Oct 17, 2013

Whitley Writes: Big Weekend Highlights Russell Athletic Bowl Options

For those of us who’ve been waiting for a weekend like this, a word of advice from Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher:

“Keep it in perspective,” he said. “It is what it is.”

What is it?

Arguably the biggest game in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. And definitely the biggest game in the history of the American Athletic Conference. Put them together, and you have one huge weekend for Florida Citrus Sports.

Specifically, the Russell Athletic Bowl. It gets its pick of the American teams that don’t make a BCS bowl. That means Friday night’s Louisville-UCF game will impact the Russell’s wish list significantly.

Who wouldn’t want to see Louisville and Teddy Bridgewater? The only American Athletic team that would cause more buzz in Orlando would be George O’Leary’s Knights.

Then there’s the likely opponent, which is a little more complicated. The ACC champ goes to a BCS bowl, then the Chick-fil-A Bowl has dibs on the conference. The Russell Athletic Bowl picks next, so whoever loses in Clemson, S.C., Saturday could be headed to Atlanta or Orlando.

Both are ranked in the top five, and the ACC hasn’t had that kind of clash in years. It’s only the fourth time in league history that teams ranked in the top five have met. Either team would be a big get for Orlando, as would Miami or Virginia Tech, current clubhouse leaders in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

“It may be the biggest game in ACC history,” Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley said.

Both teams are unbeaten. There’s the quarterback clash of Tajh Boyd and Jameis Winston. FSU hasn’t won at Clemson since 2000. ESPN’s GameDay will be there.

It’s enough to make Fisher want to bury his head in a pile of playbooks. He’s spent the week talking just like a coach. You know, it’s a big game. But they’re all big games. This is just the next one.

Yeah, right.

“We’re trying to stay calm and treat it like it’s any other game,” linebacker Telvin Smith said. “It’s hard to do.”

Tell the Knights about it. The American has never seen this kind of clash. Then again, it’s has only been around a few months.

It used to be called the Big East. But that league rarely had a team as highly regarded as Louisville. The Cardinals are 6-0 and ranked 8th in the AP poll. Bridgewater has gotten a lot of attention but UCF’s biggest obstacle might be the Cardinals’ defense, which ranks first in the nation in points allowed.

Louisville’s biggest obstacle might be its schedule. The Cardinals are winning by an average score of 41-7. It could go unbeaten, but its strength of schedule could keep it behind a one-loss team in the hunt for a national championship.

“Louisville’s winning games it’s supposed to win,” O’Leary said. “They got a schedule and they’re doing what they need to do each week. They could beat a lot of teams in this country.”

Whether they could beat Alabama, we’ll let the polls decide. On Friday night we’ll at least find out if they can beat UCF, which is the toughest team left on Louisville’s schedule.

One thing we know is the Knights should be used to big-game talk by now. They heard it going into Penn State and won 34-31. They heard it against South Carolina and lost 28-25 in the first nationally-televised network game in UCF history.

After winning in front of 92,855 Nittany Lion fans, the Knights shouldn’t be intimidated by the thought of going to 55,000-seat Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. If they are, O’Leary can just play the tape of Fisher trying to put this weekend’s pressure into perspective.

“You’ve got to manage it,” he said, “but you’ve got to embrace it, too.”

That shouldn’t be a problem around here. It will be the first real clarifying weekend, and ponder what it could lead to.

UCF vs. Clemson? FSU vs. UCF? Louisville vs. FSU?

The only sure winner this weekend is the Russell Athletic Bowl.

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