Miami Hurricanes offensive lineman Javion Cohen, an Alabama transfer and projected 2024 draft pick, was asked Wednesday to explain his crash course in Miami-Florida State history. Did he memorize the wide rights and wide lefts yet?
“Nah,’’ Cohen said. “It was short and simple. We don’t like them. They don’t like us.’’
These games mean more.
When Miami meets No. 4 Florida State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ABC) in Tallahassee for the 68th time since 1951, three heralded Hurricanes upperclassmen will be especially excited to experience the thrill they have never known — in this rivalry.
Cohen, center Matt Lee and linebacker Francisco “Kiko” Mauigoa will head to Doak Campbell Stadium to soak in the culmination of “rivalry week” for the Hurricanes and Seminoles after formerly competing in their own versions of bitter, in-state clashes.
Lee, a fifth-year redshirt junior out of UCF, has only known firsthand the “War on I-4” rivalry between the USF Bulls of Tampa and his former Knights of Orlando.
Cohen, a fourth-year junior guard and former “big SEC guy,’’ has only known the Iron Bowl that was born from a series that began in 1893 between the Crimson Tide and Auburn.
And Mauigoa, a junior out of Washington State, has only known the Apple Cup that was first awarded in 1963 but stems from the WSU-Washington series that started in 1900.
“Florida State-Miami is obviously a bigger, more prevalent thing, so that rivalry runs even deeper because it’s more known on a national stage and there’s a little more history,’’ Lee said Wednesday. “But no matter how big, how small the school, whoever your rivals are, if you attended that school, if you’re a fan of that school, it’s the same feeling.’’
With UCF’s move this season from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12, the War on I-4 has ended. Lee grew up in Central Florida’s Oviedo, about a 10-minute drive from the UCF campus.
“My high school was probably four minutes away,’’ Lee said, adding that his mom, dad and sister all attended UCF. “It really was a proximity thing. Tampa is pretty close to Orlando... And then, obviously, if you know the history, like I [do], there is stuff that goes a little bit outside of football that would feed into that rivalry. When I was at UCF, we hated USF and South Florida hated us.’’
Now, Lee is ready to move on to Canes-Noles.
“You see the tradition of what UM vs. FSU means to Miami fans, to Florida State fans and how far that goes back — that kind of hatred,’’ Lee said. “It’s an excellent rivalry. I’m excited for this week. Absolutely.’’
Mauigoa played in two Apple Cups. His Cougars won the first at Washington in 2021, then lost last year’s game at home in Pullman. This year’s Apple Cup could be the last, as the Pac-12 is losing most of its teams to other conferences.
“Those games are just special,’’ he said. “Everybody has them marked on their calendars. There’s something about rivalry games that get people fired up.’’
Mauigoa, whose hometown is Ili’ili in American Samoa, said despite going to college on the west coast, “of course’’ he knew about UM-FSU. “Going to this game just gets me fired up,’’ he said.
Mauigoa is having an exceptional season. He is second on the team with 45 tackles, has a team-leading 12 1/2 tackles for loss, is second on the team with 4 1/2 sacks and has one interception, a pass breakup, five quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
Mauigoa’s younger brother, Francis, is Miami’s starting right tackle, a former five-start recruit who was rated the No. 1 offensive lineman in the country out of IMG Academy in Bradenton. Francis attended last year’s Miami-FSU game at Hard Rock Stadium — the Seminoles won 45-3.
“He told me how the atmosphere is electrifying,’’ Kiko Mauigoa said.
The Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn is one Cohen treasured as a youngster who grew up in Phenix City, Alabama, a three-hour drive to Tuscaloosa. He was selected to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2020, the season Alabama won the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship against Ohio State. In 2021, he was the left guard who helped the Tide finish No. 6 in scoring offense, No. 7 in passing offense, No. 3 in third-down conversion percentage and No. 5 in red-zone offense. This season he has helped transform UM’s line into a strong one, with the Canes ranked 18th in fewest sacks allowed.
“My favorite thing about playing in these games is that it means more to everybody,’’ Cohen said. “Not just the people in here working every day, but the entire city. The entire city of Tallahassee as well. This is one of the most prestigious rivalries in college football. It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to participate in it.”
Regardless, Cohen, a lifelong SEC fan, said he never watched UM-FSU as a youngster. He has since learned that UM leads the series 35-32.
“Talking with my teammates, my coaches and the various people around the city, you understand how deeply tied this is. And, of course, watching the documentaries you get to really experience where it all started and how it has come about to be today,’’ Cohen said. “I understand this is very important to not only our head coach [Mario Cristobal], who is a former player here, but everybody on this team that has been waiting to beat Florida State.”
Is having played in two different rivalries cool?
“Yeah,’’ he said. “It’s awesome.’’