The Miami-FSU game doesn't come with a cutesy nickname. It's not played on a set weekend or at a neutral location. The campuses, despite sharing a state, are hardly geographically close. Both teams have a rival they hate more (in fact, the same rival). Players seem to have a mutual respect for each other. Calling the other the "little brother" is the biggest insult traditionally flung about. The traditions are low-key. There's not even a trophy exchanged between the two.
It lacks just about everything we expect of a traditional college football rivalry. It doesn't need it. Just the words "Miami-FSU" says it all, and that's why its the best college football rivalry in the nation.
The Intertwined History
For a state whose teams have combined to win a full third of the last thirty national championships, its easy to forget that before the Hurricane's 1983 national championship the Sunshine State was in the business of producing some pretty "meh" college football teams. Florida State had a few top ten finishes in the late '70 and early '80s, but it wasn't until Howard Schnellenberger came to Miami that anyone cracked the code of how to produce a national championship here.
FSU paid notice, and stole a few pages from the Miami playbook in both recruiting, on-filed product, and, uh, hip-hop swag (*cough* *cough*). These are two programs that came of age and into national relevance together, and that's why even Jameis Winston knows FSU will forever be the "little brother."
"It's a brotherly game," he said earlier this week. "Miami is obviously down South. It's a big rivalry. It's just like we're going to be in the back yard, playing against each other. We want to beat our brother and if they want to be the big brother, we want to be the little brother, it's still a friendly competition. It's going to be a battle."
The TV Ratings
It may be a brotherly game, but its certainly not just the family that's watching. Two of the top five highest rated regular season college football games ever broadcast on ESPN are Miami-FSU games (2009 and 2006). The 1991 matchup between the teams set a then-record for the highest regular season game ever broadcast on ABC. And 22 years later it still stands as the fifth most watched in the network's history. When these two teams meet when they're both good the world watches, and its no mistake its getting the primetime ABC slot this weekend.
The almost perfect statistical symmetry.
Associated Press writer Tim Reynolds broke down the stats for both teams over their last 16 meetings and their nearly perfect mirror images.
Wins: Florida State 8, Miami 8.
Average score: Florida State 25, Miami 24.
Average yards: Florida State 359, Miami 356.
Average first downs: Florida State 19, Miami 18.
Touchdown passes: Miami 22, Florida State 18.
Interceptions thrown: Miami 24, Florida State 20.
Yards per play: Florida State 5.147, Miami 5.134.
Total plays: Florida State 1,116, Miami 1,109.
Total turnovers: Florida State 42, Miami 42.
Penalty yards: Miami 1,131, Florida State 1,126.
If these stats were any more symmetrical it would actually be spooky.
The Unplanned Traditions
This game is pretty low on traditional traditions. FSU puts up hurricane flags (as in the weather type) near their practice facilities, and students bang a drum for 72 straight hours before the game. That's pretty much it. The real tradition this game is known for is botched game-deciding field goals. FSU of course has thee "wide rights," and a "wide left." Miami, in 2005, pulled of it's own "Miami Muff," when the ball was mishandled by the holder.
Oh, and, right, there's also the tradition of this game having national championship implications. Each team has cost the other a few chances at national championships in this series. Tonight could be no different.
The Game Play
Players show up for this game. Now's as good a time as any to remind you that the perceived gap between Miami and FSU was greater last season and Miami still managed to keep this a close game until the fourth quarter. These games tend to be hard fought, and more often than not, close. Seven games from the past ten years were decided by less than a touchdown. Bobby Bowden declared the 2009 meeting one of the top three games he's ever participated in, and this is the man whose won(*) more college football games as a coach than any other.
The Very Fact That Miami is Unbeaten and Ranked 7th Right Now
As the preseason prognostics and the first three quarters of the Hurricanes' last two games should tell you, the 2013 Miami Hurricanes are not supposed to be unbeaten and ranked 7th in the nation right now.
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We're going to throw out a completely unfounded theory here: Miami has basically willed itself to where it is so it can go into Tallahassee undefeated. We know that every Miami fan looked at the schedule after that UF upset and said to themselves, "Well, there's no reason we can't meet FSU as an undefeated team," and we wouldn't be surprised if that thought was exactly what was going on in the mind of Hurricanes players during there three come-from-behind victories.
We're saying that the competition between this team is so great that Miami literally willed itself to three double-digit come-from-behind victories to set up this game as a top-ten matchup, and that's not something that happens in FBS football very often. In fact, the last time a team did it was in 2007. It's as if the Hurricanes said, "We're not going to let FSU have a breakout season without making some noise of our own. That's not how this rivalry works."
So other teams cane have their tidily packaged traditional rivalries, but from our view, they can't touch what FSU-Miami means.