No. 3 Florida State is set to meet No. 7 Miami in yet another Top 10 matchup for the ACC. Miami is the final ranked team on the Seminoles' regular-season schedule, leaving us to wonder whether the Hurricanes actually are the Seminoles' toughest remaining opponent on the road to an unbeaten season.
Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson debate that very question.
Heather says: Miami on Saturday
It’s not going to get any more difficult than this.
No. 7 Miami is the biggest obstacle still standing in the way between the Seminoles and an undefeated season.
A road trip to Gainesville you say? Psh. Even the Canes beat the Gators -- and that was when Florida was good.
Everything Miami has -- or, more accurately, hasn’t -- done this season is a moot point. The key is that the Canes have done enough to set up a top 10 showdown between two undefeated rivals in front of an ESPN College GameDay crowd. Florida State is going to get Miami’s best shot -- and the Seminoles know it. Not that Florida won’t be aiming for that same bullseye, but Miami is simply a better team than Florida and has proven it in head-to-head competition.
The Gators have lost back-to-back games against ranked opponents. They’re 4-3 and dropped out of the rankings in Week 8 after losing to Missouri, 36-17. They’ve also lost to Florida State in two of the past three seasons. This is a Florida team that’s projected to go to the BBVA Compass Bowl right now -- a freefall from last season's Sugar Bowl appearance. Eight players have suffered season-ending injuries since summer camp, including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, and the team’s top defender, Dominique Easley. The Gators rank 12th or worse in the SEC in scoring, passing, rushing and total offense.
By comparison: Virginia Tech ranks No. 110 in the country in total offense -- right behind Florida.
Unlike the Gators, Miami can move the ball. The Canes are No. 19 in the country in scoring offense. They’ve got one of the most productive running backs in the country in Duke Johnson. And the defense is averaging 3.14 sacks per game -- a huge improvement from last year, when Miami averaged just 1.08 per game.
If Florida State can get past the Canes on Saturday, the most difficult stretch of the season will be behind the Noles. The ACC -- the entire country for that matter -- has been waiting for this rivalry to be relevant again.
Now it’s Florida’s turn to wait.
Andrea says: at Florida, Nov. 30
Florida does not appear to be a tough opponent today, not with all the injuries that have taken a preseason Top 10 team and turned it into an also ran.
But this will undoubtedly be the toughest test on the remaining Florida State schedule. First, this game will ultimately define the Florida season, especially if the Gators lose to Georgia this weekend. Should Florida State come into the regular-season finale against Florida unbeaten, then you can be assured the Gators would love nothing more than to wreck any shot Florida State has at winning a national championship. Laughable?
Rewind to 1997, when double-digit underdog Florida beat No. 1 Florida State 32-29, denying the Noles a shot at the title. It is true that 1997 Florida team is better than this 2013 Florida team but, nonetheless, upsets in rivalry games do happen. And they have happened in this series.
Secondly, and most importantly, Florida presents much tougher matchups for the Seminoles. The Gators rely on a power ground game, and the Florida State defense has been built to best defend a different type of offense. Linebacker Terrance Smith confirmed that point, saying after the NC State win, "I feel our defense is kind of made for the spread.” Against power run teams like Boston College and even Bethune-Cookman at times, the Florida State defense had its share of struggles. The Noles gave up 392 total rush yards in those two games.
There is no doubt Florida will have the best defense Florida State has faced this year, despite the injuries. That includes the all-important secondary, where Florida features future Freshman All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. He is tied for the SEC lead in passes defended and tied for second in the league with three interceptions.
Opposite him, Loucheiz Purifoy is one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Through the first seven games this year, opposing quarterbacks have completed just 47.5 percent of their passes on this Florida secondary -- good for No. 5 in the nation. Quarterbacks are averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt, which is No. 4 in the nation. Coach Will Muschamp is a defensive guru. Perhaps he can devise a plan to slow down Jameis Winston. That is what Florida did last year to Johnny Manziel (173 yards passing, one total touchdown).
Third, all the pressure in the world is going to be on Florida State to beat an overmatched rival. Everybody expects Florida to roll over. Florida State has done well handling pressure all season, but what it will face in this game is nothing compared to Death Valley. The finish line will be in site, against a bitter in-state rival that has won seven of the last nine games in the series. Simply put, no matter the record, Florida is not NC State. Nor is it Wake Forest or Syracuse.
Florida will be a tough out. The toughest out on the remaining slate.