At 7-0 and about to face Florida State a little more than two weeks ago, the Miami Hurricanes were a top-10 team ready to take on anyone for the chance to win their first Atlantic Coast Conference title and qualify for their first BCS game under coach Al Golden.
Now, after consecutive losses to FSU, Virginia Tech and Duke, the unranked Hurricanes’ postseason options have taken a dip, though the Canes (7-3, 3-3) are still being considered by bowls relatively high in the ACC pecking order.
Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan said Monday night that should Miami win out (Virginia at noon Saturday at Sun Life Stadium and at Pittsburgh at 3:30 p.m. Nov.29), it would still be very much in the picture for his game. The Chick-fil-A is already sold out and scheduled for 8 p.m. Dec. 31 in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
“Miami for TV ratings is as good a football brand as there is in the country,’’ Stokan said. “That’s very important.”
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The Chick-fil-A has the first ACC selection after the Orange Bowl, which could take Clemson should FSU play in the national title game. The Chick-fil-A’s ACC opponent would likely be the No. 3, 4 or 5 team from the Southeastern Conference — leaving Texas A&M, South Carolina, Missouri, LSU and Mississippi still in the mix, according to Stokan.
“Miami with an SEC brand,” Stokan said, “has great cache around the country.”
ESPN’s BCS expert Brad Edwards already is predicting a Miami vs. Texas A&M matchup in the Chick-fil-A, which might excite TV viewers who love watching Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. But it could make UM fans cringe if the Hurricanes’ defense doesn’t improve fast.
Another intriguing game and current possibility for UM could come in the Russell Athletic Bowl, to be played against an American Athletic Conference team at 6:45 p.m. Dec. 28 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. That bowl picks its ACC representative after the Chick-fil-A.
If Central Florida clinches the AAC title, the Russell will choose Louisville and star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to face the ACC pick.
Bridgewater, who played at Miami Northwestern High, was committed to UM before he pulled his commitment after Randy Shannon was fired.
“We want to put the best game on the field,” Russell Athletic Bowl spokesman Greg Creese said. “That’s most important. If Miami is our best option in terms of the game itself, they’ll be the one we select.”
The other UM bowl options, in order of selection, are the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas; the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.; the Music City Bowl in Tennessee; and the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La.
The ACC has eight guaranteed bowl tie-ins, but could have as many as 12 teams qualify for a bowl by the time the season ends. The league is hopeful it will find slots for as many teams that need them, using other conference games that have openings. Currently, only ACC members North Carolina State and Virginia will not be bowl eligible.
Miami has not been to a bowl game since Dec. 31, 2010, when it lost 33-17 to Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, and finished the season 7-6.
In 2009, the Canes played in the Champs Sports Bowl, now the Russell. They lost 20-14 to Wisconsin on a rainy night in which UM tailback Graig Cooper tore his ACL in horrendous field conditions. The field has since been resurfaced with artificial turf.
UM was off Monday, but Golden said Sunday evening that the Hurricanes were still positive, especially with a bowl berth finally a reality after sitting out self-imposed postseason bans in 2011 and ’12.
“We get to go to a bowl game for the first time in three seasons, which is obviously going to help us move the program forward,” Golden said. “We’re excited about the future. We’re not down.”