Saturday’s Florida State-Miami game is the least appealing matchup in this storied rivalry’s history since, well, it became a storied rivalry.
Their combined 8-10 record is the worst for an FSU-Miami game since 1975 (3-13). It’s only the fifth matchup of unranked teams in the series’ past four decades.
Though this weekend’s contest is irrelevant nationally, it still matters tremendously in the state. Just ask the players.
“Legends are made in this game,” Miami receiver Mike Harley said.
“You come to Florida State,” second-year Seminoles coach Mike Norvell said, “and the first thing you think about are those games and what they mean not only to the program, to the state, the fan base, everybody involved.”
To see how much this game still means, even in a down year, you only need to go back two years to the last time the unranked Hurricanes visited the unranked Seminoles. It was the last game Willie Taggart ever coached at FSU.
Taggart’s seat rose from hot to scorching two weeks earlier in a confounding loss at Wake Forest. But FSU did not fire him until the day after a 27-10 loss to a mediocre Miami team. The home humiliation finally ended Taggart’s tenure.
The stakes are similar this weekend. Third-year coach Manny Diaz has led the ‘Canes to three consecutive wins since athletic director Blake James declined to say definitively whether Diaz will remain the head coach through the end of this season, much less into ‘22.
Diaz’s situation doesn’t seem as dire as the one Taggart faced two years ago. But would he be able to come back after dropping to 5-5 with a loss to an archrival during a rebuilding year?
The fact that both programs are rebuilding adds, not subtracts, from Saturday’s importance. A Miami win would make the ‘Canes eligible for a bowl game. FSU needs to beat Miami, Boston College and Florida to qualify for the postseason.
Making a bowl game should be the minimum expectation for both programs. The fact that neither one is there yet reinforces how much the ‘Noles and ‘Canes could benefit from the extra practices and player development that come with a postseason trip, even if it’s across the state to Tampa’s Gasparilla Bowl.
Aside from a shot at a bowl game, the Seminoles simply need wins. FSU has improved under Norvell. The ‘Noles were the nation’s No. 85 team last season, according to ESPN’s SP+ analytics. They were 63rd after Week 5 and are up to 48th. That’s 10 spots higher than they were in 2019.
That’s progress. But progress won’t mean much in the locker room or in the fanbase if the growth doesn’t eventually show up on the scoreboard beyond respectable losses to Notre Dame or Clemson.
Beating Miami? That would be a breakthrough moment for Norvell — especially considering he couldn’t coach in this game last year because he tested positive for coronavirus.
The other reason not to ignore the weakest FSU-Miami game in decades is obvious. It’s still FSU-Miami. When players and fans look back on this rivalry’s storied history, they won’t care that neither team was good in 2021. They’ll care that FSU snapped a four-game losing streak in the series or that Miami won its fifth in a row.
It’s something Harley said he could brag about years from now, at weddings or reunions. Something he summed up into one word.
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