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Fisher downplaying huge spread vs. Miami

Doing what no one else has been able to do, stopping Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, is the key for the Hurricanes. Pictured, Winston (5) throws the ball during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Doak Campbell Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Melina Vastola)

Doing what no one else has been able to do, stopping Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, is the key for the Hurricanes. Pictured, Winston (5) throws the ball during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Doak Campbell Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Melina Vastola)

The good ol’ days when Florida State vs. Miami meant something are back.

And everyone knows it.

Fans are reminiscing about the rivalry’s most memorable games. Wisecracks that begin and end with the words “wide right” or “wide left” are flying. And the winner of the game, just like in the glory years, might just play for the national championship.

“This is one of the great traditions in college football,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said of the rivalry series, which began in 1951 and features two teams with a combined seven national titles. “One of the reasons why you come to Florida State (is) to be able to play in this game. And then, of course, both teams being in the top 10 — (it’s) like the old days.”

And that’s just how the Seminoles want it.

“That’s what I came here for — FSU-Miami, FSU-Florida — just the big games and the big-game atmosphere,” said Seminoles heralded freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, arguably the hottest player in the country with 1,129 passing yards and 11 touchdowns in his last three games — all blowout wins, with two coming against top-25 opponents. “It’s a big rivalry game, and they’re going to come with it and we’ve got to come with it, too.”

The annual Sunshine State showdown had lost some of its luster in recent years with each team going through slumps — and in Miami’s case, a few NCAA sanctions. Plus, Florida State has dominated as of late. The Seminoles have won six of the last eight meetings, including three in a row by a combined 45 points. But for the first time since 2004, both programs are ranked inside the top 10 coming in.

No. 7 Miami, which enters unbeaten at 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the ACC, survived a scare last Saturday with a 24-21 comeback win against Wake Forest to ensure this would be the biggest game in week 10 of the college football season. Saturday’s 8 p.m. kickoff isn’t just a primetime, top-10 showdown, it’s also No. 3 FSU’s second date with ESPN’s College GameDay in three weeks after the Seminoles (7-0, 5-0) went to Death Valley on Oct. 19 and crushed then-No. 3 Clemson, 51-14.

That win, coupled with Florida State’s 49-17 rout of N.C. State last weekend, has impressed oddsmakers enough to make the Seminoles huge 21.5-point favorites against UM — the largest spread in college football history between two top-10 opponents, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Fisher couldn’t care less.

The fourth-year coach scoffed at the mere mention of the line and how he felt about FSU being such a big favorite in a game featuring two unbeaten, top-10 programs during his weekly press conference Monday.

“I have no idea what the point spread is. I don’t even look at the point spread. I don’t worry about the point spread,” Fisher said, shaking his head. “I know they have a great team.”

“Great” might be a little generous. In reality, Miami, which is without a lot of star power other than the ACC’s No. 2 rusher Duke Johnson, has been more like “good enough” thus far in 2013.

The Hurricanes’ perfect start has come against programs that are a combined 20-34, not to mention none are currently ranked in the top 25. Meanwhile, some critics have dubbed this year’s bunch the “Cardiac ‘Canes” after the Hurricanes have fallen behind to lesser competition in three straight games, only to somehow find a way to win.

Florida State, however, has been quite the opposite.

The Seminoles — who are ranked first in the nation in pass defense, second in passing efficiency, third in scoring offense and fourth in scoring defense — have been scary good all season, especially in their last three games. They outscored Maryland, Clemson and N.C. State by a combined 163-31, and all three games were all but over by halftime. And Winston, a Heisman Trophy candidate, has been nearly flawless during that span with FBS’ second-best pass-efficiency rating, a mind-boggling 207.0. FSU is also the country’s top red-zone team, converting on 38 of 39 trips this season.

But numbers like that weren’t good enough for the BCS computers to keep the Seminoles at No. 2, where they debuted a week ago when the first BCS rankings came out. FSU was leapfrogged by Oregon this past week after the Ducks routed No. 12 UCLA, 42-14.

Of course, if FSU wins Saturday, it’ll surely jump the Seminoles right back.

“(We) don’t worry about it. Control what you can control and keep playing and don’t worry about it. Polls don’t concern us,” Fisher said. “We’ll worry about that when the year is over. Those things take care of themselves in time.”

And Seminoles safety Terrance Brooks, for one, can’t wait to have a hand in controlling FSU’s destiny — especially if it comes at Miami’s expense.

“Miami, we’re definitely going to be ready for them,” said the senior, who is tied for the team-lead with two interceptions. “I can’t wait. It’s going to be a big stage, and that’s what we all want.”

NCAAF Team Report - Florida State - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: The team that rushes for more yards has won 19 of the last 26 meetings. FSU outgained Miami, 218-29, last year and rolled. FSU’s rushing offense, ranked 11th in the nation and led by Devonta Freeman’s 561 yards and six touchdowns, has been ranked as low as the 50s at times this season, but it’s slowly creeping up after 224 yards last week against N.C. State and 183 three weeks ago at Maryland. Miami has the nation’s 39th-ranked rushing defense, allowing 141 yards a game.

Scouting the passing game: This game could be settled in the trenches with Miami having the country’s 17th-ranked passing defense against an FSU passing attack that is scoring quickly — and at will. If there is an area of Miami’s pass defense that FSU could exploit, it’s that most of Miami’s defensive backs are under 6-0, making Kelvin Benjamin the Hurricanes’ biggest nightmare. The 6-5, 234-pound sophomore is third on the team in receiving with 430 yards and five TDs, and he could be poised for a breakout game against the program he grew up watching in South Florida at Belle Glades Central High School.

Scouting the run defense: Not since Boston College ran down FSU’s throat for 200 yards in week six have the Seminoles faced a team, like Miami, that will look to do the same. Behind the ACC’s second-leading rusher, Duke Johnson, Miami is averaging 214 yards a game, while FSU’s run defense is giving up an average of just 135 yards but was gashed for 188 yards by N.C. State last week. The Seminoles have, however, given up only four rushing TDs this season.

Scouting the pass defense: Miami QB Stephen Morris captains the ACC’s second-most efficient passing attack, but the Hurricanes are only averaging 280 yards a game — fifth-best in the conference. They’ll have a hard time throwing it against an FSU secondary that ranks in the top five of nearly every major national or conference category, including No. 1 in the FBS in pass defense, allowing a staggering average of just 153.7 yards a game. FSU has picked off 10 passes, including two last week.

Scouting the special teams: This could be a big day for FSU’s kick-return game, which is 17th in the nation — but it hasn’t returned one for a TD yet. The Seminoles average 25 yards a return and have been close to breaking several for scores this year. Kermit Whitfield leads FSU with 190 return yards, while Lamarcus Joyner is close behind with 110.