Ahhh, November, when in Miami the air gets deliciously cool — and for the first time in years, the stakes get tantalizingly hot on the college football field.
The ninth-ranked Miami Hurricanes will meet 13th-ranked Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. Saturday (ABC) in a game that will not only have College Football Playoff implications, but will affect whether the Hurricanes achieve something that, despite five national titles, has evaded them.
It’s called a Coastal Division title.
“We talk about the Coastal every week, because that’s our goal, to win the Coastal obviously and get to Charlotte and win when we get there,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said this week. “I tell the guys, ‘One day the Miami team will win the Coastal and represent in Charlotte. Are you the team?’’’
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The Hurricanes (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who won six league titles outright (and tied for first another three times) when it belonged to the Big East, joined the ACC in 2004 and have failed to win their division and earn a berth in the ACC Championship Game.
Virginia Tech (7-1, 3-1), whose only loss this season was Sept. 30 at home to defending national champion Clemson (7-1, 5-1), also left the Big East to join the ACC in 2004 — and has won more Coastal titles (six) and as many ACC championships (four) in that period than any other league member.
Should Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2) defeat Virginia (5-3, 2-2) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the Canes would go into its game knowing a victory would clinch the Coastal and earn them a berth in the ACC Championship on Dec. 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But should Virginia Tech, favored by one point, defeat the Hurricanes, the Hokies would be tied in the league standings and own the tiebreaker if both teams win the rest of their ACC games.
“I have no idea how that might affect them,’’ Richt said this week when asked if knowing the result of the Georgia Tech-Virginia game might make his players a bit tight. “I hope they get excited for a big moment. That’s what I hope.
“And we’re about to have a big moment whether Virginia wins or loses.’’
UM, ranked 10th by the College Football Playoff committee (the Hokies are 13th), has the longest active winning streak — 12 games — in the Football Bowl Subdivision. But the Canes are coming off their ugliest, most “embarrassing’’ offensive outing of the season at North Carolina, according to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente views the situation a bit differently — as in the Hurricanes have already proven they have the fortitude it takes to win in stressful situations.
“They have certainly been through the fire and found a way to make the plays at the end of the game to win, whether it’s on offense or defense,’’ Fuente said. “We have tremendous respect for that ability.’’
But the Hokies’ ever-dominant defense, coached by defensive coordinator Bud Foster, will have plenty to say about whether the Canes can get their lethargic running game up and running. Virginia Tech, with the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, is 13th against the run.
Miami generated 59 total ground yards last Saturday for an average of 1.8 yards a carry. UM’s offensive line must improve its blocking to give sophomore Travis Homer a chance to open the game for quarterback Malik Rosier, who will play with what is likely still a sore shoulder after getting injured against UNC.
Canes linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said his teammates are well aware of how crucial this game is as the regular season gets closer to the end. Hokies quarterback Josh Jackson, a 6-1, 215-pound mobile redshirt freshman, already has 2,032 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, the most-ever by a Virginia Tech freshman – and the most by any FBS freshman this season.
“We know what’s on the table,’’ Quarterman said. “We can’t afford to lose. Miami, we don’t have the room or the margin for error at all — we have none. We focus on every game like it’s our last.’’
Kickoff: 8 p.m.; Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens.
TV/radio: ABC; WQAM 560; 990 ESPN Deportes.
Favorite: Virginia Tech by 1.
Records: Miami 7-0 (5-0 ACC); Virginia Tech 7-1 (3-1 ACC).
Series: Miami leads 20-14.
Miami injuries: No new injuries reported.
Virginia Tech injuries: Questionable — OT Yosuah Nijman (leg) and RB Steven Peoples (foot); Doubtful — WR C.J. Carroll (foot).