Nov 01, 2013

Whitley Writes: Miami at FSU a Welcome Return To The Old Days

You know it’s a big game when the coaches say it’s not. So what’s happening in Tallahassee Saturday must be huge.

Jimbo Fisher says it’s just the next game on FSU’s schedule. Al Golden wants his Hurricanes to take them one crazy comeback game at a time.

“We all know who we’re playing,” he said.

Yes, and for the first time far too long we can recognize both teams. Miami and FSU are both in the top 10. That’s no just a relief to the ACC, it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Russell Athletic Bowl.

The Russell Athletic Bowl gets the second pick outside of the BCS this year. Starting next season, it will have the first pick of any ACC team (including Notre Dame) that doesn’t go to the College Football Playoff series or the Orange Bowl.

The better the ACC is, the better the RAB becomes. The scouts at Doak Campbell Stadium Saturday night can sit back and enjoy the rebirth of the greatest rivalry in state history.

Florida vs. FSU may turn families against themselves. But for sheer skill, rankings and historical drama, FSU vs. Miami is king.

Anyone over 30 remembers the glory days. FSU and Miami played seven straight games when they were both ranked in the top 10. They combined to win six national titles and play for six more. The problem is anyone under 30 doesn’t know Steve Walsh from Joe Walsh.

This century has not been overly kind to the Hurricanes and Seminoles. It’s as if Apple and Google turned into Montgomery Ward and MicronPC.com. As rough as it was on FSU, the Miami had it worse. The Hurricanes haven’t even won a conference title in 10 years.

That’s not exactly what the ACC envisioned when Miami joined the league in 2004. Then Golden came along three years ago. Shortly thereafter, a booster scandal came along that Golden had nothing to do with. The coach who always sports a starched white shirt and an orange tie probably felt like hanging himself, or at least taking one of the job offers he was getting.

But Golden stuck out Miami’s self-imposed scholarship reductions and bowl ban. The Inspector Clouseaus at the NCAA finally wrapped up their investigation and announced their penalties two weeks ago.

Miami will lose nine scholarships and be on probation for three years. But the bowl ban is over. The worst is over with. At last.

“It was something that lingered over the program my whole time since I’ve been here,” said junior Anthony Chickillo. “And now it’s gone. I love it.”

It’s added to the mojo that’s enveloped this year’s team. The Hurricanes have overcome double-digit deficits the past three games. They are 7-0 and ranked No. 6, but those close calls haven’t impressed Las Vegas.

FSU is also 7-0 and ranked No. 3, but Miami is a 21½-point underdog. It’s the largest spread ever for a top-10 clash this late in the season. Fisher, of course, thinks that’s nonsense.

“I have no idea what the point spread is. I don’t even look at the point spread. I don’t worry about the point spread,” he said. “I know they have a great team.”

That may be stretching it a bit, but Golden is cleaning up a decade’s worth of bad moves in Miami. And for all the talk about FSU and Miami being back, this incarnation of the ‘Canes sounds nothing like the swaggering teams so many people used to love to hate.

The Golden Rule seems to be “Provide No Bulletin Board Material.” Miami’s players have been so gentlemanly, the Seminoles are having to find inspiration from Hurricanes who are pushing 40.

A lot of FSU’s players have watched the ESPN documentary “The U,” which recounted the old Wild West days in Coral Gables. The old players referred to FSU as their “little brother.” Even 20 years later, nobody likes to hear that.

“We want to beat our brother,” FSU quarterback Jameis Winston said. “If they want to be the big brother, we want to be the little brother.”

Big, little, it doesn’t matter to the ACC or Russell Athletic Bowl. They’re just happy the family members are finally looking like their old selves.

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