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Miami-FSU is the ultimate measuring stick rivalry. Do the Canes finally measure up again?

The Hurricanes have their best chance in years to beat their archrivals (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN). Let’s look at their history to understand the stakes.

Miami v Florida State
Miami-FSU in 2009, the last time the Canes beat the Noles
Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

“Adjusting the numbers based on strength of schedule make this matchup look far more tenable for the Seminoles, but this is still a golden opportunity for Miami, the best chance to take down its sibling in quite a while.”

I wrote that last year. It feels I write that every year.

The 2017 Miami-Florida State game was postponed due to the dramatic effects of Hurricane Irma. It might kick off earlier than planned on Saturday due to what could become Hurricane Nate. Last year, Hurricane Matthew almost affected it.

This is pretty much the only way a hurricane has been able to affect Florida State much this decade.

The last time Miami beat FSU, the quarterbacks were Jacory Harris and Christian Ponder. Translation: it’s been a while.

The present tense isn’t really what the Miami-FSU rivalry is about, though.

It’s about the past, present, and future at the same time.

Let’s rewind the clock. This got going later in college football’s history than other major rivalries did, but no programs have ever made up for lost time the way these two did. And each one’s national status has depended in part on the other’s.

Rivalry history, 1965 to 1976: Genesis

Miami vs. Florida State through the years

Series wins: FSU 6, Miami 3
Streaks: FSU seven in a row (1963-72), Miami three in a row (1975-77)

Before becoming The U, Miami was a small private school in Coral Gables. The football program had small bursts of success — four ranked finishes under Andy Gustafson between 1950-56, a top-10 finish for Charlie Tate in 1966 — and long bouts of mediocrity. The Hurricanes had five head coaches between 1970-78, producing only a couple six-win seasons.

Questionable commitment led to a vote by Miami's board of trustees: drop football, drop down to Division I-AA, or stay at I-A? The latter eked out a victory, and in 1979, the school brought former Don Shula and Bear Bryant assistant Howard Schnellenberger to town.

Florida State had even less success. Bill Peterson led a charge to 9-1-1 and a Gator Bowl win in 1964, but the Seminoles had never finished a season ranked. They rose to 13th in 1972 but lost four of the next seven, then went 4-29 over the next three years.

After FSU failed to attract Pitt head coach Johnny Majors and Indiana head coach/FSU alum Lee Corso, the school was left to choose between Tallahassee Leon High School coach Gene Cox, East Carolina head coach Pat Dye, and WVU head coach Bobby Bowden.

Bowden had been on a bit of a hot seat in Morgantown before a breakthrough 9-3 season. He got the FSU job. And with a massive youth movement, he went 5-6 in 1976. He would never again finish below .500.

Rivalry history, 1976 to 1994: Transcendence

Miami vs. Florida State through the years

Series wins: Miami 12, FSU 6
Streaks: Miami four in a row (1985-88), Miami three in a row (1990-92)

In Bowden's second year, FSU surged to 10-2 with a Tangerine Bowl win. FSU went 21-3 with two Orange Bowl losses in 1979-80 but couldn't maintain the depth for their take-on-all-comers scheduling and averaged just 7.5 wins from 1981 to ‘86.

In Schnellenberger's second year, 1980, Miami finished 9-3 and won the Peach Bowl. The Hurricanes broke through with their third-ever top-10 finish in 1981, three years after considering dropping football. Then they won the 1983 national title.

Despite losing Schnellenberger to the USFL, Miami kept charging under new coach Jimmy Johnson.

And by 1987, FSU was ready for the most sustained breakthrough of all time.

From 1987 to ‘92, a span of six seasons, the Hurricanes and Seminoles both finished in the top four each year. The spoils belonged mostly to Miami — the Hurricanes beat FSU in 1991 and 1992 via last-second missed field goals and finished ahead of FSU five times — but college football was defined by these two. They were too athletic and confident for the rest of the universe.

Johnson left to take over the Cowboys in 1989, and Dennis Erickson went 44-4 in his first four seasons. But the NCAA was circling the wagons.

Bobby Bowden
Bobby Bowden

Rivalry history, 1994 to 2008: Instability

Miami vs. Florida State through the years

Series wins: FSU 8, Miami 7
Streaks: FSU five in a row (1995-99), Miami six in a row (2000-04)

FSU’s fall from grace was eventual, Miami’s sporadic.

