Florida State-Miami neighborhood is atop rankings

BACKYARD BRAWL FOR NO.1

November 16, 1991|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- They have eyed each other from afar all season, separated by a few hundred miles of interstate and a spot or two in the national rankings.

months, and scalpers, who were asking a mere $100 a seat three weeks ago, were asking up to $500 yesterday. Tickets are such rare items that Florida State coach Bobby Bowden's secretary didn't have one earlier this week, and her boss couldn't even help her out.

"We've had a lot of big games in this program, but this is the biggest one I've been associated with," said third-year Miami coach Dennis Erickson.

Florida State quarterback Casey Weldon said: "Everything is on the line. Everything you can think of."

Start with this year's national championship. Both teams need to stay unbeaten to keep pace with third-ranked Washington. Then there's a matter of a bowl invitation. The winner will likely go to the Federal Express Orange Bowl.

This is nothing new, of course. In the past five years, this game has twice helped finish off the Seminoles in pursuit of their first national championship. On both occasions, in 1987 and 1989, the Hurricanes went on to win it all, while Florida State finished second.

"I don't think the pressure is being felt that much," said Bowden, whose team has won 16 straight dating to last season. "There is pressure to win when you're favored by 25 points and looking ahead. This week, being that the game is so big, there's no chance of looking ahead."

If anything, the Seminoles have spent a great deal of time this week being asked to reflect on the past, and the fact that the Hurricanes have won five of the past six meetings in this intrastate-turned-national rivalry.

"The biggest thing about this rivalry is how it's grown," said Bowden, who has coached here since 1976. "It's not a backyard brawl anymore. The thing that sets it apart is that the winner usually gets the national championship."

Surprisingly, there has been little in the way of trash talk between the schools. But there has been some. Florida State cornerback Terrell Buckley said Miami had the best receivers he'd seen "outside of practice," and Miami fullback Steven McGuire said, "Some way, somehow, you know the 'Noles are going to mess up."

This game will be settled by fast feet, not fast mouths. Both teams are among the quickest in the country -- Miami probably gets the edge in a collective 40-yard -- -- featuring more than a few game-breakers on offense, defense and special teams.

Florida State has tailback Amp Lee and Buckley, who has returned two of his nine interceptions for touchdowns; Miami has wide receiver Lamar Thomas and punt returner Kevin Williams, who has run back three for touchdowns.

It will match one of the nation's stingiest defenses -- Miami is ranked first in points allowed, is second against the pass and is third overall -- against one of the country's most innovative, high-scoring and balanced offenses.

Said Bowden: "They're No. 1 against the score. That's the most important stat you can put in the books. They play excellent against the pass. They play excellent against the run. The reason is they're so fast."

Playing at home should help the Seminoles, who haven't lost here since a 34-23 defeat to Clemson in the second game of the 1989 season. Bowden admitted this week that his players were more than a tad frightened last year at the Orange Bowl.

"Last year we panicked down there," he said. "We were a little intimidated by the crowd and the atmosphere."

Neither team has been challenged in a while. Florida State beat Michigan (then ranked third, now fourth), 51-31, Sept. 28 in Ann Arbor and has played some uninspired football since. Miami's only test was a 26-20 victory Oct. 12 over Penn State.

But the Seminoles are still a bit banged up from their victory two weeks ago at Louisville, having lost All-America offensive tackle Kevin Mancini with a knee injury. Weldon, center Robbie Baker and fullback Elmer Bennett also were hurt in that game, but are expected to play.

Perhaps the two most overlooked players in this game are the quarterbacks: Weldon and Miami's Gino Torretta. Weldon is 15-0 as a starter and fearless in the face of blitzing linebackers, which he should see a lot of today. Torretta has been merely steady, and has played well when needed.

"He looks kind of sweet, but he's fiery," Bowden said of his quarterback. "He's mobile. He has a touch. In baseball terms, you would say he's got all the pitches."

Weldon, and Florida State, will have to find all the heat they can muster today. The Hurricanes can get down and dirty with the best of them.

No. 1 showdown

Teams: No. 2 Miami (8-0) at No. 1 Florida State (10-0)

Site: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla., noon

TV: Channel 13, 7

The line: Florida State favored by 3 1/2

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