Feels like a bowl game for Seminoles, 'Canes match up

(sun-sentinel.com) - In past years, Florida State football coaches rarely invoked the name of the Seminoles' season-opening opponent during preseason practices.

This August has been different, players said. Coaches have not hesitated to mention the words "Miami" and "Hurricanes" during workouts, either for game-planning purposes or motivation.

"It's not a secret that we've lost to them the last five times and there has to be a change in something we're doing in order to win," said tight end Paul Irons.

The season opener against the Hurricanes, to be played Monday at the Orange Bowl, has loomed over the month of August.

"It's very, very different," cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "To me, it feels like a bowl game."

The memory of last season's FedEx Orange Bowl loss to Miami remains fresh in McFadden's mind. The Hollywood native had hoped to spend the days after New Year's celebrating a victory with family and friends. Instead, anticipating constant trash talk from Hurricanes fans, McFadden took a plane back to Tallahassee the morning after the loss.

Similar feelings resonate among many players, and those sentiments carried over into preseason practices.

"Coaches made it a lot more intense, I think, because of Miami," receiver Willie Reid said. "Seniors steeped up a lot and made it more intense. That really puts a lot of responsibility on our shoulders as players to make plays."

Though coach Bobby Bowden said this preseason didn't seem any more intense to him than past preseasons, even he appeared on edge immediately after the first day of practice Aug. 9.

That day, an Internet reporter used a peculiar-looking camera to take pictures of practice. Before he began his usual post-practice news conference, Bowden asked the reporter whether he had been recording unauthorized video. Bowden explained that he didn't want any of the team's new wrinkles on display for the world to see.

Concerns about espionage extended to at least one of Bowden's players.

During a morning practice Aug. 16, linebacker A.J. Nicholson, who was sitting out with an injury, noticed that a fan wearing a T-shirt and shorts emblazoned with the Hurricanes' colors and logo was watching the workout, even though the practice technically was closed to the public. Nicholson promptly notified a security guard, and the guard asked the fan to leave.

Bowden and his players understand how critical the opener is to their season. In years past, the result of the annual FSU-Miami game had no bearing on each team's chances of winning its respective conference title. That has changed now that Miami has joined the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The loser of the season opener likely will have to win all of its remaining ACC games to have a hope of winning the league outright and receiving an automatic Bowl Championship Series game berth.

Many FSU players said practices over the past few weeks took on added urgency.

"We practiced harder," running back Leon Washington said. "I think we were in full pads more often. But I think no matter what, [when] you're playing Miami everybody will be ready. Everybody will be jacked up for the game."

Seminoles guard Matt Meinrod insists that he and his teammates approached this preseason with the same level of intensity as in recent years, but he acknowledged that this year's opener has created a louder buzz among his friends who don't play football.

"Everybody can't wait," Meinrod said. "I've got friends talking about driving down and getting RVs and making a weekend out of it and everything. So it's going to be big. It's going to be real big."

By Josh Robbins
Aug 31, 2004
© Copyright 2004-2005 www.miamifootball365.com

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