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Clemson beats Florida State, and the Tigers might be un-killable

After surviving Tallahassee, the Tigers are still sitting pretty.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Clemson didn’t need to win at No. 12 Florida State on Saturday to keep control of its own College Football Playoff destiny. But the Tigers probably don’t mind winning anyway.

That happened, 37-34, after Clemson withstood a late FSU charge to win in the nick of time, striking a blow for the second year in a row in a great ACC Atlantic rivalry.

After a go-ahead Florida State touchdown with 3:23 remaining, Clemson needed a minute and 17 seconds to go 75 yards and pull back ahead, which it did on a Deshaun Watson touchdown pass to Jordan Leggett.

That gave the Tigers the lead they wouldn’t give up, and their defense held FSU on a last-ditch comeback effort. They sacked Deondre Francois on FSU’s last two offensive snaps, running their total to six sacks on the night.

The win keeps Clemson in an ultra-commanding position atop the ACC Atlantic. The Tigers are a game ahead of one-loss Louisville, whom they beat a few weeks ago, and now Florida State’s thoroughly out of the picture.

Clemson has a tiebreaker on the Cardinals and could lose any one of its last three league games and still win the division, advancing to the league title game in Orlando. Win that, and Clemson’s in the Playoff for the second year in a row.

The Tigers would’ve stayed in first place in the division even had they lost, because of that tiebreaker over Louisville.

But that didn’t seem to make things any less tense on Saturday. The Tigers had to withstand a remarkable showing from Florida State running back Dalvin Cook. It was Cook whose late touchdown, his fourth of the night, staked FSU to a 34-29 lead. It turned out that only forced the Tigers’ late heroics.

Is Clemson un-killable? It kind of looks like that.

The Tigers have come awfully close to losing on several occasions.

There was that six-point win in Week 1 at Auburn, when some late-game management shenanigans from Dabo Swinney damn near cost Clemson a win.

There was that six-point win at home in Week 2 against Troy, which is a team, not the first name of a good player on Alabama.

There was that six-point win against Louisville on Oct. 1, when a receiver’s weird move out of bounds in the last minute preserved victory.

There was that overtime triumph against NC State two weeks ago, when the Tigers stayed alive only because of a missed 33-yard field goal at the end of regulation.

The Tigers haven’t played quite like a top-three or top-four team, at least not all the time. But they’ve sure won like one, and they’re in a terrific spot. I feel like I’m watching 2013 Auburn or 2014 Florida State, or some team like that.

The Clemson-Florida State series has, in general, become a really good one.

But it wasn’t always that way. FSU dominated through the 1990s and just after the turn of the millennium, but Clemson’s rise has coincided with a balancing-out in a series that’s regularly had a big hand in the ACC Atlantic’s final standings.

This year’s meeting never had the same stakes because of Clemson’s two-game edge on Florida State, and its tiebreaker-aided edge on Louisville. The stakes were big, but they weren’t Playoff big. Clemson could’ve lost this game and still had a straightforward road to Orlando and then the Playoff. Things would’ve been fine.

Beating FSU in Doak Campbell Stadium and sitting at 8-0 on the way to November, though? That’s even better.