Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, a 19-year-old Heisman Trophy candidate, had a grand time Wednesday during his weekly news conference — broadcast live on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
The redshirt freshman, his engaging smile flashing repeatedly, compared the upcoming Miami at Florida State game to “a friendly competition” in a “backyard” setting.
“This is more like a brotherly game,” Winston said. “We want to beat our brother.”
Brotherly? Most outside Coral Gables expect the Seminoles to be more like bullies.
Third-ranked FSU (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will face No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0) on Saturday night as 22-point favorites — making the Hurricanes the biggest underdog ever in a game between top-10 unbeatens this late in the season.
“My initial reaction to seeing Florida State as a 21 1/2-point favorite was, ‘is that all?’ ” wrote CBS.com college football analyst Tom Fornelli. “It’s not really a knock on Miami as much as it’s the fact that Florida State has won its last three games against ACC competition by a combined score of 163-31. Meanwhile, Miami has spent the last two weeks beating North Carolina and Wake Forest by a combined score of 55-44.
“Miami fans will take this as me saying Miami [stinks], but the truth is I just think Florida State is ridiculously good.”
The game, an 8 p.m. sellout at Doak Campbell Stadium, continues one of college football’s fiercest — and most fun — in-state rivalries, dating to 1951. The Hurricanes lead the series 31-26 but haven’t won since 2009, a 38-34 heart-thumper in Tallahassee. After a series-high six consecutive victories by the Canes from 2000 through 2004 (including the Orange Bowl game after the ’03 season), FSU has won six of the past eight meetings.
And they are rarely uneventful — whether it’s wide rights (1991, ’92 and 2000 UM victories), wide left (2002 UM victory), botched snap (2005 FSU), late-game heroics (2007 UM), late-game futility (2009 UM) or shootouts (2008 FSU).
“We’ve seen them, and we know how talented they are,” said UM coach Al Golden, when asked how his team intends to deal with FSU’s significant offensive firepower, from multiple receivers to tight end to running backs to nationally heralded quarterback. “Obviously, you can’t defend all those things all game.
“They’re not beating themselves. They’re explosive. And they’ll make you pay for any mistake.”
The Seminoles are ranked fourth in total offense (553.7 yards per game), third in scoring (52.6) and first in red zone offense. Winston, ranked in the top 10 in several categories, is second nationally in passing efficiency and yards per completion (17), and eighth in completion percentage (69.9).
Defensively, FSU is equally fearsome: No. 1 in passing yards allowed (153.7), No. 4 in scoring defense (13 points allowed per game) and No. 8 in total defense (an average of 289.4 yards allowed).
While the Seminoles have been loose and talkative this week, the Canes have been serious, tight-lipped and deep in what Golden calls their “bunker’’ mentality.
Do you want to prove people wrong, that you are a good football team and can compete with guys you’ve been playing with and against your whole life?
“No,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said, explaining that the Canes aim to “take every play in, move on to the next and execute. We never try to make bulletin board statements. Our focus is, ‘Let’s just do everything right.’ Obviously, Florida State deserves all the credit. They’re a great team.”
UM tight end Asante Cleveland said the first time he went to Tallahassee in 2011 (23-19, FSU), “it was real intense. There were a lot of fans, and seeing the guy [Chief Osceola] riding on the horse was different. But this is important to me because it’s my senior year, my last go-around, and we’ve never beaten Florida State. That’s always been a goal.
“It’s what you live for, going into places like that.”
Cleveland was asked his impression of the point spread.
“It’s interesting,” he said, acknowledging it was a reflection of what people predict.
“People who aren’t in our meeting rooms,” Cleveland said. “People who aren’t in our organization. We have nothing to do with that. We’re focusing on Florida State.”
The Hurricanes are no slouches, averaging 39.6 points — 19th nationally; and allowing 17.7 points per game, 11th-best in the country.
Their pass defense is strong, they rank No. 1 in kickoff returns (with a formidable tandem in freshman Stacy Coley and sophomore Duke Johnson), and Johnson ranks 11th in rushing yards per game (117.6) and third in all-purpose yards (182.9).
But the Canes’ recent penchant for close games with teams considered pedestrian has tempered national enthusiasm and lost them respect. The past two weeks, they’ve won games in the last minute against North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Meanwhile, FSU has rolled over its competition, hammering then-No. 3 Clemson on the road, 51-14, and jumping to a 35-0 lead in the first quarter last week against North Carolina State in an eventual 49-17 victory.
“When we start out fast, we’re pretty hard to beat,” Winston said. “ We just take the breath out of everybody.”
In 11 previous meetings between UM and FSU as top-10 opponents, the Canes have won eight. The last time they met as unbeatens in 2003 (each 5-0), Miami won 22-14 in Tallahassee.
Miami and FSU are two of the eight unbeaten teams in college football still standing.
After Saturday, only one will survive.
“It’s a big week,” said Johnson, when asked if it was tough to stay away from the hype. “I don’t have time for the foolishness.
“It doesn’t matter whether someone respects us or not. We don’t care. We’re here to play football and do it the way we’re being taught.”