Greg Cote

The starting place for talk of Hurricanes and national relevance? Beat FSU

University of Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley and his teammates celebrate a second quarter touchdown against Florida State on October 8, 2016, in Miami Gardens.
University of Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley and his teammates celebrate a second quarter touchdown against Florida State on October 8, 2016, in Miami Gardens.

Beat FSU.

That’s all. So simple. So difficult. So necessary. So elusive.

Any college football conversation that centers on whether “The U is back” or if the Miami Hurricanes are ready for national relevance again has only one starting place. One prerequisite.

Announce to the world a hostile Canes takeover of the Atlantic Coast Conference by snatching that burning spear, dousing it in water and knocking that high-riding Seminole clean off his appaloosa. By finally beating nemesis Florida State again.

It might be in the regular season, might be in the ACC title game. Might be in a bowl game or even in the College Football Playoff. Somewhere, sometime, somehow, U gotta beat FSU.

So the big question in and around Coral Gables in the buildup to this season was: “Who’ll be the starting quarterback?” But that was never the biggest question, the one overarching not just this season but this program. Think macro, not micro:

Is the little kid so tired of being bullied by his big brother that he’s finally ready to do something about it? Does he have the nerve? Has he decided it’s time?

FSU has beaten Miami seven games in a row in this intrastate and conference rivalry, the longest streak by either team in the 59 times the schools have met since first doing so in 1955.

The past three results have been 30-26, 29-24 and last year 20-19 in Mark Richt’s first season. The little kid is growing. But big brother keeps winning.

They meet again, early, in Week 3, on Sept. 16 in Tallahassee. In prime time. On ABC-TV. Could there be a better stage for the young, rising Canes to stake their claim? (Um, no.)

Winning that game, on the field that has lately been a burial ground for UM, is how you get the nation’s attention and win back the respect that was a given during the glory era of five national championships from 1983 to 2001. That is how you transform “swagger” from a T-shirt claim to something you have earned again.

Omen watchers might take heart that the last time Miami and FSU played earlier in a season than Sept. 16 was the last time UM won: 38-34 in the 2009 season opener, also in Tally. It made you believe again (well, for awhile) in Randy Shannon. Jacory Harris that day would throw for 386 yards. He’s 27 now, playing for the Montreal Alouettes.

The 2017 Canes, of course, have the best possible excuse all lined up should they lose again: Inexperience at quarterback, with Malik Rosier taking over for NFL-departed Brad Kaaya (with Evan Shirreffs the backup in waiting).

Baloney. That ain’t flying.

FSU itself won and won big last year with a freshman 19-year-old QB in Deondre Francois. Nick Saban and Alabama win and win big with the passer as an interchangeable part. (The powerhouse Noles and Crimson Tide open the season Sept. 2 in Atlanta.)

Big-boy programs through relentless strong recruiting have the surrounding talent and depth to make a great quarterback a bonus as much as a necessity — and the lack of one off the table as an excuse.

I concur with this from noted college football publisher and analyst Phil Steele, about UM: “They’ve got a great supporting cast. I don’t think the quarterback is going to have to win them too many games this year. They just need the quarterback not to lose them.”

In running back Mark Walton and dynamic receiver Ahmmon Richards the Canes have two offensive weapons to help make any QB look good. This UM team will be most exciting on defense, though.

The Seminoles, too, figure as an outstanding defense led by safety Derwin James, cornerback Tarvaris McFadden, end Josh Sweat and tackle Derrick Nnadi, all loved by NFL scouts.

UM counters with what should be one of the best defensive front sevens in the nation for coordinator Manny Diaz. Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman was a freshman All-American last season but says he was “disgusted” watching himself on film. Gotta love the attitude — which is where great, ferocious, swagger-y defense always starts.

I read a psychologist quoted as saying Miami’s best bet to get past its biggest football obstacle is to “forget it’s FSU” and treat it like any other game. So silly. First, that’s impossible. Second, why would you want to?

It is those seven losses in a row that provide a hunger and fuel available only to the Hurricanes.

To that little kid who looked up to his big brother for so long only to discover they’re finally about eye level.

To that little kid who’s tired of being pushed around and decides, “It’s time. My turn now.”

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