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October 18, 2013

Beyond the Field: Clemson vs. Florida State

MORE: Take Two: PSU rising again

As the only Top 25 battle in its timeslot, the ACC will have the spotlight to itself come Saturday night when Florida State enters Death Valley to take on Clemson in the first top-five showdown within the conference since Miami downed Virginia Tech in 2005.

No. 5 Florida State is a marginal favorite against the third-ranked Tigers after Clemson was less than inspiring in its escape against Boston College last week, 24-14.

Each team has plenty to gain not only in the conference and national standings but also on the recruiting trail. Florida State enters play ranked No. 6 in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings and just ahead of Clemson -- which is No. 9. While this year may not present many surprises come signing day the two have battled many times in the living room of recruits.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the atmosphere and anticipation of this game is hard to temper but it is an exciting part in the evolution of the program.

"These are the type of games you want to be a part of, whether you're a player or a coach," he said. "You want to be at the highest level and be in the game.

"I think we are the only league out there that's got three undefeated teams, and to have two of them have to match up, and not only match up and play, but be in the same division, I think it is great. I don't have any doubt that regardless of the outcome of this game, Clemson and Florida State are going to be very much in the picture the rest of the year."

A victory for Clemson could help as it works on flipping the commitment of class 2015 Florida State pledge De'Andre Johnson. The four-star quarterback from Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast committed as a sophomore to the Seminoles but insiders say that Clemson is still actively involved.

The class of 2014 hasn't produced the usual crossover between the two.

Week Eight of the college football season marks the downside of the regular season slate as bowl games are closer than preseason polls. The BCS poll is set to come out and coaching hot seats go from temperate to toasty.

The battle between Florida State and Clemson has dominated the headlines nationally but that does not mean there is not a list of quality games this week. In fact the slate is so good that games between ranked, SEC opponents Florida and Missouri as well as Auburn and Texas A&M do not make the sidebar as prominent games like UCLA versus Stanford and a rivalry battle pitting USC against Notre Dame take the second billing.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell thinks that both games have more in-home impact and deserve the focus versus the AP Poll standings. He said the Pac-12 battle is among the most intriguing in the nation.

"Stanford has become the ole-reliable out West," Farrell said. "Really, the Cardinal does not get the respect it deserves especially in recruiting.

"Both UCLA and Stanford are very strong academic schools but UCLA can take kids that Stanford cant and that give that staff a bit of an advantage but the two are really active in attracting some of the top kids in the state of California and I think it will interesting to watch. UCLA has taken over the choose school in Los Angeles and only Stanford stands in its way from taking over all of California for being a place that can be competitive on the field and offer a first-class education. I don't think it is 'must win' for either program but it would be bigger for UCLA to get it done."

It is just the 11th time in the history of the series of 83 games that neither Notre Dame nor USC are ranked entering the Battle for the Shillelagh.

Regardless of what the polls say, Farrell knows this game is important for both teams in recruiting.

"California is key for Notre Dame," he said. "They have more players from the state on their roster than any other in the country and have a lot invested in getting talent out of there.

"USC is never going to uproot Notre Dame but with UCLA, Arizona State and a lot of other teams seeing blood in the water it needs a win to start fighting teams off of the top players. Both programs go national and spot recruit but USC does get a lot of kids from the local area that Notre Dame is trying to take so it needs to defend the home turf even though the game is in South Bend."

The lone blip on the map was made by Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake prospect Artavis Scott who committed to Clemson and was loosely considering Florida State.

Florida State has tried to position itself in the recruitment for Raekwon McMillan of Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty but the Seminoles appear to be out of the picture although Clemson is still in the mix.

Both went after Mt. Pleasant (S.C.) Wando four-star offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher but he elected to commit to Florida as did Miami (Fla.) Central running back Dalvin Cook who said he was ready to commit to Clemson early in his junior year after his teammate -- Joseph Yearby committed to Florida State and has since flipped to Miami.

