This past weekend in college football turned out to be very bad for Miami (as in the University of) but potentially very good for Miami (as in the city hosting two major bowl games including the BCS national championship).
It is roughly halftime of the season that will end with all eyes here, and the first BCS standings come out in five days. So, as self-appointed spokesman for the College Football Capital of America, I feel this is a good time to reconnoiter the emerging postseason picture.
Florida State saw its championship hopes realistically ruined in that last-second loss at North Carolina State, but the Jan. 1 Orange Bowl game could be the beneficiary. FSU is now a favorite to end up bowling in Miami if dominoes fall logically from here, which would give the OB its first state team since the 2005 season, and a likely full house that otherwise might be tough to come by.
Far more significantly, the BCS National Championship Game in the same Dolphins stadium six nights later also suggests a matchup that could be of particular interest to South Florida.
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Look at the current top five teams, the palette from which the Jan. 7 title game likely will come, and just about any combination is appealing.
No. 1-ranked Alabama would offer the heft of a modern dynasty, a program after its second national championship in a row and third in four years. The Tide also would offer a villain in coach Nick Saban. He’s Nick “Satan” to most fans outside Tuscaloosa but more so here because of the deception surrounding his quitting the Dolphins after two seasons in 2005-06. This title game would be his first time back in Miami since.
No. 2 Oregon would offer a team gunning for its first title after losing the 2010-season BCS crown to Auburn. (I honestly can’t come up with much of a local tie that would make Oregon’s presence of particular Miami interest, except the fact I can’t see the Ducks’ mascot without thinking it looks like a rip-off of UM’s Ibis.)
No. 3 South Carolina would deliver The Ol’ Ballcoach, Steve Spurrier, whose appearance would be of keen interest, perhaps, to the legion of Florida Gators fans and alums in So-Fla. (You want time flies? Spurrier has now coached the Gamecocks only four seasons fewer than his 12-year run in The Swamp.)
No. 4 Florida would give that legion of local Gators a chance to celebrate a national championship in Miami just like they did to cap the 2008 season. (While simultaneously making Hurricanes fans feel about like Red Sox fans would if a Yankees championship parade serpentined through downtown Boston.)
No. 5 West Virginia would deliver a team full of South Florida recruits led by star quarterback Geno Smith, currently the clear front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy. Smith was raised close enough to the Dolphins’ stadium to hear crowds cheering, and he starred at Miramar High. His homecoming as a Heisman winner in a national championship game would be storybook stuff.
Figure the odds are good two of these five teams will end up ranked 1-2 by surviving the minefield each faces from here.
I’m on record preferring the NFL to the college game, but the latter’s one irrefutable edge is that every loss — any loss — devastates championship dreams (ask the Seminoles) and recasts the entire picture.
The Packers lost to the Colts on Sunday, but it bears little on Green Bay’s chances to win a Super Bowl. But any loss from here by a top-five college team would wreak havoc with their shot at playing in Miami on Jan. 7.
And such a loss threatens all five.
Alabama still faces a run of three consecutive ranked opponents including Saban’s ex-team, LSU, on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge, where fans would just as soon hogtie Saban and throw him in a bayou. Bama also faces an SEC title game likely against South Carolina or Florida — with the loser out of the BCS hunt.
Oregon also still faces three ranked opponents, including Southern Cal, there, on Nov. 3. The Ducks could end up having to beat USC twice, with a rematch for the Pac-12 championship possible.
South Carolina? Florida? Simple. They face each other Oct. 20 in The Swamp — winner-take-all in terms of realistic hopes of reaching Miami.
West Virginia could have the easiest path left, with its only two remaining games against ranked foes (Kansas State, Oklahoma) both in Morgantown. The Mountaineers also benefit hugely that the Big 12 does not play a conference title game, leaving WVU unique among the top five in that it won’t risk a final knockout game.
Alabama-Oregon remains the likeliest game we will get in Miami, but I can’t help but hope for Bama versus Magic Geno’s West Virginia as the more riveting matchup. (Sorry, Gators fans.)
As for the Miami Hurricanes, well, someday — have faith — college football’s national championship talk will again include The U. How soon might be up to the NCAA as it weighs penalties over the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
UM fans should hope the NCAA rules as soon as possible so that this program can weather and move beyond whatever punishment is in store.
College football transitions from the BCS National Championship Game era to its long-awaited and newly approved four-team playoff starting in 2014-15.
Perhaps, realistically, that will also be around when the Canes are transitioning from their NCAA shackles to unencumbered brighter days.
UM fans can only keep eyes on that prize as they prepare to watch another team win a national championship in their own stadium in their own backyard.