FSU moved up to No. 5 in both college football polls Sunday. Barring a slipup by the second-ranked Miami Hurricanes Thursday against struggling West Virginia, they will be undefeated and ranked No. 2 for the Oct. 11 showdown in Tallahassee at high noon.
Assuming Miami wins, it becomes the first time both teams have been ranked together in the top 5 since 1992 for their rivalry meeting. For seven consecutive seasons (1987-93), these teams annually staged high-stakes drama as national-title contenders.
"It's always a big test in Miami," cornerback Bryant McFadden said.
"It's one of the most best rivalries in college football right now. This year, the feeling is there's more excitement because both teams are undefeated. We are playing up to our potential, they're playing to their potential. Last year people were kind of iffy, wondering if Florida State was able to stay on the same field with Miami. This year you can feel the excitement in the air, anticipating it and just ready to go."
Of course, FSU has been eyeballing this showdown since summer conditioning drills. In fact, one afternoon as the Seminoles ran stadium steps, an irritated Ray Willis felt some of his teammates weren't giving 100 percent. He shouted at them, saying the team wasn't working hard enough to catch the Hurricanes.
While the Seminoles have worked their way back among the nation's elite, coach Bobby Bowden is not ready to say his program is ready for a title run just yet. UM will help answer that question.
"The only thing I can say is that we're heading in the right direction," Bowden said Sunday.
"I can't say that we're back. I just can't say that yet. It'll just have to happen. The thing that we do see is that the symptoms, the symptoms are like they used to be. It looks like you're heading in the right direction. We've got to find out if this is an aberration, or is it the real thing."
While FSU has dropped three consecutive to UM, the Seminoles should be able to rely on their home field. FSU has won five of its last seven home games against UM, including four of the last five since 1993 at Doak Campbell.
And, for what it's worth, FSU defeated UM at home both times the Seminoles won the national championship -- 28-10 in 1993 and 31-21 in 1999. This is just like the old days, right coach Bowden?
"Well, maybe not so much that as the fact that the winner of the Miami-Florida State football game, back in the mid-to-late 80s and even the late 90s - the winner of that doggoned game has played for the national championship," Bowden said.
"We played for it about five times, and won two of them. They've won their five. I guess that's why I'm thinking about that. To get to this game undefeated, and them to get their undefeated, reminds you of the old days. When we say old days, we're saying championship days."
McFadden believes the Seminoles also did a good job of staying focused during the season's first month. After a close call at home against Georgia Tech, FSU routed Colorado and Duke last Saturday. Finally, the Seminoles can begin preparations for the Hurricanes. Off today, FSU returns to practice Tuesday.
"Of course you want take every game, game by game," McFadden said.
"Guys would say, ‘How about that Miami?‘ You don't want to talk too much about. College football anything can happen. Beginning of the season, this is a game that always stuck in your (mind). We were saying if we could come into this game undefeated, this would tell us a lot about our season. Now it's here."
FSU has arrived at this point relying heavily on its top-rated defense. The unit ranks first nationally in scoring defense and has posted 22 sacks. Ironically, only the 1993 national championship team allowed fewer points in the first five games of a season under Bowden.
Bowden admittedly sees similarities.
"The '93 defense was real quick, and this one is very quick, too," Bowden said.
"The '93 defense was fast. This team is fast, too. Probably as fast as any we've had. Does this team have more depth? It probably does. This team probably has more depth than that team. Does this team have more quality? I don't know.
"You had people like Derrick Brooks on there. … there was a lot of good quality. I don't know if this starting team has any more quality than that one did, but I think it does have more depth."
One key offensively continues to be the play of FSU's offensive line. Eric Broe started in place of Bobby Meeks at tight guard. Also, reserve lineman Ron Lunford saw action at both guard and tackle against the Blue Devils. Center David Castillo continues to play well despite a variety of nagging injuries.
"I played pretty well. I got the job done, but I am not where I want to be yet," Broe said.
"I felt a little more comfortable being out there, but there's always room for improvement. I am looking forward to seeing the film, seeing where I made my mistakes and hopefully I can fix them."
Of course, the countdown has started. FSU-UM.
Just like the old days for the Seminoles.
"The one thing I will never forget was the weather. It was so hot down there," sophomore safety Pat Watkins said of his first experience against the Hurricanes last season..
"Of course, the atmosphere was electrifying. I had never been in a situation like that. It was so much fun. I am looking forward to it again this year. We never sleep on Miami. Every year they are going to have the team. They are not looking bad this year either. It's going to be fun. It's going to see talent on talent like that again.
"Sometimes they look insufficient. But that's Miami. You can't take them lightly, no matter how good or bad they do in a game. Miami is the type of team that sometimes plays down to their competition but when they need to win. You can look at their offense and say they are sorry, but we know that's not true. We are going to have to be ready to play our best football."