There were few expectations for the Hurricanes when the 2012 football season began in September. The team was ripe with inexperienced freshmen and sophomores. Factor in the nation’s ninth-toughest schedule and a lingering NCAA investigation, and it’s clear why many expected Miami to struggle mightily.
Nine games later, the Canes are still in the fight for a spot in the school’s first ACC Championship game.
Miami’s 30-12 dismantling of the Virginia Tech Hokies Thursday night was not quite a welcome back party in terms of national relevance, but the Canes demonstrated that they have what it takes to climb back into the conversation. At 5-4, 4-2 ACC, Miami took sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division and effectively ended the Hokies’ (4-5, 2-3 ACC) title game chances.
“I’m real proud of the effort and the fact that a lot of our young guys are not young anymore,” coach Al Golden said after the game. “They had a good look, they prepared well, we had good practices. I felt good coming into the game, and the kids responded.”
This Hurricanes team is by no means a finished product. Miami emerged with an 18-point win, despite converting just one third down attempt and losing the total yardage and time of possession battles. However, in what was arguably Miami’s most important conference matchup since leaving the Big East in 2004, the Canes overcame the stat sheet and will control their own destiny the rest of the way.
Golden acknowledged that fans often have unrealistic expectations, but noted that the road to the promised land begins with the ACC, which the Canes have not yet conquered.
“It’s critical. I know everybody wants us to be national champions yesterday and get back to the BCS games and all that, but the reality is that the pathway to that is through the Coastal,” he said. “It’s almost like we have to re-educate our team that that’s how you get there.”
Whether Miami will even be able to play in the championship game – assuming they take care of Virginia and Duke in the coming weeks – is another issue entirely. The team is still awaiting sanctions from an NCAA investigation into former booster Nevin Shapiro’s illicit gifts to former players.
The Hurricanes would have to announce their intention to self-impose a bowl ban before the championship game is played. Miami’s 6-6 team was bowl eligible in 2011 but removed itself from postseason consideration.
“Ever since we moved to the ACC, no [Miami] team has won the ACC or Coastal Division,” quarterback Stephen Morris said. “Our focus is winning this game, winning the ACC Coastal, and going into the championship. I take it really personal. We do it for the seniors who have never won a championship, and who have never been able to call themselves champions.”