By Saturday evening, a full weekend worth of college football craziness had already occurred. A day earlier, Miami, unbeaten and sitting No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, fell to unranked Pittsburgh, 24-14. Saturday afternoon, No. 1 Alabama was overwhelmed in a 26-14 loss to two-loss Auburn.
But No. 3 Clemson took the field at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday against rival and 24th-ranked South Carolina, and the chaos ended. The Tigers scored early and often while the host Gamecocks barely scored at all. Clemson breezed to a 34-10 win.
In a season full of pandemonium, the Tigers are the one constant. They manhandled Auburn in September. They piled up four road wins against teams which were ranked at the time. The defending national champions’ only loss came on a strange Friday night in Syracuse, N.Y., when star quarterback Kelly Bryant was banged up for the first half and didn’t play at all during the second. No. 1 once again, Clemson is the clear class of college football.
Which means if the No. 7 Hurricanes can somehow beat the Tigers in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game, there shouldn’t be anything keeping them out of the CFP.
“Most definitely,” star wide receiver Ahmmon Richards said after practice Tuesday when asked if he thought Miami would earn a playoff berth with a win. “I just feel like we deserve, with all the work we put in and all we’ve been through this season, to get in the playoffs.”
Should an 11-1 ACC Champion be in the College Football Playoff? Miami WR Ahmmon Richards believes the Canes deserve to be in the CFP with a win over Clemson. pic.twitter.com/9f8KBvJYXb
— Josh White (@_JoshRWhite) November 28, 2017
Miami is certainly deserving of criticism this season. Even before the loss to Pitt the Hurricanes experienced plenty of other scares. Miami lacks any sort of signature win away from Hard Rock Stadium and, aside from its two wins against then-No. 3 Notre Dame and then-No. 13 Virginia Tech, hasn’t exactly aced the eye test. There’s a very real chance the Hurricanes won’t have a single player taken during the first two days of the 2018 NFL Draft. Without overwhelming talent, Miami hasn’t consistently wowed the committee.
Case in point: The latest CFP rankings, released Tuesday night, weren’t exactly kind to the Hurricanes. Miami dropped five spots to No. 7.
Fifth #CFBPlayoff Rankings:
4️⃣ Wisconsin pic.twitter.com/iPFp7OP027
— College Football Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) November 29, 2017
The Hurricanes could answer all of those questions in Charlotte. Beating Clemson at Bank of America Stadium would prove Miami can win away from Miami Gardens. Beating the clear top-ranked team at a neutral site would be as impressive a win as anyone can claim. The Tigers are maybe the most talented team in the country and a Hurricanes upset would impress even the staunchest Miami doubters.
“All we need to do is win our game and that’s it,” running back Travis Homer said. “Even if it’s not, it doesn’t matter to us. We’re just going to go out there and do what we need to do.”
Maybe the loss to the Panthers and the ensuing rankings tumble is exactly what the Hurricanes will need. Virtually everyone within the Miami program agrees the Hurricanes thrive on doubt. When Miami made the CFP top 10 for the first time, the Hurricanes complained they deserved more for their unbeaten record. When they cracked the top 4, they complained they were still overlooked with a one-loss team ahead of them.
Without saying much about Miami getting one All-ACC nod, Mark Richt said a lot. pic.twitter.com/uY8jyNHN25
— Matt Porter (@mattyports) November 28, 2017
After spending the past few weeks with critics finally admitting Miami had arrived and controlled its own destiny, the Hurricanes will now spend the next few days hearing how even a win won’t be enough to solidify a playoff spot.
Some say the No. 5 Crimson Tide only have one loss and deserve a spot — despite the fact they won’t even play for an SEC title Saturday. No. 6 Georgia, with only a single loss to Auburn, will deserve a spot even if it loses in Atlanta, others argue. No. 8 Ohio State, with a pair of losses including a 31-point drubbing at the hands of Iowa, controls its own destiny, many feel, while the Hurricanes do not.
If Miami thrives off the disrespect, when its collective back is against the wall, this will be the perfect time to show it.
“I’m glad we do,” coach Mark Richt said. “The lights will be as bright as they can be, for sure. So far we have — I don’t know, I guess the word is ’embrace’ — we’ve embraced the moment, the importance of a game, how much hype goes into a game. We’ve gotten excited. That’s good.
“All I ask for them is every ounce of their competitive spirit. Turn it loose. We’ll see where we wind up in the end.”
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