Erickson left following 1994 with NCAA sanctions on the horizon. Butch Davis stripped the program to its foundation. After drastic struggles in 1997, the Hurricanes improved, and from 2000-03, they ripped off four consecutive top-five finishes.

The 2001 Miami team is regarded by many as the most talented in college football history, and Davis built it in the shadow of sanctions.

Jerome McDougle #95, Edward Reed #20
Ed Reed & Jerome McDougle

FSU kept up its torrid pace until the turn of the century, winning national titles in 1993 and 1999 and falling just short in 1998 and 2000. But as Bowden lost top assistants to head coaching jobs, he made some shaky decisions. He replaced offensive coordinator Mark Richt with his son Jeff in 2001, and a sliding offense contributed to a sliding program.

After winning at least 10 games and finishing in the top five every year from 1987 to 2000, Bowden averaged only 8.4 wins per season from 2001 to ‘08 and never again finished in the top 10. He retired in 2008.

Miami couldn't keep it up, either. Davis left for the Browns in 2001, and while Larry Coker began his tenure 35-3, his program lost its discipline and recruiting edge. Miami won nine games each in 2004 and 2005, and Coker was let go following a 7-6 record in 2006. Former U linebacker Randy Shannon was brought in to restore discipline, and he won seven games per year.

Rivalry history, 2008 to 2016: Attempted resurrections

Miami vs. Florida State through the years
This chart runs through 2015. It’s about the same story through last year, though.

Series wins: FSU 8, Miami 1
Streaks: FSU seven in a row (2010-present)

Jimbo Fisher, a former Nick Saban assistant who served for two years as Bowden's offensive coordinator, took over for the legend. The growth was steady: 19-8 with two ranked finishes in 2010 and ‘11, then FSU's first top-10 finish in 13 years in 2012. With Heisman winner Jameis Winston, the Seminoles went 27-1 in 2013 and ‘14 and won a third national title. They went 10-3 in both 2015 and 2016.

Miami continued to scuffle. Shannon was let go after 2010, and Temple head coach Al Golden took over amid black clouds of another NCAA investigation. The Hurricanes avoided an all-out collapse but never broke through.

And they had the tendency to collapse after losses to FSU.

  • A 7-0 start in 2013 turned into a 2-4 finish, prompted by a 41-14 loss to the Noles.
  • A 6-3 start begat an 0-4 finish in 2014, prompted by a 30-26 loss to FSU.
  • Miami nearly upset FSU in 2015 but fell, 29-24. Two weeks later, the Canes were destroyed by Clemson, and Golden was fired.
  • Miami nearly took down the Noles last year, too, but fell via late blocked PAT, 20-19. And the Canes lost their next three games as well.
Florida State Seminoles v Miami Hurricanes
Jacory Harris & a host of Seminoles
Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

The last two decades of this rivalry have been defined mostly by dominance, one way or the other, one Cain to the other’s Abel.

Only in rare spurts — 1973-74, 1982-84, 1989, 1993-94, 2007-09 — has one team failed to win at least two games in a row.

These programs measure themselves against each other, and one or the other has consistently fallen short. Of late, it has been Miami’s turn to play a distant second fiddle.

But now comes an opportunity. Again. Miami brings a terrific pass rush to Tallahassee and could have the opportunity to tee off on FSU freshman James Blackman, who has been sacked on 13 percent of his pass attempts since taking over for injured incumbent Deondre Francois.

FSU won its first game of the season against Wake Forest last week but began the year 0-2 and fell out of the polls for the first time since 2011. A Miami win would likely put the Canes in the top 10 and make them the outright favorites to win their first ACC Coastal crown.

Miami has been dominant thus far, dispatching of Bethune-Cookman pre-Irma and taking down decent Toledo and Duke teams by a combined 47 points. New starting quarterback Malik Rosier is spreading the ball around beautifully, and backs Mark Walton and Travis Homer are averaging 194 rushing yards per game and 8.8 yards per carry.

Miami is currently 11th in the S&P+ ratings, with a percentile rating over 94 percent. (FSU is hanging on at sixth, mainly because of preseason projections and the fact that the Noles have only played three times.) If the Canes maintain this, it would be their first 90th-percentile showing since 2009.

That was also the last time they beat FSU. The stakes here are obvious. Can the Canes finally end the streak? And even if they don’t, can they move on without first breaking down for a month? The answer to the second question could determine the Coastal division race.