Clemson hosts Florida State in epic ACC showdown

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(AP) – Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson understands the higher stakes this week for the third-ranked Tigers (No. 1 in College Football Playoff poll) against No. 17 Florida State (No. 16 in CFP poll) and plans to keep calm the only way he knows how – by not thinking too much about it.

“My main focus right now is getting these tests done this week and finishing up school,” he said Monday. “And then football.”

The football is on many other minds this week.

The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC), voted No. 1 in this week’s initial College Football Playoff rankings, can lock up a spot in the league’s title game Saturday when they face banged-up Florida State (7-1, 5-1). They can also exact a measure of revenge from a couple of years ago. The Seminoles scored the most points ever by an opponent in stadium history in a 51-14 Death Valley debacle that spoiled Clemson’s last long, undefeated run to start a season in 2013.

Watson was just a high school senior watching in the stands in that game.

The quarterback said players won’t worry about what happened in the past with Florida State, even though the Tigers have lost four of the past five meetings in the series – all which determined the ACC Atlantic Division winner.

That should happen again. If Clemson wins, it will be 6-0 in the league with every other division opponent having at least two losses. Should the Tigers lose, Florida State would have the tiebreaker in the battle of one-loss teams.

“Regardless what the past has brought to us, we’re still going to be motivated just because of the opportunity we have,” Watson said. “Each week is the biggest game of the week and now this is the biggest game.”

And Watson could be the biggest difference maker.

He was pitch perfect last week when Clemson’s highly rated defense stumbled, passing for 383 yards and five touchdowns in the 56-41 victory over North Carolina State. Watson also rushed for a touchdown. His performance earned him national offensive player of the week honors by the Walter Camp Foundation, along with the ACC weekly award as the top offensive back.

Florida State enters off a 45-21 home win over Syracuse where the Seminoles were without injured starters in quarterback Everett Golson and tailback Dalvin Cook.

During the open part of Tuesday’s practice, Golson was doing all the drills while Cook was also a participant and was doing his work without an ankle brace.

Cook, the nation’s second-leading rusher, did not practice last week after suffering an ankle injury in a 22-16 loss at Georgia Tech on Oct. 17. With Cook sidelined, freshman Jacques Patrick rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse.

Cook has been dealing with a hamstring injury the past four weeks, but coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday the only injury concern with Cook right now is the ankle.

Golson remains listed as the starting quarterback on the depth chart, but was held out last Saturday due to a concussion. Golson did practice last week and was not listed on the injury report.

Sean Maguire, who got his second career start last week, threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns. Maguire started last year’s 23-17 win over Clemson and passed for 304 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Fisher did not discount the possibility that both quarterbacks could play Saturday.

“We have two guys, we know now they can come in and play very well,” Fisher said. “Both have had outstanding games throughout this season. Everett has had a 370-yard game. Sean has had a 350-yard game. We feel very comfortable with them.”

Florida State tied a season high for points and had its second-highest offensive yardage total this year despite missing Golson and Cook.

When asked if he thought he would start against Clemson, Maguire said it was up to Fisher.

“That’s coach Fisher’s problem. I can only cause him problems, I guess,” Maguire said.

Fisher was most disappointed with Florida State’s special teams last week, which allowed a punt return TD.

“We’ll get that cleaned up and get better and get ready to play a great Clemson team,” Fisher said.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was pleased his team was able to win ugly this past weekend and continue its longest win streak (11 straight games) since the program’s national championship season of 1981.

“For our guys to keep finding a way to win every week is a beautiful thing,” Swinney said. “It’s come in a lot of different ways.”

College football players left in limbo as seasons get pushed

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
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Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson is ready to play football next month.

Or in the winter. Or even the spring.

He just wants to pull on his shoulder pads one last time, run onto the field in front of thousands of adoring fans, and experience the thrill of college football. It doesn’t matter much to Thompson whether flurries are flying or birds are chirping, he just wants an opportunity that the spread of COVID-19 is threatening to take away from him.

“I just want to play football, whenever that time may be,” Thompson said. “I just want to get the ball in my hands and compete. That’s all that worries me is I just want to play football, whenever that time is. Whenever is right.”

Thompson was speaking Tuesday, just as the Big Ten was announcing the cancellation of fall sports and exploring the option of playing football in the spring. Word soon trickled out that the Pac-12 would be following suit, joining mid-majors such as the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West in punting on a traditional college football season.

The Big 12, where the Wildcats play, had not yet made a decision. But as the dominoes begin falling across college sports, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that any of the Power Five schools step on the field next month.

“I want people to be safe. I’m not oblivious to what’s going on,” Thompson said. “But the end of the day, speaking for everybody, it would be nice to have answers, and not just have things pushed around. There’s so much uncertainty every single day – how things can change in 24 hours – it’s very hard on a player. I think if we were just to get some answers, we would be able to process what that would look like, whether that’s what we want or not.”

Many high-profile college players, including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, have made it clear they want to play this fall. Lawrence was joined by Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard and numerous players from Florida State, Oregon and other high-profile schools over the weekend in using their social media accounts in an attempt to save the fall season – and be part of the decision-making process.

“We all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports,” Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds said. “They just want to do so safely.”

President Trump even weighed in on the controversy Tuesday, repeating his call for football to happen this fall.

But the decision rests not in the hands of players or politicians but those of university presidents, who must weigh the health and safety of their students against other considerations, among them the significant financial repercussions of not having a college football season.

“This was an extremely difficult and painful decision that we know will have important impacts on our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and our fans,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said. “We know nothing will ease that.”

Pac-12 players at least know they won’t be playing this fall. The spotlight now turns to leagues that have yet to make a decision, and then to all administrators again as they begin wrestling with the prospects of spring football.

“It’s been a hard road not knowing whether we’re going to play or not,” said Kansas State linebacker Justin Hughes, who was looking forward to his senior season after missing much of last year to a knee injury.

“We have one last go-around. Don’t take it away from us – a year away from us – because there’s a tragedy going on right now,” Hughes said. “We want to do the thing we love safely, and whatever it takes to do that we’ll do it.”

Simply pushing college football to the spring is hardly a cut-and-dried answer. Nobody knows whether there will better treatments or even a vaccine by then, and the state of the world could be much the same as it is right now. And for those players who have NFL aspirations – Lawrence, Hubbard and many others – the prospects of risking injury by playing up until the draft almost certainly means many high-profile stars will ultimately opt out.

No wonder the fear among many college football players is not just of a lost fall but a lost season entirely.

“I need this season. This is my last season,” said Syracuse tight end Chris Elmore, who was awaiting word from the Atlantic Coast Conference on whether it will play this fall. “This could be a make-or-break for me to see whether I go to the next level or not. I’m committed to playing until they pull the plug on me.”

SEC, ACC, Big 12 still hoping to play football this fall

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And then there were three.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference were still moving forward Tuesday with plans for a fall college football season even as two other Power Five leagues, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, called things off.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said he wanted to learn more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 decisions. Sankey said he remained comfortable with the 14-member conference’s approach.

“We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day,” Sankey said in a statement.

The ACC said it would continue to make decisions based on advice from its medical advisers and state and local health officials.

“We will continue to follow our process that has been in place for months and has served us well. We understand the need to stay flexible and be prepared to adjust as medical information and the landscape evolves,” the league said in a statement.

The Big 12 Board of Directors was meeting Tuesday evening.

The Big Ten’s announcement that it was postponing all fall sports and hoping to make them up in the second semester came first. An hour later, the Pac-12 said all sports in its conference would be paused until Jan. 1, including basketball.