The hype surrounding Saturday night's nationally televised Clemson-Florida State game has been immense -- and deserved. This is one of the biggest games in ACC history, and the outcome will have an impact on the national title and Heisman races.
The quarterback matchup features two Heisman candidates in Clemson senior Tajh Boyd and Florida State redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. That quarterback matchup is one of the best in the nation this season. The only ones remotely in the same neighborhood the rest of the regular season: Oregon's Marcus Mariota vs. UCLA's Brett Hundley on Oct. 26, LSU's Zach Mettenberger vs. Alabama's AJ McCarron on Nov. 9 and Mettenberger vs. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel on Nov. 23.
But there are some other individual matchups to watch Saturday in Clemson, S.C. Here's a look at the three biggest matchups in the game.
1. FSU OT Cameron Erving vs. Clemson DE Vic Beasley
About Erving: He was a backup defensive tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2011; a shortage of offensive linemen led to a move to the other side of the ball during spring practice in 2012, and he quickly developed into a star at left tackle last fall. Though he still is learning some of the subtle nuances of the position, Erving (6-foot-6, 320 pounds) is athletic and aggressive and has a high upside. As athletic as he is, he can struggle with speed rushers; his footwork is inconsistent at times.
About Beasley: He leads the nation with nine sacks, and also has 12 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups. Beasley (6-2, 235), a junior, was clocked at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash as a 215-pound high school senior; he played running back, wide receiver, linebacker and safety in high school. Beasley had a team-high eight sacks last season despite averaging just 22 snaps a game. Beasley has great speed off the edge, but he also has developed a bull rush.
The matchup: Because of his lack of size, Beasley can be overpowered in the running game, and Erving needs to dominate in those situations. But Beasley will be the best pass rusher Erving has seen in his career. Beasley's speed off the edge could cause problems for Erving, and his bull rush is a facet of his game that has quickly developed this fall; when you face an opposing 300-pound tackle readying for an outside move, even a 235-pounder can run him over when he catches the bigger guy off-guard. It is absolutely vital that Clemson applies relatively consistent pressure on FSU QB Jameis Winston. If he has time to throw, he will carve up Clemson's secondary. FSU has allowed nine sacks this season.
2. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins vs. FSU CB Lamarcus Joyner
About Watkins: A Florida native, Watkins is one of the most explosive players in the nation. He will line up wide or in the slot, and can get deep seemingly at will. He leads the Tigers in receptions (36), receiving yards (582) and touchdown catches (four). He has excellent speed, can stop on a dime and knows how to get off press coverage. His route-running has improved this fall, and he seems a much more nuanced receiver this season; he admitted his focus and intensity waned last season, when he was clearly Clemson's No. 2 receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins.
About Joyner: He has played in every game at FSU since arriving in 2010 as one of the nation's top 20 prep prospects. Joyner was a backup corner that season, then started at strong safety in each of the past two seasons before moving back to corner this season. Joyner (5-8, 190) lacks ideal size, but he is tough, instinctive, both fast and quick and a big-time hitter. He is one of the more physical corners in the nation. Joyner is second on the team with 25 tackles and leads FSU with two sacks. He also has two pass breakups.
The matchup: Watkins has to have a big game because no other Clemson receiver truly scares Florida State. Watkins can be a weapon on jet sweeps, and you have to figure Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris will make it a priority to get the ball to Watkins in all sorts of situations. FSU allowed 201 passing yards to both Pitt and Maryland, and the Seminoles held each of their other three opponents to fewer than 200 yards. Clemson isn't going to win if it has to rely on the run.
3. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd vs. FSU QB Jameis Winston
About Boyd: He is considered the nation's top senior quarterback by most analysts. Boyd (6-2, 225) is an effective runner and can serve as Clemson's "big back" on short rushing plays. But it's his passing ability that will be in the spotlight Saturday. He is averaging 297.2 passing yards per game, with 15 TDs and two picks; he has completed 26 passes of at least 20 yards despite working with an inexperienced receiving corps. Boyd is athletic and has a strong arm and good downfield vision. He has had a propensity for interceptions in his career, but his decision-making has been solid this season.
About Winston: He was a national top-20 prospect and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback out of Hueytown (Ala.) High in 2012. He redshirted last season and already has exceeded expectations this season. He is averaging 288.2 passing yards per game, with 17 TD passes, two interceptions, a 73.2 completion percentage and two rushing touchdowns. Winston (6-4, 228) has excellent mobility but hasn't run that often -- at least not yet. He has a strong arm and can make all the throws. Winston also has looked preternaturally calm in the pocket.
The matchup: They obviously won't be on the field at the same time, but how each performs vis-à-vis the other will be perhaps the biggest key in the game. Winston has more weapons with which to work, which places more pressure on Boyd. The flipside: Boyd has worked in high-pressure situations before, while this is the first "big" game for Winston -- and it's on the road at the toughest place to play in the ACC. Boyd is 1-1 vs. FSU in his career, with 581 yards, six TDs and one pick. For Clemson to win, he has to throw for 300 yards. Winston has taken good care of the ball thus far; that has to continue against the Tigers. If he plays like a freshman and makes mistakes, FSU will suffer for it. Clemson's secondary, especially its corners, can be exploited. Again, if Winston has time to throw, Clemson is in trouble.