The Florida State Seminoles have passed every test put in front of them with flying colors. The impressive run has landed Jameis Winston and Co. in contention for a national title heading into a clash with rival and fellow undefeated squad Miami.
After an impressive start, which featured a win over Florida and several blowouts, the Hurricanes have been forced to survive a couple nail-biters in recent weeks. That includes a last-minute escape against Wake Forest last weekend.
On the flip side, Florida State has seemingly got stronger as the schedule got tougher. It crushed Maryland in its first meeting with a ranked opponent and was outstanding in a huge victory over then-No. 3 Clemson on the road.
Even though the teams have taken different paths to 7-0, the bottom line is they both got there. Furthermore, in the latest BCS standings, the Seminoles (No. 3) and Hurricanes (No. 7) are both ranked inside the top 10, making Saturday night's encounter crucial.
Given the recent results of both teams, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the oddsmakers favor Florida State quite heavily despite the narrow gap in rankings. The Seminoles are more than three-touchdown favorites (-21.5) over their rivals, according to Vegas Insider.
Actually, an argument could be made that the line is too low considering Florida State beat Clemson by 37 on the road. Saturday's game will take place at Doak Campbell Stadium, where the Seminoles are winning with an average score of 57-8 in four games.
For Miami, the sizable line simply serves as motivation. The matchup with Florida State is one the team and fans alike circle on the calendar when the schedule is released. Being more than 20-point underdogs despite being the No. 7 team in the nation just adds to the Hurricanes' intensity.
If Miami is going to pull off the upset, it starts with finding a way to slow down Winston. The Canes aren't going to completely stop a quarterback who racked up nine total touchdowns against Maryland and Clemson. But they have to prevent him from performing at a Heisman level.
Miami has a good pass rush, ranking 10th in the nation with more than three sacks per contest. Getting pressure on Winston without having to send too many extra rushers is paramount.
Winston has shown better decision-making skills than expected for a first-year starter. He's able to take advantage of single coverage on the outside when he senses a blitz and has hit on a very high rate of his throws (70 percent) because of those quick throws.
The Hurricanes defense is going to need some help from the offense in terms of possession. Miami doesn't want this to turn into a shootout because it's hard to imagine it keeping pace with Florida State for 60 minutes.
Instead, they need to lean heavily on Duke Johnson, who carried the ball 30 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns last week. He should be able to find some running room against a Seminoles defense giving up more than 135 yards per game on the ground.
If Miami can establish the run and get pressure on Winston with five or less rushers, it can at least put Florida State on upset alert.
As for the Seminoles, nothing is broke so there's no reason to change their approach. They should come up playing an uptempo style with hopes of striking a couple times in the first quarter. Once they grab a lead, the defense can pin its ears back and attack.
Which team will pick up the top-10 victory?
Winston has been helped by a multidimensional rushing attack, which features four running backs with at least 130 rushing yards, led by Devonta Freeman at 561. Defenses have to respect the run, which keeps the passing lanes open for the talented freshman.
All told, Miami isn't going to go down without a fight. The Canes know this game is their chance to make a huge statement to the voters and impress the computers. They should have also learned from the close calls over the past few weeks.
In the end, however, Florida State has been playing at too high a level to pick against them at home in a rivalry game. It's also the Seminoles' last game against a currently-ranked foe, so they are looking to make a statement of their own.
Winston will bolster his Heisman case with another big game in a key win.
Prediction: Florida State 34, Miami 21