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College Football Thursday: Florida State vs. Miami (FL)
By Matt Horkman

For the second time in three weeks, the ACC will takeover our televisions with Miami (FL) traveling to Tallahassee for a showdown with Florida State. The matchup features a pair of unbeaten teams, but more importantly, it highlights the resurgence of two of college football’s great programs.

From a recruiting standpoint, being part of a spectacle will help both programs immensely, though based on their No. 3 national ranking, it doesn’t look as if Florida State needs any help.

Because of their rival’s dominance, Miami (FL) isn’t getting the respect their brethren to the north are. Florida State’s in position to challenge Alabama and Oregon for a national title, while the Hurricanes’ No. 7 ranking is probably generous. In fact, they’ll enter Saturday as a 22-point underdog, in large part because they‘re winning sloppy. The point-spread is the largest ever in a game featuring two teams with top 10 rankings.

Well, let me make a case for them.

For much of the last month, they’ve been dealing with the lingering issue of potential sanctions stemming from the NCAA’s investigation into allegations that a major booster provided improper benefits to 72 basketball and football players from 2002 to 2010. In addition, a handful of coaches from both sports allegedly knew of the transgressions. Yahoo! Sports first reported the allegations after an 11-month investigation back in 2011. In response to the report, NCAA President Mark Emmert put the so-called “Death Penalty” on the table.

In other words, we were talking about the end of Hurricane football as we know it.

Last week, however, the NCAA delivered a mild verdict. The Hurricanes were docked nine scholarships over the next three years. Simply put, they’ve lost three scholarships a year. No wins vacated. No postseason ban. No death penalty.

This week marks the first time in over two years that head coach Al Golden will enter a workweek without this investigation lingering over his program. Frankly, Golden doesn’t receive enough credit for the job he’s done under clouded circumstances. He was hired less than a year before Yahoo! Sports dropped the bombshell scandal on the program. All he’s done since then is steady the ship and elevate its national standing.
Stephen Morris
In addition, the Hurricanes deserve credit for getting it done on the field. Despite struggling the last two weeks, quarterback Stephen Morris is on NFL radar. Many consider him among the potential first-round signal callers in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has a cannon arm and he’s good enough to pick apart any secondary if he’s able to get into a rhythm.

Behind him is running back Duke Johnson, who is one of the best lesser-known players in the college football. Johnson’s undersized at 5-9 and 196 pounds, but he runs hard and is among the most elusive backs in the ACC. He’s rushed for 823 yards and six touchdowns this season.

The combination of Morris and Johnson is as good as any backfield combination Florida State will face this year. Plus, the Hurricanes are playing solid defense. They’ve allowed 30 points in a game just once this season. Overall, they’re allowing 17.7 points per game, though they’ll need to play their best game to slow down Jameis Winston and Florida State’s high-octane offense.

The detractors will say Miami (FL) has played nobody. That is true, although one of their wins was over the Florida Gators, who have one of the best defenses in college football. The win over Florida was a good win, especially if the Gators finish strong. It wasn’t a signature win, though. The Hurricanes will have their chance to prove doubters wrong on Saturday night. 

Win or lose, both teams playing in one the biggest games of the year after nearly a decade of irrelevance in the national title conversation is good for college football. For the Seminoles, maybe it’s just one more roadblock in their path of destruction. But for the Hurricanes, it represents an opportunity to do what Florida State did against Clemson two weeks ago.

Win a signature game. 

Draft Watch
Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Outlook: Playing for Kirk Ferentz is a major boon for Iowa offensive lineman. Yes, some have struggled in the NFL (namely Robert Gallery), but Ferentz remains well regarded in the pros, and Scherff is his latest project. The junior tackle is an outstanding run blocker, using his power to drive defenders away from the play. He’s also a good pass protector, who consistently leads opposing rushers up field. Most early draft prognostications have Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews as the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect. I mentioned the same thing last month, but each week Scherff’s dominating his competition. His combination of power run blocking and consistent pass protecting could position him in the top 10.

Stock: Up

Couch Potato Lineup
Last Week: 2-1
Season Record: 16-8

No. 21 Michigan at No. 22 Michigan State
Time/TV: 3:30 PM EST, ABC
Prediction: After losing to Notre Dame, Michigan State has quietly won four consecutive games by allowing 45 total points during the winning streak. The Wolverines are the polar opposite. They’re getting it done by scoring 40-plus points per game, while their defense struggles. In the last two weeks, Michigan’s allowed 90 points. Devin Gardner is the key to this game. When he plays well, Michigan tends to win, but inconsistency is defining his 2013 season. It started promising with a great performance against Notre Dame, but since then, he’s thrown eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Inconsistent quarterbacks struggle on the road against good defenses. In the Big Ten, only Ohio State’s defense is in the same league as Michigan State. A Michigan State victory and that’s the likely Big Ten championship matchup.

Michigan State 24 Michigan 17

No. 18 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Texas Tech
Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, FOX
Prediction: Texas Tech cannot afford any lingering issues from last week’s tough defeat in Norman. The Red Raiders gave Oklahoma a good game, but they came up short in a rainy environment. They return home to play Oklahoma State, who surprisingly has a good defense. With the exception of West Virginia, the Cowboys have held each opponent under 30 points. This is big for a team that’s normally involved in high-scoring affairs. Texas Tech is their toughest test to date, though. The Red Raiders have a very good offense with freshman quarterback Davis Webb coming off a good performance in a losing effort. Jace Amaro continues to be a matchup nightmare, as the junior tight end has 100 receiving yards in three consecutive games. As good as the Cowboys are on defense, I don’t think they have an answer for that passing combination.

Texas Tech 34 Oklahoma State 24

No. 7 Miami (FL) at No. 3 Florida State
Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, ABC
Prediction: Winston was unfazed against Clemson, but the rivalry between Miami (FL) is just different. Throw out their records and stats. For these two teams, particularly the Hurricanes, this as big as any BCS championship. Florida State’s offense receives much of the credit, but their defense is equally as impressive. They’ve allowed less than 20 points in six of their seven games. They face an up-and-down quarterback in Morris. His big arm allows him to make plays few others can, but he’s a bit erratic. If the Seminoles hit him early, he could resort into making poor decisions. In order to keep Florida State’s pass rush at bay, Morris will need to get rid of the ball quickly. They also must stick with the running game, even if they fall behind early. Despite my case above for Miami (FL), Florida State has a great home field advantage, their rolling on both sides of the ball, and the Hurricanes are still a year away from playing with the top dogs. The game will be closer than many expect, giving the Hurricanes much-needed style points, but the outcome will go Florida State’s way.

Florida State 35 Miami (FL) 27

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