- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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In his weekly news conference, Jimbo Fisher was asked about the challenges presented by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The Florida State coach shrugged and smiled.
"You got about an hour?" Fisher laughed before reeling off a string of compliments that actually lasted about a minute.
The praise for Watkins is nearly unanimous among Florida State's players, too, with all of the Seminoles' top defenders offering one platitude after another during the past two weeks.
But all of that figures to end once the teams take the field on Saturday because, as good as Watkins is with his legs and his hands, he might be even better with his mouth.
"It just comes out, whether it’s a profanity or just nice words," Watkins said of his on-field conversations with Florida State players. "It just happens."
Watkins isn't alone. In a rivalry game with so many implications on both the conference and national levels. The intensity is always high, and that leads to ample trash talk.
It also just so happens that Florida State and Clemson are experts in that area.
"We get into it with a lot of teams. I don't know why us," FSU receiver Kenny Shaw said. "That's something [that happens] when you've got two big teams playing each other."
Shaw and Watkins are actually close friends, which adds some extra juice to the rivalry.
A South Florida native, Watkins knows many of Florida State's players well, which allows for a more intimate dialogue on game days. Watkins knows what gets under their skin; Florida State's defenders know how to dish it back.
"It's no secret we know who he is and what he is," FSU corner Lamarcus Joyner said. "He's a great football player."
All those great players on the field add up to some great trash talking once the game begins.
"That’s one of the biggest trash-talking games I’ve ever played in," Watkins said. "Even if they tackle you and you get 10 yards, they’re still going to say something. It’s about keeping your poise during the game. The game is about talking trash. I like it, and it keeps me going and it keeps the offense going."
Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith can appreciate that stance. Few players are as adept at talking trash as he is -- whether it's taunting his opposition on game days or his own offense on the practice field.
Smith already has offered a few choice barbs for Clemson. Asked if he had any friends on the Tigers' roster, Smith said he didn't care about anyone who wasn't on his team. Asked if FSU might struggle to keep pace with Clemson's offense, Smith offered that three-and-outs don't wear down the defense.
The way Smith sees it, the trash talk is actually a sign of respect. When two teams are jawing, it's usually because the play on the field is so intense. It's just how he likes to set the stage for a great game.
"[People] are always comparing us that we're the two teams that lead the ACC," Smith said. "We want to say we're the best team, and there's no better way to say that you're the best than be tougher than that guy, to impose your will on that guy. We go out there to be physical and make it a hard-nosed football game."
Clemson figures to do the same -- and that goes beyond just the players on the field.
If the Tigers do their share of talking, the fans in Death Valley follow that lead. The barbs flying from the stands can be far more derisive as anything exchanged between players, and FSU receiver Rashad Greene said he'd be lying if he didn't take notice.
"The fans are -- I would say rude," Greene said. "They're very rude -- being on the sideline, just getting a taste of what they say."
For as heated as the rivalry might be, however, there's actually little bad blood. Greene and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd actually exchanged phone numbers while getting to know each other during the ACC's preseason kickoff event and have stayed in touch. Greene said Boyd asked him to drop a few balls in this year's game, but he politely declined.
Boyd and former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel grew up near each other in Virginia, too, and Manuel's fondness for his rival was passed along to this year's quarterback at Florida State.
"EJ told me he was a great person," Jameis Winston said of Boyd. "I see him on TV, and I like the way he presents himself. He's always dressed nice. And he's a great quarterback."
And that's really what injects the most life into the rivalry.
For all the talk going on between players, it's the respect they have for one another's games that sets the stage. Watkins said he's inspired by what's at stake against the ACC's other elite team. FSU corner P.J. Williams said he's eager to test his mettle against a player he considers the best receiver in the conference.
In the end, Shaw said, that respect means the best jabs between the two sides are left unspoken.
"Make some catches and look over to the sideline," Shaw said. "But just watch out. There's going to be a lot of smack talk and little jabs going out."
1dMatt Fortuna and Andrea Adelson