- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Game has changed -- and it’s even better.
This year, the best game in the ACC will feature two top-five teams instead of two top-10 teams.
On Saturday, No. 3 Clemson will host No. 5 Florida State in what will be a season-defining game in the Atlantic Division. In each of the past four seasons, the winner of The Game has gone on to play in the ACC championship, but for the second straight year, the stakes are even higher. Both teams are legitimate contenders for the national title, and on Sunday, the first BCS standings will be released. Both teams have Heisman hopeful quarterbacks, and the competition between veteran signal-caller Tajh Boyd and FSU rookie Jameis Winston is as compelling as any matchup in the country right now.
The simultaneous ascension of Florida State and Clemson in recent years has reached a pinnacle this fall, as both teams have avoided the pitfalls that have plagued them for so long and stayed the course on the field and in the rankings. What makes The Game so special, though, is that it has been further legitimized by the consistency of both programs. Saturday will mark the first time the ACC has had two top-10 teams play each other in back-to-back seasons. Last year, Florida State was No. 4 and Clemson was No. 10.
“It’s gotten really big,” Boyd said. “That’s the way essentially it’s supposed to be, championship runs for Florida State and Clemson every year. I think that’s what it was intended for. No disrespecting the other schools, but it’s just kind of the way things are working, especially in the latter years.”
With all due respect to the “other schools,” every other game on the ACC schedule to this point has merely been an appetizer.
Fans have come to know the date (Oct. 19) as well as Dec. 25. As soon as the ACC schedule was released this past February, talk began of the potential for both teams to be undefeated on Saturday. The sheer magnitude of The Game has made it the ACC's version of LSU-Alabama. It’s even arguably more intriguing than the ACC’s conference championship game. And it will capture the country’s attention on Saturday as ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew returns to Death Valley for the second time in the first eight weeks of the season -- a first even for ESPN.
Ironically, the toughest opponent both Florida State and Clemson have played so far has been Boston College -- a two-win team a year ago that has found some spunk under first-year coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles pushed both FSU and Clemson to the brink in their respective games before reality set in in the second half.
Even Addazio is looking forward to The Game.
"They both have great talent on their teams and they are very explosive and fast,” he said. “It will be one of the better games of the year. They both have really good defenses and both have two really good quarterbacks. Plain and simple, they are both really good football teams."
Only one of them, though, can ascend from good to great.
"We've been waiting for this for a while,” said Clemson receiver Adam Humphries. “We understand the repercussions and what's on the line. We'll be ready."
In order to truly understand the sheer magnitude of The Game, consider that it’s only the fourth time in ACC history -- and the first time since Nov. 5, 2005 -- that the conference has had two top-five teams face each other.
“That's why you come to Florida State, to be in those games, to be in those positions,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You've got other common opponents which are in the league; Clemson is doing a tremendous job, Miami is doing a great job, Virginia Tech. All these teams are all doing a great job, so it's a great league. But that's why you play in college football, and that's what you want to do as a player to get in these games that matter. We're very blessed to be there and to have a great opponent like Clemson.”
Boyd got a chance to know Florida State senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner this past summer at the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C.
Boyd said he might give his new friend a call this week.
“He’s a funny guy,” Boyd said. “I love talking trash, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more fun to actually know who you’re talking trash to.”
Let The Game begin.
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