MIAMI, OCT. 5 -- For a game that has huge national ramifications, the Florida State-Miami game has a decidedly localized bent. Bobby Bowden and Dennis Erickson, the game's two coaches, haven't been talking much about the national title this week. They've been talking about something called "The championship of the state of Florida."

Around here, that's big. The way Miami, Florida State and Florida have been playing throughout the past decade, if one of them beats the other two, it's likely they will be challenging for the national championship, if not winning it outright.

Ninth-ranked Miami (2-1), the defending national champion who actually lost to Florida State last year, but to no one else, comes into this game with its season-opening loss to Brigham Young hanging over its head. Erickson knows that one more defeat and the Hurricanes definitely will not repeat.

"We need this game if we want to compete for a national title," he said. "Nobody wins it with two losses."

In other games, No. 1 Notre Dame will play Stanford (1-3) after going 3-0 against the Big Ten, and Illinois and Ohio State will play in a Big Ten battle of nationally ranked 2-1 teams.

Michigan (2-1) and Nebraska (4-0) will play conference opponents in Wisconsin (1-2) and Kansas State (3-1), respectively. Auburn (2-0-1) will face Louisiana Tech (3-2), Oklahoma (4-0) will play Oklahoma State (2-2), and, in a game involving the other Florida school, the 10th-ranked Gators (4-0, but unable to go to a bowl game this year) will be at home against Louisiana State (3-1).

The second-ranked Seminoles (4-0) will be in a wonderful position entering the sold-out Orange Bowl for the 2:28 p.m. kickoff Saturday. (It will be pushed back to 3:43 if there is a rainout in the baseball playoffs.) They usually are the ones with the early season loss, fighting for their lives against Miami. Now, it's the other way around.

"We like the way we're entering this game," said Bowden, who will become the 11th coach in history to win his 200th career game with a victory today. "But we haven't played anyone like Miami yet."

Sluggish and unimpressive defensively in their first three games, the Hurricanes seem to be the team with more to prove here Saturday. Lineman Cortez Kennedy and linebacker Bernard Clark are gone, and two key returning players, linebacker Maurice Crum and tackle Russell Maryland, limped out of Miami's game with Iowa last weekend with ankle injuries. Both were listed as doubtful this week but are expected to play.

"I don't think they are as good as last year's line, but they are tough and good competitors," said Seminoles offensive guard Robert Stevenson. "They out-quick their opponent, but I think we're as quick or quicker than they are."

A cautious Bowden disagreed.

"Same old Miami," he said of the defense. "Very aggressive and can run. This is the first team we've played that's as fast as us. That'll be tough on us."

Most people worry about Miami's offense. Heisman Trophy candidate Craig Erickson, who missed last year's Miami loss to FSU with an injury, already has thrown for 1,126 yards and seven touchdowns in three games. Wesley Carroll leads the nation in receiving yards per game (137.7). He has surpassed 100 yards in the first halves of Miami's last two games.

For Florida State, junior Brad Johnson has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes while throwing seven touchdown passes and three interceptions, all in his team's difficult 39-28 victory over Virginia Tech last Saturday.

"The whole season doesn't boil down to the Miami game, but there's a lot at stake," he said. "Miami is the big game. It's been the big game for the last three years. Our 31-0 loss {in 1988, FSU's only loss that year} has stuck with us for a long time. We could be playing out in the cornfields of Nebraska. It wouldn't matter. This game's going to be intense."

Both teams have finished among the nation's top three the past three years. In these last three years, the game has been one of the building blocks to the national championship. The Hurricanes are on a tear at the Orange Bowl, winning 33 in a row, but Florida State has won 12 of 22 games against Miami there. The Seminoles also are riding a 14-game winning streak that led them last year to peak in the Fiesta Bowl. There, after a 41-17 victory over Nebraska, Bowden called his team "the best team I ever screwed up," meaning the Seminoles' 0-2 start was what did them in.

"I think we were the best team in the nation at the end of last year," he said.