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Al Golden still searching for signature win

Miami is not a program that can happily live in a vacuum. Not when its history is so intricately tied to its present.

Big wins are expected. So are championships. And that is why there is more pressure on Miami coach Al Golden than there is on Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher headed into their showdown on Saturday. That might not make much sense on the surface because Fisher needs to win out to get Florida State into the College Football Playoff.

But Fisher has succeeded where Golden has not. Fisher has his signature victories on his résumé.

Golden is still looking for one. He is 0-3 against the rival Seminoles. Including games against the Noles, Golden is 3-7 against teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time Miami played them. His two biggest wins ended up turning into duds -- No. 17 Ohio State in 2011 and No. 12 Florida in 2013. Both those teams ended up with losing records.

“For everybody, to win this game would be big,” linebacker Denzel Perryman said. “The past four years, we've been coming up short, so to have that win would be big for us and the coaches and the program, To have that W is always great momentum.”

When the senior class signed with Miami, there was no way to envision being winless against the Seminoles.

“Of course not, you come to Miami to beat Florida State,” offensive lineman Shane McDermott said. “It’s been four years, and we haven’t beaten them. it’s been a rough road in that sense, but we have a great shot coming up this Saturday. It’s my senior year, so we’d really like to get that win.”

Given the way both Florida State and Miami have played of late, the oddsmakers have made the Noles slim favorites, bolstering expectations for a close game and potential Hurricanes win. If Miami gets blown out, you can bet the Golden critics will be out again, the way they were after Miami lost to Georgia Tech to drop to 3-3.

A group of fans flew a banner over Sun Life Stadium the following week during the Cincinnati game, reading “Fire Al Golden.” Prominent alumni started questioning the direction of the program. But all those critics have grown silent during the Canes’ three-game winning streak.

Golden has had plenty of people come to his defense, too, from former receiver Michael Irvin to former running back Mike James. Athletic director Blake James remains firmly behind him as well.

“Coach Golden’s done a tremendous job,” McDermott said. “He stayed here throughout all our NCAA storm, and he handled every single thing with class, and he’s really showed love for our university. There’s been a lot of yapping going on around the program, but he just ignores it. That’s one great quality he has. Every single day, he goes to practice, and he wants to make us the best possible team he can. We’re starting to become that.”

Golden has hung signs up around the football facilities that say, “Ignore the Noise.” Despite disappointing results against Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech, Miami has the No. 11-ranked defense in the country (312 ypg) and is on pace to have its best rushing performance since the 2001 national championship team.

On the flip side, Miami has lost three of its four toughest games this season. Of its six wins, only one is over a power-five team with a winning record -- No. 21 Duke.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Golden said. “Obviously, you open the season with an inexperienced quarterback at two very difficult places to play at Louisville and Nebraska. So I think we learned a lot from that. Certainly, our quarterback has learned a lot. He’s done a better job protecting the ball, and he's grown throughout the season. It’s a great challenge coming up.”

Golden and Davis do have one more thing in common. As McDermott alluded to, both coaches had to deal with NCAA sanctions at the start of their tenures. Davis eventually beat Florida State after five straight losses, and set the program up for its fifth national championship.

But 15 years later, there seems to be more impatience from many Miami supporters, desperate to get back to national prominence the way Florida State has over the past three years. Golden and his players are desperate to win, too. They try to “ignore the noise” but they are not completely blind and deaf.

They know the perception. They know they have to win this game.

“Of course, you get angry, but you turn that into fuel and say, ‘You know what? We’re going to prove everyone wrong here,'" McDermott said.

Their opportunity to prove it comes on Saturday.