The Daily Nole

Miami with Golden Opportunity to Shift Tide in FSU Rivalry

Jeff Romance/FSU athletucs

Since Mark Richt was hired prior to the season, momentum has seemed to be moving in the right direction for the once-vaunted University of Miami football program.

An alum and former quarterback at Miami, Richt had previously been spent 15 years as head coach at Georgia, where he had 14 winning seasons, nine 10-win seasons, seven top-10 finishes, four SEC East titles and two SEC championships. Richt has won his first four games at the helm in Miami, but on Saturday, he’ll have the chance to further validate his hiring.

With Florida State coming to town, momentum for the first time in a long time seems to be in favor of the No. 10 Hurricanes. The No. 23 Seminoles are 0-2 in ACC play for the first time in five years following a 37-35 home loss to North Carolina while Miami is ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2013. This week’s showdown will mark the first time since 2010 — Jimbo Fisher’s first season as FSU head coach — that Miami enters the annual rivalry contest ranked higher than Florida State.

“Miami is a heck of a team,” Fisher said at Wednesday’s ACC teleconference. “Our kids are anxious to play again.”

The Seminoles have won six straight and nine of 11 in the series, but Miami will likely enter the contest as a slight favorite. Under Fisher, FSU has not only defeated Miami every year, but it has reasserted itself as a perennial national power with five 10-win seasons, four major bowl appearances, three ACC titles and the 2013 national championship.

Miami on the other hand, has not won 10 games since 2003 — its final season in the Big East. Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hurricanes have yet to win the conference or even the Coastal division, which inaugurated in 2005 when the ACC added a conference title game. Over the last 10 years, Miami has finished ranked in the final AP Poll just once and that was a No. 19 finish in 2009.

Despite the teams being on opposite ends of the spectrum for most of Fisher’s tenure, the disparity on the field hasn’t been so wide. The Hurricanes have actually led in the fourth quarter in each of the last two meetings, only to watch FSU running back Dalvin Cook break their hearts with long touchdown runs in the final minutes.

“You got two great teams, two great programs,” Fisher said. “Those games are always going to be highly-contested.”

Cook, a Miami native, is off to another strong start, ranking fifth nationally in rushing yards and leading the country in yards from scrimmage. In two games against Miami, Cook has 371 yards of total offense and five touchdowns on just 36 touches.

Cook and the offense however, haven’t been the problem for FSU. Against FBS opponents this season, the Seminoles are giving up more than 42 points per game. With star safety Derwin James out, busted coverages in the secondary have become routine and Miami junior quarterback Brad Kaaya might be the most NFL-ready prospect the Seminoles have seen under center this year. Kaaya is completing better than 66 percent of his passes this season on nearly 10 yards per pass attempt.

Though the Hurricanes haven’t beat Florida State since 2009, they haven’t won at home over the Seminoles since 2004 at the now defunct Orange Bowl stadium. With a revamped Hard Rock Stadium and a regenerated sense of pride around the program, the Hurricanes could have a significant home field advantage on Saturday.

As far as Richt is concerned, it is worth noting that the former Miami quarterback has been on both sides of the rivalry. Prior to leaving for the head coaching job at Georgia, Richt spent 11 years as an assistant at FSU, including the last seven as offensive coordinator. Richt knows how important the rivalry is in winning recruiting battles and elevating up the national ladder.

The verdict this season is largely still out on Miami. The Hurricanes are 4-0 for just the second time in 12 years, but the competition has been suspect with the biggest challenge coming from a 3-2 Georgia Tech team who needed a last minute touchdown to beat a Boston College squad that went winless in ACC play a season ago.

Just as Florida State’s 45-17 victory at Miami did in 2010 — Fisher’s first year as head coach — Saturday’s game could be vital for the Hurricanes in reclaiming in-state bragging rights and shifting the direction of the rivalry. For the first time in a long time, one could argue that more pressure will be on Miami than FSU.

With a more experienced quarterback, a struggling secondary on the other side, home field advantage and an 8 p.m. EST start, Miami has a golden opportunity to snap a 6-game skid at the hands of its rival. Being unable to do so however, would show that despite Richt’s rejuvenation of the program, it still has a long way to go to get back to national prominence.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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