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November 1, 2013

Beyond the Field: Five-star fest at FSU

MORE: Mind of Mike: Texas A&M rolling

It may not be the glory days, but it is good enough.

The showdown between No. 3 Florida State and No. 7 Miami is a top 10 prize fight, but the Seminoles enter as a three-touchdown favorite. Florida State has blown through its competition this season, outscoring foes 368-91, so this Miami matchup may not prove to be the slugfest fans enjoyed in the early 1990s and early 2000s.

Jimbo Fisher acknowledged the importance of the game not just in recruiting but in the chase for a national title, with both teams in position to book a trip to the BCS Championship Game.

"For their sake it is (important) and for our sake it is," he said. "We both want to be there. That's the goal of both programs. I can't speak for them, but it is for us. We're prominent again and we're consistent on being up there again and we've been up there for a good while now and you're starting to see us there every week and hopefully we can stay there. That goes back to me talking about not (just) the team you have but the program you have and there's a difference. Teams come and go but programs sustain the test of time and they're able to handle the duration of things and that's what we want."

A major reason why Florida State has been able to stay relevant is recruiting.

During Fisher's three years as head coach at FSU, the program has signed the second, sixth, and 10th-best classes in successive years. The class of 2014 is currently ranked No. 7 in the Rivals.com team rankings list.

The class currently has 25 members committed and the visitor list for the showdown on Saturday is impressive. According to Warchant.com, 70 total players are confirmed to be taking in the action with upward of 120 being expected.

Warchant.com recruiting analyst Michael Langston expects that 19 current commitments for the class will be taking an unofficial visit, 24 players that the team is trying to land for this class will be there, as well as three current verbals in the class of 2015 alongside 23 other targets for next year.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said the group going to Tallahassee is an embarrassment of riches.

Week 10 of the college football season provides several top flight games with multiple ranked-versus-ranked games, as well as a handful of rivalry contests.

The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is being sobered a little this year as both Georgia and Florida enter unranked for just the second time since 1980. The only other time that occurred was in 2010, when Florida won a thriller, 34-31 in overtime. In the Big Ten, in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State take to the field.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that the pressure to win lies with Florida and Michigan as the perception of each program is heavier than its competition.

He added that the loser of the Georgia-Florida game could see the temperature on its head coach hot seat be turned up a notch.

"Both programs are strong in recruiting, but I think both coaching staffs are wobbly," Farrell said. "I think the loser goes on the hotseat but also both are going to have to make changes in the offseason that could play a role in recruiting.

"The two programs go head-to-head for players pretty regularly as Florida goes up into Georgia and Georgia dips into Florida. It is odd that this year there just doesn't seem to be the national attention on this game and I know it is rare that neither is ranked, but it is still odd that there is not really a buzz about this game for recruits."

The winner of the game between Michigan and Michigan State takes home the Paul Bunyan Trophy, but not bragging rights in the living room. The key to the game is simple as the team that has rushed for more yards has won 40 of the last 43 matchups. No matter how frequently the Spartans have claimed victory -- they are 4-2 under Mark Dantonio-- the perception is still that Michigan is the place to go for players within the state.

Farrell said that continuing to win is the only way to change that.

"Michigan is far and away more recognizable and only results can make that turn," he said. "Perception is that Michigan is the place to win a national title, or win a Heisman Trophy, and it is always in the top two in recruiting within the conference, so Michigan State is fighting up hill.

"Right now there is a lot more pressure on the Wolverines as they are recruiting at what may be its highest level in the last decade so it could have more to lose off the field as well as on it but Michigan State just needs to keep winning and try to show kids that you can win a Big Ten title at someplace other than Michigan or Ohio State."

"The amount of five-star guys they will have on campus would be remarkable, but then talking about the sheer volume, it is something else," he said. "It isn't quite winner-take-all, but Florida State can send a message to some of the kids they want to close on that this is the dominant program in the state as well as keep pushing the perception forward for next year."

