Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Colleges

FSU triumphs in renewed rivalry

TALLAHASSEE

ESPN's College GameDay set up shop Saturday morning in the shadow of Doak Campbell Stadium on the campus of Florida State.

By Saturday evening, ABC's Brent Musburger was excitedly proclaiming how we were "looking live" at the biggest college football game in the country.

For a change, the eyes of the country weren't focused on Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Eugene, Ore., or Norman, Okla.

This was Tallahassee, home of what just might be the best team in college football and the site of something special.

This game had buzz. It mattered. Not only around here, but everywhere.

It was Florida State-Miami.

Welcome back to the rivalry.

Add another chapter to it as Florida State kept its national championship hopes alive with a 41-14 victory over a Miami team that, for a half anyway, played much better than many anticipated and every bit as well as what it was: the seventh-ranked team in the country.

But, in the end, the third-ranked Seminoles were too much in a game loaded with big plays, big hits and, as any self-respecting rivalry would have, a few fisticuffs and plenty of smack talk.

For a minute there, you couldn't help but think it was the 1990s.

That's when FSU-Miami was the game of the year in college football. Actually, it was more like the Game of the Century played on an annual basis.

It has been a while since this game had that kind of feel, but you had better believe that this year's version will not soon be forgotten in Tallahassee. Because when it's all done, Saturday night's game will have paved the way to an undefeated regular season.

What's left is downhill.

Of course, Seminoles fans cringe at that last sentence. They've been here before. Last year, in fact.

Florida State survived an early test against Clemson, had dreams of an undefeated season, then stumbled against North Carolina State (and a quarterback named Mike Glennon) in a game that still has every Seminole booster sick to his stomach.

This season, however, feels different. This season is different.

This FSU team is better — better at quarterback, better on offense, better on defense. And, more than anything, better between the ears.

Instead of finding a way to lose Saturday, they found a way to win. Easily.

If the Seminoles were going to choke away a game, this was it.

See, these are the games that win national championships. It's not the blowout victories, like the one FSU had at Clemson earlier this season. It's not the lopsided games against pretenders, like the thumping FSU laid on Maryland a month ago.

It's the games when you don't play well, the nights when not everything goes your way. Saturday was like that.

Early on, the Seminoles were ripe for the upset.

There were sloppy penalties — holding, illegal procedures, needless personal fouls. Quarterback Jameis Winston threw two first-half interceptions and, for the first time, looked a tad nervous. He looked like you would expect a redshirt freshman to look in a big game, and his interceptions led to Miami scores.

And yet after all that, the Seminoles still had a 21-14 lead at halftime.

They got their act together and cruised in the second half, outscoring the 'Canes 20-0, to move to 8-0.

"I think it's a team that is understanding how to compete in big games," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said, "and is learning to do it in different ways."

So, what's left?

Not much: a trip to Wake Forest and home games against Syracuse and Idaho. Then, finally, a trip to Gainesville to take on a Gators team so bad that fans are seeing if anyone has a number for Ron Zook.

Florida State's problem now is its conference and a schedule that doesn't quite make it fit for a shot at a BCS title.

Just last week, FSU whipped up on North Carolina State, then watched Oregon leapfrog it in the BCS standings. Saturday's victory over Miami likely won't change FSU's lot.

Even if the Seminoles finish undefeated, they likely will be shut out of the national championship picture if Alabama and Oregon also go undefeated.

The biggest games left for FSU don't even involve the Seminoles. They are Oregon at Stanford on Thursday and Alabama at home against LSU on Saturday and, perhaps, Alabama at Auburn or in the SEC championship game down the road.

As far as FSU, it has done everything it has needed to do so far.

If Florida State goes on to win a national championship this year, remember Saturday night. Remember this victory. It wasn't as pretty as some FSU has put up this year. It wasn't as dominant as the score might have suggested.

But it was the kind of game that national champions win.

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