CLEMSON -- The most damaging setback of the weekend for Clemson came courtesy of an MRI reading. The Tigers likely will face the high-octane Florida State offense Saturday without defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Bowers is "very doubtful" for Saturday's 7:45 p.m. ACC Atlantic Division showdown on ESPN.

Bowers had to be helped from the field during the first quarter of Clemson's win over Coastal Carolina

on Saturday, favoring his left leg. He returned to the sideline in the second half on crutches but said he would play against Florida State.

Swinney originally said the sophomore end suffered only a PCL strain. However, an MRI revealed a MCL strain in addition to the PCL injury.

Swinney did not offer a timetable Sunday, but he did say it was not a season-ending injury. He did not indicate surgery was necessary.

"It could be a couple games," Swinney said. "I would say he is doubtful. The information initially was he had a sprained PCL. He even told me that."

The injury sustained against an FCS opponent comes at a costly time.

Though the Tigers and preseason Atlantic favorite Seminoles took circuitous routes to this week's pivotal game at Death Valley, the game could very well determine which team advances to Tampa Bay for the ACC title game.

Clemson (5-3, 3-2 ACC) is tied atop the division with Boston College, but holds a tiebreaker over the Eagles. The Seminoles (4-4, 2-3) are a game back of the Tigers and Eagles, but would own the tiebreaker over Clemson with a win.

Both teams close with favorable schedules, placing greater importance on Saturday's meeting.

Scrappy Boston College (6-3, 3-2), picked last in the preseason poll, remains in the picture, and the Eagles are two-time defending divisional champs.

To keep the Tigers atop the standings, reserve ends Andre Branch, Malliciah Goodman and Kevin Alexander will need to have an impact on Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.

Ponder and the Florida State offense have built "momentum," according to Swinney, with two straight conference wins against North Carolina and against N.C. State.

Ponder suffered bruised ribs Saturday, but Swinney expects the junior quarterback to play.

Ponder has thrown for nearly as many yards the last four weeks (1,371) as Kyle Parker (1,423) has thrown this season. Florida State scored 45 points at N.C. State, 30 at North Car-olina and 44 at Georgia Tech.

"It's as good an offense as we have played," Swinney said. "They are throwing the ball and catching the ball as well as anyone.

"Ponder is a very, very good quarterback. He loves to run the ball, and runs the ball with passion and toughness. They are as good as we have played."

The praise is high considering the Tigers have played top offenses in Georgia Tech and Miami this season.

The Florida State offense has quieted criticism of embattled coach Bobby Bowden -- many have clamored for the 79-year-old coach to resign -- and lifted FSU back into contention following a surprising 0-3 start in the ACC.

The Tigers' three straight wins have also quieted discontent surrounding Swinney and his staff following a 2-3 start to the season.

While the Seminoles have been defensively challenged, they have linebacker Dekoda Watson back healthy, and corner Patrick Robinson could force a Clemson receiver besides Jacoby Ford to make plays.

Said Swinney: "It's the biggest game of the year for us."

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.