Most great stories have juicy subplots, and Memorial Stadium has a whale of tale within the tale tonight.
The winner between No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State will take a giant leap toward an Atlantic Division title and berth in the ACC Championship Game.
The competing quarterbacks, on the other hand, will help shape their legacies by what happens in Death Valley.
For Tiger signal caller Tajh Boyd, his place among the school’s elite signal callers is secure.
You can’t reel off his exhaustive list of firsts and bests without stopping to take a long pause for a deep breath.
Last year alone he established nine Atlantic Coast Conference records and has been responsible for 109 touchdowns at Clemson.
Stats, leadership, poise - Boyd has it all and wears it well.
He’s made for games like this.
“You know, this game is performance‑based,” Boyd said. “Obviously for us it's all about going out there and just playing to our capabilities. Honestly, the stakes are high, the pressure is here, but at the same time, that's when you step up and you perform to your best abilities.”
Tiger boss Dabo Swinney says Boyd doesn’t have to do anything else to secure his place in Solid Orange lore, and he doesn’t.
But Boyd most likely will.
He’ll continue to showcase his skills in front of the home crowd as well at places like College Park, Charlottesville , Columbia – and then maybe Charlotte and Pasadena.
His performance this evening, though, will be magnified because of the high stakes.
Yet while Boyd is hoping to end his college career in style before playing on Sundays next year, FSU’s Jameis Winston is the precocious QB who has generated Johnny Manziel-type hype is his first year on the field.
To borrow a phrase from an old commercial, let’s just call Winston Manziel Lite – all the talent with a third less attitude.
Good grief, the 19-year old has already thrown 17 TDs against just two picks.
And in his debut game at Pitt on Labor Day he hit 25 of 27 passes for four touchdowns.
Still, Tallahassee’s new favorite son counts himself a Boyd fan as well as a Boyd peer.
"Of course, when you beat teams like they beat Georgia, he's won big games like the bowl game last year against LSU, he's proven himself numerous times,” Winston said. “A lot of people say I have to prove myself and things like that, but it's a team game. He has such a great team around him just like I have a great team around me.”
The subplot centers on Boyd and Winston, but the game within the game isn’t between those two at all – and both young men know it. FSU’s defense is ranked No. 4 nationally in points allowed while Clemson’s “D” is 9th in that category.
"No, me and him both know that we have to do our jobs to help put our team in the best situation to win,” Winston said. “Both of us being offensive people, obviously he's going to try to get his offense to start clicking and I'm going to get my offense to click. It's probably going to be a quarterback battle but I'm pretty sure he's not thinking about competing against me.
“He's thinking about competing against (linebacker) Telvin Smith and those guys just like I'm thinking about competing against Clemson's defense."
And still, neither can help but think about just what it means to be on such a massive stage with so much on the line.
The players are already the faces of their team.
The winning quarterback will be the face of a new and improved ACC – one that hopes to be in position in January to end Alabama’s reign specifically and the SEC’s in general.
“Growing up I wanted to be a quarterback because I wanted the ball in my hands,” Boyd said. “When it comes down to making a play late in the game when you need it, when you have to have it, that's always been my thing, regardless of the outcome.
“You've got to love being in that position.”