By RALPH D. RUSSO
Ten years have passed since the Atlantic Coast Conference lured Miami away from the Big East, and the ACC is finally getting what it figured would become routine when the Hurricanes joined.
No. 7 Miami at No. 3 Florida State. Two unbeaten teams in a game with national championship implications, taking the spotlight on Saturday night. It’s just like ACC Commissioner John Swofford drew it up, though it’s taken a while to get to this place.
“Any time those two teams play it’s one of the great rivalries in college football,” Swofford said Wednesday. “It’s good to see it back to what it was for so many years, where so many of those games decided national championships. It’s really good for those two programs, but also for our entire league for that once again to be the case.
“Any time any conference has two of its teams in the top 10 it’s terrific. When it’s two programs with the brand recognition they have, it’s even better.”
When Miami entered the conference in 2004, it was only three years removed from a national championship and coming off a four-year run in which it went 46-4. Florida State was five years removed from its last national title, coming off a 10-3 season.
It didn’t seem like a stretch to think that the ACC would have a pair of perennial top-10 programs to carry the conference’s banner. They were put in different divisions so the possibility existed of multiple Miami-FSU games in some seasons.
It didn’t work out that way.
Miami hasn’t had a 10-win season since entering the ACC. Florida State went from 2004 through 2010 without winning more than nine games in a season.
“With those brands being what they are, and have been what they are for such a long time, I don’t think anybody would have thought a decade would go by without there being a Miami-Florida State ACC championship game,” Swofford said.
The last time both were in the top 10 when they played was 2005, but that was the opening weekend of the season. To find a game similar to this, you’d have to go back to 2003, pre-ACC for Miami, when both were 5-0 and ranked in the top 10 and Miami beat the Seminoles 22-14 in Tallahassee.
Instead of two super powers to anchor the conference, the ACC had two big names that never quite lived up to their reputations.
Things started to turn at Florida State in 2010, when Jimbo Fisher took over for Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden. After going 12-2 last season, the Seminoles have taken another step forward this year and look primed to consistently reclaim a place among the nation’s elite programs.
Miami’s turnaround under third-year coach Al Golden has been more involved, with the program dealing with NCAA issues, but the Hurricanes are off to their best start since 2003.
FSU-Miami also marks the second time in less than a month that the biggest game of the week is in the ACC.
Florida State’s trip to Clemson had all the trimmings, too, including a visit by ESPN’s College GameDay.
“I’ve said that over and over, fairly or unfairly leagues are judged primarily by how their best teams fare in the national championship picture and whether you have teams deep into the season that are involved in the national champ picture,” Swofford said. “Perceptually so far this season has been very good for the ACC and how our entire league is received.”
Though the Seminoles’ 51-14 victory at Clemson is big part of the reason why oddsmakers aren’t giving Miami much of a chance.
According to RJ Bell Bell of Pregame.com in Las Vegas, the 21½-point line makes Florida State the largest favorite ever in a game between top-10 teams this late in the season.
No. 7 Miami (plus 21½) at No. 3 Florida State
FYI, most lopsided score in the rivalry is 47-0. FSU won by that score in 1997; Miami in 1976 … FLORIDA STATE 42-17.
No. 18 Oklahoma State (plus 2½) at No. 15 Texas Tech
Cowboys have won four straight in series, last two by combined 125-27 … TEXAS TECH 31-23.
No. 23 Michigan (plus 5½) at No. 24 Michigan State
Spartans defense ranks first in nation in yards per game, yards per play and rushing … MICHIGAN 17-16.
Tennessee (plus 11½) at No. 10 Missouri
Vols lose their QB as Tigers could be getting back theirs … MISSOURI 35-14.
No. 25 Arizona State (minus 11½) at Washington State, Thursday … ARIZONA STATE 51-38.
No. 8 Auburn (minus 9) at Arkansas … AUBURN 42-24.
Mississippi State (plus 13) at No. 14 South Carolina … SOUTH CAROLINA 30-14.
No. 22 Wisconsin (minus 9½) at Iowa … WISCONSIN 28-20.
Washington State (4-4) and Mississippi State (4-3) will need to spring an upset or two to get bowl eligible against difficult remaining schedules. Been a few weeks since Razorbacks have shown much fight. Hawkeyes will try to outmuscle the Badgers.
No. 4 Ohio State (minus 31) at Purdue … OHIO STATE 48-14
No. 9 Clemson (minus 16½) at Virginia … CLEMSON 35-14.
UTEP (plus 46) at No. 12 Texas A&M … TEXAS A&M 58-14.
Nevada (plus 20½) at No. 16 Fresno State … FRESNO STATE 42-17.
Colorado (plus 27) at No. 17 UCLA … UCLA 49-14.
No. 21 Northern Illinois (minus 23½) at UMass … NORTHERN ILLNOIS 42-14.
Last week: Record straight: 17-3; vs. points 11-8.
Season: 150-28; 77-76-3.
Best bet: 5-3-1.
Upset special: 4-4.