TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — All week long, USC prepared for its game against Florida State today by practicing while huge speakers blared simulated crowd noise.
Maybe the managers should have just dumped buckets of water on the players' heads instead, Coach Paul Hackett said Friday.
Though conditions still could change, kickoff remained set for this afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium with gusty winds and rain likely as Hurricane Georges appeared to take a more westerly course, away from Tallahassee and toward the Florida Panhandle and other Gulf Coast states.
"It looks like Georges is going west, and it means we'll get rain but not something crazy," Hackett said. "But I understand these things have a mind of their own.
"We want to play the game. We're excited. We worked our butts off. The only thing I would hate would be for the weather to be so out of whack that neither team can show what they can do."
Instead of staying glued to the Weather Channel since UCLA's game at Miami was canceled Thursday, Hackett has remained focused on preparing for this game. As long as the game is played, it will be one of the biggest of the season for No. 18 USC, a team trying to return to the national scene, and No. 10 Florida State, a team that will be knocked out of the national championship picture completely if it loses again after being upset by North Carolina State two weeks ago.
"I feel the state of Florida deals with these things. If they call it off at the last minute, it's for a good reason," Hackett said. "If they don't, hey, it's going to be a rainy day.
"I think what happened with UCLA, with Bob Toledo being interviewed about feeling relieved, our guys felt their game was canceled because there was a problem. Ours is not called off, because there is not a problem."
This game is regarded as a barometer of where USC stands, but that's not the way some players see it.
"I don't care what kind of barometer it is," quarterback Mike Van Raaphorst said. "I want to go win. I don't want people to say we played great and lost."
For Florida State, a loss would be devastating.
"A couple of losses, and it's over," Seminole Coach Bobby Bowden said. "We have our backs to the wall and have to keep scratching."
The weather hardly seemed a concern Friday afternoon as USC practiced lightly under partly cloudy skies, with the sun peeking through occasionally.
With the storm moving northwest away from the Florida Keys, the forecast for today called for gusty wind, with possible rain and thunderstorms, and increasing rain in the evening.
Until the weather situation arose, this figured to be a game decided by speed.
Florida State has a ferocious pass rush that spearheads its defense, and an offense featuring receiver Peter Warrick, running back Travis Minor, and receiver Laveranues Coles, who returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown against Duke.
USC's big-play receiver and return man is R. Jay Soward, and tailback Chad Morton can break a long run or return at any time. On defense, linebacker Chris Claiborne and cornerback Daylon McCutcheon are both fast.
"The one thing I see in Southern Cal is the same as when we played them last year [a 14-7 Florida State victory at the Coliseum]," Bowden said. "The skill matches up. We can out-skill some people over here, but when we played Southern Cal, we could not out-skill them."
Despite its big-play potential, USC's offense has yet to prove it can consistently manage sustained drives with two young quarterbacks, Van Raaphorst and Carson Palmer.
Florida State is a stiff test.
"Defensively, they are one of the best in the country," Hackett said. "They're only giving up 225 yards a game. They play with relentless determination and energy."
Florida State's pass rush is a major concern.
"The biggest problem people have with them is that their quarterback gets knocked down the whole game--and a lot of time, gets knocked out," Hackett said.
That is, of course, if conditions allow the teams to pass much.
Or run much. Or kick much. Or do much of anything.
No. 18 USC vs. No 10 Florida St.
TV: Channel 7
Radio: XTRA (690)