Quarterbacks: Advantage Even. Sophomore Jacory Harris has the poise and confidence, but lacks experience as he will be making just his third career start. Redshirt junior Christian Ponder exploited the Canes defense last year, running for 144 yards. He was inconsistent throughout the season, throwing just one more touchdown (14) than interception. Which Ponder will show up? The one who threw for 52 yards and three interceptions against Wake Forest, or the Ponder who had 254 passing yards and no picks against N.C. State?
Running Backs: Advantage Miami. The orange and green’s biggest asset is its potent running attack. Junior Graig Cooper and senior Javarris James will lead the way. Look for redshirt sophomore Lee Chambers, junior Damien Berry and freshmen Mike James and Lamar Miller to get carries as well. Florida State returns this year without Antone Smith, but sophomore Jermaine Thomas should not be underestimated – he averaged seven yards per carry last year as Smith’s understudy.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Advantage Miami. A stacked cast of talented players at the wideout position for Miami easily overtakes FSU, who has had many well-documented problems with its pass catchers over the past year. Four receivers were suspended during the off season, and redshirt sophomore Taiwan Easterling is coming off of a ruptured Achilles he suffered in the spring, though he has been practicing. Greg Carr and Preston Parker are gone, while Miami returns most of its playmakers. As for tight ends, Miami senior Dedrick Epps seems to have recovered well from his knee injury that he suffered just before last year’s bowl game. The Noles have a massive target at tight end in 6-7 Caz Piurowski, who started nine games last year but only had eight catches.
Offensive Line: Advantage FSU. All five starters from last season come back to wear the garnet and gold as one of the strongest lines in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Preseason All-ACC pick Jason Fox remains in the familiar left tackle spot for Miami, but there are still questions lingering for this unit, especially on the right side.
Defensive Line: Advantage Even. Both squads have been plagued by injuries before the season opener. If both sides were perfectly healthy, Miami would have the edge, but the loss of sophomore Adewale Ojomo and senior Eric Moncur hurt. While the Canes’ defensive ends are hurting, it’s FSU’s defensive tackles who have been missing practice. Seniors Budd Thacker and Kendrick Stewart, whose statuses remain unknown, are the only experienced players on the line. Thacker sacked Harris last year for a nine-yard loss.
Linebackers: Advantage Miami. The reigning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Sean Spence and one of the heroes of the 2007 chapter of this rivalry, redshirt junior Colin McCarthy, anchor the linebacker corps for the Hurricanes. The Seminoles will have to replace last year’s leader in tackles, Derek Nicholson, as well as Todrick Verdell, who had 66 of his own. Senior Dekota Watson, the only returning starter, does not have much of an experienced supporting cast this year.
Secondary: Advantage Even. Both teams were ranked in the top ten in pass defense last season, but there are still plenty of unknowns when it comes to the safeties and cornerbacks. Miami redshirt freshman Vaughn Telemaque has drawn raves from head coach Randy Shannon, who has compared him to Ed Reed and stated he would have started last year if he were not injured. UM also returns senior captain Randy Phillips after he missed all but two games with a leg injury. FSU has two experienced Robinsons (no relation): Jamie, who is a safety, and Patrick, at corner, but the rest are young with little playing time. Myron Rolle is gone, and so is Tony Carter, who led the team in interceptions last season.
Special Teams: Advantage Miami. Reigning Team MVP and junior Matt Bosher can do it all: kick, punt, kick off and even tackle. Despite being the No. 1 kicking recruit in his class, FSU true freshman Dustin Hopkins is in a tight race with a walk-on to replace the departed Lou Groza Award winner in Graham Gano. Special teams will play a pivotal factor as the majority of Miami vs. FSU games have come down to the wire the past two decades.
Coaching: Advantage FSU. Cannot argue against 34th-year head coach Bobby Bowden’s 382 wins….or is that 368? Whatever number you go by, it’s obvious Bowden has a huge edge in what could very well be his final turn in this rivalry.