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by | College Football Insider

Rules of Engagement: Florida State, Clemson have opportunity to represent ACC well

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Clemson and Florida State have elite skill players, like explosive Tigers receiver Sammy Watkins. (Getty Images)  
Clemson and Florida State have elite skill players, like explosive Tigers receiver Sammy Watkins. (Getty Images)  

This is the hotline edition of Rules of Engagement, where the Rules committee dials up a few college football topics to deliver a message without automated voice systems or Hall and Oates hold music.

Rule No. 222-4357 (ACC-HELP): Two teams in particular should stand up for the ACC right about now.

Florida State and Clemson, widely considered the two most talented teams in the ACC, can continue to embrace the eight-to-10-win standard, maybe win the conference and get a few nice January-bowl Ipods for their players.

But there's room for much more than the BCS version of an Applebee's dinner for these two one-loss teams. The Noles and Tigers are probably out of the national title picture, but they have a chance to send a few shots through the national landscape.

The formula: Win out in conference play, and then finish with an emphatic SEC win in the regular-season finale, when No. 3 Florida travels to Doak Campbell and No. 17 South Carolina heads to Death Valley.

It's not like they haven't knocked off their late-November rivals before. But couple the current status of Florida/South Carolina with the ACC getting boxed out of the championship picture yet again and late-season surges from FSU/Clemson would be timely.

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No need to play the SEC victim. These two have talent. The 49-37 clash between both teams on Sept. 22, an FSU victory, elicited national interest for a reason. There's raw potential there.

They can recruit like SEC schools. From 2010-12, FSU and Clemson combined for four top-10 national recruiting classes, including the Seminoles' No. 2 clip in 2011.

"They can be as good as anyone," said an ACC assistant coach. "Great skill players and FSU's really good on the line of scrimmage."

There's never a bad time to poke the SEC bear. South Carolina is reeling a bit but would still serve as an impressive win.

Miami, a team in transition, is not ready for the task just yet. Duke is a nice story but not a top-10 team based on talent. North Carolina could rebound quickly under Larry Fedora.

Perhaps FSU and Clemson aren't ready, either. The Seminoles say they are finally learning how to win on the road after grinding out an erratic 33-20 win over Miami. Clemson's usually good for a midseason flub or two. But the next five weeks are huge for a reason beyond this season. FSU and Clemson can enhance the profile of the ACC, which could use a few proud shield-bearers.

The schedule's reasonable for both. FSU has Duke at home and goes to Virginia Tech and Maryland before hosting Florida. Clemson is at Wake this week, at Duke, then finishes out with home games against Maryland, N.C. State and South Carolina.

Time to flash something. Or at least appear like you're closing the gap a bit.

Rule No. 727-2262 (QBS-BAMA): What a concept -- Alabama is actually more scary after enhancing quarterback play as part of its identity.

This is what the rest of the SEC must have been afraid of a few years ago, when Alabama already was winning without elite quarterback play, possibly by design.

No offense to Greg McElroy, who helped Alabama win a title and was a pretty good quarterback. He was brilliant in the 2009 SEC title game, which reduced Tim Tebow to tears.

But the Tide's identity hardly started with the signal-caller. It's almost as if Nick Saban preferred it that way.

That seems to be changing, even as the Tide are using a classic case of less is more.

A.J. McCarron has found himself squarely in the Heisman race despite attempting 154 passes, tied for 97th nationally.

He's great at handing off, yes -- every Tide quarterback has to be -- but he's also the country's most efficient quarterback (183.6 rating, 16 scores, zero interceptions). The last time he threw a pick was nearly a calendar year ago, against Mississippi State on Nov. 12. Saban can trust him to make tough throws late in games.

Alabama no longer has to get by at quarterback. The Tide can flourish under center. That's a big step. And McCarron is tipping the hat to perceived former Bama game managers everywhere.

Rule No. 787-3251 (STR-EAK1, Game-day Streakers Anonymous line): The fan that ran onto the field during the Florida State-Miami game was a major goober. That's not such a bad thing, by the way. Might have been the most entertaining moment of the night.

Miami's defense came out looking like the old U with some huge hits on FSU, forcing two fumbles and recording a pass deflection in the first four plays -- until FSU slowly suffocated the Canes with steady play. The longest offensive play of the game from either team was 39 yards.

But the fan went a good 50, jogging like an arthritic elephant onto the field at around midfield and dashing into the end zone before Patrick Willis, disguised as a security guard, made the tackle.

The streaker (well, a G-rated streaker -- the shorts stayed on) took the field mid-play, slicing through Miami defenders with both hands in the air before taking his shirt off and waving it for the crowd.

The Rules committee clocked him at 9.89 seconds in his first 40 yards. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, who had just completed a pass toward the left sideline where the fan entered, caught a good view of the action. He wasn't sure how to react.

"That was crazy, man," Manuel said. "That was crazy. That's what you can expect coming down here. Crazy environment."

The Hairy-Chested Streaker joins the N.C. State Fat Guy Dancing on a Flag Pole as a nominee for the top GIF of the college football season.

Rule No. 466-3585 (GOO-DLUK, Georgia on line 1): Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is a bright guy, and he's usually right, which means he's right about the Georgia-Florida game -- the Bulldogs will have to play "unbelievable" to win Saturday in Jacksonville.

"We're not worried about it," Murray said after defeating Kentucky, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. "At the end of the day, it all depends on how we play next Saturday. We know we have to play an unbelievable game offensively, defensively and special teams if we want to have a chance to win that game. We've just got to be ready to go."

The Rules committee became transfixed by Georgia's 5-0 start before a blowout loss at South Carolina changed the perception. And after getting burned twice, we're done betting against Florida.

But this could be a closer game than expected between two teams that love to run the ball. Murray's a solid quarterback.

Rule No. 333-2457 (FFF-AILS): When you force fumbles regularly, you're supposed to win games.

Leading the charge of Forced Fumbles Failed is Utah and Missouri, which are tied for the national lead with 12 forced fumbles but have a combined five wins.


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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