The University of Miami Hurricanes will enter this Saturday's showdown against the Florida State Seminoles after losing seven straight times to their biggest rival. It's the most important game yet in the Mark Richt era, even though the Seminoles are coming in severely wounded and unranked. The loser will face devastating consequences in the competition for the best high-school players from South Florida.
The Seminoles began the season by losing starting quarterback Deondre François and back-to-back games to the Alabama Crimson Tide and the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Florida State cannot afford a loss to Miami, because head coach Jimbo Fisher and his program have been operating on borrowed time. Fisher and FSU assistants were able to wrest control of South Florida's best players the past years while UM dealt with the fallout from the Nevin Shapiro scandal and the forgettable Al Golden era.
The Seminoles won seven straight against the Canes because Florida State had the best high-school running backs from Miami: Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook. FSU stole UM's swag and snagged the most talented kids because it was the hot team. The U could afford to bide its time considering Miami owns five national championships, compared with FSU's three. Once the Noles lose to the Canes, it will turn the lights out on Tallahassee's reign. Florida State gets the pick of the litter only by beating Miami on a consistent basis.
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But it could be even worse for the U if the Canes lose for the eighth straight time to the Seminoles. Miami has been hitting fans with its "Bringing the Swagger Back" campaign for a while. The defensive coaches have begun a new tradition by rewarding players who produce turnovers with gold-plated Cuban-link chains with big orange-and-green U pendants. It's a corny gimmick that alludes to the renegade Hurricanes era of the '80s and '90s. But it ain't edgy.
The Canes and Richt cannot continue to give the Seminoles ammunition in the local recruiting war. There's no reason for the best high-school players in Miami to choose Tallahassee on national signing day. But what will it say if the U can't beat a 1-2 Florida State team that is playing a true freshman at quarterback? Fisher and his assistants will be able to go into every star player's home and say, "Man, Miami can't even beat us on our worst day."
This Saturday, we'll find out if the Hurricanes are really returning to prominence or if the U is content to become the Duke University of the South.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.