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NATIONAL TITLE COULD BE ON LINE AGAIN

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Army-Navy is older, Michigan-Ohio State draws more fans, Auburn-Alabama triggers more tempers and Nebraska-Oklahoma has had more Heisman Trophy winners.

In the last five years, however, no rivalry in college football has been better than Miami-Florida State.Every game during that span has helped determine the eventual national champion. Two have been decided in the closing seconds, including last year's battle of unbeatens between the No. 1 Seminoles and No. 2 Hurricanes. And no rivalry in recent years has featured as many All-Americans, from Florida State's Deion Sanders and Terrell Buckley to Miami's Steve Walsh and Russell Maryland.

This year is no different.

When No. 2 Miami meets No. 3 Florida State at the Orange Bowl Saturday, the national title could be at stake once again.

"I'll tell you how big it is," says FSU senior linebacker Reggie Freeman. "When I step on the field against Miami, I actually feel the ground shaking. It goes from the tip of my toes to the top of my head."

Miami tight end Coleman Bell also has strong feelings about the intrastate series.

"For us to win the national championship, every year we have to go through Florida State," he says. "If we don't beat Florida State, that's really the end of our year."

In four of the past five years, the game has marked the end of Florida State's title hopes. The Seminoles did win in 1989, but Miami bounced back to win the third of its four national titles.

Of all the Florida State losses, none was more painful than last year's 17-16 defeat in Tallahassee. After blowing a 16-7 fourth-quarter lead, the Seminoles still had a chance to win in the final minute. But Gerry Thomas' 34-yard field goal attempt missed by inches, snapping the Seminoles' 16-game winning streak and knocking them out of the No. 1 spot for the first time all season.

The defeat brought back memories of the 1987 game, which Florida State lost 26-25 after failing on a 2-point conversion with 42 seconds left. It was the Seminoles' only defeat that season.

While Freeman calls Miami-Florida State "a little Civil War," the competition is friendly: "We respect them, and they respect us," Freeman says. "I hate Florida; I just want to beat Miami."