Much at stake for Florida college football supremacy

All college football fans understand that there are astronomical implications surrounding tomorrow’s much heralded inter state battle between Miami and the beloved Florida State Seminoles.

First and foremost, a trip to the National Championship is on the line, as the Hurricanes will try to up their perfect record to 6-0, while the Seminoles (5-1) hope to keep their loss total at one. A loss for Miami will be troublesome in their hopes of a second straight title, as top ten teams Tennessee and Virginia Tech still remain on their schedule. As for FSU, they already have a loss at the hands of Louisville two weeks ago and still have Notre Dame, NC State, and Florida left on their schedule. Two losses will eliminate the ‘Noles from the National Championship equation.

Although both the coaches’ and players’ main focus is on winning the game, those thinking about the future understand just how important the outcome really is. With a victory tomorrow, Miami can claim supremacy over Florida college football. The ‘Canes already defeated Florida, a team who has already lost twice and seems to be on their way down after the departure of head coach Steve Spurrier. As for FSU, an early season loss to Louisville has many questioning their status among college football’s elite.

“I think from their (FSU) expectations a year ago maybe they’ve fallen, because if they don’t win 10, 11 games and play for a national title, I guess for them it’s a short fall from grace, but you look at the reality of where they are this year: They’re 5-1, they lost one game in overtime in a monsoon,” said head coach Larry Coker.

Winning the Florida Cup is an extremely important recruiting tool, and is probably the main reason why the Gators refused to play Miami during the 1990’s. The state of Florida always produces some of the best talent in the country and three major programs in the sunshine state compete for the rich crop. Miami, FSU, and UF all seem to recruit enough talent to be very competitive. However, every era seems to have one dominant program leading the recruiting wars.

Miami clearly won the in-state recruiting battle during the 80’s, an era in which the ‘Canes won three National Championships (’83, ’87, and ’89).

After the wonderful Dennis Erickson left the Miami program on probation after their 1991 title, FSU and UF dominated the college football scene and most importantly, Florida recruitment during the 90’s. FSU took home two titles in 1993 and 1999, while the Gators won the National Championship in 1996.

Meanwhile, former UM coach Butch Davis was busy rebuilding the Miami program with a limited number of scholarships. Yet, he still managed to bring in some top notch Florida recruits such as Santana Moss, Dan Morgan, and Ed Reed.

Davis had a plan to get the ‘Canes back on top, and the plan was executed, beginning with a dramatic UM 27-24 victory over FSU on October 10, 2000. Miami had lost its previous five meetings with FSU, including a 47-0 slaughter in 1997. After the game, Dan Morgan said, “Finally, finally, we beat Florida Sate.”

The victory turned around the Miami program, giving the coaching staff leverage in recruiting Florida high school players. Finally, the UM coaching staff could say that the ‘Canes beat FSU as a ploy to attract players.

“The FSU game in 2000 was a huge turnaround for that season and maybe a turnaround for this program,” said head coach Larry Coker. “Until you beat really good teams then you’re not on their level and I think certainly Florida State was number one in the country at the time. So, yeah, they were a very good team, but it was a huge, huge win for the program, there’s no doubt about it.”

Miami will go for their third consecutive victory over FSU tomorrow at the Orange Bowl. You can count on seeing a lot of high school recruits watching the game from the sidelines, some of who will probably form a strong opinion on their college choice according to the result of the game.

“There are players that grow up and they want to play for Florida State. We recruited Craphonso Thorpe last year. We thought we had him. We thought he was coming here. But as it boiled down to it, he grew up wanting to go to Florida State. That’s where he signed. And we won the game last year. The ones that want to come here, I don’t care what you say, they’re going to come here and they’re going to play,” Larry Coker said. “But I think you maybe have some that are on the fence or on the bubble a little bit that maybe look at the outcome of the game and say, ‘You know what, Miami’s pretty good so maybe I ought to take a look at them over Florida State or whoever’. I think it can influence those types of players.”

As of now, the state of Florida has eight players in Tom Flemming’s (ESPN recruiting expert and editor of Prep Football Report) top 100. All eight of them list Miami and FSU as schools that they are looking to play at in 2003.

You can reach Brian Poliakoff at