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When #3 Louisville faces #5 Clemson in Death Valley Saturday night, serious ACC and College Football Playoff implications will be on the line. To the winner goes the spoils of controlling its own destiny, while the loser will need help from the rest of the ACC. With Saturday shaping up as another instant classic, let’s take a look back at Top 5 ACC matchups of the past 20 years.
1997: #3 Florida State at #5 North Carolina
Mack Brown’s Tar Heels welcomed Florida State to Chapel Hill in Week 9 for what had been deemed the biggest game in ACC history. UNC was looking to take a huge step towards bringing the first ever football national championship to the state of North Carolina, but the Seminoles weren’t having it.
All-American Dré Bly led a Tar Heel defense that had established itself as one of the best in the country, but Seminole receivers E.G. Green and Peter Warrick burned the Tar Heel secondary on some pivotal plays that helped Florida State celebrate Bobby Bowden’s 68th birthday with a dominant 20-3 win.
Sebastian Janikowski connected on field goals of 32 and 40 yards, and Samari Rolle led a Seminole defense that had its way with the Tar Heel offensive line. Florida State sacked Tar Heel quarterbacks nine times and surrendered just 73 yards of total offense – the Tar Heels’ fewest since 1950.
After beating the Tar Heels, the Seminoles improved to 46-1 in ACC play since joining the conference in 1992. A loss to Florida in the last game of the regular season kept the Seminoles out of the National Championship, but they would go on to finish the season 11-1 and beat Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Final Score: Florida State 20, UNC 3
2004: #4 Florida State at #5 Miami
How about a Top 5 matchup against an in-state rival to welcome your program to the ACC? That was the case for Miami in 2004, when the Hurricanes opened their season and ACC tenure at home against the Seminoles.
Antonio Cromartie and the Florida State defense helped the Seminoles take a 10-0 lead into the fourth quarter, but Miami quarterback Brock Berlin connected with Sinorice Moss for a 30-yard touchdown to tie the score with under a minute to play and send the game to overtime.
A Miami defense that featured Antrel Rolle, Jon Beason and Brandon Meriweather came up huge for the Hurricanes in overtime, forcing and recovering a fumble on Florida State’s third play of the period. Two plays later, Miami running back Frank Gore found the end zone from 18 yards out to give Miami a 16-10 win and extend its win streak over the Seminoles to six straight games.
The Hurricanes struggled in the second half of the season – losing three of their final five regular season games – but redeemed themselves with a Peach Bowl victory over Florida to finish the season 9-3.
Final Score: Miami 16, Florida State 10 (OT)
2005: #5 Miami at #3 Virginia Tech
The stage was set – Virginia Tech was 8-0, thinking national championship and needed a big win to jump Southern Cal or Texas in the BCS polls. The only problem was fifth-ranked Miami wanted no part of being the Hokies’ stepping stone.
The underdog Hurricanes came into Blacksburg with that patented Miami swagger and crushed Virginia Tech’s national championship hopes by the start of the fourth quarter. Miami’s defense smothered Marcus Vick, forcing him into six turnovers and a QBR of just 7.0. The Canes led 27-0 after three quarters and cruised to a 27-7 road victory.
The Hokies came into the game with the nation’s top scoring defense, but a Miami offense that featured the likes of Greg Olsen and Devin Hester turned those six Vick turnovers into 17 points. The loss snapped Virginia Tech’s 11-game ACC winning streak, and it was just the second loss in 30 games for Virginia Tech when Marcus or Michael Vick started at quarterback.
A Week 10 loss to Georgia Tech eliminated Miami from National Championship contention, and the Hurricanes lost to LSU in the Peach Bowl to finish the season 9-3.
Final Score: Miami 27, Virginia Tech 7
2013: #5 Florida State at #3 Clemson
At this point in the 2013 season, Jameis Winston was far from an unknown, but hadn’t quite reached superstar status. That all changed when he led Florida State into Death Valley and gave the Tigers a 51-14 drubbing in front of a national audience.
Facing a senior quarterback in Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, it was the redshirt freshman Winston that stole the show – throwing for 444 yards, three touchdowns and rushing for one more. He had plenty of help from his defense, as the Seminoles forced four Clemson turnovers and held Boyd to just 156 yards passing.
Seminole stars Devonta Freeman, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin all found the end zone for Florida State, while Sammy Watkins hauled in a touchdown for the Tigers. The win moved Florida State into the top 2 of the BCS rankings, where the Seminoles would stay the rest of the season on their way to beating Auburn for the National Championship.
Final Score: Florida State 51, Clemson 14