With the way the season has turned lately, it’s easy to lose sight of the prize that, at least for one more day, will be completely within the grasp of the Miami Hurricanes should they fulfill their end of the challenge.
The Hurricanes (4-4, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who meet Virginia Tech in a Thursday-night showdown on ESPN at Sun Life Stadium, need to defeat the Hokies (4-4, 2-2) to keep their dream alive for a spot in their first ACC title game.
The Hokies have the same dream.
Each of those teams can win the Coastal Division by winning the rest of its ACC games.
“They have been the champions on our side, on the Coastal [Division] side, six of the eight years that we’ve both been in the league,” UM coach Al Golden said.
“This league has gone through them. So whether they’re 4-4 or 8-0 is immaterial to me,” Golden said. “We’ve never won the Coastal. Stay positive but confront the brutal facts. That’s a fact. It’s a big game.”
Added Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer: “Everything in the ACC is still available for both of us. You get to this time of year and still have that opportunity, you look forward to it.”
The Canes have lost their past three games, but two of those three against top-10 teams. Notre Dame is now ranked fourth; Florida State, ninth. North Carolina, to which UM lost 18-14 on Oct. 13, has also beaten the Hokies (48-34).
This is a matchup of teams that both exited the Big East to enter the ACC in 2004. Virginia Tech — although struggling this season — has dominated the league, while Coastal Division cohort Miami’s best overall ACC showing was 6-2 in 2005.
The Hokies have won the past three games in the series, including last year’s Miami heartbreaker at Blacksburg. In that matchup, Tech quarterback Logan Thomas — on fourth-and-1 from the UM 19 — rushed 19 yards up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown with 56 seconds remaining.
“It was a gut check,’’ said UM guard Jon Feliciano, who knows a key Thursday will be for the Canes to create similar holes for their struggling running game.
“We haven’t beaten them in a long time,’’ said UM quarterback Stephen Morris, still recuperating from his sprained left ankle, but likely much better after an open week. “It’ll be a good opportunity for us.”
The 6-6, 250-pound dual-threat Thomas is back for the Hokies, though not as accurate as last season. In 2011, Thomas posted a single-season school record 3,482 yards of total offense and registered the second-highest single-season passing total for a Hokie with 3,013 yards.
This season, Thomas has throw for 1,910 yards and has 10 interceptions to 13 touchdowns, with another 298 yards and five touchdowns rushing.
Golden said the open week for the Hokies should make him fresh enough to start running more. He compared Thomas to FSU’s EJ Manuel and Kansas State’s Collin Klein.
“The big thing with Logan [is] he’s had 10, 11 days before this game,” Golden said. “I would probably run Logan a bit more than he has run. He’s tough, when he gets going, like Manuel and Klein.”
UM officials have conceded that the Thursday-night factor will not draw the same type of crowd as the season-high 73,328 who recently came to watch the FSU-Miami game. UM’s last Thursday-night home game — against Virginia on Oct. 27, 2011 — drew 40,403 to Sun Life Stadium.
But the Hurricanes do have great success on Thursday nights, with the highest winning percentage of any current ACC school. Miami has a 15-3 (.833) overall mark. The Canes are even better at home, with a 10-1 mark in their former Orange Bowl home. They are 2-1 on Thursday night at Sun Life, having lost last season.
Virginia Tech is also impressive on Thursdays, with a 19-5 record (.792).
When asked this week about UM’s home-crowd atmosphere, Thomas told reporters in Blacksburg, “It’s a big stadium for any team and it’s, I guess because the ‘U’ is the way the ‘U’ is now, and not the old age, it’s not as full as … it used to be. I don’t know how to put it up against another stadium, but it still has some sound to it. But it’s not what you would expect a team that has a legacy like Miami to have.”
The Hokies, however, are still waiting to win their first road game of the season, having lost at Pittsburgh, UNC and Clemson.
Golden said he has “no idea what to expect” in terms of the crowd Thursday.
“Until we start controlling how we play and play at the level we need to and at the standard we need to, we really can’t comment on what the fans are doing.”