There’s still a chance: Miami’s very realistic path to winning the ACC championship

Freshman running back Jaylan Knighton runs down the sideline in Miami's win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, Nov. 6 at Hard Rock Stadium
Freshman running back Jaylan Knighton runs down the sideline in Miami's win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, Nov. 6 at Hard Rock Stadium. Photo credit: Josh Halper

After a disappointing 2-4 start to the 2021 season, the Hurricanes have bounced back with three straight victories against conference opponents and are making a late push to win the Atlantic Coast Conference’s (ACC) Coastal division.

In a relatively weak year for the ACC with only three teams ranked in both the Associated Press (AP) and College Football Playoff top 25 polls, the conference is wide open for the taking and Miami is still right in the mix for a conference championship, trailing the Coastal-leading Pittsburgh Panthers by only one game.

Miami has picked up close victories over ranked opponents North Carolina State and Pitt, along with their most recent win over Georgia Tech to keep their title hopes alive.

After Saturday’s 33-30 win over Georgia Tech, head coach Manny Diaz spoke on the team’s recent resurgence.

“It feels good to be back over .500 in the league to keep ourselves in the race,” Diaz said.

The Canes are well aware that if they keep playing well they could earn themselves a trip to Charlotte to play in the ACC championship game. But what exactly would it take for the Hurricanes to compete for the ACC title game?

Although Miami has picked up its play as of late, they have dug themselves into a bit of a hole due to their early season struggles.

Miami sits in third place as of now in the Coastal division with a record of 3-2, trailing only Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) and Pitt (7-2, 4-1 ACC).

Assuming Miami can win out the rest of the season against Florida State on Nov. 13, Virginia Tech on Nov. 20, and Duke on Nov. 27, the Canes would just need Pitt and Virginia to each lose once more this season as Miami holds the tiebreaker over Pitt.

What makes this scenario much more achievable is that Pitt and Virginia will play each other on Nov. 20, so Miami just needs the winner of that game to lose one of their other two remaining games.

Pitt’s other games are against North Carolina on Nov. 11, and Syracuse on Nov. 27. Virginia’s remaining games other than Pitt are home games against No. 9 Notre Dame on Nov. 13, and in-state rival Virginia Tech on Nov. 27.

If all of this were to happen, it would send Miami to the conference championship game and would also cap off a miraculous turnaround season for the Hurricanes in which they have struggled with the injury bug, forcing many young, inexperienced players to take a step up for their teammates.

After the win over North Carolina State, Diaz talked about the hardships the team has gone through so far this season.

“With all of the disruptions, and the injuries, I think the roles are starting to find themselves pretty good,” Diaz said.

Diaz has preached the fight the team has shown all year and the results are finally starting to show down the stretch.

If Miami comes up short despite winning the rest of their games this season, there are several things to look back on that spoiled the Hurricanes’ chances of winning an ACC title, specifically the two-point heartbreaking loss to Virginia in the ACC opener after kicker Andres Borregales narrowly missed a field goal that deflected off the left upright.

Throughout the season’s home stretch, it may come back to haunt the Canes and prove to be much more crucial than expected.

Had the Hurricanes won that game, Miami would have a 4-1 conference record, be tied for first in the Coastal division and have a much greater chance of being a lock to make an ACC Championship appearance.

The Hurricanes can also look back to their only other conference loss, another heartbreaker against North Carolina. After a gritty 18-point comeback led by freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, the Canes came up just short as Van Dyke was intercepted on the last drive of the game with Miami well within range of a game-tying field goal.

Those two losses, both coming in a one-score game, have prevented Miami from being undefeated in conference play and being in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal with only three games left to play.

After the upset victory over Pitt and ahead of last weekend’s matchup versus the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Tyler Van Dyke spoke about the future of the team and how the Hurricanes will approach the home stretch of the season.

“This team has a lot of fight, a lot of heart. I love everyone on the team, you know, but yeah we’re taking it one game at a time, we’re just going to focus on Georgia Tech and leave these games in the past,” Van Dyke said.

For now, the Hurricanes have one goal to focus on for the remainder of the season: win out and hope the stars align with the division leaders to contend for the program’s first ACC title.

However, arguably the most crucial game of the Hurricanes’ remaining schedule is lined up just a few days away. With the rivalry game versus Florida State set for a 3:30 kickoff time at Doak Campbell Stadium, Miami looks to draw one game closer to their goal.