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Storied Programs Face Off

Coral Gables, Fla. — Jimbo Fisher replaced a legend at Florida State. Al Golden took over a legendary program at Miami.

Sounds great, though if there’s one thing the two coaches who will be squaring off when the unbeaten Seminoles play host to the unbeaten Hurricanes in Tallahassee, Fla. on tonight will agree upon, it’s that the growing pains they endured along the way were far tougher than most people might realize.

These days, the worst is over for both.

Fisher and Florida State are rolling, looking every bit like a national championship contender. Golden and Miami are off to a flying start, plus no longer have the threat of massive NCAA sanctions hanging over the program. And for the first time in a long time, the annual meeting of the Seminoles and the Hurricanes is truly in the national spotlight.

“Shows college football is getting right again,” Fisher said.

Sure seems that way. No. 3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0 ACC) and No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0) are meeting as unbeatens this late in the season for the first time since 1991, when the Hurricanes won a nailbiter in Tallahassee on the way to the school’s fourth national title in 11 seasons. The Canes have just one championship since, and oddsmakers have listed them as three-touchdown underdogs this weekend.

Florida State’s resurgence on the national scene is clearly farther along, without question. The Seminoles won the ACC title last year and the Orange Bowl. They’re putting up numbers now akin to when Bobby Bowden was in his coaching heyday in Tallahassee. They have a quarterback in Jameis Winston who has a first name many people couldn’t pronounce correctly a few weeks ago, but is now a Heisman Trophy frontrunner.

Even their rivals at the other end of the state are tipping their collective caps.

“I think clearly you have to be a program to graduate the number of kids that they graduated and yet be in the same situation they are in right now,” Golden said of the Seminoles. “We are building that. A lot of people are premature and saying ‘The U is back.’ The U is building. We have to continue to build.”

But when the NCAA mess over — nine scholarships over three years is the worst of the football penalties, and even that may be lessened over time — the building job at Miami might become more advanced, and quickly.

“It’s good for the state of Florida, it’s good for the ACC and it’s good for college football,” Fisher said. “I think it’s good all the way around, and like I say, it’s one of the great traditional rivalries in the game, and it’s great to see both teams up there.”

Fans tend to be impatient, of course. So that only added to the magnitude of what both Fisher and Golden had to deal while building things at their current schools.

Fisher started 12-7 at Florida State, before reeling off 26 wins in the Seminoles’ last 29 games. Golden started 11-11 at Miami, and is 9-0 since. Fans seem a touch happier at both places now. Go figure.

“They have to deal with it one way, we have to deal with it another,” Fisher said. “We have to focus on what we do, and you can’t worry about that. I’m sure everybody doesn’t want to lose, but that’s part of the game, and you as a coach have to keep staying true to what you believe in.”

For Golden, that’s been particularly true, and particularly tested.

The NCAA mess that revolved around a former booster who’s now serving a 20-year prison term for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme had nothing to do with Golden, though he inherited the problem. He wasn’t aware of the looming NCAA investigation when he took the Miami job. The booster, Nevin Shapiro, was already in prison at the time.

And for 2½ years, it held him down, while he was trying to lift Miami up.

It’s an anchor no more.

“If they’re going to negative recruit against us, it’s going to be about what we do on the field, it’s going to be about our beautiful surroundings here, it’s going to be the weather, it’s going to be about our tradition,” Golden said. “It’s not going to be about the NCAA.”