CLEMSON, S.C. — As Clemson’s football team filed into the locker room late Saturday night, the Tigers were serenaded by Florida State’s “war chant” back on the field in Memorial Stadium.
With their 51-14 pounding of the Tigers still lingering in the chilly air, Seminoles players, fans and the school’s marching band hung around as long as they could to savor a victory that likely thrusts them into the national championship picture.
“Tonight was an amazing environment,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “This is a tremendous place to play.”
It certainly was for Florida State, which entered the most eagerly anticipated ACC matchup in years as the country’s fifth-ranked team. Clemson, also unbeaten, was ranked third and also looking to be included in the national title conversation.
But it would be the Seminoles who would remain unbeaten, scoring the most points by a Clemson opponent in Memorial Stadium’s history in the process.
Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC) made itself right at home, forcing four Clemson turnovers – including a fumble on the Tigers’ first offensive play – and jumping to a quick 17-0 lead. The Seminoles rolled up 565 total yards. Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston was in the middle of it all, throwing for 444 yards and three touchdowns.
“This was a huge missed opportunity for our team,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose team dropped to 6-1, 4-1 in the league. “When you’re going against a team as good as Florida State, you don’t have very much room for error.”
If Saturday’s humiliation at the hands of the Seminoles wasn’t as embarrassing as Clemson’s 70-33 loss against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl following the 2011 season, it was certainly close.
That reputation of failing to perform when the stakes are highest is something that will continue to haunt the Tigers. Clemson also fell flat last season against the Seminoles, losing 49-37 in Tallahassee, Fla.
Although the possibility of a high-quality bowl still remains for the Tigers, a shot at playing in the ACC title game in Charlotte as the Atlantic Division champion now depends on Florida State’s losing at least twice in its final four league games.
“The character and leadership of this team has to come through,” Swinney said. “We have to be who we are.”
The Seminoles’ identity is all about Winston. He has led an offense that has scored at least 41 points in each game. His quarterback rating of 210.4 would set a Seminoles single-season record.
But it’s his infectious personality that is also setting him apart.
Captured by ESPN’s cameras in the pregame locker room Saturday, Winston is seen exhorting his teammates, many of whom are three or four years older than he is.
“Smile!” Winston said. “We’re Florida State! And we’re doing this!”
The Seminoles move forward with a home game against N.C. State on Saturday. Now ranked third, Florida State should be considered a national championship contender, especially if either of the teams ranked ahead of them – Alabama and Oregon – stumble.
Clemson, which dropped to ninth in the national rankings, plays at Maryland on Saturday.
“When Monday morning rolls around, Maryland is going to be the biggest game of the year,” Swinney said.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14