The Miami Hurricanes have faced two top-ten opponents this season, and both times left the field with little to no upside. Kansas State demolished the Canes in Manhattan, KS, 52-13 on September 8. Notre Dame was even more stingy, topping the Canes 41-3 over the weekend in Chicago.
But head coach Al Golden is taking a sunnier view of things in Coral Gables, stressing Monday that his Canes are still undefeated in conference play, with a more than ample chance at reaching its first ACC Championship Game.
"We're in the tournament right now," Golden said Monday, referring to the onslaught of conference play that tends to separate the pretenders from the contenders. The tournament exposed in-state rival Florida State, when an unranked North Carolina State squad upset the then-number three Seminoles.
During the ACC Media Days over the summer, UM was picked to finish fifth in the ACC Coastal division, ahead of perennial doormat Duke.
But while Miami has proven to be tougher than the experts predicted before the season (coming behind from double-digit deficits against Boston College and Georgia Tech), the grind of ACC play still beckons, and no Miami team in the past decade has been able to escape unscathed.
North Carolina visits Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, followed by home dates against rivals FSU and Virginia Tech. Trips to Virginia (who have beaten the Canes in three of the past four seasons) and Duke (who is 2-0 in conference play) close out the ACC schedule, with a visit from USF in between.
If Miami can win their remaining five conference games, a trip to the ACC Championship Game on December 1 in Charlotte is assured. But in the seven-year history of the ACCCG, the Coastal division has sent a team undefeated in conference play only once. Last year, Virginia Tech was able to sneak into the ACCCG despite two conference losses.
So Miami's margin for error might be larger than originally thought. With its defense struggling to make stops (the Canes are giving up 510 yards per game despite their 4-2 record), that could come in handy.
It's there for the taking," UM RB Mike James said of the ACC Coastal race. "But it goes to show you, it's not about what people write down or who's writing the books. Look where they wrote us to be. It's all about who's the best team on that day."