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Predictions: Clemson picked to slip past Florida State in close game

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Running back, check.

Wide receiver, check.

Placekicker, check.

There are a lot of reasons why Florida State can believe it can pull off a victory Saturday night in Death Valley. The defense is pretty good. The quarterback is experienced. The coach is in the top handful in the country.

Yet, there seems to be a consensus that the undefeated Tigers will win this one. There has been an air of underachievement to FSU this year, as if the sum doesn’t quite match the parts. The loss to Georgia Tech wasn’t the first time that FSU has sputtered this season.

So much is riding on this game. Clemson’s national title hopes. FSU’s conference title hopes. Dalvin Cook’s Heisman hopes. DeShaun Watson’s Heisman hopes.

With all the playmakers on the field, what decides this game? Maybe, it’s the FSU offensive line. That line is young, and it hasn’t had enough cohesive moments so far. Clemson’s rebuilt defensive front is pretty good, especially Shaq Lawson, but the Tigers did give up 41 to N.C. State.

The Seminoles can win this if Golson can use his playmakers. But playing at home, Watson should guide the Tigers to a victory.

Clemson 24, FSU 20

Vanderbilt at Florida

This week, we get to see whether the Gators are better as a big favorite than they were against East Carolina. The hunch is that they will be.

This Florida team has more and more come under the guidance of coach-of-the-year-candidate Jim McElwain. Oh, it might take a while for the offense to put together something under Treon Harris and Kelvin Taylor, but the Gators’ defense should be more than a match for Vandy.

Florida 28, Vanderbilt 3

Virginia at Miami

While fans are still arguing over who should have won last week’s game (Duke! There was a knee down in overtime) (Miami! Duke’s go-ahead touchdown drive would have been stopped if not for penalties), the team has to pay attention to another test.

Virginia beat Georgia Tech last week, which was also in the aftermath of a miracle. But there is new energy at Miami. It’s as if the Hurricanes were stumbling around looking for something to believe in. Finally, it found it.

If Brad Kaaya returns for Miami, the Hurricanes should have too much team speed for Virginia.

Miami 30. Virginia 17

USF at East Carolina

Perhaps the question should not be whether USF will go to a bowl game. It’s whether USF deserves to go to a bowl game.

If so, this is exactly the kind of game that the Bulls need to win. East Carolina has some weapons, and it’s at home. But if there is anything that is post-season worthy about the Bulls, it’s a winnable game.

Neither team was impressive last week, with the Bulls’ highly regarded running attack being stopped by Navy and East Carolina being handled by UConn. But three of USF’s losses have been to teams that matter (ranked FSU, ranked Memphis and also-receiving-votes Navy). Are the Bulls grown up enough to win a game in the fourth quarter?

USF 24, East Carolina 23

UCF at Tulsa

At first glance, you might think that the Knights – as dismal as they have been – have a shot in this one. After all, Tulsa is giving up 38 points a game and 6.4 yards per play. Ah, but Tulsa has scored 40 or more in three straight games.

That will be the test for the Knights: to see if they can slow down Tulsa. On the other hand, they didn’t slow down Furman, did they?

Tulsa 41, USF 24

FAU at Western Kentucky

The Owls finally pulled off a big win last week (against FIU), but this week, Brad Doughty and the Hilltoppers just look like too much to ask.

Doughty is a good one, a quarterback whose listed on most of the award lists. He’s led Western Kentucky to almost 52 points a game in league play. Jacquez Johnson has a chance to keep it close for a while (Western has given up 21 touchdown passes this year), but only for a while.

Western Kentucky 40, FAU 17

Charlotte at FIU

Charlotte has struggled for most of its first season in FBS football, and it gave up 70 to Middle Tennessee.

FIU should be heavily favored in this one, but quarterback Alex McGough has had a couple of off-games lately. If the Panthers are going to run away early, he needs to be at his best.

FIU 39, Charlotte 10

The NFL

New York Giants at Tampa Bay Bucs

The Bucs have a chance to close out the first half of their season at .500 with Lovie Smith’s first two-game winning streak. But to do so, they’ll have to get some pressure on quarterback Eli Manning, and who knows whether they can do that? If not, Odell Beckham will have an easy day against the Tampa Bay secondary.

This isn’t the gritty Giants’ defense we have come to know. New York gave up seven touchdown passes to Drew Brees last week. But Jameis Winston doesn’t throw as often as Brees. The Bucs would settle for being able to run a little bit.

New York 24, Tampa Bay 17

Jacksonville at Jets

The Jets’ defense should lead the way for New York to beat Jacksonville, but the Jags have the edge at quarterback, when Ryan Fitzpatrick has tendon damage in his thumb. If Blake Bortles has a great day for the Jaguars, this one could be closer than you would think.

One question, though: Who covers New York’s Brandon Marshall?

Jets 29, Jags 13

Dolphins at Bills

Neither team is particularly happy with its 3-4 start. The Dolphins are on their second coach of the year, and Rex Ryan has yet to live up to his bravado.

This week, Ryan Tannehill leads Miami against the returning Tyrod Taylor. A bigger question might be the Dolphins’ loss of Cameron Wake from its pass rush.

If the Bills can find some time, and if Sammy Watkins (also returning from injury) can get loose in the secondary, Buffalo should get this one.

Buffalo 17, Miami 14

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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