Blazing Saddles

Two years ago, Florida State went up to North Carolina with 2-0 record, heavily favored and extremely confident. Of course, FSU fell on its fannie 41-9 and has had trouble with its balance ever since. Well, the 'Noles return to Chapel Hill, N.C.,Saturday. UNC coach John Bunting's biggest worry? That's easy. "It's hard to simulate their strength of speed. But they've (players) have watched them on tape. They've seen them. Some of our guys played against them last year. They know." Bunting said.

North Carolina coach John Bunting asked his players if they had ever heard of Renaldo Nehemiah.

Not one player raised their hand.

Nehemiah, of course, is considered to be the best hurdler of all time, an athlete noted for his blazing speed and athleticism. Despite having no college football experience, he also played in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 1984.

What was Bunting's point?

That's easy.

A chuckling Bunting told his players Nehemiah would be on the field Saturday "in some shape and form" when the Tar Heels play host to the 13th-ranked Florida State Seminoles. Bunting was referring to the Seminoles' overall team speed when he brought up the famous hurdler's name.

"How do you prepare for that? It's hard to do," Bunting said Tuesday morning during his news conference with the media.

"Instead of playing nine yards off the line of scrimmage, do you play 15? (laughing). It's hard to simulate their strength of speed. But they've (players) have watched them on tape. They've seen them. Some of our guys played against them last year. They know. They also know we beat them two years ago here. A lot of the players know how we beat them."

Two years ago, of course, the Seminoles went up to North Carolina with 2-0 record, heavily favored, and promptly got thrashed 41-9. Since that game, FSU has gone 15-9 -- and critics continue to question the Seminoles' direction. This also marks the first time since 1996 FSU will open with three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference games -- North Carolina, Maryland and Georgia Tech.

For what it's worth, FSU upended the Tar Heels 40-14 last season at home, scoring 33 points in the second and third quarters.

"It seemed like that was the beginning of our ... I don't know what you'd call it ... we kind of spiraled downward after that," Coach Bobby Bowden said.

"We'll be tested thoroughly. Last year it was 0-0 in first quarter and 3-0 with six minutes to go in the half. It will be a struggle that will break open somewhere along the line, either we'll break it open and they'll break it open. No matter who you play that's really the way it is. This will be a struggle. This is a game I would love to win. I won't care how much. I'd love to win it, then see where we got and come back and get it corrected."

While Bunting pointed to the Seminoles' Nehemiah-type speed, he's also very concerned FSU's experienced defense, the athletic ability of quarterback Chris Rix and the Seminoles' improved special teams play.

"They will play with a tremendous amount of confidence, and they will fly around the football," Bunting said.

"The have unbelievable speed at linebacker and they are big, physical and strong up front. They have the total package on defense in this conference. And their quarterback, as I've said, he's a scary guy because he can make plays. He's a playmaker.

"Also, they represent the most talented group of special teams we will face. I've watched them play Georgia, Miami, Florida, none of those great teams. … nobody blocked them. The smart thing to do against them it to take a knee."

UNC's upset hopes rest on the arm of quarterback Darian Durant and the Tar Heels' offense. Overall, 19 players who started at least one game last season have returned, including the top three rushers and all five primary starters along the line.

"I believe Darian Durant has taken another step in his career here. He's trying extremely hard to do all the right things on the football field," Bunting said.

"(He has) more command of that huddle. He has been able to manage our offense better and we have given him a lot of offense to manage. I expect him to be near the top of his game come Saturday."

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