Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. (32) celebrates after leaping into the end zone and scoring a touchdown on a 12-yard pass against Boston College last week.
Want To Watch?
WHO: No. 12 FSU (6-1, 3-1 ACC) at Miami (4-3, 3-1 ACC).
WHAT: Annual in-state rivalry game.
WHEN: 8 p.m. today.
LINE: FSU by 21 points.
MIAMI — Al Golden’s opinion might frighten the Miami faithful this week.
The Hurricanes’ coach has already seen his team endure two blowout losses this season, by 39 points to Kansas State and by 38 against Notre Dame. And with all respect to the Wildcats and Fighting Irish, currently the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the nation, Golden believes there’s an even better team looming on Miami’s schedule.
That team is Florida State — the team coming to visit Miami on Saturday night.
The 12th-ranked Seminoles (6-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won their last two meetings with Miami (4-3, 3-1), and are overwhelming favorites to add to that streak. In a series where 10 of the last 11 matchups have been decided by eight points or less, many not until the final seconds even, Florida State is a three-touchdown favorite.
Maybe those oddsmakers heard Golden singing the Seminoles’ praises.
“I believe it’s the best team that we’ve played this year,” Golden said. “I know there’s two other teams that are ranked higher than them right now. I think this is the most talented team we’ve seen this year, the most complete team.”
True, the Seminoles are rolling. Florida State entered the weekend ranked third nationally in points scored this season (322) and sixth nationally in points allowed (81). And, yes, while those numbers were fattened up with season-opening wins over Murray State and Savannah State by a combined 124-3 count, it’s not like Florida State hasn’t been impressive every other game this season, either.
Well, except for one game.
“Two weeks ago, we learned a lesson,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
That was the game at North Carolina State — one where double-digit favorite Florida State went on the road, facing an opponent coming off a loss, and was supposed to roll to an easy win, only to get beaten 17-16.
Sound familiar? Florida State, on the road again this week, big favorites again, facing an opponent coming off a loss.
Rest assured, Fisher has talked plenty to his team during practices for Miami about avoiding the same trap door that the Seminoles found two weeks ago.
“You do have to play the whole game,” Fisher said. “Our kids have understood that lesson. I think the leadership of the team understands that and I think they’ll reinforce that and will get it across. They know each game has a one-week lifespan. It’s one win or one loss, and you only get 12 of them, so you better make them all special.”
Players hardly need to be told about the significance of a Miami-Florida State game.
Forget that allegiances between Hurricanes fans and Seminoles fans divides much of the state. That’s nothing. It even divides homes. Outside the Miami athletic complex this week, someone’s vehicle had a novelty license plate with the words “The House Divided” on it, emblazoned over a Florida State logo on the left side and a Hurricanes one on the right.
Lamarcus Joyner is a Florida State defensive back, but his favorite NFL players are former Hurricanes Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Miami running back Mike James has two high school buddies who play for the Seminoles. Florida State wide receiver Rodney Smith signed with the Seminoles with his mother’s blessing — and she worked in the library on the Hurricanes’ campus.
“It’s a big game and a big-time rivalry,” said Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo, a third-generation Hurricane who thinks he’s either watched or attended every Miami-Florida State since he was 5 or 6 years old. “You try to treat every single week as the same and approach it the same. But this is a game you definitely know the rivalry and the history of. Other games don’t get the hype … like this one does.”
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris is doubtful for the game with a sprained left ankle, though he did take part in some light drills in practice earlier in the week. If he cannot play, Ryan Williams will start for the Hurricanes.
Another nagging injury matter for Miami is freshman running back Duke Johnson’s sore toe, though Johnson expects to play — and the Seminoles expect the nation’s top freshman in terms of all-purpose yards so far this season to be at a high level.
“He’s elusive. He’s one of those Reggie Bush-type guys,” Florida State running back Devonta Freeman — a Miami native — said of Johnson. “I’ve always seen it in him. I think I was about 11, Duke was probably 9 or 10, I always just knew he was going to be that kind of guy.”
The game matters for bragging rights, matters in the standings, matters on some level in recruiting. Both teams will have plenty of prospects with eyes on Saturday night, and if they can’t be there, it’s getting shown to virtually the entire country on ABC.
But for Miami, it matters mainly because Florida State is where the Hurricanes want to be. The Seminoles went through their rough patch, and now seem to be back as a consistently ranked, consistently contending program.
Golden hopes Saturday can be a step for his team to get to that level.
“They’re ahead of us right now,” Golden said. “Hats off to them. We’ve got to chase them. We’ve got to get to where we want to be.”