Miami the first step to an FSU state title

QB E.J. Manuel (US Presswire)

Florida State is once again hoping to claim the state championship for the second year in a row, and the first step is defeating a Miami club that has been up and down for most of the 2011 campaign.

Florida State heads into the final turn of the regular season with its two top traditional rivals remaining on the schedule, starting Saturday with Miami.

The Seminoles (6-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) will be after their fifth straight victory when they host the Hurricanes on the 20th anniversary of one of the most ballyhooed games played between teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2.

''If you are undefeated, whatever, these are critical games,'' Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday. ''The one thing we love about athletics is the rivalry games. It brings out the best in you.''

There is far less riding on the game this year, although the Seminoles are hoping to defeat both Miami and Florida for the second straight season to retain the mythical state championship. Fisher won the corresponding bragging rights that go along with the intrastate title in his first season as coach of the Seminoles with impressive wins over both rivals. Florida State hasn't accomplished that feat in successive seasons since 1998 and 1999.

Florida State wraps up its ACC slate Nov. 19 with a visit by Virginia before traveling to Florida for the season finale Nov. 26.

Fisher believes defeating the two in-state rivals is important for recruiting.

''People want to be around successful programs, and they want to be around teams that win,'' he said. ''Whoever wins those games sends a message to kids... `They're winning, they've got to be the best team and that's who I want to plays for.' Sometimes that's a big thing.''

It's been a strange season for Miami's first-year coach, Al Golden, who has watched his Hurricanes handily defeat Ohio State and 20th-ranked Georgia Tech but lose heartbreakers to 10th-ranked Virginia Tech, No. 17 Kansas State, Maryland and Virginia.

''They've had some ups and downs just like we have,'' Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel said Monday. ''They're coming off a great win last week. They're always going to come and play us well. It's a rivalry game.''

Miami (5-4, 3-3 ACC) routed Duke 49-14, and senior quarterback Jacory Harris, who was brilliant in the Hurricanes' 38-34 win in Tallahassee two years ago, comes into Saturday's game as the ACC's highest rated passer.

''Jacory's throwing the ball better and better every week, making great decisions,'' Fisher said.

Harris, who passed for 386 yards in that game, needs 194 yards passing Saturday to surpass former Florida State quarterback Chris Rix at No. 15 on the ACC's career passing yardage chart.

The Seminoles have bounced back from an early-season three-game losing streak to win four straight games, outscoring the four struggling ACC opponents 154-39 in that span.

''I like the direction we're going,'' Fisher said. ''It'd better be a good direction because Miami's coming to Tallahassee.''

But, he conceded, conventional thinking can often be set aside when these teams meet.

The visiting team has won the last five games.

''That's what makes great competition,'' Fisher said. ''It doesn't happen the way it's supposed to happen. That's why they're so emotional.''

Oh, yeah, about that contest 20 years ago, Miami won 17-16 in the first ''Wide Right'' game, when Gerry Thomas' 34-yard field goal sailed outside the right goal post by a whisker.

Like Fisher said, the game doesn't follow any script.

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