December 15, 2003 TALLAHASSEE While Florida State officials were still railing over the Bowl Championship Series politics that led to the Orange Bowl date with Miami, the players particularly the team's 12 seniors were energized by the opportunity for a rematch with the Hurricanes. That's a dream come true, senior cornerback Stanford Samuels said. You go four years on the playing field without beating these guys that's tough. Especially being from down there. My whole family teased me about the matchup. It's gonna be special to play them again in the Orange Bowl. (Pro Player Stadium) is two blocks away from where I live, so that's going to be special.
Samuels won't have to contend with the Hurricanes in next season's Labor Day opener, which also will serve as Miami's ACC debut, but he doesn't think three meetings in an 11-month stretch will be a burden to his teammates at all.
All of us wanted it, he said. We knew what the outcome should have been or could have been a month or two months ago. We see this as a golden opportunity.
Florida State's 22-14 home loss to the Hurricanes on Oct. 11 still weighs heavily on the team. The general consensus among the players is that the game-long rain, which turned Doak Campbell Stadium into a swamp and contributed to five turnovers, prevented the best team from winning.
Now we get a chance for revenge, junior cornerback Bryant McFadden said. Not too many teams get a chance to do that.
By the time the Seminoles hit the practice field on Dec. 12, ending a two-week break, even FSU coach Bobby Bowden had warmed to the idea. Not only did he realize his players were anxious for another crack at the Hurricanes, but Bowden knew his coaching staff had all it needed to put together a winning game plan.
You've still got those same notes you had on them the last time, Bowden said. You've got the same plan that you had that you can refer to and find out what not to do and what to do.
What the Seminoles can't do is turn the ball over five or six times, which is exactly what they did in the 2003 and 2001 losses to the Hurricanes, respectively. While those problems can't be cured by a game plan, FSU's coaching staff should be able to better address the pass-protection and run-blocking problems that hampered the offense in the Oct. 11 game.
Their offensive line was a weakness and we attacked that, Miami defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. We got it in our minds that we were going to out-physical them, which we did.
FSU's offensive line has vastly improved since the last meeting, and tailback
Leon Washington, who played sparingly in the rain game, is completely healthy
and should be utilized
Normally, if you'd played somebody you hadn't played before, there would have been a whole lot of film to break down, Bowden said. Now we've got film to break down of (Miami's) last five or six games, instead of 11 of them or 12 of them.
On the surface, little appears to have changed for the Hurricanes. But Miami's sense of invincibility certainly was stripped away a bit by consecutive losses to Virginia Tech and Tennessee, which ended a regular-season winning streak of 40 games.
On the field, quarterback Brock Berlin has been shaky enough that Miami coach Larry Coker gave backup Derrick Crudup one start and playing time in several other games. Though Crudup did not play against the Seminoles, Bowden isn't overly concerned if he does on New Year's Day.
They don't change the game plan with the other (quarterback) in there, Bowden said. Of course, we do have film on him now that we would not have had the last ballgame.
Most importantly for the Seminoles, the Orange Bowl will provide the seniors with a last chance at a first victory over the Hurricanes. Couple that with the fact that the players can pocket a little extra cash by car-pooling to South Florida to save money on their allotted travel expense, and the Seminoles should have all the incentive they need to dispatch the Hurricanes.
Walker's Future Likely Elsewhere
Backup quarterback Fabian Walker joined his teammates in preparation for the Orange Bowl in mid-December. Whether he still will be with the program when the Seminoles return to Tallahassee in 2004, however, remains very much in doubt.
Family members have been exploring transfer options for the junior quarterback, who a year ago made his first start in the Sugar Bowl, when Chris Rix was suspended. Rix won the job in the spring and has started every game, despite struggles that Walker and others felt should have given him a second chance to prove he's capable of leading the team.
Bowden planned to meet with Walker to discuss his future before releasing the team to go home for Christmas. In the meantime, the affable Walker continued to put the best face on his situation.
I'm not thinking about it too much right now, I'm just trying to focus on this game and prepare myself, Walker said. After this season, I'm really going to evaluate this situation and think about it.
Despite his loyalty and love for the FSU program, Walker appears headed for a I-AA team to complete his eligibility. A 1999 high school graduate, he turned 23 years old in November and is four years into his five-year NCAA eligibility clock. (He didn't enroll anywhere until 2000.) Thus, he cannot afford to sit out a season as a transfer to another Division I-A program, as would be required under NCAA rules. The 2004 season will mark the last opportunity to shine for Walker, a record-setting prep All-American from Georgia, and the I-AA route appears to be his best option.
If that happens, Wyatt Sexton, a rising third-year sophomore, will be thrust into the backup spot behind Rix. Sexton has played sparingly, attempting just five passes this season in mop-up roles behind Rix and Walker. It also would force early quarterback commitment Drew Weatherford to quickly acquaint himself with the offense, just in case.
Hoops: Unhappy About Romero
Florida State men's basketball coach Leonard Hamilton's patience with the NCAA is running thin regarding the eligibility of junior college transfer Diego Romero. Romero has not played a game as the school attempts to get him cleared through the NCAA, and the prospects of that happening don't appear good.
I have a lot I would like to say, and I will an awful lot, Hamilton said. I've been tempering my statements, only because I know I've been doing this a long time, an awful long time. And I've seen a lot of scenarios come down the pike. I've never seen anything that I believe in any more than Diego's situation. I'm extremely confident that everything he has done is in order, and I'm more confident than anything else that everything the university has done has been proper.
Romero, a skilled big man, played two seasons of club basketball on a team with professional players in his native Argentina before moving to the United States to attend Lon Morris College in Texas. Though he never received compensation beyond basic living expenses, according to FSU officials, the NCAA has failed to clear him as a result of eligibility rules changes that were put into place while he was in junior college.
FSU contends that it's not fair to hold Romero to the new rules, because he came to this country with the intention of transferring to a four-year school when the old rules were still in place. Under the old rules, Romero would have been forced to sit out eight games this season. The NCAA, so far, has not agreed with the Seminoles' argument.
After unsuccessfully exhausting the normal NCAA appeals process, FSU is trying to take Romero's case to the organization's executive council. If that fails, compliance director Bob Minnix said the school has not ruled out the possibility of pursuing legal action on Romero's behalf.
I have confidence that when you do things right, most of the time you get the right result, Hamilton said. At this particular point, that's probably all I can say, only because I don't want to get into an area where I can't get back from. I'm not trying to be disrespectful to the media. I just think that as this process plays itself out, you guys will come to the same resolution that I've come to.