Originally created 09/17/99

Florida schools set for Saturday showdowns



By the time Sunday afternoon rolls around, the state of Florida may be the talk of college football.

On Saturday, it's No. 20 North Carolina State at No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Tennessee at No. 4 Florida and No. 3 Penn State at No. 8 Miami. The results could produce a first -- and a second and third, for that matter -- in the next Associated Press' Top 25 poll.

As in:

No. 1 Florida State.

No. 2 Florida.

No. 3 Miami.

Never in the poll's 63-year history have the three major Florida teams been ranked 1-2-3, but they have come close. Early in 1992, there was a No. 1 Miami, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Florida.

Yes, the Seminoles, Gators and Hurricanes have been good, great in fact, for most of the past 15 years. And hardly a season goes by without one, two or even all three, playing a leading role in the national championship picture.

But rarely have all three played host to big games on the same day.

"I can't remember one," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "Miami and Penn State is mighty big; Florida and Tennessee is mighty big and of course, us and N.C. State is big, too. I would bet you there's never been a day like this one."

For a chance at a Sunshine State 1-2-3 sweep in the poll, all three obviously would need to win, with the Hurricanes needing a big boost from the voters. While the Vols and Nittany Lions would drop in the poll, Miami also would have to move ahead of co-No. 4 Nebraska, No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Texas A&M.

Sounds good, but it won't be easy.

The Wolfpack (3-0) upset the Seminoles 24-7 last season as Chris Weinke threw six interceptions.

"They're a hungry football team," Bowden said. "It's an undefeated team that has dominated us the last six quarters."

Tennessee ended a five-game losing streak against the Gators with a 20-17 overtime win at Knoxville in 1998. But the Vols have not won in The Swamp since 1971, and the Gators have a major-college best 29-game home winning streak.

"Our Gator fans get extremely pumped for Tennessee and Florida State," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said. "Those are the two teams that bring out the extra passion, extra noise level. Our fans have been waiting for this one since the FSU game in 1997. That was the last time it's really been loud here."

The past four Penn State-Miami games were decided by six points or less, the most memorable being the Lions' 14-10 win in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl that gave coach Joe Paterno the second of his two national titles.

"I think it's typical of all three programs over the past 10-12 years that we've had successful teams," Miami coach Butch Davis said. "With big games, you're going to get a big amount of exposure. This is a big game for us, and I'm sure Steve feels the same way with Tennessee coming in and Bobby Bowden with N.C. State."

Florida State, Florida and Miami have been so good for so long, each has been designated as a "Famous Major College Dynasty" by the NCAA.

Combined, the teams have won 279 games in the 1990s, six national titles since 1983 -- Miami has four, Florida State and Florida one each -- and produced four Heisman Trophy winners. During three seasons, 1990-92, the schools were in their "dynasty" stage simultaneously.

Florida State

Under Bowden, in Seminoles have won 10 or more games in each of the last 12 seasons, never finished lower than No. 4 in the final AP poll and have gone 10-2 in bowl games.

There's been one national title, in 1993, and Bowden is still searching for his first perfect season. The NCAA says the Seminoles' dynasty years were 1987-95, but it sure looks like college sport's ruling body ended the run too soon.

Florida

From the time Spurrier took over in 1990, the Gators usually have been in the title chase. With the Fun 'N' Gun offense, Florida is 93-18-1 this decade, with four straight SEC titles from 1993-96, 10 wins in each of the past six seasons and a national championship in '96.

The 1996 season is an example of how dominant these sunshine teams can be. Florida State beat Florida in the final regular-season game, and then the Gators defeated the Seminoles in a rematch at the '97 Sugar Bowl to claim their one and only national crown.

Miami

Florida State and Florida have dominated under one coach; Miami had three in its dynasty years of 1983-92. The Hurricanes won their first title under Howard Schnellenberger in 1983; the second under Jimmy Johnson in '87 and the next two under Dennis Erickson in '89 and '91.

During that span, the 'Canes were an incredible 107-13, set an NCAA record with a 58-game home winning streak from 1985-94 and produced Heisman winners Vinny Testaverde ('86) and Gino Torretta ('92).

For the past few years, Davis has steadily rebuilt the Hurricanes following three years of NCAA probation that severely restricted recruiting. Last season, Miami was 9-3 after closing out with big wins over UCLA and N.C. State.

A 23-12 win over Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic last month gave fans a clear indication the Hurricanes are once again a team to be reckoned with.

The biggest reason the Hurricanes are back, and Florida football has been thriving for years?

Recruiting. Now that Miami is able to sign a full complement of recruits, the Hurricanes are able to keep pace with the Seminoles and Gators for the state's cream-of-the-crop high school stars.

"You go to the three schools and there are plenty of (high school) players down here," Bowden said. "If we get the best ones, then we're all going to have a good chance at having good ballclubs."