In the Air Tonight

Did you feel it? The moment the final whistle blew Saturday night against UCONN, could you notice it? As soon as the players for the Miami Hurricanes and Florida State Seminoles finished up their preliminary business this weekend, everything changed.

Forget about the early-season warm-up games. Forget about conference openers. Forget about the blowout win in Gainesville. Forget about the overtime loss to Louisville, or the tight finish against Iowa State. Now, it's time for both these teams to get down to brass tacks. From now until noon on Saturday, everything carries a little more importance regarding college football in the state of Florida, and even the nation. Every practice is a little more urgent, every playbook is studied a little more, and every game tape is worn thin due to excessive playback. The Miami Hurricanes and the Florida State Seminoles are about to play another game. But this time, they'll play each other, and that matchup makes all the difference.

Other rivalries may be more storied. Other rivalries may have larger fan bases foaming at each other across state lines. Other rivalries may have a nice, little trophy that the winner gets to carry home on the team plane or bus every year. But no other rivalry can match Miami-FSU for sheer magnitude when it comes to impacting the college football world in the past two decades. The reason for this impact is simple and well understood by players, fans, and the media alike. The winner of this game has the inside track to a shot at the national championship. That is a fact. In the past 20 years, this game has seen one contestant play for it all an astounding ten times. Almost every other year the winner of the UM-FSU game plays for a crown. Sometimes, the loser does.

Where do you start to elaborate on all the great games that Miami and FSU have played? The series began way back in 1951, and the teams have met almost every year since. The record stands at 25-20 in favor of Miami. Recently, the game has evolved into a streaky matchup. When the NCAA dropped the hammer of probation on Miami, FSU took full advantage and ran off five straight wins. The Hurricanes recovered more quickly and more fully from probation than anyone could have predicted with a straight face. The Canes have claimed the last two meetings, and come into this season's edition heavy favorites and the nation's top-ranked team. The Canes recently set a record for consecutive weeks ranked at the top of the AP Poll. It's okay to start wondering if they're making a run at the record in the Coaches' Poll as well. Miami has been a well-documented football machine since the 2000 season kicked off, running off an astounding 27 straight wins and bringing their record to 28-1.

That one loss to Washington in 2000 prevented that year's Hurricane team from playing for the title. The Seminoles on the other hand, did play for the BcS championship in the 2001 Orange Bowl. Despite losing to Miami 27-24 earlier in the year, the much maligned (rightly so) BcS formula spat the Noles' name out, and FSU proceeded to hand the title to the Oklahoma Sooners, a double-digit underdog. Meanwhile, Miami dismantled eighth-ranked Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and proceeded to set their collective jaw in a hard grimace as their slim national title hopes disappeared along with Florida State's offense. The burn from that snub fed the fire for Miami's title run last season, which included a blowout win against FSU in Tallahassee. Those are just the two most recent examples of how important the Canes-Noles series has become. That's just these past two seasons.

If you delve further into this rivalry you will find a white-hot history of titles (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1999,2001), perfect records (1997, 1991, 1999, 2001), and Heisman Trophies (1986, 1992, 1993, 2000). You will find the accolades and trophies, but you will also find so much more. You will find Wide Right, versions I, II, and III. You'll find Jeff Davis' last second field goal to lift the Canes to victory in ‘83. You will find the Playmaker, Deion, Vinny, Sapp, Ward, Dunn, and a litany of other distinguished NFL alumni. You'll find Danny Stubbs yelling "We're coming back!!! We're coming back!!!" in 1987. And then you'll find Miami first in the polls and FSU second at the end of the year. You'll find the low point of the ‘Canes NCAA sanctions, a 47-0 thrashing in 1997. And you'll find a gritty Hurricane team giving FSU all it could handle at home in 1999. What you'll find is simply this: great football.

That's what you'll get this Saturday, great football. Whether Miami blows the game wide open early, and all there is to watch is the Hurricane Football Machine dismantling another victim, or the contest goes down to the wire, and we see a finish better than any "Instant Classic," this game will be special. If FSU wins, they're right back in the hunt. If Miami wins, they're cruising down the road to Tempe. There's plenty of motivation to go around, as if it's needed when two teams are so well aquatinted. I'm hoping this game lives up to the expectations, to the tradition. I'm hoping it's a war. I can feel it coming in the air tonight. Can you?

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