TALLAHASSEE, FLA., OCT. 2 -- Bobby Bowden is tidying up at Florida State. He no longer tolerates earrings, muscle shirts and bad hats in his presence. If you don't practice Thursday you don't play Saturday, and one assistant coach recently said, "This will no longer be a home for unemployed Santa Clauses."
The fourth-ranked Seminoles (4-0) sensed great possibility this season, with experience in quarterback Danny McManus and the kind of depth that allows them to play four tailbacks and six wide receivers. No. 3 Miami (2-0) is one of the few teams that stands between them and a shot at the national championship, which is why Bowden and his staff made it clear there would be a new regime this season.
"We started pressing our finger down a little firmer this year," Bowden said, "because we felt this team had potential to be a contender. The coaches are not going to do anything, and have asked the players not to do anything, to jeopardize this."
Of course, as soon as McManus is out of Bowden's line of vision he claps a dirty old fishing hat back on his head. The earrings go back in, the muscle shirts reappear and the Seminoles become their typically jazzy selves. Burt Reynolds and Robert Urich attended school here, and there are certain standards of flash to uphold. Even Bowden is not averse to a little spark, running four reverses against Michigan State last week.
"They want their finger on us, but they don't want us in their hip pocket," McManus said. "It's a loose tightness. We don't worry about much."
Clearly not, with an offense that averages 39 points and 489 yards a game led by McManus and tailback Sammie Smith, and a defense that has given up just 11 points and 257 yards a game. They have the whole package, and any doubts that the Seminoles are for real came to an end with a 31-3 pasting of the Spartans last week.
But the truest test for Florida State comes Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium when the Seminoles host Miami (2:30 p.m., WUSA-TV-9, WBAL-TV-11). With both teams looking at the Orange Bowl and a chance to play for the national title, it is being called "the state championship" by Bowden. Burt and Bob are here to see it.
The Seminoles want what the Hurricanes have, a confident veteran team with 17 seniors returning from last year's national championship runners-up who devastated Arkansas, 51-7, last week. The Seminoles have long been in Miami's shadow, five straight bowl appearances notwithstanding. The Hurricanes have won this series since 1984 and are 8-1 playing in Tallahassee.
"They played for the national championship before," Bowden said. "They've been in the top 10 all along. We're here for the first time in almost 10 years. This is when we find out if we belong there."
The Seminoles, largely made up of a recruiting class of three years ago that many called the best in the country, had marked this season all along as one to aim for. They haven't been ranked this high since 1980, when the Seminoles made it to No. 2 for a while. They are intimidating and cocky, although not about to adopt some of Miami's more outrageous mannerisms. No fatigues marching through airports like Miami wore at last year's Fiesta Bowl; Bowden's dress code is enforced.
"I can't see us doing anything like that as long as Coach Bowden is here," Sanders said. "He'd probably have us in double-breasted suits with Bibles in our hands."
Florida State uses its talent in odd ways, and there is rarely any indication of what Bowden will do next. Trick plays have become a signature for the team, as the four reverses against Michigan State showed.
Usually the Seminoles are more conventional, running their interchangeable skill players in and out, with an offense divided equally between the run -- sophomore Smith (41 carries, 342 yards) and a rushing offense that averages 241 yards -- and the pass, which averages 247.
"We play 'em and rest 'em, play 'em and rest 'em," Bowden said.
"The only team that might come as close to Oklahoma in talent and depth is Florida State," Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson said. "And Oklahoma might not even have that much depth."
If there is still one drawback to the offense, it is McManus, who hasn't yet shown what he can do, completing an even 50 percent of his passes for 819 yards and five touchdowns. What Bowden calls a streak passer, he has been a sometime thing. "Not happy," McManus shook his head.
But he is also a 6-foot-1, 199-pound senior who rarely makes outrageous mistakes even if he hasn't been brilliant. Beneath the fishing cap is a slightly balding head of blond hair, and a good mind that engineers an offense that is still relatively young. If his percentage is not outstanding, it is because he doesn't mind throwing the ball away while he is waiting to get a hot hand.
"I don't like to take a sack," he said. "I'll burn the ball if I have to. I don't like to get hit, so I figure if I ain't got the ball, they won't hit me."
But that is not necessarily a fair assumption in a game that will be a slugging affair, and against a Miami team that is giving up just 11 points and 429 total yards in two games. There have been many threats floating back and forth between two talkative teams about who is going to hit whom, and Miami's offense is as potent as any. Led by sophomore quarterback Steve Walsh, the Hurricanes scored on eight straight possessions against Arkansas.
All-America defensive back Deion Sanders has promised that "one good hit" will stop the Hurricanes receivers from bragging. To which Miami defensive back Benny Blades said, "Deion is going to be Deion and talk. That will come to an end pretty soon."
This may seem to be the only game of any import in the state this weekend, but there is also Florida to consider. The No. 19 Gators (3-1) travel to No. 7 Louisiana State (3-0-1) and are attempting to climb into the top 10 with their other state counterparts.
Two of the favorites to win the Southeastern Conference, and two of the more exciting offenses around meet at Tiger Stadium. The Gators bring Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Kerwin Bell and stunning freshman tailback Emmitt Smith. The Tigers have a pair of devastating sophomores in quarterback Tom Hodson and running back Harvey Williams, both of whom could be future Heisman considerations.
In local games, Virginia (2-2) hosts VMI at Scott Stadium (7 p.m.), with the Cavaliers having won two straight games for the first time since 1984. Coach George Welsh is leery of a letdown, despite six straight victories over VMI.
"This is one of those games we have to be very careful to play well because we still have to play our best to beat anyone," Welsh said.
Navy (0-3) travels to Virginia Tech (0-3) at 1 p.m. for the first meeting between the two schools in 72 years. Navy may show a new look after first-year coach Elliot Uzelac hinted at lineup changes, with good reason: Navy opponents have averaged 400 offensive yards a game. Don't expect that this week, though, because the Hokies have averaged only 49 yards rushing.