Against FSU, Miami's Al Golden has chance to make his mark
OCT 29, 2013 6:00p ET
Free of an NCAA investigation for the first time in 28 months and with a showdown against No. 3 Florida State on Saturday, Golden was amped to get started on preparation for a game that will put No. 7 Miami back in the primetime spotlight.
"I wanted to get to work so bad," Golden said. "I think a lot of kids and coaches on this team feel that way now because we've left that in the past now."
A victory against the Seminoles, who opened as a 21-point favorite, would be the signature win the team and its fans have been clamoring for since Golden's tenure began.
His previous Hurricanes teams have had their moments, but they failed to build on the momentum.
In his first season in 2011, the host Hurricanes beat No. 17 Ohio State 17-6, but then lost to unranked Kansas State the following week. A team he inherited from Randy Shannon went 6-6.
Last year, the hype returned leading up to a home game against 21st-ranked Kansas State, which routed Miami 52-13. Four weeks later, No. 9 Notre Dame cruised past the Hurricanes 41-3 in Chicago.
That team, the second youngest in college football, was bowl eligible after a 7-5 season, but a self-imposed bowl ban kept them out of the postseason for the second straight year.
Already 7-0 in 2013, one more win would be the Hurricanes' highest total since 2009. That team beat back-to-back ranked opponents before a 31-7 thrashing in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.
Golden often talks about the process and one-game seasons. Saturday offers his team a statement game against an in-state rival.
"I feel like we're making progress," Golden said. "Clearly you have to be a program that graduates the number of kids they do and yet be in the same situation they're in right now. We're building that.
"A lot of people were premature in saying the U is back. The U is building. We have to continue to build, continue to recruit, to cultivate and get our guys obviously in the systems and continue to grow and mature. But I do like the direction we're going in spite of what we've been through and excited about the future."
What makes the optimism surrounding the program more tangible this time around?
For one, the Hurricanes beat the rival Gators in early September when Florida was ranked. Over the past two weeks, Miami has orchestrated comebacks against North Carolina and Wake Forest despite playing flawed football.
Secondly, Miami is one of eight unbeaten teams left in the country and holds a nine-game win streak dating back to last season, its best stretch since 2003-04.
According to The Associated Press, the other eight times the Hurricanes began a season 7-0 they went to either the national title game or a bowl-equivalent of the BCS.
Guys like junior tight end Clive Walford have continually improved each season under Golden's tutelage. Of his 17 catches, 13 have been for a first down or touchdown. Walford caught just 18 passes in 2011 and 25 in 2012.
"We're just a more mature team, veteran team," Walford said. "We believe now -- that's one thing. Everybody believes in each other and we come to work every day to get better. It makes us hungrier."
The Hurricanes are unfazed by their underdog status against the Seminoles and their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Jameis Winston.
"We know the odds are against us, but we don't really care," Walford said. "It's an opportunity for us to go out and be great and try to do what we do."
Junior linebacker Denzel Perryman, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, said the Hurricanes could use the doubters as motivation.
Perryman, who is from Coral Gables, grew up on the rivalry. He still watches highlights of games on YouTube when he's bored, mesmerized by the history.
"It's pretty big," said Perryman, who has 52 tackles this year. "Competition that was going on back in the day [was incredible]."
In fact, the last time both teams entered the rivalry game undefeated this late in the season was 1991. Miami won 17-16, en route to its fourth national championship.
As further proof things are on the upside for the Hurricanes, they will make their first College GameDay appearance since Sept. 6, 2008, when fifth-ranked Florida beat them 26-3.
Senior wide receiver Allen Hurns hasn't beaten Florida State in his time at Miami. The memory that has stuck with him the most came during his sophomore year when he fumbled on the first play. Fortunately, the call was overturned.
"Kind of fun," said Hurns, who leads the Hurricanes with 506 yards on 28 catches. "I'm ready for it. I'm ready for the opportunity. I came to Miami to play in games like this."
Though this will be the 14th time both teams are ranked in the AP top 10 when facing each other, it's the first since the the teams opened the 2004 season against each other in Miami. Miami has won 10 of those 13 meetings.
As a result of the early-season success, Saturday marks the seventh time ESPN's College GameDay visits this rivalry, but the first since Sept. 4, 2006, when the Seminoles won 13-10.
Meanwhile, Golden's counterpart, Jimbo Fisher, is 3-0 against the Hurricanes to start his career. The Seminoles look to collect a fourth straight victory, the first such streak in the rivalry since 2000-2004, when Miami won six in a row.
"I don't have a favorite memory right now from this rivalry," Golden said. "Maybe just the first time being a part of it -- the first game. In general we have selective memory when it comes to losses.
"We try to block it out, but it's great to be a part of this, and I want to be a part of this and continue to recruit Miami Hurricanes that want to be a part of it. I'm glad it's back in its rightful place on the national stage."
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