University of Miami

Canes crack Top 4 in playoff rankings and control their fate

The Miami Hurricanes are three victories shy of college football nirvana.

Win and they’re in.

For the first time since the inception of the four-team College Football Playoff in 2014, the Hurricanes on Tuesday were ranked among those top four – No. 3 – by the CFP selection committee.

Should Miami (9-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) win its final two regular-season games against Virginia (6-4, 3-3) and Pittsburgh (4-6, 2-4) , then defeat Clemson (9-1, 7-1) on Dec. 2 in the ACC Championship Game, it would earn a berth on Dec. 3 in the playoff to decide the national champion.

The Canes, who have the nation’s longest win streak of 14 games and are one of three Power 5 conference programs still undefeated, leaped from last week’s No. 7 ranking after smothering former CFP No. 3 Notre Dame 41-8 Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The top four: No. 1 Alabama (10-0), No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Miami and No. 4 Oklahoma (9-1).

Clemson, it should be noted, lost to a Syracuse team that Miami defeated and has a 4-6 record. CFP selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt, a former UM athletic director, said during the ESPN broadcast that the Hurricanes have “not played a winning team on the road yet.’’

If the season ended today, the winner of UM-Clemson and Alabama-Oklahoma would play for the national title Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The CFP semifinal games will be at the Rose Bowl at 5:10 p.m. Jan. 1 in Pasadena, California; and the Allstate Sugar Bowl at 8:45 p.m. Jan. 1 in New Orleans.

After the third round of the CFP rankings, no team has ever lost and made it to the playoffs.

Wisconsin, the other undefeated Power 5 team, is No. 5.

After squeaking by Florida State with six seconds left, Georgia Tech with four seconds left, and Syracuse with a game-saving drive late in the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes defeated then-13th-ranked Virginia Tech and No. 3 Notre Dame by a combined 69-18 margin the past two weeks.

UM coach Mark Richt has consistently said it’s still too early, including Tuesday, to fixate on the CFP rankings.

“I doubt I’m going to watch the show,’’ Richt said during his weekly new conference Tuesday to preview Saturday’s Virginia game. “But I will know what it is.’’

Richt indicated that he expected to move up, “like I figured we would if we won.

“No matter where we are, if we keep winning, we’ll stay up, maybe move up. And if we lose we’ll go down.”

Two weeks ago, when the 2017 rankings were first revealed, UM (No. 2 in the Associated Press and coaches polls, which have no bearing on the CFP) was 7-0 and ranked 10th by the CFP, below six one-loss teams.

Last week, when the second rankings were released, the Canes were 8-0 and below four one-loss teams. But previously undefeated Georgia, which was ranked No. 1, lost to then-No. 10 Auburn, then-No. 6 TCU lost to No. 5 Oklahoma and the Canes walloped Notre Dame, leaving a spot for Miami in the top four.

Notre Dame dropped to No. 8.

Central Florida, undefeated in the American Athletic Conference, is No. 15.

Now, defending national champion Clemson is the lone one-loss team ahead of UM, and the Tigers and Canes will duke it out in the ACC title game.

Richt told WQAM on Monday that “people want to get too riled up about that thing too soon – both ways, like, ‘Hey, we’re in it!’ or ‘Oh, we’re out!’

“Look at the schedule. We had Virginia Tech, we had Notre Dame. Now we’re in the ACC Championship Game. But we’ve got work to do this weekend. The greatest thing to temper all this enthusiasm is to watch film of Virginia’s defense and try to figure out what the heck to do with it.

“That’s one thing about football, you better get back to work in a hurry because somebody is going to come humble you real quickly.”

The Hurricanes, when asked Tuesday about the rankings, echoed their coach.

“For a lot of guys in the locker room, as a team and coaches, it’s just a number,’’ senior kicker Michael Badgley said. “We’re going to give each team the best shot we’ve got.’’

If UM should lose to Clemson, and even if it should lose one of its final two regular-season games in addition to Clemson, it would likely end up in its home stadium Dec. 30 in the Orange Bowl.

“We keep doing our job and everything will take care of itself,’’ safety Jaquan Johnson said.