In the midst of the Great Depression and the start of the Spanish Civil War, the University of Miami fielded its first football team in 1936. In the 82 seasons since, here are the times UM has played a bigger home game at this point in a season than this week’s visit by Notre Dame.
Zero. None. Nada. Never.
“Biggest game” is subjective, of course, but I would offer this:
This is only the seventh time the Hurricanes have found themselves at 8-0, and only once before has the path to Cloud Nine faced an obstacle this large, but it was not a home game. That was in 1991 when Miami faced then-No. 1 Florida State, winning in Tallahassee 17-16 to propel UM to its fourth of five national championships.
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Saturday brings a Fighting Irish team that is 8-1 but is ranked higher — No. 3 to UM’s No. 7 in the newest College Football Playoff table — and has Miami as a three-point home underdog at Hard-rockin’ Stadium.
This might be Miami’s most important home game since winning that ’91 championship in the backyard Orange Bowl game.
Or it might just be the most important home game since last week, when that prime-time triumph over Virginia Tech raised all the stakes for this Saturday.
This is what national relevance feels like. This is what being close enough to “back” to taste it feels like.
The fifth and so-far last of Miami’s five national titles crowned the 2001 season, but UM was unbeaten, ranked No. 1 and playing for ring No. 6 a year later in the Fiesta Bowl, only to lose 31-24 to Ohio State in double overtime.
And that was the end. The tombstone on Miami’s football dynasty reads 1983-2002.
The Canes have not been close to sniffing a national title since.
Until now. Until last week’s win made it plausible and another one this Saturday would make it possible.
Beating Notre Dame would be the single biggest victory since UM’s last national championship.
Here are my top 10 Canes wins of the post-dynasty era:
1. Miami 56, Virginia Tech 45 (Dec. 7, 2002): Unbeaten Miami outlasts Tech in a wild one to finish regular season and earn what would be an ill-fated spot in that season’s Fiesta Bowl national championship game against Ohio State.
2. Miami 27, Virginia Tech 7 (Nov. 5, 2005): No. 5 Canes beat No. 3 Hokies in Blacksburg, Virginia, in the last signature win of the Larry Coker era. That elevated Miami (briefly) into contention for another national title, and was the last time Miami ranked higher this late in a season than it does this week.
3. Miami 28, Virginia Tech 10 (Nov. 4, 2017): Last week’s convincing prime-time home victory over Tech would see UM rise from No. 10 to No. 7 in the College Football Playoff ranking and make this week’s visit by No. 3 Notre Dame tantamount to a play-in game for a coveted spot in the CFP top four.
4. Miami 21, Oklahoma 20 (Oct. 3, 2009): No. 17 UM upsets the No. 8 Sooners in biggest win of Randy Shannon’s Canes coaching tenure. It was Sooners’ first visit to Miami since losing the 1987-season national championship to UM in the Orange Bowl game 22 seasons earlier.
5. Miami 24, Florida State 20 (Oct. 7, 2017): UM ends the hex against its nemesis with a victory in Tallahassee to end a seven-game series losing streak against its biggest rival. FSU was unranked in midst of down season; still, it marked a symbolic watershed for the Canes, an indication a hurdle had been cleared.
6. Miami 31, West Virginia 14 (Dec. 28, 2016): A win over No. 14 West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl caps Mark Richt’s first season with UM’s first bowl victory in 10 years, after an 0-6 postseason run. Canes end No. 20 in rankings, UM’s highest spot in the final poll in seven years.
7. Miami 16, Florida State 14 (Jan. 1, 2004): No. 10 UM beats No. 9 FSU in the Orange Bowl. It was Miami’s last appearance to this point in the OB game (or any top-tier bowl) and the last time UM finished a season ranked in the top five (at fifth).
8. Miami 24, Ohio State 6 (Sept. 17, 2011): Unranked Miami upsets No. 17 Buckeyes the one and only time Ohio State has ever played UM in Miami. It was the first home game of the Al Golden era.
9. Miami 21, Florida 16 (Sept. 7, 2013): Unranked Canes upset No. 12 Gators here in the last meeting to this point between the once-fierce traditional state rivals.
10. Miami 27, Florida 10 (Dec. 31, 2004): Canes beat Florida in the Peach Bowl, marking UM’s last bowl appearance to this point against the Gators or any other state school.
Our list could have a newly minted No. 1 come around midnight Saturday.
All that’s required is beating Notre Dame.
All that’s required is proving the skeptics wrong.