clemson 37
2013: Florida State 51, Clemson 14
2014: Florida State 23, Clemson 17 OT
2015: Clemson 23, Florida State 13
2016: Clemson 37, Florida State 34
2017: Clemson 31, Florida State 14
2018: Clemson 59, Florida State 10
2019: Clemson 45, Florida State 14