The undefeated Seminoles will arrive at Doak Campbell Stadium for their 3:30 game in Tallahassee on Saturday in the best possible position a college football team can be in on Nov. 11: undefeated with a spot in the conference title game clinched and a College Football Playoff berth on the horizon.
The struggling Hurricanes appear headed in the other direction. They needed overtime to beat two of their last three opponents. They did not score a touchdown in their last game. Their once-star quarterback is in the throes of a career-worst slump — a slump so bad, it could cost him the starting job.
This seems like the worst possible time for Miami (6-3, 2-3 ACC) to go on the road and play in front of a raucous crowd that will be out in force to support one of the nation’s top teams. No. 4 Florida State (9-0, 7-0 ACC) has won 15 straight games, dating back to last season.
Although the Hurricanes are heavy underdogs, UM coach Mario Cristobal disagrees.
“I think it’s always a good time for a rivalry game,” Cristobal said. “It’s what college football has always been and will always be about. And the intensity, the pageantry, the passion behind it is awesome. It’s incomparable.”
The biggest question surrounding Saturday’s matchup will be answered early. Either Tyler Van Dyke, who has thrown 10 interceptions in his last four games, will get the start, or Miami will turn to freshman Emory Williams or sophomore Jacurri Brown (or a multi-quarterback system featuring both) to take over.
Cristobal did not give a definitive answer when asked if Van Dyke would start or if the UM staff was considering making a change, saying that players were “always competing.”
“What I would always say is that we’re always competing at every position,” Cristobal said. “We’re always assessing, and we always make the decisions that give us the best chance to win. Respectfully, we keep everything regarding personnel moves in-house and tight.”
Regardless of who the Hurricanes start at quarterback, Miami will have to deal with a dangerous opposing quarterback in Palm Beach County native Jordan Travis.
“It’s another opportunity to go out there and compete against these guys,” Travis said. “Everybody knows that I’ve not been a fan of Miami for years. But it’s been a blessing just to represent this university and go out there and compete against Miami and be in this big game like this.”
Travis has won both of his starts against the Hurricanes, and he is generating Heisman hype this season. He has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,469 yards and 19 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Travis has excelled as a dual-threat quarterback but has rushed for only 190 yards this year, although he has scored seven rushing touchdowns.
“He’s been standing in the pocket and making good passes this year, which is kind of different from him,” Miami cornerback Te’Cory Couch said. “Because he normally wants to get out of the pocket and run and take off with his legs. He’s been doing a pretty good job of making plays downfield, using his receivers and throwing the ball in good spots.”
Travis was without his two premier weapons, wide receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, for FSU’s 24-7 win over Pittsburgh, and the offense stalled for the first half of the game. Unfortunately for Miami, both receivers have since returned to practice and could play Saturday.
“They create problems,” Hurricanes defensive coordinator Lance Guidry said, “but they create problems for everybody.”
The Seminoles’ defense is among the best in the nation, ranked 15th in points allowed per game. But FSU could be vulnerable to UM halfback Mark Fletcher Jr. and Miami’s running game. Florida State ranks 60th nationally in run defense.
“They have a good secondary, good front four,” Fletcher said. “They fly around, make plays. They’re in the right spot, veteran guys who know what they’re doing. So it’s going to be a challenge. Great defense.”
For Fletcher and other UM newcomers, Saturday is a chance to play in this rivalry game for the first time. Some, like Alabama transfer Javion Cohen, did not know much about the rivalry before arriving at Miami. But for others, like South Florida natives Rueben Bain Jr. and Fletcher, this is the marquee game on the schedule.
“It’s a game I’ve been growing up watching since I was a kid,” Bain said. “I always heard about Florida State and UM. My cousin played in it. I was always watching games. I was at the games. I was always in that environment. Now I get the chance to play in it. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to. It’s amazing.”