Among the headliners will be a trio of five-star prospects taking their official visits: Running back Joe Mixon from Oakley (Calif.) Freedom; Gardena (Calif.) Serra athlete Adoree' Jackson; and Greenville (N.C.) Rose strongside defensive end Kentavius Street.

River Ridge (La.) John Curtis five-star receiver Malachi Dupre is expected to be in attendance, but it is unknown whether this is for an official or unofficial visit. He will be joined by two other five-star players as Hoover (Ala.) High cornerback Marlon Humphrey and Beaumont (Texas) Ozen cornerback Tony Brown were recently added to the guest list.

The class of 2015 doesn't have as many five-stars as only the Rivals250 to Watch has been announced, but two of the 10 prospects to be identified early as elite prospects will be there as well. Albany (Ga.) Westover School defensive tackle Trenton Thompson and Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage cornerback Tarvarus McFadden have said they are making the drive to Tallahassee.

Fisher downplayed the result as a recruiting sales point, although he said winning is never a bad thing when spreading your message with prospective student-athletes.

"I think it always helps, but I don't know if it matters as much as it used to because recruiting has changed so much," he said. "At the same time, it doesn't hurt you to be able to win that game. There's a lot of other reasons other than recruiting to win that game. That's your rival, it's a conference game, it's a national-title implication game and all those things."

Miami enters as a heavy underdog despite its lofty rankings. Narrow escapes against Florida, North Carolina, and Wake Forest have many people doubting the validity of the placement.

Hurricane head coach Al Golden said that he isn't worried about perception as much as he is focused on stopping Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful, Jameis Winston.

"I'd be worth a lot more if I cracked that code," Golden said. "He's playing really good football. He's mature beyond his years, he's directing the ball where it needs to go, his touchdown-to-interception ratio is phenomenal. His completion percentage is elite. He's using everyone around him. The yards-per-completion of their receivers and tight ends is through the roof, they have a running game to go with it, and a veteran offensive line. It's a great challenge and an opportunity-- it's nothing to be nervous about or anxious about. We have to prepare, and we have to have a really good game plan and execute it against this young man, because he is really talented."

Recruiting for the Hurricane program was given a shot in the arm as the NCAA announced sanctions against the program after its investigation dragged on for close to three years. The program was given three years of scholarship reductions and no bowl ban -- effectively extending the self-imposed sanctions that the school gave to itself but nothing more.

Golden said that losing scholarships is never a welcomed setback, the finality of the situation figures to bolster what he and his staff are trying to do while on the road.

"It's two-fold," he said. "Number one, our conversations are taking a different path now. All of the things you said would happen have come to fruition now. So that really supports the trust factor you had with those families, that's number one. Number two, you're not a sitting duck anymore. They can say whatever they want about our football program right now, but they really can't say anything about the ongoing investigation, or if there's going to be a death penalty, or if they're going to lose 30 scholarships, or they're not going to a bowl game.

"All those things that I classified as toxic over the last 28 months have disappeared. We still have some things we need to move forward with and there are still some things we have to deal with as far as sanctions, but if they're going to negative recruit or recruit against us, it's going to be about what we do on the field, it's going to be about our beautiful surroundings, it's going to be the weather, it's going to be about our tradition -- it's not going to be about the NCAA."

Farrell said the next step for Golden will be returning the team to the top of the mountain in college football, but the first step needs to be taken within the homes tate.

"If Miami can win this game it would be amazing for recruiting," Farrell said. "For the team to sweep the state -- because it already beat Florida -- it would send a major message. Miami has 26 commits and Florida State has 25 but I think both will find a way to jumble the numbers and sign over 30, so this is a big game for closing out on kids this year and pushing forward into next year."

Golden said it is his goal to make sure this game stays in the headlines during his tenure.

"We're building that," he said. "A lot of people are premature and saying, 'The U is back'. The U is building. We have to continue to recruit, continue to cultivate and get our guys in the system to grow and mature. I do like the direction we're going, despite what we've been through. I' m excited about the future."

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