For a decade-plus now, UM has had to take a backseat to FSU, losing nine of their last 11 meetings, and watching the Seminoles qualify for five Atlantic Coast Conference championship games, with UM appearing in none.
That’s what makes what we’re witnessing now --- UM ranked 10th in the AP poll, 13 spots ahead of FSU and favored slightly by oddsmakers in their matchup Saturday --- so fascinating.
This much is clear: UM, which has played a much easier schedule than FSU, has been far better defensively, ranking seven in yards allowed per game at 253, while FSU is 94th at 438, and standing second in points permitted per game (11.0, behind only Ohio State), while FSU is 105th of 128 FBS schools (at 35.4).
FSU’s offense has been terrific, but UM has scored more, on average (47 per game, fourth in the country), compared to FSU (22nd, 41.4).
What’s less clear is this: Does FSU still have clearly better talent? I spoke to two evaluators that I respect and received very different answers.
One veteran NFL scout who has attended practices at both schools in recent months believes UM has closed the gap, where there is now no appreciable difference.
”FSU was way ahead, but people leave early and get injured and defensively, they are a shell of themselves from the past two, three years,” the scout said. “FSU and Miami are more equal now, but not because Miami has taken a big step. Both of their defensive lines aren’t what they used to be.”
But recruiting analyst Larry Blustein disagrees: ”I still think you have a pretty good gap. Miami has kids that can match up with FSU’s frontline talent. If you line up the top 22 for each, they're fairly close. But in depth, FSU has huge advantage. From a depth perspective, Miami is at least two years behind FSU, two years away from being able to compete for the playoffs.”
Recruiting rankings are unreliable, but as perspective, consider: UM starts just one Rivals five-star recruit (Chad Thomas) and 10 four-star players. FSU starts four five-star players (that number would be five when defensive back Derwin James is healthy and playing) and 12 four-stars.
UM’s Brad Kaaya was rated the No. 8 pro style quarterback in his class, but FSU’s Deondre Francois the No. 1 dual-threat QB in his. UM’s Mark Walton was the No. 9 running back in his class, but FSU’s Dalvin Cook was the No. 2 in his.
UM’s Stacy Coley was the No. 13 receiver in his class, but FSU’s Travis Rudolph was the No. 1 in his. UM’s Kc McDermott was the No. 11 guard in his class, but FSU’s Landon Dickerson was No. 1 in his.
And there’s this: Of FSU’s 11 regular starters on defense, an astounding eight were rated in the top 10 at their position by Rivals coming out of high school, compared with three for UM.
Here’s the big difference though: Under the previous two coaching staffs, UM fans complained about players not playing up to their recruiting rankings.
Now, that criticism can be fairly leveled against FSU’s underperforming defense, while a bunch of UM’s three-star players (Mike Pinckney, Rayshawn Jenkins, Richard McIntosh, among others) are playing above that level thanks to better coaching, personal growth, a managable early-season schedule and perhaps miscalculations by Rivals evaluators.
Another encouraging sign for UM: Rivals rates Miami’s 2017 recruiting class 10th (even after losing four-star cornerback Christopher Henderson this week). FSU is ranked 15th.
This weekend’s game is critical in that regard. FSU is among the schools making a push for one of UM’s top 2017 commitments, Miami Central offensive tackle Navaughn Donaldson, who has said his UM commitment is above 70 percent.
And FSU and UM are battling for three of South Florida’s top uncommitted 2017 recruits: defensive ends Jordan Wright (Dillard) and Owen Carney (Central) and offensive lineman Tedarall Slaton (American Heritage).
• This was my second of three UM posts today. For a look at why ESPN’s Mel Kiper “isn’t buying” UM’s 4-0 start, and why his colleague Todd McShay agrees, please click here.... And for news and links quickly, please follow me on Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... With regard to Hurricane Matthew: As of this posting, UM is still expecting to play the FSU game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.