It's a Monday night party, college football style! It's always an emotionally charged battle when the 'Noles and 'Canes meet; this year will be no different.
The past four have been decided by six points or less. In close games one often expects the team that scores last to win, but in the case of this rivalry it may be who scores first; the team that scores first has won sixteen out of the last twenty. Last year Florida State dominated Miami early, and held a 31-10 lead in the third quarter. Miami mounted a comeback, but fell just short. Florida State won, 41-39.
Bobby Bowden has held an edge in the match-up lately, winning three of the last four. Randy Shannon is in his third year at the helm of the Hurricanes, and is 1-1 against FSU. I don’t see a real edge in the coaching match-up here. Bobby seems to be holding on a little too long at the end of his career, but most coaches do, so I can’t really blame him. Shannon hasn’t been able to rejuvenate Miami back to the national status they enjoyed five or six years ago. Both teams are struggling to return to their late 90’s early 2000’s form, but neither is close yet. Both are still bringing in top talent, but I expect Miami to return to top 10 form before FSU does. This will be a back and forth game, coming down to the wire. Read the rest of my slideshow for a position-by-position breakdown, and make your own assumptions on who holds the overall edge in this early season ACC showdown.
Jacory Harris comes into the season as Miami's top QB, no questions asked. Last year Robert Marve came in as the starter, and then Harris took over. Marve has transferred, and the job is all Harris'.
Harris passed for nearly 1200 yards and 12 TDs and seven INTs last year. He will improve on those numbers this year, and won't face the pressure of sharing duties with another quarterback. Harris has the arm and the legs to make plays, and strong support from a talented backfield and receiving corps.
Senior free safety, Jamie Robinson and senior rover, Korey Mangum will have their eyes fixed on Harris all night. Robinson started 8 games for the 'Noles last year, and is the second leading returning tackler from last year's team. Mangum has played in 35 games over his career, but all at corner. He is making the move to rover, replacing Mr. Everything, Myron Rolle. He's got huge shoes to fill.
Jacory Harris' dual-threat ability, and the playmakers surrounding him give him the edge over FSU's old, but relatively inexperienced safeties.
Junior quarterback Christian Ponder comes into this season with a full year of experience under his belt, and was named FSU's offensive MVP last year.
He, although not as mobile as Jacory Harris, is somewhat of a dual-threat. He threw for 2000 yards last year and ran for another 400. Ponder rushed for a career high 144 yards against Miami last year, as he led the 'Noles to a 41-39 victory.
Ponder will face-off against Miami safeties, senior Randy Phillips and junior JoJo Nicolas. Nicolas made eight starts last year, made 31 tackles and broke up two passes. The other safety is Randy Phillips, who returns for a fifth year after starting last season, his true senior season. He was injured in the second game last year and was rewarded a medical hardship. Phillips started four games his junior season, and is touted as Maimi's most experienced defensive back.
He started eight games as a sophomore and played some as a true freshman. Phillips is really not all that experienced at the safety position, and should show some major rust after missing nearly the entire season.
The edge goes to Ponder.
Miami returns their top two running backs from last year in senior Javarris James and junior Graig Cooper.
Cooper led the way last year while James missed significant time with a high ankle sprain. Both are talented backs, and I expect them to see equal carries unless one is either injured, or standing way out above the other. Coach Randy Shannon says, "(James) hasn't been nicked, nothing has gone on. He looks faster."
Florida State must replace leading tackler Derek Nicholson at middle backer, but does so with the experienced junior, Kendall Smith. Smith has played in all 26 games since he's been at FSU, and started four. Senior, Dekoda Watson will start at strong side backer. He is the leading tackler returning from last season, and is an athletic specimen. He'll lead the talented FSU defense all season long, and should be extra motivated in his final game against 'The U."
At weak side linebacker is sophomore Nigel Bradham. He played a lot his freshman season, and was one of the most highly recruited linebackers in the country.
FSU has extremely talented linebackers, and Miami has a good combo in the backfield. I give a slight edge to the FSU linebackers led by Dekoda Watson, over Miami's backfield, but this should be a great chess match to watch all night.
Sophomore Jermaine Thomas returns in the backfield for the Seminoles. He gained 482 yards and scored three touchdowns last year. Sophomore Ty Jones, who rushed for 55 yards on four carries in FSU's Champ Sports Bowl game last year, will also see carries in the backfield.
True freshman Chris Thompson is listed as Co-No. 2 on the depth chart with Jones, so the highly touted recruit will probably see some carries as well. There is certainly some talent in the FSU backfield, but it lacks a lot of experience, and could struggle - especially if Thomas were to go down.
Miami's top two returning tacklers from last year are at linebacker. Sophomore, Sam Spence, a star from day one for the 'Canes, returns at weakside linebacker. Senior, Darryl Sharpton returns at middle linebacker after recording 66 tackles last year. Colin McCarthy starts at strong side backer. He missed most of last season and was awarded a medical hardship. He started as a sophomore in 2007 and recorded 74 tackles. The 'Canes linebackers are balanced, talented, and experienced.
I give the edge to the Miami linebackers.
