Florida State. North Carolina. Virginia Tech. Notre Dame.
The so-called University of Miami “hit list,” according to senior defensive end Chad Thomas, began with the four teams to which the Hurricanes lost in 2016.
One by one the Canes mowed them down on the football field — FSU on a touchdown with six seconds left, UNC on a game-saving fumble recovery with 2:11 left, Virginia Tech in dominating fashion, Notre Dame in a bona fide beatdown.
Now, the Hurricanes believe they owe a favor to one more team, whose victory, although two seasons ago, was so utterly humiliating that it still permeates the souls of upperclassmen: Clemson.
“We’ll never feel like that again,” Thomas promised this week.
“The worst loss in UM history,’’ senior receiver Braxton Berrios reflected. “You don’t get beat like that on your home field and completely forget about it.”
It’s the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes (10-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. the No. 1 Clemson Tigers (11-1, 7-1) in the ACC Championship Game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.
As of Friday, designated home team Clemson was favored by 9 ½ points. And that’s just dandy for the Hurricanes, who thrive on being disrespected and are fueled by the fact that few, other than their fans, believe they can defeat the defending national champions to vie for a chance to vault to the top four of the final College Football Playoff rankings on Sunday afternoon.
The top four teams advance to the playoffs — No. 1 vs. 4 and No. 2 vs. 3 in the CFP semifinals at either the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, California; or the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in New Orleans.
The winners will meet in Atlanta on Jan. 8 for the College Football Playoff National Championship.
“We came here to make this program exactly what it should be,” said Berrios, who described himself as a “kid from Raleigh” who “wanted to come to Miami to turn the program around.
“That was always the dream and we’re one step closer.”
Berrios will play in his home state for the third time this season, his Canes previously defeating North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Duke in Durham.
But Clemson, based in South Carolina, is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Charlotte, so no matter how many Hurricanes fans show up — and there should be several thousand — they likely won’t drown out Tigers fans.
That is, unless the Hurricanes can defy the odds and pull off a shocker like they did against the Fighting Irish. It won’t be easy, not with the loss of two of their best offensive players in the past week. Already without their 2016 most valuable player, Mark Walton, after he sustained a season-ending ankle injury Oct. 7 at FSU, the Canes lost standout tight end Christopher Herndon to a season-ending knee injury last Saturday at Pittsburgh, and All-American receiver Ahmmon Richards to a season-ending knee injury on Wednesday.
The challenge would have been difficult enough had Herndon and Richards not gone down, but now it appears nearly ridiculous, as a streamlined UM offense will be met by a bruising Clemson defense that allows 283 yards a game (sixth best in the nation) and surrenders a mere 13.6 points a game (fourth best).
Christian Wilkins, Clemson’s 6-4, 300-pound junior tackle on that vaunted D-line, said he recalls before the 58-0 game “it got a little chippy’’ and “there were some words said and tempers flaring.”
“I just remember we came out firing and just took it to them,” Wilkins said. “I’m sure there are still some guys on the team from then that might come into the game with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder because of what happened last time we played them at their place. But we’re ready for it. We’re ready for everything they’re going to be coming at us with.”
The Hurricanes had their first loss of the season last Saturday at Pitt. Quarterback Malik Rosier struggled, unable to hit open receivers when the Panthers stacked the box and completely thwarted UM’s running game.
But Rosier and his offensive line say they’ve had outstanding practices the past few days, and are ready.
“I feel we definitely owe them one,” senior left tackle Kc McDermott said when asked about the 58-0 debacle. “It’s something I’ve never forgotten and it’s definitely in the back of my mind.
“This team plays better when we’re angry. We’ve played well the two times [Virginia Tech and Notre Dame] when people have counted us down and out and we showed what we can do. The same thing is happening again.”
UM coach Mark Richt said earlier this week that he doesn’t care “what motivates a guy.”
“Any motivation going into a ball game is a good thing,” Richt said. “So if they’re thinking about the possibility of the playoffs or just thinking about being the first team to ever win the ACC Championship at the University of Miami, or just because they want to make their family proud … that’s great. … The lights will be as bright as they can be [Saturday], for sure. So far we have embraced the moment, embraced the importance of a game or how much hype goes into a game. We’ve gotten excited, and that’s good.
“All I can ask from them is every ounce of their competitive spirit — let it go. Turn it loose. Just get after it, and we’ll see where we end up.”
Saturday: No. 7 Miami vs. No. 1 Clemson
Kickoff: 8 p.m.; Bank of America Stadium; Charlotte, North Carolina.
TV/radio: ABC; WQAM 560: WMEN 640; 990 ESPN Deportes.
Favorite: Clemson by 9 1/2.
Records: Miami 10-1 (7-1 ACC); Clemson 11-1 (7-1).
Series: Miami leads 6-4.
Miami injuries: Out — WR Ahmmon Richards (knee); TE Christopher Herndon (knee); DE Demetrius Jackson (knee); LB Charles Perry (knee); WR Evidence Njoku (knee); RB Mark Walton (ankle); LB Jamie Gordinier (ankle).
Clemson injuries: Out — DE Richard Yeargin (neck); DE Logan Rudolph (shoulder); TE Cole Renfrow (knee); K Greg Huegel (knee); TE Garrett Williams (knee); LB Tre Lamar (stinger); CB Mark Fields (ankle).