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Is Florida State's toughest game at Miami?

7/30/2014

The Florida State Seminoles have a 40 percent chance of finishing the 2014 regular season undefeated, according to ESPN Stats & Information's Football Power Index. Florida State's toughest game this season statistically will be one in which the opponent has a 13.2 percent chance to win. That team is the Miami Hurricanes.

Miami? Are we in the 1990s?

Florida State still has an 87 percent probability of beating Miami on the road Nov. 15, and with such a high probability in Florida State's statistically toughest game, naturally there are several other games within a few percentage points. So, does Miami really present the toughest matchup this season?

Since Jimbo Fisher took over as coach, Miami has provided little resistance. His teams are 4-0 against rival Miami and have doubled up the Hurricanes in total points, 142-70. History won't dictate the game, but it illustrates the gap between the two programs whose annual rivalry game had national title implications seemingly every season for the better part of two decades.

Nowhere is the gap more noticeable than at quarterback. Florida State has Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Miami doesn't know who will start the opener as it's unlikely Ryan Williams, who tore an ACL in April, will be able to play. The hope is Williams will return at some point this season, but it has only been four months since the surgery.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen could be in line to see the most playing time in Williams' stead, but he still has yet to fully command the respect of his teammates and head coach.

"Kevin is really made a lot of improvement this summer on being a good teammate, but, for him to be the quarterback of the team, he needs to ascend to a leadership position," Miami coach Al Golden said last week. "He's matured … and he's being a good teammate. Now he needs to go and be a good leader like Ryan Williams is. You can't be a quarterback without being a leader."

What the Hurricanes do have is the conference's top running back in Duke Johnson, and he is Miami's best chance at the upset. If Johnson can find some running room early and the Hurricanes offer him a steady diet of touches, it could provide the winning formula.

A 100-yard game from Johnson would benefit the Hurricanes two-fold: The offense would move the ball with limited risk of a mistake from the quarterback, and it keeps Florida State's offense off the field. Miami played well defensively in Tallahassee last season through two quarters, but ultimately the unit spent too much time on the field; Florida State held the ball for more than 38 minutes. The defense collapsed over the final five games.

But while this rivalry awoke last year from a nearly decade-long hiatus from national relevancy, it seems there are games on Florida State's schedule that are equally tough.

Clemson is considered the next toughest game on the schedule (88 percent win probability), and the Seminoles host the Tigers on Sept. 20. There are not many recognizable faces on the Clemson offense, but the defense is among the best in the country. Critics will point to last season when that defense allowed 51 points to the Seminoles, and with good reason, but the unit should be better with Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and now five-star Mackenzie Alexander in the secondary. Florida State might not be as potent on offense in 2013 either without Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and Kenny Shaw.

Florida is the next toughest matchup statistically for the Seminoles (91 percent), but there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the Gators. The injury bug bit Florida hard last season, and it showed on the field, especially at quarterback. Jeff Driskel has been on the hot seat much of his career in Gainesville, but he was clearly missed in 2013. If the Gators' offense can simply be efficient and avoid turnovers, similar to 2012, Florida's defense might be able to keep the Seminoles' offense at bay.

Those two games might not be as tough statistically as the Miami game now, but that could drastically change once the season begins.