CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Ohio State and Miami no longer need to pretend otherwise. Marshall and Florida A&M, they were merely warmup acts.
The true early test for the Buckeyes and Hurricanes comes next Saturday — against one another.
Both No. 2 Ohio State and No. 13 Miami opened their season with eerily similar wins Thursday night. Both offenses racked up exactly 45 points, and neither defense allowed a point. Marshall's lone touchdown came on a blocked field goal return, while Florida A&M fell victim to the Hurricanes' first shutout since 2006.
So now, the hype can begin building.
The Hurricanes (1-0) and Buckeyes (1-0) meet Sept. 11 at Columbus, Ohio, the first time they've played since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl where Ohio State denied Miami its second straight national title. And the current sides, although some players were in elementary school when that title game was held, started buzzing about it moments after their respective opening-night routs were in the books.
"It's going to be a more difficult world next week," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
Countered Miami coach Randy Shannon, who wants no part of the obvious comparison between this matchup and the one that decided the national title eight seasons ago: "Games are games, and they go and come. You just have to enjoy the times you play in them and keep moving on."
Whether Shannon likes it or not, this one might carry more weight than just any run-of-the-mill non-conference game.
Ohio State is touted by many as a true national championship contender, while Miami thinks its among the teams that could break into that picture by season's end. While there's virtually an entire season left to be played, whatever happens next Saturday might go a long way toward making either the Buckeyes' or Hurricanes' Bowl Championship Series plans a reality.
"You get the feeling that team feels like they're back on the rise like they were in the early 2000s," said Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Marshall. "We've got to play our brand of football, and at the end of the game next week we'll be able to assess where we are."
Rolle's name likely is familiar to many Hurricanes fans.
He's from Immokalee, Fla., a Collier County town best known for farming and football. Rolle's favorite team growing up was Miami, and he wanted to play for the Hurricanes at one time. And his cousin, Antrel Rolle, was on the field that night in Arizona when Ohio State beat the Hurricanes 31-24 in double-overtime for the national title.
Maybe ironically, Antrel Rolle was the first Miami player to wrap his arms around cornerback Glenn Sharpe in celebration after the Hurricanes thought they stopped Ohio State on fourth down in the first overtime. Then official Terry Porter's yellow penalty flag sailed into the picture after he called Sharpe for pass interference, the championship game continued, and the Buckeyes eventually prevailed.
"I was a little young, but I remember it," Miami defensive lineman Olivier Vernon said. "It's revenge time. Nobody's forgotten about it. I feel like I was playing that game."
Vernon was just 12 when that Fiesta Bowl took place.
Still, he and the rest of today's Hurricanes are convinced they can hang with the team that won the Rose Bowl last season. And the team Miami eased past Thursday night thinks the same.
Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor faced Miami last season as well, and after his Rattlers took their 45-0 loss Thursday, he said the Hurricanes of 2010 are easily better than the team that finished 9-4 a year ago.
"They're a year older, but it's the same guys," Taylor said. "It's experience. (Quarterback) Jacory Harris is a year older and more mature. Their front group, too, and their receiving corps were rated one of the tops in the country. It's legit. Their running backs are fast. We couldn't catch up with them. And the biggest thing is they're showing some experience."
Which they'll need next weekend, when 105,000 or so fans pack Ohio State's fabled home.
"Now's the time to get in that Miami mode," Brian Rolle said. "We know we're going to play a fast, spicy, swagger team."