There isn't the same hype as a season ago, but once again Miami provides what is likely the last test for Florida State before the postseason. In 2013, Miami was a 21-point underdog and Florida State covered that spread, but Las Vegas projects this one to be much closer.
This season's revival of this once great rivalry brings together a Florida State team that enjoys being on the ropes and a Miami team playing its best football of the season.
Jared Shanker offers three reasons why the No. 2 Seminoles will remain undefeated, and Matt Fortuna makes the case for the upset-minded Canes.
Shanker's three reasons FSU wins:
1. The FSU rush defense shores up when it matters: The Florida State defense has issues stopping the run that are not going to be solved this season. The Seminoles are thin at defensive tackle and the linebackers have struggled at times. However, the run defense seems to find its footing in the second half of games. In the three games Florida State trailed in the fourth quarter, the run defense was porous in the first half. Notre Dame ran for 115 yards (4.8 average rush) in the first half, Clemson ran for 77 (3.6) and Louisville ran for 115 (6.8). In the second half, Notre Dame had just 42 yards (3.8), Clemson was limited to 28 (1.6) and Louisville was held to 43 yards (2.7). Common sense suggests the rush defense would be worse in the second half after being run over in the first, but the defense has been a much better unit in the second half. That bodes well with Miami's rushing duo of Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby on the horizon.
2. Miami might not be that good after all: The Hurricanes are certainly trending upward with freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya improving by the week. The offense is dynamic with Kaaya's passing complementing Johnson and Yearby, and Stacy Coley and Phillip Dorsett are big-play receivers. The defense is ranked No. 11 nationally and is much better than it was last season. All that said, the Hurricanes' wins are not against great competition. Their win over Duke is their biggest win, but even the Blue Devils are often labeled as overrated. Miami's three-game winning streak has come against Cincinnati, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Miami has lost its three toughest games by a combined 39 points.
3. FSU still has Jameis Winston as its quarterback: Above all, Florida State has the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Winston, who has yet to lose a game in which he has started. Winston has won all 22 starts, and while the Seminoles are not nearly as dominant as a season ago, Winston is carrying FSU to wins, especially in the second half of games. Winston's numbers are drastically better in the second half, which makes the Seminoles such a tough team to beat. It isn't enough for a team to jump ahead 20 points in the first half, because Florida State is going to mount some kind of comeback. Is Miami capable of getting ahead early and keeping its foot on the pedal? That's what it will need to do. It won't be able to, though. If this game is close in the second half, Winston can be counted on to make the game-changing play.
Fortuna's three reasons Miami wins:
1. Duke Johnson: The junior has been on absolute tear lately, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in each of his last five games. Johnson's rushing average during this stretch? That would be 168.6 yards per game. Taken one step further, his rushing average over the last three games is 196 yards per game. Florida State has been OK stopping the run, ranking 35th nationally. (To FSU's credit, Virginia got absolutely nothing going on the ground Saturday in Tallahassee.) Still, the growth of Brad Kaaya has opened the offense up a bit, creating more room for Johnson to work his magic as of late. He is seventh nationally in rushing yards (1,213) and ninth nationally in yards per rush (7.68), and Miami would be wise to ride him as long as it can Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium.
2. The defense is improving: Yes, the Hurricanes had trouble stopping the run in their three losses this season -- at Louisville, at Nebraska and at Georgia Tech. But who, exactly, has done a good job of stopping two of those teams? (The Cornhuskers are 10th nationally in rushing yards; the Yellow Jackets second.) As our residential stats guru David Hale noted two weeks ago, Miami has actually been fairly stout against its opposition, compared to other teams its opposition has faced. FSU, meanwhile, has not been blowing anybody off the ball this year, ranking 101st nationally in rushing yards pre game (129.89). The old-school tendencies here -- run the ball, stop the run -- stand in Miami's favor.
3. Miami is coming off a bye week: Don't think this matters? Tell that to Jimbo Fisher, who said after the Noles' 34-20 win Saturday over Virginia that the Canes' bye definitely makes a difference: "Your body, your rest, your preparation, an extra whole week of watching film. You can sit and study habits, tendencies. You get twice the practice time on one team." Miami is a confident, rested group that has played well in four of its last five games -- with Georgia Tech being the outlier, as it so often is for everyone. FSU has played with fire for much of the year and gotten away with it. Don't expect the Canes to be as forgiving as others if the Noles find themselves in yet another precarious situation early, especially against such a big rival.