Flash back, if you would, to the 2002 college football season.
You’ll remember the Miami Hurricanes, with a loaded roster that included names like Ken Dorsey, Andre Johnson and Jonathan Vilma, cruised to the BCS title game against Ohio State.
Everyone and their dog expected Miami to easily pick up their second consecutive national championship.
But, of course, the Buckeyes were victorious that night (thanks to two overtimes and one of the most controversial calls in college football history).
Since that night, the Miami Hurricanes have, well, not been the Miami Hurricanes.
Following a decade as one of the country’s college football superpowers, the ‘Canes took a stunning fall from grace, as well as from the top 25. After a strong 11-2 performance the following season, the ‘Canes won nine, nine, seven, five, and seven games the next five years.
For most programs, that stretch wouldn’t look so bad. After all, only once did the ‘Canes miss a bowl game (2007). But at Miami, where competing for national titles had become an expectation not long ago, these were highly disappointing results.
The struggles first resulted in the firing of Larry Coker in 2006. Then new coach Randy Shannon had to face constant questions through his first two campaigns.
Can Miami ever re-gain its infamous “swagger?” Why can’t they recruit top-level talents anymore? Is Randy Shannon even the right guy to get them back to the top?
Enter the 2009 season. Miami is picked to finish fourth in the ACC Coastal Division in the preseason coaches’ poll. Most people agree that the ‘Canes have talent, but they plenty of question marks too, most notably at quarterback, where sophomore Jacory Harris would officially take the helms.
To make matters worse, the Hurricanes’ schedule was brutal. The young team would face Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma in its first four contests—all four teams capable of winning their respective conferences.
So, it was easy to expect another rocky start to another disappointing season in south Florida. Many analysts said that two wins—or even one win—in the opening four-game stretch would be considered a victory.
Well, they’ve got those two wins now. And they’ve both been impressive shows of offensive and defensive prowess. And that Jacory Harris guy? His 184.1 QB rating is third in the nation.
Now, Miami gets 11th-ranked Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. A win this weekend and Miami may just find themselves a top 5 national ranking.
Are the mighty Hurricanes back? Not yet. But the storm is getting harder and harder to ignore.
To Week Four we go...
Looking Back (how my week 3 picks fared):
Overall: 13/16 (31/45 on the season)
Top 5: 4/5 (9/15 on the season)
Upset Special (Syracuse over Northwestern): 1/1 (2/3 on the season)
Top five games you can't miss this weekend:
5. No. 4 Ole Miss at South Carolina (Thurs. 7:30 EST, ESPN):
This game will tell us a lot about Ole Miss. If the Rebels want to be SEC contenders, they need to win games like this. But Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks have played well so far this season, with wins over NC State and Florida Atlantic, and hard-fought loss against Georgia.
After a shaky start against Memphis in the Rebels’ opener, Jevan Snead has looked his usual, strong self. South Carolina, which allowed 41 points to Georgia two weeks ago, must tighten up against a high-flying Ole Miss offense. This one will be close, with Snead and Co. edging out the Gamecocks late.
Prediction: Ole Miss 34, South Carolina 31
4. Texas Tech at No. 17 Houston (Sat. 9:15 EST, ESPN2):
As mentioned below (in Heisman Hunt), this game matches two of the most impressive passing games in college football. Houston’s win over Oklahoma State two weeks ago catapulted them to national prominence. But Tech proved they’re no slouches, either, last week against Texas.
This one will likely come down to which defense can manage to slow its opponent more effectively. I’ll give a slight edge to the home team.
Prediction: Houston 41, Texas Tech 35
3. No. 6 California at Oregon (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC):
Hey, give the Ducks some credit. After losing their opener at Boise State, everyone seemed to just assume another non-BCS opponent (Utah) would handle them once again. But Oregon held their ground on Saturday in what could be a season-defining win.
