Last week #11 Florida State was eying the National Championship. This week, they'll be lucky to defeat #21 Clemson.
As an aside: there's a certain sinking feeling in your stomache. I remember it all too well as a Chicago Bears fan during last year's NFC title game against Green Bay. The quarterback is hurt. Jay Cutler's knee is blown out, Green Bay surges and in one moment the Bears season is over.
Last week, the game was close until the last second. Multiple Florida State touchdowns were taken back, one by the receiver being knocked unconscious on a dirty hit, two by penalties thanks to the offensive line. Then in the third, E.J. Manuel - touted as the second coming of Cam Newton - gets up holding his left shoulder. He stays in for a little while, but he's not throwing passes. That sinking feeling is back. Florida State turns to freshman Clint Trickett. He's able to tie the game in the air, connecting with stellar freshman Rashad Greene, but Oklahoma's hurry up offense eventually upsets the reeling Noles.
Now FSU faces Clemson. The undefeated Tigers toppled Auburn last week at home and now hosts Florida State. Last year saw a Seminole victory (16-13) on the toe of Dustin Hopkins with a walk-off 55-yard field goal as time expired. Today will again be a showdown of defenses, but Clemson has improved. The Tigers offense is ninth in the FBS with 522.7 yards per game and will have that precious home field advantage in the LOUD Death Valley.
The good news for Florida State: The defense is still stellar (5th nationally, season average 11.0 pts allowed), Dustin Hopkins is on a roll (converted 99 consecutive extra-point attempts and 13 straight field goals), and Clemson has only beaten a ranked FSU once, in 1989. The bad news: the injuries are evident. The Noles only have four scholarship recievers active for the game, and will rely on a rookie QB that weighs a mere 180 lbs. His arm is great, but who will he connect with?
Greene will be in the mix, but Scooter Haggins has a broken hand that required surgery, Bert Reed has a sprained ankle that keeps him out, Willie Haulstead has a concussion and hasn't played yet this year, lead rusher Chris Thompson has a fractured back and has not played but is active today, WR Kenny Shaw (head) and kick returner Greg Reid (knee) are still aching from last week and likely out, offensive lineman Henry Orelus (head) and WR Josh Gehres (knee) are certainly out, and who knows if E.J. will return.
Other question marks the Seminoles have to close: the offensive line, which was in shambles against Oklahoma (6 sacks), and the horrid running game which has no game-changer in the back field. The two might be connected, but against Oklahoma, FSU's leading (non QB) rusher was Ty Jones with 4 carries for 15 yards. If the Noles win, it will be ugly, and it will be in the air, and it will be necessary if the Seminoles want to keep in the hunt for the Orange Bowl.