- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let’s pretend that Miami’s back-to-back pedestrian performances against North Carolina and Wake Forest didn’t exist.
Doesn’t matter now.
It’s time to have a little fun.
On Saturday, No. 3 Florida State will host No. 7 Miami in a rivalry game that finally means something again. They’re both undefeated. They’re both ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings -- the first time since 2004 that they’ll play each other with both teams ranked in the top 10. Florida State is knocking on the door of a national title again. Miami is 7-0 for the first time since 2003. And no matter how both teams have looked to this point -- sheer opposites, with the Seminoles a bunch of bruisers and the Cardiac Canes waiting until the final minute to seal the deal -- anything can happen in Tallahassee on Saturday night.
Embrace it, ACC fans. This is what the league has been waiting for.
“That’s what I came here for -- FSU-Miami, FSU-Florida -- just the big games and the big-game atmosphere, playing football for Florida State,” said FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. “We’re going to prepare the same and do everything the same, but it’s a big rivalry game, so they’re going to come with it and we’ve got to come with it, too.”
How Miami got here -- a little bit of luck and a lot of willpower -- is now irrelevant. This will be the second ACC game in three weeks that features two top-10 teams, as Clemson also hosted Florida State on Oct. 19. That was before the official BCS standings were released, though, and now the rankings carry even more weight. Consider that this is only the third time in conference history the ACC has had a game between two teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings. (No. 2 Boston College beat No. 8 Virginia Tech 14-0 in 2007; No. 6 Miami beat No. 3 Virginia Tech 27-7 in 2005.)
For Florida State, which is jockeying for the No. 2 position with Oregon, there is no margin for error. Saturday’s game and the regular-season finale at rival Florida are the Seminoles’ toughest two games remaining on the schedule. Oregon still plays No. 5 Stanford and finishes the regular season against Oregon State. If FSU is going to displace the Ducks for a spot in the national title game, the Noles simply can’t lose.
Until now, Miami’s story has been about what the Canes haven’t done. Miami hasn’t even won its division, let alone a conference title, since joining the ACC, and for the past three-and-a-half years, the program has been tangled up in an NCAA investigation. Not anymore. The Canes are the only undefeated team remaining in the Coastal Division, and this will be the second consecutive Saturday they’re playing free and clear of the NCAA.
Miami’s victory over Wake Forest last week was the third straight game in which the Hurricanes have had to overcome a double-digit deficit. Instead of being lauded for their ability to find a way to win, though, Miami has been criticized for falling behind against unranked opponents.
Should Miami work similar magic against FSU on Saturday and win in the final minute again, well, that would just be par for the course in this rivalry. The Canes did it in 1983 with a game-winning field goal. They did it in 1991, when, with 29 seconds remaining, fans watched Wide Right I. They did it in 1992, Wide Right II. Same thing in 2000 and 2002.
Considering the way both teams have played, many are expecting Florida State to steamroll the Canes. The Noles have outscored their past three opponents 163-31 -- and that includes a 51-14 drubbing of then-No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley.
Should Saturday’s game come down to the last play, fans should only be so lucky -- as lucky as they are to be watching the ACC’s two storied programs playing as top-10 teams again.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney