Army-Navy. Alabama-Auburn. USC-UCLA. Ohio State-Michigan. Oklahoma-Texas. These are just some of the biggest rivalries in college football history and some with the most tradition. If it’s rivalry week, these games are storylines even when both teams aren’t good. That used to be Miami (Fl.)-Florida State. The rivalry had a dominant run in the late 90s to early 2000s but hasn’t been relevant in ten years. The game has been talked about some this week, partly because there aren’t many other huge games on the slate. But nationally, this game does not resonate like it used to. As a Miami fan that’s hard to swallow.
I became a Miami fan for simple reasons. My home state team wasn’t exactly riveting to watch (the run-all-day Badgers). My first favorite college football player was Edgerrin James. I loved the way he ran, remembered seeing his game in the upset against UCLA in 1998. The next couple years I really fell in love with the Canes. Santana Moss’ electrifying play caught my eye. And it didn’t hurt that the team rocked my two favorite colors, orange and green. I was 11 years old, what do you want from me? Fortunately my newfound fandom shortly preceded the last glory years for the program. Unfortunately, they didn’t last long.
It isn’t easy being a Miami fan, particularly in the Midwest. People wonder why the hell a kid from small town Wisconsin would be a fan of a team of a bunch of thugs from Florida. The thug comments are the worst. Miami has certainly had its share of problems, mainly two huge scandals that people feel allows them to paint a picture of a university’s entire past, present, and future. But lately, the Hurricanes haven’t had more problems than numerous other football programs. You don’t see people calling the Longhorns or Georgia Bulldogs a bunch of thugs because they’ve had multiple players kicked off the team in recent years. Miami’s history can’t be ignored, but it’s vastly improved from those days. The scandal of the early 2000s was a cloud over the entire program but also its fans. It was bad enough seeing your team fall to mediocrity and irrelevance, but then to have dozens of players involved in various improper benefits only made it worse. Then the NCAA embarrassed itself in dragging out its investigation for what seemed like forever until finally allowing Hurricanes fans to exhale. And that’s all just off the field.
The day the Canes faced the Seminoles was like a holiday for me. After being accustomed to one, if not both teams being ranked in the Top 5 or Top 10, the last decade has been rough. You could see it coming; upset losses becoming more prevalent, top recruits flaming out. There was a similar decline in Tallahassee, and I’m sure Seminoles fans can relate. Miami toiled in mediocrity. The worst part, other than Florida State making a comeback much quicker, was the constant teases. The times where they showed a glimpse of a possible return to glory.
When highly touted QB Kyle Wright came around, we thought he was just what Miami needed. A stud quarterback to turn things around. He turned out to be a bust. Then there was the Jacory Harris era. One that started in 2009 with a 5-1 start that saw the Canes climb to #9 in the polls on the heels of victories over Florida State and Oklahoma. Finally, there was hope. Those hopes were dashed as Miami finished the year 9-4 and with a loss to the Badgers. Talk about salt in the wound. It was also the last year they beat Florida State. The three following years made me immune to the Canes struggles as they finished 7-6, 6-6, and 7-5. At this point I was hoping for eight win seasons and a Champs Sports Bowl victory. Had we joined the Northwesterns of the world?
Though the past 10 years have taught me to keep my guard up, it was hard not to get excited about the team last year. They were 7-0 and in the Top 10 for the first time in years. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t exactly the strongest undefeated team around. But winning close games and avoiding upsets was something the Canes hadn’t done in a decade. So even though I didn’t expect them to knock off undefeated Florida State, being sent home with a beat down from your rival doesn’t sit easy.
That brings us to this year. A Miami team once again with some momentum, sitting at 6-3, and hosting still undefeated Florida State. It’s hard not to expect disappointment, but no matter how a Miami year ends they can make their season by beating their biggest rival. They’re only 2-2.5 point underdogs, but I’m not letting that get my hopes up. Even as a diehard Canes fan, that line seems insane. Too many years of disappointment has taught me not to expect much.
At least Miami has a decent record and has been playing well. The game means something and is not just another pushover W for the Noles as if they were playing Wake Forest. But Miami still has a long ways to go to reach where their upstate rivals have returned to. They have to overcome a decade of irrelevance, a lack of money from the school compared to other big programs, an off-campus stadium, and a fan base that is indifferent for the most part. The Seminoles have won four in a row in the series and 7 of 9. They’re also the defending champs. Miami needs to get back to where the Noles are for this rivalry to matter nationally. This week gives them that chance. It would give renewed meaning to the rivalry, end FSU’s winning streak, and impress recruits.
I want a Miami win not just because the opponent is Florida State. I want it so the Canes can be talked about in a positive way again and to renew this rivalry’s importance to the national title (now college football playoff) race. I want it to be looked at on the same level as Auburn-Alabama. I also don’t want to wait another year to see if the Hurricanes can make the next step towards a return to prominence. Will I be celebrating? Or will I have to spend another tortured year waiting for another opportunity? I’ll go to bed Saturday knowing the answer.