From a mediocre eight-win year to an ACC championship, preseason expectations for the 2013 Miami Hurricanes varied.
Two months into the season, the 'Canes have earned their first 7-0 record since 2003 and are the favorites to earn the Coastal Division title. Five more regular-season games—each one against an ACC program—await Al Golden's squad, so how will the No. 7 team in the nation finish?
Though Stephen Morris has struggled passing the ball recently, Miami has overcome its quarterback's lackluster play and found a way to win three nail-biting games. The offensive line has opened running lanes for Duke Johnson and Dallas Crawford, and the ground game has saved the Hurricanes' undefeated season.
Most importantly, however, the Miami defense has made stops during the fourth quarter. Over the last three games, the Hurricanes have allowed only 17 points on 13 possessions.
Not including Georgia Tech's final touchdown when the game was decided, the Hurricanes defense has forced five punts, intercepted four passes, surrendered two touchdowns, allowed one field goal and escaped on a last-second play by North Carolina.
Miami will be going bowling for the first time in three seasons, but can the much-improved defense carry the Hurricanes' streaky offense during the remainder of the regular season?
Miami's record may not be a glamorous 7-0, but it's 7-0 nonetheless.
Third-ranked Florida State, on the other hand, has put together a dominant 7-0 start to its season, winning every game by at least 14 points and even demolishing then-No. 3 Clemson 51-14 in Week 8. The Hurricanes face a true measuring stick Saturday, Nov. 2 when they travel north to battle redshirt freshman sensation Jameis Winston and the Seminoles.
Miami is not in a dangerous offensive rhythm, and the FSU defense is on a roll.
|Miami Offense vs. Florida State Defense|
|Miami Offense (National Rank)||FSU Defense (National Rank)|
|Total Yards||484.3 ypg (23)||289.4 ypg (8)|
|Scoring||39.6 ppg (19)||13.0 ppg (4)|
|First Downs||20.6 FD per game (74)||17.1 FD per game (13)|
|3rd Down Conversions||41% (59)||31% (12)|
|Tackles for Loss||4.4 TFL per game (23)||7.0 TFL per game (22)|
Ultimately, the Hurricanes are a solid team, but Florida State is a national title-contending squad. Unless Miami plays a perfect-beyond-words game—something Morris and Co. have not yet done—the 'Noles win the 58th edition of the in-state rivalry.
After Florida State, however, Miami's remaining schedule is far less imposing.
The 'Canes defeat Virginia Tech and give themselves a cushion in the Coastal heading into the final three ACC contests with a one-game lead and holding the tiebreaker over the Hokies.
Duke Johnson shreds, well, Duke, for the second consecutive year, and "The U" is 9-1 before a trap game against the Virginia Cavaliers. Mike London's team has beaten Miami in three consecutive seasons, but 2013 is a different story, as the Hurricanes clinch the Coastal Division with the victory.
Finally, with its first-ever ACC Championship Game berth clinched, Miami survives a cold-weather fight in Pittsburgh and finishes the regular season 11-1.
Morris and Co. would then get another opportunity at Florida State; plus, this meeting would be on a neutral field. The winner earns a trip to the Orange Bowl, but if the Seminoles are still undefeated—and that is very likely—FSU will be playing for a national championship berth.
Regardless, an 11-1 Miami team will be heading to the ACC Championship Game and playing for an Orange Bowl bid.
And considering few people at the beginning of the year foresaw the Hurricanes in a BCS game, it's hard to complain about a potential appearance.
From a best-case scenario of a rematch against the Seminoles in the ACC Championship Game to this, it's not pretty, Miami fans.
Miami gets trashed at Florida State, essentially repeating Clemson's awful prime-time performance against the 'Noles, ending a nine-game winning streak.
With the beatdown's effects still lingering, the 'Canes cannot recover when Virginia Tech travels to Sun Life Stadium. The Hokies upset Miami and gain control of the path to the conference championship.
Although Duke jumps out to an early lead at home, the Hurricanes find a way to escape another upset in a conference tilt and avoid a third straight loss.
However, fresh off a 14-day layoff, Virginia ends its seven-game losing streak by upsetting Miami during the Hurricanes' last home game of the 2013 season. Mike London improves to 4-0 against The U, and a once-promising season is quickly being relegated to an invitation to the oh-so-prestigious Belk Bowl.
Lastly, in the snow, Pittsburgh finishes Miami's nightmare, and confusion runs rampant in Coral Gables when the team drops to 8-4.
Nine times out of 10, the Hurricanes fall to the Seminoles on Saturday night; Florida State has a valid argument to be labeled "elite" this season.
On the other hand, there is little reason that Miami should lose to the Hokies. Overall, Virginia Tech has been unimpressive throughout the 2013 campaign; Frank Beamer's team has simply continued to win ugly games—which is commendable.
The Hurricanes sweep their remaining ACC games, handling Duke a loss behind a powerful running game and mix of play-action passes. Miami finally removes the onus of not being able to beat Virginia by taking down the Cavs on senior day.
And, again, with their first-ever Coastal Division championship clinched, the Hurricanes outlast Pittsburgh at Heinz Field as a rematch with the Seminoles looms.
Sure, it's not impossible for Miami to somehow take down Florida State, but the 'Canes are three-touchdown underdogs for a reason.
The likeliest scenario is also the best case, because Miami is a very talented team—it's just not good enough to beat every team, no matter how difficult that is to admit.