Now, in comes 6th-ranked Cal and running back Jahvid Best, who just might be the nation’s leading Heisman candidate at the moment. This will be Cal’s first true test this season (no, I’m not counting Maryland or Minnesota as “true tests,”) and playing at Autzen Stadium is never easy.
Prediction: Oregon 27, Cal 24
2. Iowa at No. 5 Penn State (Sat. 8:00 EST, ABC):
A year ago, all that stood between Penn State and an undefeated regular season was a November win at Iowa. But the Nittany Lions blew a nine point lead late in the game, losing their perfect season along with any BCS hopes. Can you say revenge?
But the Hawkeyes seem to be hitting their stride. Following an opening week scare against Northern Iowa, the Hawkeyes cruised against Iowa State (35-3) and beat a tough Arizona squad (27-17). And don’t forget that Iowa has beaten Penn State six of the last seven meetings.
Penn State: 23, Iowa 17
1. No. 9 Miami at No. 11 Virginia Tech (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC):
For the third time this season, Virginia Tech makes it to number one in my games to watch for the weekend. The first time, the Hokies fell to a bigger and faster Alabama squad. Last week, they nearly fell victim to an up-and-coming Nebraska team (luckily, quarterback Tyrodd Taylor bailed them out late.)
This week, it’s the red-hot Miami Hurricanes. Miami has about as much hype going for them as any team nationally. Jacory Harris is playing lights-out football right now, and the Hokies’ defense has yet to play an athlete of his caliber.
The good news for Virginia Tech is: A. They’re at home, B. Their problem has been the offense, not the defense, and C. The ‘Canes haven’t played an athlete like Taylor yet, either. This one should be good.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Miami 26
Stanford over No. 24 Washington (Sat. 9:00 EST):
I have to admit, it was nice to see the Huskies faithful having something to storm the field over Saturday night in Seattle. Beating USC is huge for a program that just ten months ago had little hope of even being competitive in 2009. Yep, things couldn’t get much better at UW.
Which is exactly the reason that they’re primed for an upset. Stanford has quietly gotten off to a solid start, racking up 39 and 42 points in wins over Washington State and San Jose State, respectively. The Cardinal’s only loss came at Wake Forest. Just like Washington a week ago, Stanford is hungry for a marquis win.
Prediction: Stanford 30, Washington 23
For Your Viewing Pleasure:
Missouri at Nevada (Fri. 9:00 EST, ESPN): Missouri 38, Nevada 30
South Florida at No. 18 Florida State (Sat. Noon EST, ESPNU): Florida State 27, USF 14
Minnesota at Northwestern (Sat. Noon EST, Big Ten Network): Northwestern 19, Minnesota 13
Indiana at No. 23 Michigan (Sat. Noon EST, ESPN2): Michigan 30, Indiana 17
Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sat. Noon EST, ESPN): Michigan State 28, Wisconsin 27
Pittsburgh at NC State (Sat. 3:30 EST, ESPNU): Pittsburgh 21, NC State 14
Illinois at No. 13 Ohio State (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC): Ohio State 34, Illinois 16
No. 1 Florida at Kentucky (Sat. 6:00 EST, ESPN2): Florida 29, Kentucky 20
Colorado State at No. 19 BYU (Sat. 6:00 EST, Mtn): BYU 35, CSU 21
Arizona State at No. 21 Georgia (Sat. 7:00 EST. ESPNU): Georgia 30, ASU 10
Notre Dame at Purdue (Sat. 8:00 EST, ESPN): Notre Dame: 38, Purdue 23
Taylor Potts (QB Texas Tech), Case Keenum (QB Houston)
If you like quarterback-focused offenses, then this (Texas Tech at Houston, Sat. 9:15 EST, ESPN2) would be your game to watch this weekend. Sure, both are huge dark-horse candidates for the Heisman, but their numbers can’t be ignored. Potts has racked up 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns in three games under Mike Leach’s high-scoring scheme. Keenum, meanwhile has completed over 72 percent of his passes and boasts a QB rating of 180.3. Can you say quarterback duel?