Even if it came up short—very short—in the BCS National Championship game, Notre Dame's run from unranked team to No. 1 in America was, perhaps, the story that defined the last college football season.
No team was more divisive. The Irish didn't blow people out and needed late-game heroics to beat Pittsburgh and Purdue. Unbiased football fans wanted them out of the national title race; folks were rooting for them to lose, but no opponent could get over the hump and make it happen.
At first glance, this year's Miami doesn't appear to have much in common with that Irish team. Notre Dame hung its hat on defense, while the Hurricanes make their living on the opposite side of the ball.
But after watching them win an ugly, sloppy, turnover-riddled rivalry game against Florida in Week 2—a game some people think they should have lost—it was hard not to draw a comparison. Notre Dame started 2012 with an almost-identical win over Michigan.
Could these teams be more similar than they look?
It's always good to shoot for the stars, but some stars are light years closer (and more realistic) than others; i.e., Miami is right to focus on crashing the BCS, but it shouldn't pin its hopes on the BCS National Championship. It can follow the Irish's footsteps without taking the exact same route.
Especially since they play in the ACC, the Hurricanes can crash the final BCS without being particularly dominant. Even if the league looks better, right now, than it has in recent years, historical precedent is on their side.
Since 2005, nine teams from the five power conferences (plus Notre Dame) have made a BCS bowl after starting the season unranked by the AP poll.
Here's how those teams fared that season, according to the S&P+ rankings, a play-by-play efficiency metric used by the stat gurus at Football Outsiders (explained in further depth here):
|Team||Pre. AP Rank||Final AP Rank||Final S&P+ Rank|
|2012 Notre Dame||26||4||7|
|2006 Wake Forest||NR||18||48|
|2005 Penn State||38||3||5|
|2005 Notre Dame||T-45||9||14|
Source: Football Outsiders
The highlighted teams, 2011 Clemson and 2006 Wake, are the only ones since '05 to crash the BCS from the ACC. And they did so with a markedly worse profile than teams from other conferences. How much worse?
Just last season, when the Hurricanes finished 7-5, their S&P+ rankings were 60th overall, 41st on offense and 69th on defense. Those aren't good numbers, but they aren't awful either. In any other conference, they would need to improve by leaps and bounds to crash the BCS.
But in the ACC, if they catch the right season, they already aren't too far off.
Having said that, the conference does look a little stronger this year, so Miami might (and probably will) need to be better than 2011 Clemson and 2006 Wake. But not necessarily by much. Given their schedule and the weakness of their division, the Hurricanes can simply hold serve and still make the ACC Championship game.
Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, Miami's biggest competitors in the Coastal Division, both play the Hurricanes in Miami. So does Virginia, a Coastal sleeper that upset BYU at home but might struggle to play on the road.
Road games at Florida State and North Carolina loom, but Miami doesn't need to win both for a shot to play in the ACC Championship game. If it sweeps opponents at home, one win would probably clinch it; and even going 0-2 might be enough to win the division.
Miami is in a very good spot to win the Coastal, and from there, it would be just one good game from crashing the BCS.
When it comes time to play that game, ostensibly against Clemson or Florida State, Miami would need to have its best performance of the season. But even if the Hurricanes don't play at such a high level all year, they have the bodies to beat any given team on any given day.
How Will Miami's 2013 Season End?
Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorset—when on their game—form one of the best QB-RB-WR trios in America. The offensive line returned five starters from 2012. Even the defense, which was torched a season ago, flashed its ability to bend-but-not-break against Florida.
The Hurricanes' biggest problem last year was consistency. But they have enough talent (and a favorable enough schedule) to overcome those issues this year. All they need to do is win when they're supposed to, clinch the Coastal, then put it all together for 60 good minutes in Charlotte.
A BCS berth, for the first time since 2003, would be theirs.
What more fitting a way for the beleaguered system to go out?