Now that Florida State finally has been pushed out of the way, the temptation is to look at the rest of Miami’s schedule and imagine a clean sweep into the ACC championship game.
Of course, this is premature celebration.
Because Miami has only played four games.
Because just last Saturday a couple of top-10 teams, Oklahoma and Michigan, were upset at home.
Because, most of all, this is college football, where the safest bet always is on chaos.
Didn’t stop any of you from dreaming, or from concluding that Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech and Notre Dame and all the others on Miami’s remaining regular-season schedule are simply overmatched?
OK, just prepare for the fact that unbeaten seasons are never easily earned, by any program at any time, and here is some proof provided by three of the greatest teams in Hurricanes history.
1987 – Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes, an independent at the time, beat Florida and FSU in the season’s opening month and went on to finish 12-0 for the program’s third national championship.
There were a couple of scares, however, before the bowl game. Toledo, a 3-7-1 MAC team, made Miami struggle for a 24-14 home win, with a fumble return for a touchdown providing the needed breathing room.
Then, with an Orange Bowl bid already accepted by the Hurricanes, South Carolina flirted with an upset. Miami won 20-16 but the game was as grueling as they come, with a bench-clearing brawl that was caused when Hurricanes All-American Danny Stubbs kept charging through a whistle that stopped the play for a penalty and slammed South Carolina’s quarterback to the ground.
1991 – This time Dennis Erickson was the coach of a 12-0 national championship team at Miami, with a 17-16 November win over top-ranked FSU as the highlight.
What remained after that were a couple of games against Boston College and San Diego State, the kind that can be overlooked. BC pushed hard on its home field, pulling within 19-14 and threatening to win with a drive that reached Miami’s 26-yard line in the final minute. A sack by Kevin Patrick ended that scare.
2001 – Larry Coker’s debut season as Miami’s head coach was another 12-0 national championship season.
The pattern of furious finishes held again for the Hurricanes, who were still competing in the old Big East. Conference rival Virginia Tech nearly ruined the season in early December before losing 26-24 to Miami at Blacksburg. And don’t forget the Hurricanes’ remarkable 18-7 win at Boston College in November.
The Eagles intercepted Ken Dorsey four times and were driving toward a potential winning touchdown when a miraculous break went Miami’s way. With less than 20 seconds to play, a pass bounced off the knee of Hurricanes cornerback Ed Rumph and into the hands of defensive tackle Matt Walter. That could have sealed the game right there, but Ed Reed grabbed the ball from his teammate’s hands and ran for a touchdown.
Will Mark Richt’s Hurricanes similarly keep piling up the wins now, one way or the other? Can’t say they won’t. That FSU win provides all sorts of momentum and confidence.
What’s tougher now is the existence of a conference championship game that those earlier Miami teams didn’t have. That means defending national champion Clemson could be in the way of a College Football Playoff spot, and that’s not good.
My advice is to enjoy each Saturday for what it is worth. Each experience is heavy enough without stacking them all together in your mind and trying to lift an entire season out of the way at once.
Richt needs no reminders of how difficult it is to win them all. His 2002 Georgia Bulldogs were 8-0 and all the way up to No. 5 in the AP poll before a loss to Ron Zook’s unranked Gators. It was the only dent in a 13-1 season.