What if the SEC’s final partner in the BCS title game dance isn’t Oregon or Florida State, but instead the Miami Hurricanes?
In a twist more thrilling than a Nancy Drew novel, Miami (which according to a report from ESPN.com news services has just been ruled eligible for the postseason by the NCAA)—not Florida State—finally breaks through the impenetrable iron ceiling of the ACC and reaches the national championship game.
Is the storyline too good—or perhaps too unrealistic—to come true?
As a measuring stick, take a look at the striking similarities connecting the Hurricanes’ run to a 6-0 start this season and Notre Dame’s path to 6-0 last year.
Out of Nowhere…
Coming into 2012, Notre Dame was fresh off an 8-5 record that included a season-ending loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. The Irish were unranked in both preseason polls but received 83 votes in the AP, making them technically the No. 26 team in the country.
Coming into this season, Miami was coming off a 7-5 record from 2012 that ended prematurely with a self-imposed postseason bowl ban. The Hurricanes were also unranked in both preseason polls and similarly received 85 votes in the AP, giving them the No. 29 slot.
The lack of lofty expectations afforded both programs—after reaching a 6-0 mark—a shared element of surprise.
The role of the “shocker” is enhanced, in both cases, by both Notre Dame and Miami being considered “traditional powerhouses” that have been wandering in the wilderness for more than a decade.
Notre Dame, which has claimed 11 national titles, hasn’t won it all since 1988, while the Hurricanes own five national championships since 1983 but haven’t won the big enchilada since 2001.
These previous successes make both programs more attractive to voters and the media—necessary elements for making a realistic run at the BCS title game.
To gauge the reaction to the two teams’ surprise opening salvos into their respective seasons, Notre Dame was ranked No. 5 in the first BCS standings in 2012, while Miami was No. 7 in the initial BCS standings released this past Sunday.
Among the shared statistical improvements from one year to the next for the Irish and Hurricanes are gains in two key defensive categories.
Notre Dame allowed 20.7 points per game in 2011 and finished its 2012 run to the championship giving up a mere 12.8. This marked a 7.9-point-per-game improvement from one season to the next, propelling the Irish to a No. 2 national ranking in scoring defense.
Miami, on the other hand, gave up a whopping 30.5 points per game in 2012, a number that has improved to 17.2 thus far in 2013. This 13.3-point reduction propelled the Hurricanes defense from a No. 83 ranking a year ago to its current No. 11 rank in scoring defense.
Next, a less celebrated but critical improvement comes via the turnover margin.
The Irish defense forced a grand total of 14 turnovers in 2011 and finished the 2012 season with 23, almost doubling their output.
Miami, in an even more dramatic fashion, gained 18 turnovers in all of 2012, a number that it has already surpassed through only six games in 2013 with 22.
Not only did the 2012 Notre Dame team and the 2013 Miami squad reach 6-0 in similar fashion, they also were faced with a similar chore in achieving perfection.
First, both teams had to get over a big hurdle early. The Irish survived their Week 4 game against No. 18 Michigan in 2012 (13-6), while Miami managed to escape Week 2 of this season with a 21-16 win over No. 12 Florida.
Next, the two teams each got to a 6-0 mark with controversial wins over quality opponents. Notre Dame edged Stanford 20-13 in overtime on a questionable goal-line stand, while Miami squeezed a win over North Carolina 27-23 amid claims that the officials held the ball at the end of the game.
Notre Dame had one huge hurdle left and one big question mark remaining in games at Oklahoma and USC. Miami will have to upend Florida State on the road and then face an inconsistent Virginia Tech team.
Both teams have/had late-season games against Wake Forest and Pittsburgh.
We’ll Win These Games No Matter What…
Perhaps the most striking similarity between Notre Dame’s run last season and Miami’s opening dash this year is that they both seem to be playing the role of a “team of destiny.”
Despite injuries, erratic play and bizarre game endings (and with the help of questionable officiating), Notre Dame reached 12-0 and the national title game last season.
This was the case even though the Irish won two games in overtime (the win over Pitt took three extra periods to seal) and five of the victories were achieved by seven points or less.
In a similar vein, Miami has already won two of its games by five points or less and beat North Carolina after leading rusher Duke Johnson and top receiver Phillip Dorsett were lost to injury, and quarterback Stephen Morris tossed four interceptions.
If Miami does win out, it’s easy to fathom a Hurricanes version of the Irish near-miss versus BYU (the Wake Forest game) and the triple-overtime nail-biter over Pitt (the Duke game).
Do We Already Know How the Story Ends?
So, let’s say the Hurricanes don’t lay an egg this Saturday against Wake Forest, then travel to Florida State the following week and shock the world versus the Seminoles.
This sets up a string of wins over Virginia Tech, Duke, Virginia and Pitt, leading Miami to a rematch with Florida State in the ACC title game.
If the ‘Canes can beat the ‘Noles (again), what’s next?
Miami streaks all the way home to the BCS title game to face the freshly crowned SEC champion in the final edition of the computer rankings bowl...only to be devastated, a la Notre Dame’s experience with Alabama.
Could the glory of a triumphant return to national relevance be nothing more than the road to the final installment of SEC BCS SmackDown?