The Road to Charlotte: Game 6- Miami

NoleDigest continues it's Road to Charlotte series as we look at the Miami game.

The Florida State versus Miami rivalry seems to be on its way back to being considered one of the nation's best. After some down years earlier in the decade both teams have garnered some pre-season hype for being on the way back, as well as both being prime candidates for the ACC Championship in 2010.

Last year's installment was one of the most hype college games in ESPN history. The game was close, but Miami was able to stop a last minute drive by FSU as Jarmon Fortson dropped a touchdown pass with seconds remaining.

This year both teams are looking to prove they're "back". Miami has gotten more attention than FSU due to a more experienced defense, and some are predicting Miami as a dark horse National Championship contender.

Jacory Harris did an excellent job as a full-time starter in 2009, passing for over 3,300 yards and 24 scores. Harris is a signal caller that has gotten some Heisman mention, but to do that, and to make Miami the contender some think they are, he'll need to cut down on the turnovers. Harris was 2nd nationally with 17 interceptions so making better decisions and taking care of the ball is vital to Harris' success. Miami needs to protect Jacory as there are some major questions behind him.

Heading into the season Miami's stable of running backs has emerged as one of the ACC's best, and they are one of the deepest segments in college football. Graig Cooper is coming off the ACL injury and he'll miss some early games, but others are looking to step up in 2010. Damien Berry came on in October for the ‘Canes, and he is expected to be the starter early on. In camp Lamar Miller and Mike James have impressed. Miller is one to watch. As a prep he was a phenomenal ball carrier. It looks like he has grasped the offense. Freshman Storm Johnson has also gotten some preseason attention, but it is too early to see if he gets carries or is able to supplant one of the talented ball carriers in front of him.

Miami returns just about everyone at wide receiver this upcoming season. Travis Benjamin has been a major thorn in FSU's side the past 2 years both on special teams and at wide out. LaRon Byrd has All-ACC potential and seems ready to break through this year. Leonard Hankerson, Tommy Streeter, and Aldarius Johnson are 3 players who have what it takes to lead Miami in catches and yards this season.

Offensive line was a major weakness heading into last year, and again there are questions up front for the ‘Canes this year. Miami has to replace Jason Fox, who was a 4 year starter for them at left tackle. Taking his place is Orlando Franklin. Tyler Horn replaces A.J. Trump at center, and he has not been especially strong heading into the season. Brandon Washington and Joel Figueroa will start at guard. Freshman phenom Seantrel Henderson is a wild card. Seantrel could dominate, and at the same time he could struggle as he makes the transition from high school to college. Miami has high hopes for Henderson.

It all starts on defense with Allen Bailey. Allen is reminiscent of the dynasty era linemen the ‘Canes had. Bailey will get a lot of attention from opposing teams, allowing some talented defensive linemen the chance to make some plays. Olivier Vernon and Adewale Ojomo will start at defensive end, and Marcus Robinson will compete for major minutes. Micanor Regis and Josh Holmes add depth inside. What will Miami get from former 5-start Marcus Forston? He missed last year with an injury. Can he realize his potential and live up to the hype he had coming in?

Linebacker is a glaring question mark on defense for Miami. Sean Spence had a sophomore slump last year after impressing as a freshman. Colin McCarthy returns and will be lining up outside. Who'll play inside for Miami? There are a lot of concerns there as the season approaches. There hasn't been a player yet step up and take on the challenge. Ramon Buchanon, Kylan Robinson, Jordan Futch and freshman Kevin Nelson will look to add depth for Miami.

There is some talent in the defensive backfield. Brandon Harris played much better as a sophomore than as a freshman last year and he'll lead this unit. Demarcus Van Dyke has always had the speed, but he hasn't been able to put it together yet. At safety Ray Ray Armstrong has shown flashes of the all-time great safeties Miami has had. Armstrong has Miami excited. Opposite him is Vaughn Telemaque. Vaughn was up and down last year. Behind the starting four there is not a lot of depth. Jamal Reid, Juju Nicolas and Brandon McGee will be leaned on to provide depth.

What FSU must do to win: Last year was arguably the worst defense in 25 years at FSU, yet the Seminoles came this close to winning last year's contest. This game looks to be another shoot out early on as both offenses have the skill to put points on the board. FSU's defense will be tested in this game, and it will provide a hungry bunch of defenders the chance for redemption from last year.

FSU created a few turnovers last year against Miami, namely the forced fumble by Greg Reid returned by Markus White. The Seminole defense must get pressure on Harris. As we noted earlier he does have the penchant to throw interceptions, so look for Mark Stoops to create some coverages and blitzes to test an inexperienced offensive line. FSU must create at least 2 turnovers in this game.

Offensively, FSU has always found success against Miami when they run the ball. In 2008 Antone Smith went off on the Canes, and quarterback Christian Ponder punished the Miami defense with his legs. FSU has a talented group of running backs in their own right; that group will have to show up to help manage the clock, sustain drives, and put points on the board. FSU's offensive line has the edge up front based off experience. Can they control the line of scrimmage and protect Ponder and open up lanes for the backs? The team that rushes for the most yards normally wins in this series.

NoleDigest way too early prediction: This game is intriguing on several fronts. Both teams have early season challenges that can change the course of their seasons. FSU and Miami both have tough, tough schedules. FSU will have faced Oklahoma coming into this game, and Miami will be wrapping up a brutal stretch: at Ohio State, at Pittsburgh and at Clemson. Will the Canes have anything left? If they can win a few of those games, and if FSU can win at OU, both teams will have a high amount of confidence coming into this game.

Recently the road team has had the edge in this series, with FSU being the last home team to win back in 2005. The last 5 games have a total winning margin of 20 points, so this year's match-up will more than likely be close.

NoleDigest feels this game will come down to which defense makes the most plays. Miami has some decent front line talent, but there are some questions depth-wise at linebacker and defensive back. Miami will need to control the game up front and shut down Ponder; that is something they've struggled to do in 2008 and 2009. In the end, look for the away team to continue the trend of winning this game. At this point it is a coin flip, but historically Jimbo Fisher has had Miami's number. Look for the ‘Noles to put up enough points to edge out Miami in this one.

FSU 39 Miami 35

Predicted record: 5-1, 3-0 in the ACC

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