Miami and Florida State, set to throw down yet again. Primetime, as usual, with the nation paying attention. The two have often met as top five programs gunning for national titles, but truth be told, even lesser stakes have been know to result in an Instant Classic.
At the turn of the century, the Canes took the power back—beating the Noles six-straight on the heels of an unthinkable five game losing streak, made possible by sanctions and probation in the mid-to-late nineties.
From there, the unthinkable happened—Miami and Florida State simultaneous backslid and became average. A couple of basic-bitches limping their way to 7-6 seasons; Bobby Bowden in the twilight of a lengthy career, while the Canes had a revolving door of not-up-for-the task head coaches in Larry Coker, Randy Shannon and Al Golden.
Jimbo Fisher took the reigns in Tallahassee in 2010—getting a jumpstart on the Noles’ makeover, quickly whipping the one-time power back into shape. The past six seasons; four Atlantic Division titles, three ACC crowns and a national championship, while Miami limp-dicked it with Golden before pulling the plug halfway through last season.
Out of nowhere for the Canes; a perfect storm—Golden’s epic face-plant against Clemson leading to a swift dismissal, coupled with a fat apparel check from adidas and Georgia dumping long-time head coach Mark Richt after a 9-3 regular season. Without any of the three, 2016 isn’t a proper rebuilding year for Miami and the surrounding optimism isn’t at this level.
The result; a 4-0 start—against a few patsies and two good-not-great teams—setting up another annual are-the-Canes-back moment and season-defining showdown. An added bonus; the $400M renovation to the newly-dubbed Hard Rock Stadium, which should look spectacular on ABC under those primetime lights.
THE FIRST STEP BACK TO PROMINENCE; WIN RIVALRY GAMES
Beat Florida State for the first time since 2009 and a ripple effect will be felt throughout college football. The type of moment where today’s recruits and tomorrow’s superstars will remember precisely how it happened and the emotions felt.
Lost in the shuffle of Miami’s comeback narrative; the fact that a solid, talent-heavy and experienced Seminoles squad has been reduced to “spoiler” and underdog, after being the second-ranked team in the nation weeks back.
A monster second-half comeback was needed against Ole Miss in the opener before smacking around Charleston Southern at home.
A week later, Louisville dismantled Florida State. A victory over South Florida ensued, though the Seminoles were definitely lacking an “it” factor. Last weekend, a 54-yard game-winning field goal off the foot of a spirited North Carolina kicker sent the boys from Tallahassee to 3-2 on the year and winless in conference play.
The setback almost dropped Florida State out of the Top 25, while Miami rose to No. 10 and is now a slight favorite entering Saturday’s showdown. All that said, it should also be noted that the Canes have played the 112th toughest schedule-to-date this season, while the Noles have played the third. Would “The U” be undefeated had it taken on Ole Miss and Louisville in September? Hell no.
Still, a much different scenario than anyone pictured a month ago and definitely uncharted territory for the Hurricanes—who have been a perennial underdog in this rivalry for longer than anyone in the orange and green cares to remember.
Lesser Miami teams have managed to do more; the Canes jumping all over the defending national champions in 2014, leading 23-7 late in the first half before falling, 30-26 and dropping three more to close the season, never emotionally bouncing back from the collapse.
BOYS FROM TALLAHASSEE MUCH BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD
Last year, a series of miscues on the Seminoles’ part kept the Canes in the game late—Miami even taking a one-point lead, but unable to stop Dalvin Cook down the stretch. The local product rattled off back-to-back 23-yard runs; the latter proving to be the game-winning score.
Cook smoked Miami for 222 yards and two scores last season. The year prior, only 92 yards on seven carries—41 coming on the Noles’ game-winning drive, Cook punching it in from 26 yards out for Florida State’s first lead of the night.
Cook started his junior season slow, but has picked up steam since—going for 267 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulls and 140 yards with three scores in the loss to the Tar Heels. Back home for his final crack at the Canes just up the way from Miami Central High School; Cook will again come to play.
Difference this time around—a 4-3 defense and more aggressive scheme from first-year coordinator Manny Diaz, opposed to the passive 3-4 approach favor by the former staff. Will that be enough? In short, no.
The key for Miami as Florida State enters this weekend; to prove it’s grown up as a program and it’s ready for the main stage. Even with a win, the Canes aren’t “back”—as that won’t be the case until Coastal Division titles are won, Miami reels in a few more quality classes and actually starts a season in the hunt.
THESE CANES NEED TO ADD A CHAPTER IN THEIR LEGACIES
Undefeated is sure better than two losses by early October, but lest not forget Miami rose to No. 7 three years back—a Top 10 team by default, beating on nobodies—before getting dismantled by top-ranked Florida State, 41-14, en route to the Noles’ winning the national title.
The Canes need to take the next logical step forward; playing to their potential, rising up and overachieving in the moment—opposed to wilting, unraveling and letting in-game setbacks kill their belief in self.
Miami is good enough to take out Florida State this weekend; the Noles a talented, albeit dysfunctional bunch right now seeming to lack leadership and focus. The Canes don’t have to be “better”—they simply need to be better prepared on Saturday night and close.
Year three underway, it’s time for Brad Kaaya to get his signature game. The stats have been there and the junior quarterback has the size, arm strength, character and potential NFL teams will be all over next spring, or the following year—but the California native hasn’t won a big one or led a career-defining comeback-type drive for the highlight reel. It’s time.
On the ground, the Canes lack the bigger-bodied, Cook-type back—but have two hard runners in Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby who have to get those tough yards, move the chains and break off the type of runs that made No. 4 on the other side a legend in this series.
Defensively, more of what Miami has shown the past few weeks—playing above their talent level and finding a way to overcome a depleted secondary, youth at linebacker and a defensive line in need of more playmakers in line with the greats who have suited up for the Canes when the program was a force.
Every journey begins with that first step. The Canes can take a world-class leap on Saturday night by finally getting this Seminoles’ monkey off their back. It’s all there for the taking. It’s simply a matter of Miami finally being ready to take it.
They say big time players step up in big games. Who’s ready to be big time this Saturday night?