'One of the great traditions': Florida State, Miami say respect exists in their rivalry

The national championship is not at stake. The tops of the national polls may see no effect from the outcome. This game may not even have much impact on the race to decide the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

None of that matters to Florida State and Miami. To them, without question, it's still The Game.

"It's the point on the schedule," Miami quarterback Ryan Williams said, "that everyone looks for."

And it's here.

Florida State and Miami are set to square off for the 57th time, the next installment in the series coming Saturday night on the Hurricanes' home field. Some tickets are going for $1,000 each on the secondary markets. ABC is showing the game to more than 80 percent of the country in prime time, and it's even Miami's homecoming — albeit one where the visiting team is an overwhelming three-touchdown favorite.

Elements of the significance of this game, like many of their recent matchups, are lacking. The Hurricanes (4-3, 3-1 ACC) won't win the national title this year. The 12th-ranked Seminoles (6-1, 3-1) are already facing huge odds in the title chase, even with only one loss. But to the schools involved, the significance of this game never changes, regardless of the records or the rankings.

"I think it's one of the great ones in the history of the game," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I mean, rivalries nationally, how people think of rivalries is not what people think internally. This is one of the games you come to Florida State to play in. It's one of the great traditions.

"They're No. 1 on their side of the division, we're second on our side. ... To us, it's one of the major, major games of the year, and a huge game for us."

For all the things that have made the Florida State-Miami series what it is — the Micheal Barrow hit on Tamarick Vanover 20 years ago, where the Miami linebacker and now Hurricanes assistant coach freelanced a bit from his assignment and delivered perhaps the signature tackle of the series; or all the wide rights and wide lefts that decided games; or the unforgettable 47-0 romp by the Seminoles in 1997 that still stings Miami — there is a thread that ties them.

Somewhere along the way, respect was born from the rivalry.

"The utmost respect for each other," Miami running back Mike James said. "They've got great athletes. We've got great athletes. All of us, we've played in high school together or against each other in high school. I've got two guys on Florida State who I played high school ball with. It's crazy. It's crazy. That just goes to show you what it's like. Think about the guys from Miami in this game. The genre of this game, it's basically a high-school all-star game."

Miami has a major question mark going into the game, that being the health of quarterback Stephen Morris, who sprained his left ankle in last weekend's loss to North Carolina. If Morris can't play, Williams will start.

The Hurricanes will be in control of their Coastal Division destiny in the ACC race regardless of what happens against Florida State, and Miami coach Al Golden has been asked plenty of times this week if that will factor into the decision about playing Morris against the Seminoles.

Golden's answer: If Morris can play, he'll play.

And the reason is simple — no one wants to miss a chance against Florida State.

"We should be mad that they're up there right now," Golden said, addressing the current success of Florida State while Miami is in a reloading mode. "If you look at the way this rivalry has gone, it's up to the other school to respond. I recognize that. I hope we all recognize that. It's our job to respond. Whatever that means for the entire organization — starting with me — we have to respond. Obviously we have an opportunity to do that Saturday night."

Golden and Fisher both preach the same sort of basic principles, like only focusing on the game in front of you and treat every game the same way.

Even they would acknowledge that seems difficult in a Miami-Florida State week.

Everything's heightened. Players know more eyes are on them than usual. More fans show up. More people watch on television. There is nothing normal about this game, and to those involve, that only raises the stakes.

"It's all about respect," Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said. "No hate or anything, It's just fun. It's all about love to me. But when that 60 minutes is on the clock I don't have no friends, no family. You're either with us or against us, that's how I feel. I respect those guys over there. You've got more than a football game, it becomes something. I just can't explain it. It's a different kind of feeling."