As Florida State and Miami gear up for their 56th showdown since 1951, I can't help but get suckered into feeling like Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff is another must-win.
Sure, the potential for BCS bids for both of these teams has fallen by the wayside, and the ACC Championship Game seems to have already booked flights to Charlotte for schools like Virginia Tech and Clemson, but I can't help but think Doak Campbell Stadium will get a lot of attention this weekend.
At 4-2 against the ACC, the 'Noles are tied with Wake Forest for second in the Atlantic Division behind the aforementioned Clemson (5-1). As bad as its three-game slide felt back in September and October, the FSU is just one Clemson slip-up away from sliding back into the ACC conversation and making new travel arrangements for that Dec. 3 title game. This week, the Tigers play Wake Forest.
Miami has already lost three games in conference and nothing more than bragging rights and bowl positioning to play for this weekend. You can believe Al Golden's squad will not approach Leon County unmotivated. Even in disappointing seasons, good coaches always find ways to get players fired up for what would clearly be a signature victory for either fan base.
Jimbo Fisher needs no extra pep talk to get the players on his roster, many of which hail from the South Florida area, focused on beating the Hurricanes. Likewise, the ‘Canes have lost four of their last six head-to-head matchups with Florida State and look to make a Tallahassee triumph the silver lining of a season that began with scandal and suspensions.
Speaking of scandal, and given this week's biggest national college football story, I must write about the elephant in the world-wide-web room.
This week, we saw a Hall of Fame head coach reduced to tears and shame for his program's own negligence. Legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno spent 61 years with the Nittany Lions. On top of that, the 84-year-old spent the last decade fighting off questions and suggestions of retirement, only to have his throne ransacked within a precious few days' time. A career that seemed untouchable has now been tainted by an assistant coach's unfathomable actions with an underage boy.
I won't keep casting stones at Penn State, Paterno or even ex-defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who faces 40 counts of sexual abuse with as many as eight boys from 1994-2009. However, I will continue to be concerned about why gruesome acts by obviously confused and morally-inept members of society can be sugarcoated and concealed.
At no point is football more significant than child abuse. At no point do financial contributions and a clean NCAA reputation take priority over the harrowing trauma of 10-year-olds being molested in showers by a role model they admired.
For more than a decade, Penn State intentionally missed the opportunity to stamp that virtue into its own community. I understand being deceived by one of your own, but once the wolf in sheep's clothing shows its teeth, the faithful flock must make noise.
That noise shouldn't come just because the national media picked up the scent.
The irony is that perhaps college football's greatest leader failed to lead his program away from a repulsive secret. Whether it was disbelief, distrust or pure disgust, JoePa seemed to have washed his hands of the situation. PSU's Board of Trustees had no choice but to wash its hands of Paterno. A football icon has become a casualty.
In the grand scheme of things, that pales in comparison to the scandal's true victims.
Despite our attention being saturated with current events, this week's Sandusky scandal is far from a new occurrence.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote an intriguing article that's repulsive yet brilliantly researched about a similar situation and cover-up within the Boston Red Sox organization.
I admit, this week was supposed to detail marquee matchups like Penn State vs. Nebraska, Oregon vs. Stanford, Auburn vs. Georgia and, of course, Florida State vs. Miami. Given the amplified circumstances and the years of cover-up, I imagine that won't be the main concern. Maybe that's a good thing.
In case you've excused my spirited tangent, an FSU victory Saturday over the 'Canes would be a good thing as well.
Elton Gumbel is a sports anchor and reporter for WCTV in Tallahassee, as well as a regular contributor to NoleDigest.com.
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