As many across South Florida spend the holiday weekend surrounded by family – either stuffing their faces at the dinner table or in line getting a jump on their shopping for the next round of holidays – teams across the area will be working this weekend, with several going in a positive direction while one is in danger of being eliminated from post season contention.
The Miami Hurricanes hit the road for a possible trap game now in a good spot to make the College Football Playoff – while the most important rivalry game in the state this week does not involve teams in orange and blue or garnet and gold. At the same time, the Miami Dolphins find themselves desperate to end their recent losing ways against the defending Super Bowl champs.
Here’s a preview of each Sunshine State battle this weekend.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Before the season started, there were several members of the Fins who made the bold statement that this was the year they were going to overtake the Super Bowl champions in the AFC East – a team they had lost to 11 of the last 14 meetings. Now, the Dolphins are just trying to get their first win in over a month as their playoff hopes appear to be on life support.
The Dolphins also are waiting on word whether quarterback Jay Cutler will be able to play Sunday. He remains in concussion protocol after being hurt in last week’s loss to Tampa Bay, and while head coach Adam Gase says Cutler will start if he is cleared, there is some doubt about whether that will take place in time for Sunday’s game.
Miami Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Panthers (Friday)
Last week, the ‘Canes proved themselves to plenty across the country when they came back twice from a double digit deficit to defeat Virginia and get to 10-0 for the first time since the 2002 season. Miami was rewarded with moving up to the No. 2 spot in this week’s College Football Playoff poll – something that might help them whether they win or lose next week’s ACC title game.
Of course, they still have one regular season game left against a Panthers team they should have no problem beating. That being said, the Hurricanes have proven this season they can play down to their competition, so head coach Mark Richt must keep his team focused on the task at hand before playing for their first conference title since joining the ACC in 2004.
Florida State Seminoles at Florida Gators
For the first time since the 1959 season – in a series that started in 1958 – both teams enter their rivalry game with losing records. That’s right, a series that in the 1990’s decided who would play for the national title in several cases and featured some of the best players in college football will feature losing programs for just the second time ever.
At 4-6 with one game left, the Gators would love nothing more than to keep the Seminoles – who are also 4-6 but rescheduled a previously cancelled game form September for next weekend – from extending their bowl streak that goes back to the 1982 season and a winning season streak dating back to 1976.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at FIU Panthers (Friday)
Head coach Butch Davis had a chance to stay in the race for the Conference USA Eastern Division crown before losing to FAU last weekend. Now, the Panthers face their final two games of the regular season for a chance to finish with eight wins for the first time since 2011 – the last season they went to a bowl game.
Other State Games
In the biggest rivalry game of the weekend in the Sunshine State, No. 15 UCF host rival USF with the winner moving on to the American Athletic Conference title game next weekend. The FAU Owls, who will play in the Conference USA title game next weekend, head to Charlotte this weekend for their regular season finale.
In the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to face the Atlanta Falcons without quarterback Jameis Winston, who is still dealing with a shoulder injury. The Jacksonville Jaguars will face the Arizona Cardinals on the road Sunday – and, with a victory, will have their first non-losing season since 2010.