The most recent -- and most heated -- battle was over class of 2011 five-star linebacker, Tony Steward.

Then the No. 13 prospect in the Rivals100 presented by Under Armour, Steward went back and forth between the two being considered a lean to each program multiple times through his recruitment.

Steward ultimately chose Clemson on National Signing Day completing a haul of Sammy Watkins, Mike Bellamy and Stephone Anthony; of that group, Watkins and Anthony also considered Florida State but not nearly to the level of Steward.

Clemson also won minor battles over Florida State for wide receiver Martavis Bryant, Corey Crawford, Tavaris Barnes and Travis Blanks. Bryant committed early in the process, Crawford took an official to Florida State, Barnes was a Seminole pledge until his official to Clemson caused him to flip and Blank was from Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian.

Florida State has plenty of players on its roster that Clemson had serious interest in as well.

Clemson offered -- but wasn't a factor -- in the recruitment of current impact Semiole players Jameis Winston, James Wilder Jr., Lamarcus Joyner and Jalen Ramsey.

Florida State tipped the scales in its favor landing defensive lineman Eddie Goldman, Jacobbi McDaniel and DeMarcus Walker as well as Terrance Smith, Christian Jones, Reggie Northrup and Ronald Darby.

McDaniel visited campus in 2007 while Walker made multiple trips to Clemson. Smith would have been a legacy at Clemson being the son of former Tiger, Terry Smith. Northrup was the last official visitor on campus for the Tigers in the class of 2012 and Darby flirted with both programs down to the wire in 2012 before choosing Florida State.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that many of the battles happen within the Sunshine State but they are plenty frequent.

"Clemson is very aggressive in Florida -- with C.J. Spiller, Tony Steward, Sammy Watkins and some other big time guys -- so they overlap a lot," he said. "I think this game can be a message-sender for both teams.

"Clemson needs to show that it is just as athletic as Florida State at the skill positions because there is a real perception out there that schools in Florida produce the most athletic players and it is a draw for recruits. Florida State is looking at Famous Jameis to hit a homerun and give them more of a bounce with the skill position players in the coming classes."

Players like Travis Rudolph -- the No. 77 player in the Rivals100 from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman -- and Florida commit Ermon Lane -- No. 34 nationally out of Homestead (Fla.) High -- are believed to both be reconsidering the Seminoles although neither had given the ACC program early recognition.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said this game has been put onto the front burner for both teams.

"I think it's become a rivalry, because it's a very important Atlantic Division contest, I mean, there's no doubt," he said. "It is a rivalry because of the importance and how good both teams are. Like I say, you have a rivalry, it's usually when both teams are very competitive and both teams have success and it will decide something, and this has definitely become that in my opinion."

Florida State had a streak of 211 weeks inside the AP Top 25 from 1989 until 2001 and is currently on stretch of 27 weeks ranked since 2011. Clemson has been nationally ranked for 37 straight weeks also since 2011 making both equally relevant to current recruits.

Farrell said that the recent success is what matter to prospects.

"There are kids that are watching this game that literally do not know who Bobby Bowden is," Farrell said. "Recruiting is a right-now business. Which is the hot team sending guy's to the (NFL); who has the fun offense to play in, and who is winning. Those are the things kids care about."

Whichever gets the victory on the field figures to parlay it into a run in recruiting. It is a point not lost on Swinney.

"That's what we've been needing as far as from a national standpoint," he said. "Listen, out league has been good, and there has been a lot of good football played.

"We haven't produced a dominant team, the 12-0, 13-1, whatever, 11-1 type team that some other conferences have always had one or two that have -- at the end of the year -- been there. So, it's good, because we need -- at the end of the year, we need to have a couple of teams vying for the BCS bids. This is the type of conference that it is. And again, it's good to see us starting to develop some of those teams that have separated a little bit."

Dallas Jackson is the national columnist for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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