ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- High noon seems an appropriate time to start today's game between top-ranked Florida State and No. 3 Michigan. The winner will enhance its chances for a first national championship; the loser once again might be left for dead.
For the Seminoles, who have battered the opposition by more than 100 points for a 3-0 record, it's a chance to prove themselves worthy of being called the best team in college football. For the 2-0 Wolverines, it's an opportunity to back up their victory two weeks ago over Notre Dame.
And for those watching -- a national television audience (channels 13, 7) and a sellout crowd of 101,701 expected at Michigan Stadium -- it's one of the most interesting regular-season matchups in several years. Not to mention one of the most significant, considering how it sets up the rest of the season.
"I think what we have is the game of the year in college football," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "At least it's the game of the year up till now."
That Florida State hasn't faced much competition this year -- with easy victories over Brigham Young (44-28), Tulane (38-11) and Western Michigan (58-0) -- is of major concern to Bowden. That the Wolverines and their noisy fans will undoubtedly provide a rather imposing obstacle is something the Seminoles don't seem to mind.
"Every year when you open up a season you wonder what the personality of your ballclub will be, and I haven't gotten those answers yet," Bowden said this week from Tallahassee. "We haven't been under fire yet. This is the first chance to see how we handle things if we're seven points down, or 10, or 14. Or three points ahead in the fourth quarter. I'm anxious to see what we do."
Said quarterback Casey Weldon, "It definitely makes you lick your chops. You want to go out and have a war and leave everything on the field."
It will certainly be a contrast of styles, but not as big as in previous years. Michigan, with its almost no-huddle offense, is throwing the ball more under second-year coach Gary Moeller than it ever did under Bo Schembechler. Florida State, though still prone to resorting to gambling and trickery, has one of the country's best backfields with Amp Lee and Elmer Bennett.
Said Moeller, "They can hit you [offensively] any way they want. We have to be ready. We've got to make great improvement in a lot of areas or else we're in for a long afternoon."
It's not only a matchup of highly rated teams, but one of Heisman Trophy candidates. Junior flanker Desmond Howard has six touchdowns this season for the Wolverines, including two against the Irish. Weldon, a backup at this time last season, has been nearly perfect (48 of 64 passing, 625 yards, seven touchdowns, no interceptions) in the Seminoles' first three games.
"A lot of players on both teams are capable of breaking open this game," said Bowden.
The offensive strategies will be straightforward: Michigan will try to use its tremendous size on the offensive line (288 pounds per man) to open holes for tailback Ricky Powers (65 carries for 364 yards, one touchdown) and give quarterback Elvis Grbac (34 of 47 for 373 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) time to find Howard.
Conversely, Florida State will try to use depth and speed to offset the Wolverines' bulk. But it's the respective defenses that have Bowden and Moeller a bit worried. The Seminoles, led by sophomore linebacker Marvin Jones and junior cornerback Terrell Buckley, could be the fastest team in the country. The Wolverines, a mostly no-name group led by senior linebacker Erik Anderson, held the high-scoring Irish to 14 points.
"Their defense is one of the most underrated in the country," said Bowden. "I think we're going to have our hands full."
If anything, the Florida State players have been talking as if their season hinges on this game. The Seminoles have finished in the Top 5 the past four years, and the pressure is starting to build for Bowden to win a national championship.
Asked how important this game will be for the future of the ACC-bound program, Buckley said, "It's very essential. I feel a need for us to win a national championship this year. If we don't, the program will be stuck with an almost label."
Speaking of almost, high noon in Ann Arbor is almost here.