TAMPA—This is it. This is the year it finally happens.
Miami. Florida State. ACC Championship.
While it has taken nearly seven years for Florida State and Miami to get their acts together simultaneously, it would appear that Commissioner John Swofford's dream-matchup of the Hurricanes and the Seminoles may finally come true—in his own North Carolina back yard no less.
In a season where expectations are remarkably high in both camps; both the 'Noles and 'Canes seem to have their teams well prepared for the upcoming gauntlets that each will face.
While Miami faces an early test against the 2nd Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on September 11th, the Seminoles will be preparing for a similar daunting task against the 5th Ranked Oklahoma Sooners. Many fans may remember that both the Buckeyes and the Sooners defeated Miami and Florida State respectively, in the 2000 and 2002 BCS National Championships. Miami, still seeking revenge for the questionable "call" that cost them a repeat title, will have to travel to one of the most hostile settings in Columbus' Horseshoe Stadium. Meanwhile, the Seminoles must travel to Norman's Memorial Stadium, where the Bob Stoops' Sooners have not lost, in over two years.
The good news? By and large, unless considering overall wins, these games do not matter. Unless FSU and/or Miami are planning to play for a BCS title this season—which would be overly optimistic by any pundit's predictions, FSU and Miami fans can consider the early season juggernauts a good learning lesson, and a good opportunity to play at an elite level against formidable competition.
Miami will follow up their Oklahoma contest with games against #15 Pitt, and Atlantic Division Contender Clemson. On the other side of the coin, the Seminoles will follow up Oklahoma with a tough game against BYU, then a couple of ACC match-ups against Wake Forest and Coastal Division cellar-dweller Virginia.
After the high octane affair between Jacory Harris and Christian Ponder, all will still be moderately undetermined as both teams still face another five games or so against ACC foes.
All expectations should be moderately high that both teams conclude their early October contest with no more than two losses each. Florida State will then begin a long road of ACC contenders in a Marvin Austin-less North Carolina, as well as a Thursday night contest in Raleigh against Russell Wilson's Wolfpack. FSU draws dark-horse Boston College at home mid-October, and Clemson pays the 'Noles a visit in mid-November, before FSU makes it's final road trip to bottom feeder Maryland in College Park. With any luck, FSU should finish up the ACC slate with two ACC losses.
Likewise, Miami should handle Duke at home, and while North Carolina on the road may pose a speed bump, Miami should finally handle that hurdle after several tough fought contests over each of the last three seasons. Another trip to Virginia should be an easy "W," and a hope practice against Maryland will pose little challenge for the 'Canes. The two equalizers back-to-back come in Georgia Tech (away,) and then a home stand against Virginia Tech. If Miami has no more than two losses in ACC play coming into the Virginia Tech matchup, regardless of VT's record, look for Miami to win this contest, upset or not.
Should FSU and Miami both live up to expectations, with the winner of the first contest winning a few key upsets, the stage for the ACC Championship could very easily create National Championship implications come December. With the ACC's dismal record in BCS Bowls, this contest will be a much needed boost for the conference that is oft compared to the likes of the Big East.
In the end, look for Christian Ponder and the Seminoles Offense to create waves in 2010, while Miami forces it's way through a much tougher ACC Coastal Division gauntlet—to breathe life into a game that has been overdue for over half-a-decade.
If this happens, you can almost assuredly bet that the College Football World eyes will all be watching on December 4th.