An Atlantic Coast Conference title is still very much in Miami’s grasp, but the Hurricanes have let most of their other dreams slip away.
Coming off back-to-back losses, the No. 18 Hurricanes must regroup Saturday as they visit No. 10 Virginia and try to keep their Bowl Championship Series hopes alive.
Miami (6-2, 3-2 ACC) seemed to be a lock for a BCS bowl just two weeks ago. The Hurricanes had won their first six games and were ranked fourth in the country, even giving them hopes of playing in the BCS title game on Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl, their home field.
Consecutive losses ended those hopes and dropped Miami to its lowest spot in the polls since 1999, and now the only way it will go to one of the big-money bowls is if it wins the ACC and claims the league’s automatic berth.
Even that looks to be in jeopardy. The Hurricanes have fallen to fourth place in the league, a game behind co-leaders Virginia (7-1, 4-1) and No. 16 Virginia Tech.
But Miami is still in position to win the league. The Hurricanes still play the Cavaliers and Hokies, and already defeated third-place Florida State, so they would win the title in their first year in the league if they win their remaining three games.
“I think it’s really amazing that we are where we are and still have an opportunity for something special to happen,” Miami coach Larry Coker said Sunday. “We’ve lost two games that I’m not going to say we should have won, but I’m certainly saying we could have won. To say we’re not down or disappointed would be a gross understatement.”
The biggest disappointment has been the defense, which was ranked among the nation’s leaders earlier in the season. The Hurricanes have yielded an average of 31 points and 463.3 yards over the last four games.
Miami couldn’t prevent North Carolina from driving down the field for a field goal on its final possession in a 31-28 loss on Oct. 6. The Hurricanes gave up 215 yards after halftime, failing to hold a 14-point lead, in their 24-17 overtime loss to Clemson last Saturday.
“The only thing we are right now is bowl eligible,” Coker said. “I don’t think we really care about that. The only thing we care about is getting our ship right, going out and playing the way we can. We need to beat somebody good.”
Virginia would certainly qualify. The Cavaliers have a powerful offense that has scored 30 or more points six times, and the defense has looked sharp while allowing just 16 total points in the last two games.
The Cavaliers defeated the two teams that Miami lost to by a combined 52 points. But they were overmatched against their toughest opponent thus far in a 36-3 loss to Florida State on Oct. 16. They still have a road game against Virginia Tech to close their regular season.
Though his team can send the Hurricanes to their first three-game losing streak since 1997, when they finished 5-6 for their last losing season, Virginia coach Al Groh doesn’t believe Miami is vulnerable.
“I wouldn’t put the word vulnerable on this team,” he said. “They’ve lost two games in a row on the last play of the game. We should be so lucky when we lose two games that we’re in the game that long.”
Alvin Pearman will try to become the latest player to take advantage of Miami’s struggling defense. The ACC leader with 160.1 all-purpose yards per game, Pearman has rushed for 393 yards in his last two games.
The teams have met only once, with Miami winning 31-21 in the 1996 Carquest Bowl.