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Miami, Richt face not only FSU, but the pressure of expectations

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How will the Hurricanes and their coach handle the role of favorite?

NCAA Football: Florida State at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There’s little use denying that the Miami Hurricanes are riding high right now.

Heading into this weekend’s matchup with Florida State, Miami, projected as a competitor in the Coastal Division with minimal realistic expectations of competing for a playoff bid in the preseason, now finds itself favored in Tallahassee for the first time since 2005 after getting off to a 3-0 start.

The line opened with the Seminoles favored by one point, but quickly shifted in UM’s favor, now sitting at Miami -3.

This is especially interesting as this was not expected to be Miami’s year with a significant chance to snap its seven-game losing streak to FSU. Bringing a first-year starting quarterback into Doak Campbell Stadium against a FSU team that started the season No. 3 in both major polls just over a month ago did not lead many to think it would go Miami’s way.

With how the season has played out, however, and the Seminoles unable to put together a competent all-around performance through their first three games while the Hurricanes are fresh off a dominating 31-6 win at Duke last Thursday, the tables seem to have turned. In fact, Miami enters its matchup with FSU as the sole ranked team in the rivalry for the first time since 1983.

The scenario heading into this weekend almost lines up too easily for the Hurricanes to finally get the monkey of their back and beat Jimbo Fisher for the first time since he took over at FSU in 2010.

And that may be a problem— but for the ’Canes.

For the first time in a number of years, Miami enters its matchup with the Seminoles with more to lose and the pressure that comes with it.

Throughout the rivalry over the last seven years, it has been FSU that has been playing with higher stakes, ranging from staying relevant in the national title picture in 2013 and 2014 to keeping up with Clemson in the Atlantic Division race countless other years.

This year, FSU’s chances to compete for the Atlantic crown feel slim, especially with how impressive Clemson has looked, and the Seminoles’ national title hopes have been dashed for weeks. Meanwhile, a Miami win in Tallahassee makes them a frontrunner for what would be the program’s first Coastal Division title and even makes the ’Canes wild cards in the College Football Playoff picture.

Talk about pressure.

Not to take away from what Miami has done, but the Hurricanes have a few drawbacks heading into Saturday’s game.

For one, although the UM offense has impressed led by junior quarterback Malik Rosier, who boasts an impressive 8-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, running back Mark Walton, who is averaging over nine yards per carry, and wideout Braxton Berrios, who is averaging nearly 20 yards per catch, the competition they have done this against (Bethune-Cookman, Toledo, and Duke) is not exactly spectacular.

Add to this the fact that even when things have been going terribly for the Seminoles (see: last season), they always seem to get up for these rivalry games under Fisher, who boasts a 13-1 record against Miami and Florida.

While Fisher has historically dominated his rivals as a head coach, the same cannot be said for Miami head coach Mark Richt.

Don’t misinterpret that. I fully believe that Richt is a very good college football coach. However, he also has a track record of coaching really good college football teams that have an inexcusable loss over the course of a season. Truthfully, it’s a reputation that precedes him.

Those woes have, at times, extended toward games against rivals. The biggest examples of this came in 2014, Richt’s penultimate year at the University of Georgia. That season, Richt’s Bulldogs finished the regular season 9-3 with an impressive 6-2 record in SEC play. However, two of those losses came as significant favorites against rivals. UGA entered as 12-point favorites against Florida in Jacksonville before getting demolished by the Gators, 38-20. That UF team finished 7-5 in Will Muschamp’s final year. Then, in the regular season finale, the Bulldogs, favored by 10.5 over Georgia Tech, suffered a 30-24 overtime loss at home to the Yellow Jackets.

These are just a few examples, but there’s evidence of a minor trend throughout Richt’s coaching career: coming up short when the stakes are large.

On paper, just about everything points to Miami breaking its lengthy losing streak and preventing FSU from evening the all-time series between the two schools at 31 wins each. If both teams continue playing the way they have so far this season, that will surely be the way the game plays out.

However, some variables, as well as Miami’s newfound pressure, may shift the tide in Florida State’s favor come Saturday.