Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
There’s one game yet to be played in the ACC (and one helmet sticker yet to be awarded), and tonight’s game between Florida State and Miami will determine the early lead in the conference race. I picked Miami to win this game, but it’s in Tallahassee, and everyone knows anything can happen in such a storied rivalry. Here’s a look at what favors each team:
THREE REASONS MIAMI WILL WIN
1. Sense of urgency. The Canes know the snowball effect a loss can have, and if there’s one thing Miami needs in the first four games of the season, it’s momentum. Miami opens up with three straight conference games before hosting Oklahoma on Oct. 3, and an 0-4 start isn’t unimaginable, especially if they lose their opener. It’s Randy Shannon’s third season, and more is expected than last year’s mediocre 7-6 finish.
2. FSU’s unproven defense. The Noles only return three starters from a group that finished third in the nation in total defense. Two of them are in the secondary, but Patrick Robinson missed a day at practice this week with a shoulder injury and according to the Orlando Sentinel didn’t seem ready to say he was 100 percent just yet. The linebacker corps and the secondary will each feature two new starters.
3. Miami’s offensive advantage up front. Again, this goes back to FSU’s inexperience on defense, but Florida State’s defensive ends remain a question, and that should help give Jacory Harris some time to think. The Canes’ offensive line is also good enough to pave the way for Graig Cooper and Javaris James, who should both have productive seasons. FSU’s defensive line is lacking depth, and four defensive tackles -- Budd Thacker (toe), Demonte McAllister (knee), Justin Mincey (knee), and Kendrick Stewart (knee) -- are on the injury report. Thacker and Stewart might play.
THREE REASONS FSU WILL WIN
1. Quarterback Christian Ponder is the most comfortable he’s ever been with the playbook. He’s aware of everything -- and every mistake -- going on around him. He’s also healthy, and has an entire year of starting experience to build on. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has said that Ponder as the ability to develop into the best player he has coached at the position.
2. The offensive line returns all five starters. This is probably the Noles’ greatest team strength, and it should be an advantage against Miami’s defensive line, which, like FSU, is also banged up. This group should give Ponder the time he needs to throw, and pave the way for young backs Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones. Miami struggled to stop the run last year, so if the Noles can get their ground game going, it would be a huge advantage.
3. FSU’s receivers are better than some might think. And Miami’s secondary, which ranked last in the nation with just four interceptions last year, still has something to prove. Now that their off-field issues are long behind them, this group looks much more capable of testing Miami’s secondary. Taiwan Easterling has shown no signs of his Achilles injury, and Fisher has said he likes what he sees from this group.