Begin with the bottom line and get it straight: If the Miami Hurricanes beat Clemson to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship this week, UM should be in the four-team College Football Playoff. That isn’t saying they would be; the CFP selection committee is a strange, mercurial beast. But they should be, and on that there is no hesitation, no equivocation, no counter argument and no if-this, if-that.
Now the two problems:
One, most folks apparently give the Canes very little chance to beat Clemson this Saturday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Miami a newly minted 9 1/2-point underdog — the biggest in any Power 5 conference title game.
Two, even if Miami wins, some disagree that beating the Tigers would automatically be enough for The U to elevate back into the final top four.
So this is perfect, in a way, because Mark Richt’s team plays better fueled by anger and perceived disrespect. It is certifiable. It was the ace UM played against Notre Dame and what was missing from the hand at Pitt. You want the best from these Canes? Have them hit the field as the doubted underdog.
Miami has that us-against-them mojo back because the haters are back. All it took was that awfully timed upset loss at Pitt and the “Over-rated!” chant bloomed as the Internet lit with mocking references to that gold Turnover Chain being made of tin, and jokes about how UM had gone in one afternoon from “back” to broken.
The lack of belief on the outside is UM’s best chance to upset Clemson. It writes Richt’s pregame speech for him.
But would a win for the ACC crown be enough? Let’s explore why it should be, and why it might not be.
The rankings we’re using here are based on the latest Associated Press poll, which figure to be very close to the new CFP ranking coming out Tuesday evening.
Miami is No. 7 and Clemson No. 1, making Saturday what should be tantamount to a play-in game for the CFP semifinals. So I ask the rhetorical again: How would an 11-1, ACC champion UM that just beat the top-ranked team in the country — the defending national champion — not end up in the top four? Call me a homer if you wish; I’ve been called worse. It would simply defy logic and fairness and be plainly unjust if the Canes were denied in that scenario.
Based on the AP rankings, though, even if UM beat Clemson it might still need help with other results. Here are the other upcoming games that weigh on UM:
▪ No. 2 Oklahoma (favored by seven) vs. No. 10 TCU for the Big 12 championship — Though it’s arguable, it might be best for Canes fans to root for an upset by the Horned Frogs, on the gamble they would not leap all the way up into the top four.
▪ No. 3 Wisconsin (a six-point underdog) vs. No. 8 Ohio State for the Big Ten championship — “Go Buckeyes” might be the call from Coral Gables because there is no (logical) way 8 beating 3 should leapfrog 7 beating 1.
▪ No. 4 Auburn (favored by 2 1/2) vs. No. 6 Georgia for the Southeastern Conference championship — Georgia winning might serve UM better, because there is a reasonable chance that 7 beating 1 would jump over 6 beating 4.
▪ No. 5 Alabama is done. Should there be any doubt that Miami, if it beat Clemson, should rise above a ’Bama team that didn’t even make its conference title game?
The worst-case scenario for an ACC-champion UM? That Oklahoma and Wisconsin both won and were joined by the Auburn/Georgia winner in the top four, and then the CFP committee decided a one-loss Alabama was better and more deserving than a one-loss Miami for the fourth spot because UM’s loss was far worse.
Merely discussing the permutations is its own delight. It has been 15 years, the 2002 season, since Canes fans last enjoyed being in the national championship conversation this late in a season.
Not just Canes fans — maybe former UM players even more so. More of them returned for the recent game against Notre Dame than at any other time. Nobody is wanting harder for a sixth UM national championship than the men who earned the first five.
I should note that Monday marked the 10-year anniversary of the death of former Canes safety Sean Taylor, born and raised in Miami, killed in his home during a robbery. He would be 34 today. Might even still be in the NFL. Taylor played on UM’s last great teams (2001-03), including the most recent natty champs in ’01. And how much would he be enjoying the Canes’ 2017 renaissance?
Now Miami could be — should be — one more victory from having a shot at that long-elusive sixth ring.
Nobody thinks they can do it.