Monday, November 6, 2017

Big 10 Stumbles Open Miami’s Path to CFP

By Steve Brenna

While the leaves begin to change in October in many parts of the country, here in southern California one doesn't see many autumnal cues until November, when the harsh, 12-week "not summer" season begins. I use the sports world as my calendar, and when the last pitch of the World Series is thrown, fall has officially arrived. Enter truly meaningful college football games.

Conference championship races are tightening across the board, but it didn't get any more pivotal this past Saturday than the matchups between the ACC's top contenders. In a virtual conference semifinal weekend, Atlantic division leaders Clemson and NC State went head-to-head while the Coastal division leading Miami Hurricanes took on second-place Virginia Tech in south Florida. The winners of each game would be near-locks to face one another in the ACC title game on Dec. 2, and would solidify their cause to remain in the hunt for the CFP.

It was the favorites coming away with the victory in both games, as No. 4 Clemson hung in for a 38-31 win over No. 20 NC State, while No. 10 Miami handled No. 13 Virginia Tech definitively at home, 28-10. The Canes out-gained the Hokies by more than 100 yards, and their typically stingy defense intercepted Josh Jackson twice, sacking the freshman star 4 times.

Miami overcame a shaky night from quarterback Malik Rosier (3 INT) thanks in part to 219 total rushing yards, led by Travis Homer's 95 on 14 carries. The 'Canes gashed Virginia Tech's vaunted defensive line for 6.3 yards per carry, including bursts of 64 yards from Homer and 36 yards from Rosier. The victory sets up the game of the year for now No. 7 (AP) Miami, as they will face AP No. 3 Notre Dame next week at home in a game with major playoff implications.

The Fighting Irish suffered their lone loss by a single point to AP No. 2 Georgia in week two, and boast definitive victories over ranked teams Michigan State, USC, and NC State. They've held up extremely well against what has become a brutal schedule, and will be battle-tested coming in to Hard Rock Stadium next Saturday night.

Notre Dame is averaging over 40 points and nearly 500 total yards of offense per game this season, and will be a worthy test for the "Turnover Chain" touting Canes defense that has held opponents to 17.6 points per game. They've already topped their turnover total from all of last season (19), and currently sit at 20 takeaways. Can you say unstoppable force meets immovable object?

If Miami can topple the Irish, then handle their business the following two weeks against unranked Pitt and Virginia, they will strut into an ACC title clash with Clemson at 11-0. A victory in that game and the Hurricanes will have as strong a case as any team in the country to be in the top four.

Either Alabama or Georgia will have a loss in the SEC. Thanks to losses by previous No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State, if Wisconsin can close out the Big 10 undefeated, they're in. So you have your SEC and Big 10 champs in the top four, with the remaining two spots likely coming down to conference champions from the Big 12 and ACC. It's likely No. 8 Washington would be on the outside looking in even as Pac 12 champs by virtue of their seven-point effort in a loss to Arizona State in week 6. An undefeated Miami team would be the clear choice.

This is all assuming however, the Canes can notch season-defining victories over two teams that currently sit in the top four. Should Miami lose to Notre Dame and go on to defeat Clemson in the ACC title, the Irish would still be in the driver's seat for the final spot. They will close out their season with a home game against Navy, followed by the season finale in Palo Alto against Stanford.

Miami must have both of these games to control their own destiny for a playoff spot, and it will be a tall order. Is "Da U" ready to return to national prominence? It all begins this Saturday night in SoFlo.

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