FSU-Miami game carries weight again

There is never a lack of drama in this game, only a lack of relevance.

Not this year.

With two teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, No. 23 Florida State and No. 13 Miami are once again the teams to beat in their respective divisions.

And that should have been the goal the whole time.

National relevance is important, yes, but before any team can be a national title contender -- or a conference champion for that matter -- it has to win its division first. Florida State and Miami both had opportunities to measure themselves against top-10 competition in September, and both came up short in road games. While a gap remains between both programs and the nation's elite, Florida State and Miami are now in a position to distance themselves from the rest of the ACC.

They have to get past each other, though, first.

Florida State has won three straight games, Miami back-to-back road games. With Florida falling to No. 14 in the AP poll, this week marks the first time Miami is the highest-ranked team in the state of Florida in the AP poll since Dec. 4, 2005.

Both teams can attribute much of their success to defensive improvement. Miami ranks No. 1 in the country in tackles for loss, No. 2 in sacks and No. 2 in pass efficiency defense. Florida State is No. 1 in the country in sacks, No. 2 in tackles for loss, and No. 4 in rushing defense. Both teams have veteran quarterbacks in Christian Ponder and Jacory Harris. Both have a deep stable of running backs.

"It's almost like a mirror reflection of Miami," said Miami defensive back Ryan Hill, a native of Tallahassee. "They're fast, they're physical, they're big, and they're going to come to play Saturday night. You can bet your bottom dollar on that."

This game marks the midpoint of the regular season, and once Saturday's game is over, the toughest competition will be behind both teams. With the exception of Florida, the Seminoles likely won't face another ranked opponent unless NC State works its way back into the Top 25. The same can be said for Miami, unless Virginia Tech continues to win and sways AP voters to let the Hokies back in after a loss to James Madison.

That's not to say either team should be on cruise control come Monday -- c'mon, this is the ever-unpredictable ACC. But whoever wins this game should be considered the front-runner to win it all, and it's been a while since either program could say that. Florida State hasn't won an ACC title since 2005. Miami has yet to win the Coastal Division since joining the conference.

And that's the first step toward any title.