The Xs and Os have been broken down ad nauseam this week. Everywhere you look, Miami vs. Florida is the most-discussed match-up, despite Michigan and Notre Dame getting primetime exposure and top billing. When top teams from the Sunshine State throw down, the nation knows what’s at stake and interest is piqued.
allCanesBlog.com did its part over at BleacherReport.com, covering a slew of topics over the past few days; how a win over Florida would set the tone for this Miami squad in year three of the Al Golden era, why Stephen Morris must step up his game at quarterback on the main stage, as well as a full-blown breakdown, preview and prediction.
While all those pieces serve a purpose, especially for the college football masses that reside outside the state of Florida, they don’t touch on the intangibles that those of us close to these rivalries are all too familiar with.
When Miami, Florida and Florida State take the field against another, it’s an indescribable phenomenon. These showdowns are the hardest-fought, most-emotional game these kids will play all season as playing these rivals always strikes a chord with the Floridians on each roster.
Football reigns supreme in state, as it does in places like Texas, Alabama, Ohio and even California, but it’s a different breed and brand of football in Florida. A different vibe, climate, mindset and overall attitude that simply isn’t felt elsewhere.
Many of these kids facing each other at high noon on Saturday have been teammates or rivals since optimist league. They have a common bond that outsiders simply don’t understand. Football is in their blood and in the cases of many, a ticket out of a rough life and the potential for a dream scenario.
In Miami, the mantra has been for decades that, “It’s a Canes thing … you wouldn’t understand” and the same could be said about the Sunshine State’s “Big Three” in relation to the rest of the nation. Football down here is like nowhere else.
Miami and Florida began their rivalry in 1938 and it last until 1987, when the Gators cited a heavy SEC schedule and no longer wanted an annual game with the Hurricanes.
Miami and Florida State first teed it up in 1951, which continued when UM joined the Big East and FSU, the Atlantic Coast Conference and now with both full-fledged members of the ACC, the rivalry rolls on and the squads now run the risk of playing each other twice in the conference title game.
To Florida State’s credit, it kept Florida on the schedule, meaning the Noles are the lone state power to annually play the other two bigs as FSU and UF save their match-up for the final weekend of the regular season.
Florida State also spent the past few decades as Miami’s biggest rival, but in the history of the program, Florida remains the true arch nemesis. There’s a mutual respect between UM and FSU but when it comes to UF, it’s pure hatred.
The big state school in Gainesville with all the money, the definition of elitism and entitlement and an inferiority complex that Gators will never cop to regarding what the Hurricanes have accomplished as a small private school in a non-college town.
Florida showed it’s Cane-envy for years, eaten alive that Miami won four titles between 1983 and 1991, while the Gators didn’t get their first taste of success until 1996. Miami was also seen as “Thug U” for a brasher type of athlete, with Florida diehard trashing UM for the recent Nevin Shapiro scandal, yet taking no responsibility for its own unruly behavior as of late.
Urban Meyer won two rings over a three-season span and do-no-wrong quarterback Tim Tebow won a Heisman, while remaining the poster boy for all things right. All that on-the-field success in a football-first college town (and for a sports media always searching for feel-good stories) seemed to sweep 44 arrests in an eight-year span right under an orange and blue rug.
For Miami, much of the hate started in 1971, with the disrespect and lack of sportsmanship shown in the infamous “Gator Flop”. Up 45-8 late in the game, Florida defenders hit the turf, letting Miami score so the Gators offense could get the ball back for quarterback John Reaves, who was looking to break an NCAA passing record, and did.
Almost a decade, when Miami held a late 28-7 lead at Gainesville, the crowd lowered themselves to subhuman standard, choosing to pelt Hurricanes coaches and players with oranges—many of them frozen as it was almost winter. As a result, then-head coach Howard Schnellenberger tacked on a late field goal in effort to get in a shot of his own. Final score, 31-7.
Prior to 1983, Miami’s first championship season, Florida held a 21-23 series lead. Since then, the Hurricanes are 7-3 against the Gators—including six straight wins between 1986 and 2004. Before UF’s win in 2008, it hadn’t beaten UM since 1985.
