The road to Tampa Bay: Game 1 – Miami.

Throughout the month of July, NoleDigest will take an early look ahead to this season's schedule and break down each game discussing what the Seminoles need to do in order to reach their first ACC Championship game since its inception in 2005.

For the first time since 2006, Florida State will kick off the season against archrival Miami in a Labor Day night, ACC showdown. This game will be key for both teams as the loser will stumble out of the game starting off 0-1 in conference play.

Last season, Florida State jumped out to a 24-0 lead before squeaking by the ‘Canes by the final score of 41-39. It marked the second straight season that the visiting team was able to come away victorious in this rivalry as Miami came from behind to defeat the 'Noles by the score of 37-29 in 2007 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The 2009 battle will likely mark the first time Florida State will see Jacory Harris as the starting quarterback for the Hurricanes. With the departure of Robert Marve, Harris should be able to lock down the position and keep it for an entire season. Although he is a little more athletic than Marve, his skills in the pocket are suspect and unless he improves greatly by the fall, he should not be the biggest concern to the Florida State defense; especially since he has no proven receiver to go to other than Travis Benjamin who makes his presence felt more as a return man.

For the Hurricanes to move the ball on offense, they will have to find a way to get running backs Javarris James and Graig Cooper involved establishing a ground game early. Last season, the ‘Canes were able to accumulate just 51 yards on the ground, compared to over 300 by the Seminoles.

Defensively, sophomore linebacker Sean Spence will have to find a way to stop what is expected to be a dominant rushing attack by FSU. Last season, Christian Ponder ran for 144 yards on the ground which was the second most all time by a FSU quarterback in a game. Antone Smith added 92 yards but found the endzone four times. This season, look for Jermaine Thomas to lead the way. Last season, Thomas carried the ball twice against Miami for 51 yards, or a whopping 25.5 YPC average.

In the past two meetings, FSU and Miami have averaged a total of 73 points per game. Look for that number to drop significantly this year. The difference is the month of preparation that the teams have enjoyed before both of those shootouts. From 2004-2006 when the game was moved to the first week of the season, the combined average number of points has been just 22. This is largely due to the defense being much further along than the offense at this point in the season, and that should show again this year.

What Florida State must do to win: Establish a run game early. If the Tribe can get the trio of Jermaine Thomas, Ty Jones and Tavares Pressley going in the first quarter, they will control the ball and the pace of the game.

Overall, FSU is much further along than Miami at this point, but when two rivals collide under the national spotlight, anything goes, and usually does.

NoleDigest way too early prediction: Florida State will come out and defend their home turf starting the season off with a win. More importantly, a key conference win that will put them atop the ACC standings for at least a week. For the first time in years, Florida State's offensive line is their strength and the talent running behind them should make the ground game a nightmare for opposing teams to defend. In what is likely to be an ugly game offensively, whoever has the more potent rush attack will win and that team will be Florida State.

FSU 20 UM 10

Stay tuned to NoleDigest all month as we will continue our "Road to Tampa Bay" series with the next installment looking at the Gamecocks of Jacksonville State.

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