Take 2: ACC's best rivalry

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Gerry ThomasAP Photo/Don DughiThe Miami-Florida State rivalry is full of memorable moments like Wide Right I in 1991.

This week ESPN.com is taking a closer look at rivalries within each conference. As we began to debate the topic, Andrea Adelson and I, well, we started to disagree a little bit. You know how that goes. So ... what is the best rivalry in the ACC these days? AA says Canes-Noles is still the best. HD writes in favor of Clemson-Florida State.

Andrea says: Heather, FSU-Clemson was not even a rivalry five years ago.

(Pauses).

Oh. I have to keep arguing my point?

There are only a handful of rivalries across the country that match the national scope, the incredible implications and the utter hatred between fan bases that comes with Florida State-Miami. Florida State-Clemson? Sorta like New Coke. A passing fad, but everybody prefers the real thing.

Florida State-Miami is the real thing all right, a national rivalry that has been must-watch TV for decades. Clemson has the real thing, too -- against in-state rival South Carolina. Even that one does not match Miami-Florida State, historically or nationally.

That is point No. 1: Both Florida State and Clemson already have way bigger rivals. Florida State actually has two bigger rivals, if you count Florida.

But let us keep this argument in-conference. There is a reason the ACC split Miami and Florida State when the Canes joined the league in 2004. The ACC wanted to set up the possibility of a rematch between its two biggest rivals and two of its biggest football powers in the ACC title game. That has not panned out, obviously.

But that does not diminish the rivalry between the two programs.

While it is true the matchup between the Tigers and Noles has taken on much greater significance over the past four years, a few games does not produce a long-standing, long-simmering, made-for-TV rivalry. Four years has nothing on the history, the passion, the intensity -- and the championship ramifications that have defined Florida State-Miami.

Name me one iconic image from a Florida State-Clemson game.

Still waiting.

Now let us play the same game with Florida State-Miami.

Going for 2, 1987. Bobby Bowden played for the win, going for 2 with 42 seconds left. The gamble failed. Miami went on to win the national championship.

Wide Right I, 1991. Bobby Bowden looking around the sideline, dazed, believing his team had won the game. Miami went on to win the national championship.

Wide Right II, 1992. History repeats itself with another missed kick.

Wide Right III, 2000. I stood in the end zone when Ken Dorsey threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey. Pandemonium ensued. But then, quiet. Chris Weinke led the Noles into field goal range in a matter of seconds. Predictably, yet another kicker missed a field goal. Pandemonium ensued.

Wide Left, 2002. This time, the kick sailed in the other direction.

Plenty more, but I have to leave some room for Heather to make her point.

Florida State-Miami was a matchup of top 10 teams 12 times between 1987 and 2003. Four times, Miami and Florida State were ranked in the top five. Meanwhile, Clemson and Florida State have met as top 10 opponents twice. Ever.

I know Heather is hollering that the Florida State-Miami rivalry is not what it used to be, that it has not been important in quite some time and that Miami has not lived up to what the ACC thought it would when it joined up. All true.

But those points do not erase the equity these programs built in turning this game from a provincial in-state rivalry into one that still gets prime-time, national billing, that still draws viewers and attention and that the best high school recruits in the nation to see for themselves what the big deal is.

Sorry, but Heather’s argument here is wide right.

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Melina Vastola/US PresswireRecent games -- like FSU's 35-point, second-half rally last fall -- have established FSU-Clemson as a legitimate rivalry, maybe the ACC's best.
HD: What is this, 2004?

Because that’s the last time the Florida State-Miami game was nationally relevant.

Not since 2004 have those two programs both been ranked in the top 10 when they played each other. Heck, forget about the top 10 -- last year was the fifth time in the past six seasons that either FSU or Miami wasn’t ranked in the Top 25. It was only last season, though, that No. 4-ranked FSU and No. 10-ranked Clemson squared off in Doak Campbell Stadium for what turned out to be one of the best games of the season.

FSU-Miami was historic.

FSU-Clemson means something now.

With Florida State and Clemson now the conference heavyweights, no game has been more meaningful to the ACC race or more highly anticipated; in each of the past four years, the winner of the FSU-Clemson game has won the Atlantic Division. In each of the past two years, it has produced the ACC champ.

Last season, ESPN’s College GameDay crew went to Tallahassee for what was an instant classic, as the Noles scored 35 points in the second half to beat Clemson, 49-37. Florida State went on to win its first league title since 2005. In 2011, Clemson beat FSU 35-30 to start out 4-0 for the first time since 2007. Clemson went on to win the school’s first ACC title since 1991. In 2010, FSU escaped with a 16-13 home win and knocked Clemson out of the Atlantic Division race.

Miami? Still waiting.

The Canes haven’t beaten FSU since 2009, leaving ticket sales lagging and many fans with little more than a serious case of nostalgia. Meanwhile, both FSU and Clemson have surpassed Miami in the race back to national relevance, and as a result, a new rivalry has been born. Miami has yet to become a consistent Top 25 team again and has lost six of its past eight meetings with Florida State. In order for the rivalry to mean more than in-state bragging rights, it has to hold relevance in the conference race and, more importantly, the national picture. That will be the case again this fall for both FSU and Clemson, which both hold legitimate hopes for a national title.

That too, the Florida State-Miami game wasn’t even the headliner in its own state last year. Andrea lives in the Sunshine State, where the FSU-Miami game was overshadowed last year by the game in Gainesville. Ask Andrea, who went to Florida and grew up watching Miami, if she ever thought a team from South Carolina would take center stage over FSU-Miami.

If it’s no longer the best game, it’s no longer the best rivalry.

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