Clemson's latest loss has the entire program feeling lost.
The Tigers fell 27-17 at Pittsburgh last Saturday in a game that was filled with mental mistakes and offensive struggles. Now they face a familiar foe in the Florida State Seminoles, who visit Memorial Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Dabo Swinney's squad fell to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the conference while FSU knocked off UMass 59-3 to improve to 3-4 overall. The Seminoles are 2-2 in the ACC.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on heading into a game between two teams that haven't played each other since 2019:
Swinney vs. FSU: The reason these two rivals didn't square off a year ago is that FSU officials felt unsafe following a positive COVID-19 test on Clemson's team. Swinney and his team were already in Tallahassee and ready to play when the ACC allowed the game to be called off. Clemson's coach wanted an FSU forfeit, which he didn't get.
Swinney used several press conferences to make it clear that any insulation that his program didn't follow protocols was wrong. He also had a lot of choice words for FSU, setting up a bad-blood game for Saturday. Tensions will be high in Seminoles coach Mike Norvell's first game against the Tigers, and he can expect a hostile crowd, despite Clemson's record.
Overcoming injuries: This season is about as unique, in a bad way, as any Clemson's had maybe in decades. The Tigers are without 14 players from the season-opening roster. From ACL tears to busted shoulders to back surgeries, Clemson's had it all. The latest injury to offensive lineman Matt Bockhorst is a huge blow. The senior is a heart-and-soul guy on the team. Plus, his absence means freshman guard Marcus Tate has no other choice than to play. Expect to hear more about what they plan to do up front this week.
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The Tigers are also hurting bad at receiver, with Frank Ladson Jr. now out for the year. They'll find out later this week if Joseph Ngata and E.J. Williams can return in time for FSU, but with the way this season has gone, nothing feels guaranteed.
Open competition: Both Swinney and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said following the Pitt loss that every position on that side of the ball is up for grabs. Nobody is guaranteed a role. That includes quarterback, where D.J. Uiagalelei has struggled mightily all season. He was replaced at Pitt by Taisun Phommachanh for two drives before returning to the game. Could Phommachanh beat Uiagalelei out for a starting spot this week?
The coaches will also identify some other positions that are up for grabs, but with the roster decimated, there might not be too many changes to the depth chart overall. Regardless, whoever hasn't had an opportunity to play could see one this week.
Fan apathy: It's been a long time since the Tigers were in this position. The ACC title might not be completely out of reach, but it's turned into a huge longshot to win their seventh consecutive league championship. Fans have already been very vocal about changes they think need to happen, and Swinney responded to some of that after the Pitt game.
So what kind of crowd will show up at Memorial Stadium? It'll likely still be a strong one in numbers, but for how much longer? Clemson still needs two wins to become bowl eligible, and right now, no game feels like a given...except for UConn and maybe South Carolina in November.
Surging Seminoles: There was a time when FSU fans were ready to bail on their team. That was after Norvell's squad started the season 0-4. Since then, though, FSU has played much better, winning three consecutive games. Two of those came against Syracuse, which gave Clemson plenty of problems, and UNC.
This is a confident team behind quarterback Jordan Travis, and the Seminoles will enter Death Valley thinking they can win the game, despite being a 10-point underdog. Clemson hasn't been able to blow teams out, and this week could be no different.
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