TALLAHASSEE — One pregame look at the sideline behind Doak Campbell Stadium's North end zone was enough to prove the enormity of the spectacle a sellout crowd was about to witness Saturday night.
A veritable who's who of Florida State legend and lore stood in the space behind the white lines.
There was "Snoop" Minnis, the former Seminoles receiver who famously caught the longest touchdown pass in school history during FSU's 2000 game against Clemson. To his left stood Peter Warrick, the former wide out who caught the iconic touchdown of FSU's national championship the year before.
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Champions Way, Tallahassee, FL 32304, USA
The mix of celebrity, the live taping of a popular cable television show, a week's worth of national buzz and the heroic, told-you-so performance of the current star quarterback gave the festivities a true major league feel. Take the Super Bowl, mix it with Game 7 of the World Series, bring the combination to this quiet North Florida city, and you get the following.
The game of the year on FSU's schedule. The game the Seminoles finally convinced their doubters they were for real, and deserved consideration for a spot in the national title game and a January trip to this year's college football Mecca, Miami.
"We're just getting real close as a team right now and we're taking off," cornerback Nick Waisome said. "We're in our plane and we're just soaring right now. We just have to keep on going and take no turbulence -- none of that."
Shaking off a slow start against Clemson's high-powered, speed-rich offense, the fourth-ranked Seminoles rose up in the second half Saturday to claim a key 49-37 win over the Tigers. For the first time since their 2005 ACC Championship season, the Seminoles are 4-0. In the ACC, they hold a 2-0 tally.
FSU quarterback EJ Manuel was the game's biggest hero. In arguably his finest hour as a Seminole, he passed for a career-high 380 yards and rushed for another 102. The last FSU player to pile up that many yards both passing and rushing in a game was Charlie Ward; the face of the Seminoles' 1993 national championship season. A week after an outing most considered mediocre, Manuel seemed determined to put on a show against the Tigers.
"Since it was a good offense we faced, we just knew that we had to score a lot of points," Manuel said on ABC's national broadcast of the game, minutes after it was over.
Nearly an hour later, still wearing his dirt-stained, sweat-marked garnet jersey, he held his final interview and was headed back to the Seminoles' locker room to finally meet up with his father, Erik, who spent the postgame period clutching tight the game ball intended for EJ.
"I'm going to have to look at the film, but i don't remember him making a bad decision all night," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They were mixing up looks and bringing in blitzes from every direction, and he made plays when he had to. I thought he was selfless and understood how to win."
The week before, in a 52-0 blowout win over Wake Forest, Manuel looked like a different player. He completed only 15 of his 24 passing attempts for 176 yards. On Saturday, he missed on only eight of his 35 passes.
But as good as the Seminoles' overall performance was in the big fourth game, when new polls are released Sunday morning, the Seminoles may not see a jump in them like they had been witnessing the previous three weeks. After starting the year ranked No. 7, they worked up to No. 4 entering this week's showdown against the No. 10 Tigers.
In the days that followed, the FSU hype machine kicked into overdrive. ESPN dubbed Tallahassee the site of this week's "College GameDay" show. The popular, nationally televised college football pregame show moves to a different site each week. It was the second time "GameDay" had been taped in Tallahassee in a year.
The college football stars were lined up for the first top-10 showdown in Tallahassee since No. 1 Oklahoma visited No. 5 FSU last September.
In the days since last Saturday's conference-opening win over Wake Forest, the Seminoles were expecting a real test. With elusive receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins anchoring an electric Clemson offense, FSU was bracing for the first true punch to the gut that it had had all season.
"[Saturday], two very good football teams were throwing haymakers to each other right and left from the opening bell and just kept answering each other’s calls," Fisher said.
Clemson delivered the first blow, a 60-yard touchdown pass two minutes into the ballgame. By halftime, the Tigers held a 28-14 lead and appeared to be rolling toward a major upset.
After holding a modest grip on FSU's offense in the first half, Clemson's defense soon discovered the caliber of the Seminoles' offense was rather strong.
FSU went from 14 points at halftime to 35 by the end of the third quarter.
"Our offense wasn't really talked about going into this game, and we just went and hit them in the mouth and showed them that we have a great offense here at Florida State," said receiver Rodney Smith, who caught the final score of the third quarter, a 29-yard touchdown pass from Manuel. It was FSU's go-ahead score.
Four minutes before, a comeback was sparked when kick returner Lamarcus Joyner took back a 90-yard return that set up another Manuel passing touchdown.
"If I was in the Webster Dictionary and I wanted something to define me, it would be the word clutch," Joyner said. "I just want to be known as a clutch player for this organization and make the plays that we need. Don't be Superman, just make the plays that your organization needs."
Defensively, the 37 points FSU's defense allowed were the most it had given up in a game since last October. For 11 straight games, the Seminoles had held opposing teams to 19 points or less.
After giving up 28 points in the first half, the Seminoles held Clemson to just nine second-half points.
"We just got too fired up at the beginning," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "Once we settled down a little bit, it showed. The biggest thing is that we just have to stay disciplined."
If the Seminoles can remain disciplined as a team for the next eight games, there is a good chance that there will be more mini Super Bowls and Game 7s along the rest of their season journey.
For more from this game, check back to OrlandoSentinel.com and follow FSU reporter Coley Harvey on Twitter @os_coleyharvey.