Editors Note: In order to expand coverage to more games in the ACC and SEC, I will be having a few guest writers during the season giving their preview and opinions on games. First up is Robert Ferringo from Doc's Sports Services on Florida State vs Miami on Monday Night.
By Robert Ferringo – Doc’s Sports Services
While many other war-mongering college football programs plan to open the season pillaging pour souls like Coastal Carolina, Jacksonville State and Citadel, Miami and Florida State will begin the year by reviving a 40-year blood feud in a battle for Sunshine State supremacy.
On Monday Miami travels to Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee to take on No. 19 Florida State in the season opener for each team. The host Seminoles have been installed as a six-point favorite and the total is set at 48.0.
I believe it’s better to take a macro view when handicapping this game rather than trying to break down individual matchups on each side of the ball. Since both programs have been on their sabbatical to mediocrity this decade they have each effused a dizzying brand of inconsistency. And with no raw data to go on yet for 2009 I think it’s best to step back and look at how these schools have performed against one another in the last decade or so to get a gauge on how things will shake out.
Florida State is getting the respect from the oddsmakers and in my opinion the number seems a little inflated due to the fact that Florida State is ranked and playing at home. Now, any capper would tell you that a ranking at this point in the year means squat. But the betting public loves a favorite. And seeing that number next to a school’s name can be mighty enticing even though it’s about as secure as duct tape on your window in the middle of a hurricane.
The Seminoles have had their way with the Hurricanes recently. They’ve won three of four both straight up and against the spread. That includes a wild and wacky one last year in which FSU rang up a 24-3 halftime lead (and outgained Miami 286-52 in the process) before Miami erupted for 36 second-half points to make the 41-39 final look a little closer than it actually was.
However, the dogs of war have been vicious in this series. The underdog is an exceptional 7-0 against the spread over the last eight years (in 2004 the game was a ‘pick’) and the puppy has won the game outright in eight of 10 meetings.
Because of that inherent unpredictability I actually don’t think that there is very much value trying to pick the winning side in this one. If I had to I would say that I lean on Miami. Despite getting worked over the last four years they are still 7-4 ATS in this series since 1998. And you can’t ignore the incredible run by the underdog when this pair squares off. The last eight meetings have been decided by a total of 33 points (about four per game) with no game determined by more than eight. That makes six points with Miami awfully appealing.
I do, however, think that there is some value being offered on the total in this one. Again, this has less to do with the personnel matchups and more to do with the recent history between these two.
Generally, and this goes for pretty much any level of football, the defenses are much further ahead of the offenses this time of year. Even though both Florida State and Miami each return eight starters on offense, including a combined eight of 10 offensive linemen and both starting quarterbacks, I’m not fearful of either attack. I mean, Christian Ponder and Jacory Harris aren’t exactly Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy. And when you consider the pure speed, raw athleticism, and barbaric tendencies of both defenses I have not problem predicting a performance where points are at a premium.
Last year there was a total of 80 points scored and in 2007 we saw 66 combined points. These were two of the three highest scoring games in this rivalry in the last 15 years and somewhat of a statistical anomaly. There has been an average of just 46.0 points per game scored in this matchup over the last 10 years. But if you don’t count the last two meetings the average in the previous 10 games dips to just 40.6. That means that last year they nearly doubled the usual output. That’s not likely to happen again.
The two higher scoring games from the past two seasons were played later in the season when both teams had a much more secure identity and the coaches had more of an idea of scheme and tendencies. But from 2004-2006 these two teams opened the season against one another and the result was a mixture between sloppy play and suffocating defense. They managed just 66 total points in those three games – a 22-point average – and all three games easily went ‘under’. I have no reason not to expect something similar on Monday.
Further, and continuing the whole defense-dominates-early theme both teams have been superb ‘under’ wagers in their openers. Miami is 0-7 against the total in its season opener dating back to 1999 and Florida State is just 1-6 against the total in its first game going back to Y2K.
This is just Game 1 but it’s a big one for both teams. Besides bragging rights these are two teams trying to get back into the BCS picture. Neither team wants to make an early mistake and I anticipate at least a quarter of “dancing around the ring”. The national spotlight won’t do anything to quell the nerves and I am looking for another somewhat sloppy but impressively athletic performance on Monday.