No longer a national-impact game, Miami and FSU have bragging rights, ACC to play for Saturday night

Bobby Bowden and Dennis Erickson, old adversaries as coaches at Florida State and Miami respectively, met again Friday at a charity event to discuss what was once college football’s most intense rivalry.

“I just want to thank ‘Wide Right’ for keeping my career alive,” Erickson quipped to an audience of about 150 at Calder Casino and Race Course, referring to missed field goals by FSU kickers on the final plays of the 1991 and 1992 games.

Bowden coached against the Hurricanes 34 times but none were more meaningful than the six games he faced off against Erickson from 1989-94. In every game, at least one of the teams was ranked in the nation’s top three.

“So many times they called it the ‘Game of the Century,’ ” Bowden said. “Well, there was only one century but we played about five of them.”

Fast forward to Saturday night’s showdown between the Hurricanes (4-3, 3-1 ACC) and Seminoles (6-1, 3-1) at Sun Life Stadium and about all that’s left of the series’ national relevancy are the memories.

For the fifth time in the last six meetings, at least one of the teams enters the game unranked. From 1980 to 2007, that only happened four times.

Miami may have only itself to blame. Just once since 2007 have the Hurricanes gone into the Florida State game in the Top 25. Saturday night’s no different for UM, which hasn’t been ranked since November 2010.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles are No. 12 in the Associated Press poll and No. 10 in the USA Today coaches' rankings and have opened up some distance between themselves and UM's program. FSU has won five of the last seven games in the series and two in a row.

“If they’re there now, we’ve got to respond,” UM coach Al Golden said this week. “If you look at the tradition and lineage of this game … the other team just doesn’t sit there on their hands when one team is having success. You get mad.

“And it’s not just the coaches getting mad or the players that get mad. It’s the whole administration, the support [staff], everybody that is involved in the program saying, ‘Ok, they’re ahead of us right now. We’ve got to get them.’ ”

Getting the Seminoles tonight won’t be easy. FSU is a three-touchdown favorite even though 10 of the last 11 matchups have been decided by eight points or less.

The point spread has increased during the week even as UM starting quarterback Stephen Morris’ chances of playing tonight have improved, if only slightly. Morris sprained his left ankle last week against North Carolina and was listed as “doubtful” on an injury report released by Miami on Thursday.

If Morris, can’t play sophomore Ryan Williams will make his first start for UM.

Despite the sizeable odds against the Hurricanes, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher brushed off talk this week that the rivalry has gone the way of CB radios, pointing out that both teams are gunning for ACC divisional titles.

“They’re No. 1 on their side, we’re second on our side,” Fisher said. “A lot of implications in the state. To us, it’s one of the major, major games of the year, and a huge game for us.”

But nationally? The UM-FSU game is not even the biggest in the state today. That will be played in Gainesville where No. 3 Florida meets No. 9 South Carolina.

Still, some things remain the same in the UM-FSU series. The game will be played before an expected sellout at Sun Life, it will be shown to most of the nation on television and many of the state’s top high school prospects will be on hand.

“To me, it’s always going to be Christmas or Thanksgiving or your birthday,” UM offensive line coach Art Kehoe said of playing FSU. “It’s the biggest day of the year. Our guys want to get it on with them as much as anything in the world. If you beat them, you have a shot at everything.”

Well, maybe not everything. This is 2012, after all, and not 1987 or 1991 or 1993. But a win by Miami could rekindle a series that has lost much of its spark.

“They’re ahead of us right now,” Golden said. “Hats off to them. We’ve got to chase them. We’ve got to get to where we want to be.”