Two years later both teams are thinking bigger than the Sun Bowl.
The Irish are 4-0, ranked No. 9 and dreaming they might climb high enough for a shot at the school’s first national championship since 1988.
UM is 4-1, unbeaten in the ACC and an upset here from blasting back into the Top 25 on the long road back to contending for UM’s first national title since 2001. An invite to the Orange Bowl (NCAA investigators willing) is not beyond plausibility.
‘Catholics vs. Convicts’ has turned to Golden Dome vs. Golden Coach, Notre Dame’s imperative to write new tradition for itself vs. Miami’s rise back to prominence under the second-year coach with the perfect surname.
Golden on Wednesday referred to his young Canes as playing “tag-team football,” saying, “We don’t have a lot of dominant players. Hopefully that day is coming soon.”
It sounds like modesty. Quarterback Stephen Morris, off a UM- and ACC-record 566 yards passing against North Carolina State, leads a big offense against a terrific Notre Dame defense. On the other side, Miami’s defense and the Irish offense both have struggled.
Morris’ teammates still were celebrating this past Saturday’s win in the locker room when the junior QB called for attention and summarily pivoted away from his own record-setting day.
“Notre Dame week now!” he shouted.
He didn’t mean an invitation to wax nostalgic about what these two schools were doing before any of the current players were born.
He meant the next challenge — and a huge one — in the ongoing parade of tests to determine how far “back” UM football has come and how much further it has to go.
Golden is a student of college football history; it is why the UM job appealed to him. It is why this is not an ordinary week. But listen to how Golden turned quickly from past to present, and from the opponent to his own team, when asked Wednesday why Notre Dame is not just another game.
“Obviously, they have tradition. It’s a special place,” he said. Then, “It’s a great setting for us. A great stage.”
Added Morris: “It’s going to mean a lot for this program.”
It is clear why Notre Dame is a two-touchdown favorite Saturday. The Irish are coming off a bye week. They bring that ferocious defense. It is all but a home game, with Soldier Field only about 75 miles from South Bend. And UM — climbing back toward the main stage but not there yet — has lost six of its past seven games against top-10 opponents.
There is something about these Canes, though. They don’t quit. The enthusiasm generated by Golden versus what we saw under former coach Randy Shannon is palpable. Golden says his team is “fun to coach” and has begun to “believe in each other.”
Soon we find out if that will translate to a huge road win over a top-10 opponent.
Clearly, for Miami, Notre Dame is the biggest game of the season … until Florida State visits 14 days later.
Without doubt, October and those two games will measure exactly the distance between the Hurricanes and where they want to be.