Miami returns their top receivers from last year, the only problem is, the best any of them could manage last year was 332 yards and three touchdowns (Aldarius Johnson). Johnson is not listed as one of two starting receivers on the 'Canes two deep.
He did make the chart, and should see playing time. Junior Leonard Hankerson and sophomore LaRon Byrd are listed as the starters, they combined for 31 catches last year. Sophomore speedster, Travis Benjamin will also see playing time. He had 18 catches for 293 yards and three touchdowns last year.
Tight end Derrick Epps had a decent year last year, but is returning from an ACL tear. Miami needs at least one of these guys to step up big time against FSU, but it's hard to tell who it will be. I'd go with Johnson.
FSU's junior corner Ochuko Jenije replaces Tony Carter at the field corner spot. He backed up Carter last year, but needs to be ready for a challenge. On the other side at boundary corner is senior, Jamie Robinson, an All-American candidate. Jacory Harris may shy away from Robinson's side, so Jenjie must come prepared. If he doesn't sophomore Dionte Allen will be nipping at his heels.
Edge...there is none, I'll call this a push. Both teams have talent, but that talent hasn't produced a lot up to this point. Watch Johnson vs. Robinson.
Yea, that is Peter Warrick. Just to remind you that the 'Noles really wish they still had a guy like him, and that they are far from it right now. FSU touts senior, Richard Goodman as their top receiver coming into the season. He missed all of last year with an injury and only played in eight games in 2007. Rod Owens another senior, is listed as the other starter at WR this week. He too lacks any really eye-popping numbers. Sophomore, Bert Reed is listed at No. 2 behind Owens, but I don't think that means much. Reed should jump ahead of Owens on the depth chart by the third quarter of the Miami game. Watch out for sophomore, Jarmon Fortson as well, he has some big play potential.
Sophomore, Brandon Harris will start left corner for the 'Canes. He started six games last year as a freshman, and played in all 13. Junior, DeMarcus Van Dyke, and converted receiver, senior, Sam Shields are listed as co-starters at right corner. Miami's corners are like FSU's wideouts; inexperienced and/or young.
Again, no edge, here. Reed vs. Harris may be entertaining at times.
Miami's offensive line, left to right, looks like this: Jason Fox (Sr.), Orlando Franklin (Jr.), A.J. Trump (Sr.), Harland Gunn (So.), and Matt Pipho (Sr.). The O-line is big and experienced. Fox is an Outland Trophy finalist, and has started since his true freshman season. Franklin lines up at left guard, next to Fox, and is also an Outland Trophy finalist.
The rest of the line is not as good as those two, but Pipho and Trump have substantial game experience. Gunn hasn't seen hardly any game action, but was highly rated out of high school. Overall, this is a strong group.
Junior, Markus White starts at right defensive end. He faces a tough task, replacing Everette Brown, and going against Fox. Senior, Kendrick Stewart will start at nose tackle. He started there nine times last year and recorded 22 tackles. Sophomore, Moses McCray will start at the other tackle position. He saw action in eight games last year as a true freshman.
Red shirt sophomore, Craig Yarborough is slated to start at the other end spot. He redshirt in 2007, and did not play in any game last year.
The edge here goes to the Miami offensive line. This could play a major role in determining the outcome of the game. Everyone that really pays attention to football knows the importance of the play at the line of scrimmage. If Jacory Harris has time, and the Miami running backs have lanes to run through, the 'Canes will be successful.
Like the 'Canes, FSU's offensive line is anchored by the left side. Sophomore Andrew Datko will start at left tackle.
Datko was a Freshman All-American last year. At left guard is junior, Rodney Hudson, a Freshman All-American, and an All-ACC selection last year.
This year Hudson is making a natural progression, showing up on preseason All-American lists. Junior, Ryan McMahon is the leader of the offensive line, and a favorite to win the Remington Trophy. He has started 26 consecutive games on the FSU offensive line. Sophomores, David Spurlock, and Zebrie Sanders hold down the right side of the line, and both started for most of the season last season.
The Miami defensive line is led by two sophomores, Marcus Forston (99), and Marcus Robinson (56). Both have superstar written all over them. Robinson is a bit undersized right now, 6'1 and 237 lbs, but he should get bigger and stronger in the future.
This coming Monday is not the future though; I give the edge to the FSU offensive line. Miami and Florida State are always strong in the trenches, and both still have very solid offensive lines. The defensive lines are a little behind right now, but look for that to change in the next couple seasons, especially for Miami.
Miami returns their place kicker, Matt Bosher (25) and their leading return men in Graig Cooper (2) and Travis Benjamin (3).
Florida State must replace their kicker and their leading return man. Bert Reed (83) should do a fine job replacing Tony Carter, but a freshman kicker, Dustin Hopkins, may have some major nerves in a big rivalry game. Of course, Hopkins was the No. 1 rated high school kicker in the country last year, so maybe not.
I give the edge to Miami. A proven kicker and dynamic returners could play a major role in a close game.
Miami, although the underdog traveling to Tallahassee, may have the edge in the head-to-head battles within the game.
Obviously my observations are my own humble ideas. Don't place any big bets based on this information; if you do - please don't blame me if you can't pay the rent next month.
I think this game will be close, another one decided by a touchdown or less. I do like the 'Canes to win though.