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College notes: Miami, Fla. State football back in spotlight

After a rough start, Jimbo Fisher has successfully brought the Seminoles back into the national title picture.

streeter lecka/getty images

After a rough start, Jimbo Fisher has successfully brought the Seminoles back into the national title picture.

Jimbo Fisher replaced a legend at Florida State. Al Golden took over a legendary program at Miami.

Sounds great, though if there’s one thing the two coaches, who will be squaring off when the unbeaten Seminoles host the unbeaten Hurricanes in Tallahassee on Saturday night, can agree upon, it’s that the growing pains they endured along the way were far tougher than most people might realize.

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These days, the worst is over for both.

Fisher and Florida State are rolling, looking every bit like a national championship contender. Golden and Miami are off to a flying start, plus no longer have the threat of massive NCAA sanctions hanging over the program. And for the first time in a long time, the annual meeting of the Seminoles and the Hurricanes is truly in the national spotlight.

‘‘Shows college football is gettin’ right again,’’ Fisher said.

Sure seems that way. No. 3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) and No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0) are meeting as unbeatens this late in the season for the first time since 1991, when the Hurricanes won a nailbiter in Tallahassee on the way to the school’s fourth national title in 11 seasons. The ‘Canes have just one championship since, and oddsmakers have listed them as three-touchdown underdogs this weekend.

Florida State’s resurgence on the national scene is clearly farther along, without question. The Seminoles won the ACC title last year and the Orange Bowl. They’re putting up numbers now akin to when Bobby Bowden was in his coaching heyday in Tallahassee. They have a quarterback in Jameis Winston who has a first name many people couldn’t pronounce correctly a few weeks ago, but is now a Heisman Trophy frontrunner.

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Even their rivals at the other end of the state are tipping their collective caps.

‘‘I think clearly you have to be a program to graduate the number of kids that they graduated and yet be in the same situation they are in right now,’’ Golden said of the Seminoles. ‘‘We are building that. A lot of people are premature and saying ‘The U is back.’ The U is building.’’

But when the NCAA mess is over — nine scholarships over three years is the worst of the football penalties, and even that may be lessened over time — the building job at Miami might become more advanced, and quickly.

‘‘It’s good for the state of Florida, it’s good for the ACC and it’s good for college football,’’ Fisher said. ‘‘I think it’s good all the way around, and like I say, it’s one of the great traditional rivalries in the game, and it’s great to see both teams up there.’’

Fisher started 12-7 at Florida State, before reeling off 26 wins in the Seminoles’ last 29 games. Golden started 11-11 at Miami, and is 9-0 since. Fans seem a touch happier at both places now. Go figure.

‘‘They have to deal with it one way, we have to deal with it another,’’ Fisher said. ‘‘We have to focus on what we do, and you can’t worry about that. I’m sure everybody doesn’t want to lose, but that’s part of the game.’’

Finalists named

Coastal Carolina wide receiver and punt returner Niccolo Mastromatteo, who played for Walpole High and Phillips Exeter, joined some elite company — Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, and Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough — when he was selected as one of 16 finalists for the William Campbell Trophy, honoring football’s top scholar-athletes.

The other finalists are Trevor Adams of Northwest Missouri State; John Arena of Johns Hopkins; Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma; Spencer Long of Nebraska; Jeff Mathews of Cornell; James Morris of Iowa; Perry Simmons of Duke; Eric Soza of Texas-San Antonio; John Urschel of Penn State; Dustin Vaughan of West Texas A&M; Tony Washington of Appalachian State; and Eric Westerberg of Augustana, Ill.

Houston triumphs

John O’Korn was 22 of 27 for 263 yards and three touchdowns and Houston forced a late fumble in beating visiting South Florida, 35-23, on Thursday night. Deontay Greenberry caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown, and Kenneth Farrow had rushing and receiving touchdowns for Houston (7-1, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) . . . Antoinne Jimmerson had a long touchdown run and Brelan Chancellor returned a punt for a score in a 1:35 span in the second quarter and host North Texas (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) beat Rice, 28-16 . . . Kolton Browning threw for 354 yards and five TDs and ran for a score to help Louisiana-Monroe (5-4, 3-1 Sun Belt) beat host Troy, 49-37 . . . Dartmouth linebacker Will McNamara (two pick-6s) and Western Connecticut State running back Octavias McKoy (NCAA all-division record 455 yards rushing, 5 TDs) earned this week’s Gridiron Club of Greater Boston Gold Helmets from the New England Football Writers.

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