TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was the word Clemson dare not mention.

It seems like years ago when the loveable little program nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains had somehow developed what seemed like its own Webster's Dictionary entry.

Clemsoning. You know, a synonym for choking, tanking. Whatever you want to call it. Tigers everywhere wore it like an itchy wool sweater.

That term died long ago, about the time Dabo Swinney was shaping Clemson into a national power. But who expected this?

Clemsoning has a new definition. It's now synonymous with clutch. After Saturday's 37-34 victory over No. 12 Florida State, the No. 3 Tigers are 16-2 in their past 18 games decided by a touchdown or less. Five of those 16 wins have come this season.

The latest such minor miracle was decided with 2:06 left when tight end Jordan Leggett found himself so wide open he could have walked the 34 yards for the winning touchdown.

"I don't even know [whether it is] reputation, culture," Leggett said. "It's just what we've been doing for the last couple of years now. We're just kind of rolling with it."

Rolling with it and rolling on. Clemson is positioning nicely to appear in the top four of the season's first College Football Playoff Rankings, which debut Tuesday. The hardest part of its schedule is over.

But that hardly tells the story of a team that started the season with a six-point win at Auburn and has written a different gut-wrenching chapter each step of the way.

First was a six-point win against Troy, of all teams. Then came the 42-36 thriller against Louisville. Two weeks ago was the overtime win against NC State after the Wolfpack's kicker blew a chip-shot field goal.

Saturday, the Tigers played at times like they had a mulligan. A loss wouldn't have necessarily cost them the Atlantic Division, the ACC or even a playoff spot.

Whiff on this one, knock it into the woods? Wouldn't matter much. The Tigers would have a chance to tee it up again in their final four games against manageable competition (Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and South Carolina).

Swinney said his team played better here in 2014, a 23-17 overtime loss.

But this was Florida State and this was Deshaun Watson adding to his Heisman Trophy résumé -- just not before throwing two crippling interceptions that led to 14 points.

The Tigers led 14-0 early and trailed 28-20 late in the third quarter before scoring on their final three possessions (before a kneel down).

In the fourth quarter, Watson (430 yards in total offense) completed a tidy 6 of 9 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.

At that point, it was almost difficult to explain why Clemson was in this spot. It was flagged nine times, three times for pass interference. Watson was sacked four times.

But Florida State's Deondre Francois -- himself sacked six times -- kept getting up. That despite a late fourth-quarter shot that briefly knocked him out of the game.

Clemson took its third and final lead when Leggett lined up outside right against what he called a Buffalo 2 defense. Inside receiver Hunter Renfrow drug two defenders with him.

Leggett floated free on the right side.

"That's basically the perfect play we had for the coverage that they were in," the tight end said.

That's the thing about these Tigers. They know they're going to win these kind of games even if they haven't before. The win was their first in 10 years in Tallahassee and second since FSU joined the ACC in 1992.

"Literally pulling out of the hotel today, some old boy was standing on the curb," Swinney said. "We weren't even out of the hotel. He had a big old sign that said, '10 years.' He's going to have to get a new sign."

Swinney was among those high-fiving fans in Clemson corner of Doak Campbell Stadium. They knew this was something special even if these a mere facsimile of Florida State.

Usually when your superstar tailback rushes for 169 yards and four touchdowns, it's supposed to mean something. It didn't mean enough.

"Daggum No. 4," Swinney said of Cook. "I hope he's leaving."

The talented junior is probably going to the NFL after a season that is shaping up to be a disappointment for the Noles.

"What I really want is a national championship," said Cook, who surpassed 1,000 rushing yards but now plays for a fading team with three losses. "I'm not a guy about stats."

And now, some of those lofty Clemson goals do seem in sight. Seven consecutive years this game has determined the Atlantic Division. The last five, the winner has won the ACC.

"When we keep our composure, when we're down, there's always a way," Clemson tailback Wayne Gallman.

The timing couldn't be better. It's almost a distant memory that one of those losses in that 16-2 run is to Alabama in the national title game. Clemson right now is one of only five remaining undefeated teams left in the country. It shares rare space with Alabama, Michigan, Washington and Western Michigan.

Just in time for the CFP Selection Committee to convene this week in Dallas.

"I'm glad to finally walk in this room and be happy," Swinney said to reporters after the game. "It's been a long time coming."

And it's not over yet.