In perhaps the most intriguing storyline of the college football season, the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles host the No. 22 Clemson Tigers on Saturday without star quarterback Jameis Winston for the first half.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner was disciplined for shouting an obscene sexual phrase on campus Tuesday. Florida State denounced Winston’s statements, calling them “offensive” and “vulgar.” Winston apologized on Wednesday.
"First of all, I want to apologize to the university, my coaches and to my teammates," Winston said. "I'm not a 'me' person, but in that situation, it was a selfish act, and that's not how you do things around here.
"I want to apologize to my teammates because I have now made a selfish act for them. That's all."
The redshirt sophomore is coming off a 22-for-27 passing effort against the Citadel after a somewhat uneven performance in a tight win in the season opener against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 37-31. Winston threw for 370 yards and scored on a dazzling 28-yard run to hold off Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, but he also threw two interceptions.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher is expected to turn to sophomore Sean Maguire to start against Clemson. Maguire has 16 completions on 26 attempts for 144 yards in his career, which included passing for 28 yards on three completions against the Citadel.
Dabo Swinney’s squad will face their second major test of the season, and easily their most daunting ACC opponent. In the season opener, the Tigers were trounced by the then-No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs, 45-21. The Clemson defense failed to contain star running back Todd Gurley in the fourth quarter, allowing two touchdown runs in the span of roughly three minutes.
Clemson rebounded with a lopsided win over South Carolina State, 73-7, on Sept. 6. The Tigers may have received a confidence boost in the win, but the hurry-up, pass-heavy spread offense will need to be particularly effective at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Freshman Deshaun Watson could play a key role for Clemson. While Cole Stoudt is expected to start at quarterback, Watson’s mobility may cause problems for the Seminoles defense. Watson has already completed 10 of his 13 pass attempts for 213 yards and four touchdowns.
The Tigers may need to play their best game of the season to upset the Seminoles in Tallahassee, even with Winston out for the first 30 minutes. The Seminoles are riding an 18-game win streak, and haven’t fared well against the college football titans in recent years. In 2013, Clemson’s defense couldn’t slow Winston, who threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-14 thumping.
Winston’s first-half absence has shifted the betting odds in Las Vegas. Florida State was favored by 20 before Winston was disciplined. The point spread has dropped to 16.5 in some polls since learning that he will miss the first half.
Both schools are coming off bye weeks.
Prediction: Florida State over Clemson, 31-14
An IBTimes staff reporter contributed to this report.