It was announced this week that Miami and Florida will no longer meet during the regular season, which probably makes sense in the grand scheme of what the college game has become; a sport where watered-down out of conference schedules are preferred as it betters chances of BCS berths, which bring generate big time revenue.
The Hurricanes remain open to getting another series on the books, but the Gators have stated that they’ll only agree on something barring it’s a “neutral” location; i.e. – Tampa, Orlando or Jacksonville, all of which are full-fledged Gator Country.
Florida faithful enter this weekend feeling confident. The Gators are a three-point favorite and are coming off an 11-2 year, ending with a Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville. Outside of that, the previous six seasons saw two championships and a handful of double-digit win seasons.
Miami remains in rebuild mode under third-year head coach Al Golden. 7-5 last season after a 6-6 inaugural campaign. The dark cloud of the NCAA has hovered, suspensions have been doled out, bad seeds have been removed from the program and UM self-imposed back-to-back postseason bans in order to start the punishment process and to start building towards better days.
On paper, Florida’s confidence is understandable, but when looking at the intangibles that surround these Sunshine State rivalries, all logic has to go right out the window as the history between the three team proves the chaos that surrounds the showdowns.
Miami and Florida last met in South Florida a decade ago, almost to the day. UM was the true state power, having played in three straight BCS games, competed for two national championships, winning one and leaving another on the table. UF meanwhile was struggling under Ron Zook, full of talent, but lacking an identity while aspiring to be the type of program UM had established.
No. 3 Miami welcomed No. 17 Florida to the Orange Bowl for that spirited night game and from the moment Devin Hester housed the opening kickoff 97 yards, the rout appeared to be on.
Not quite. By late third quarter, the underdog Gators were sitting a top a 33-10 lead and without a miraculous effort from the Hurricanes—an explosive offense and suffocating defense that shut down Florida for the games final 21 minutes—Miami would’ve been the victim of a huge upset, losing its first home game in four years.
The year prior top-ranked Miami had a similar scare against twelfth-ranked Florida State. The Canes were down 27-14, at home, early in the fourth quarter and it looked like a monster upset was underway.
Instead, the defense held, the offense manufactured some big plays and the football gods allowed for another errant, potential game-winning kick to sail wide for the Seminoles, resulting in a 28-27, Hurricanes win.
Florida and Florida State have had their epic games, as well. In 1997 the tenth-ranked Gators toppled the top-ranked Seminoles, 32-29, ending Florida State’s championship dreams and three years prior, the No. 7 Gators’ blew a 31-3 early fourth quarter lead as the No. 1 Seminoles staged a late rally, forcing a 31-31 tie.
In 1996 the evenly-matched Seminoles and Gators squared off in Tallahassee for a heavyweight showdown, where Florida State eked out the 24-21 win. A Sugar Bowl rematch months later looked like the men against the boys as UF rolled FSU, 52-20, capturing the program’s first-ever national championship.
Rivalry games between the likes of Miami, Florida and Florida State are always a special affair and are full of crazier plot twists than big screen thrillers or classic novels. Saturday’s showdown at Sun Life Stadium should be another great chapter in this storied rivalry.
Florida enters as the favorite, but Miami is hardly a huge underdog. Golden and his staff have been grooming this squad for years now and UM is primed to take a big step forward. Miami fell flat in some big game opportunities the past few seasons and knows that a win against Florida this weekend can redefine everything.
Conversely, Florida knows it underestimated Louisville in the Sugar Bowl and that it can’t afford to do the same against an arch-rival, in a rare, out of conference road showdown.
This game could play out a half dozen different ways, each storyline as believable as the next. Florida could dominate and prove it’s the better squad, just as much as the Canes could shock the world and smack up the seemingly overrated Gators.
Or, even more plausible, another edge-of-your-seat type affair where both teams have their ups and downs, but slug it out until someone makes a play or two late in the fourth to seal the win.
However it plays, Miami vs. Florida on Saturday September 7th will be season-defining and is setting up to be one hell of a throw down.