A favorable closing stretch to the season was always one factor Mark Richt and his Miami Hurricanes had going for them.

Now they just have to finish where they’ve started.

Off to a 7-0 start, including 5-0 in the ACC, the Hurricanes play three of their final four games of the regular season at home, including Saturday night against Virginia Tech.

The Hokies, meanwhile, have lost just one game, and that came in Blacksburg, Va., against defending national champion Clemson.

Justin Fuente’s team has since reeled off three consecutive wins to improve to 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the ACC.

Based on games against common league foes, it’d be easy to give the Hokies the edge. They beat North Carolina 59-7 and Duke 24-3.

Although the Hurricanes defeated Duke 31-6, they struggled last week to push past North Carolina.

The difference is that Miami played both teams on the road, while the  Hokies had the home-field advantage.

The difference likely will be determined by UM’s receivers against the Hokies’ secondary. Ahmmon Richards, Jeff Thomas and Darrell Langham are all averaging better than 20 yards per catch with Langham showing a knack for late-game dramatics.

Quarterback Malik Rozier is coming off a 356-yard passing performance against UNC, hooking up with Thomas on a 78-yard strike.

If they Hokies are going to have a chance of winning at Miami, their secondary will have to limit the big plays.

Meanwhile, Tech quarterback Josh Jackson has matched Rozier’s 17 touchdown passes and he’s only thrown one interception since the loss to the Tigers five weeks ago.

 

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

All times Central

Syracuse at Florida State, Saturday 11:20 a.m. CT, ACC Network

Georgia Tech at Virginia, Saturday 2 p.m. CT, ACC Network

Wake Forest at Notre Dame, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, NBC

Clemson at N.C. State, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, ABC

Virginia Tech at Miami, Saturday 7 p.m. CT, ABC

FAB FIVE

  1. Miami (7-0, 5-0): Last Week – W, at North Carolina, 24-19. The Impact – Despite Malik Rozier’s 356 yards passing  and three touchdowns, the Hurricanes let UNC pull within five points. Mark Richt’s squad recovered a fumble with 2:11 left to preserve win. But UM can’t relax now – not with consecutive home games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame up next.
  2. Clemson (7-1, 5-1): Last Week – W, Georgia Tech, 24-10. The Impact – With a week to fully heal from a sprained ankle and a concussion, Kelly Bryant returned to action with 207 yards passing and two touchdowns as Tigers bounced back from loss to Syracuse. Bryant also rushed for 67 yards.
  3. Virginia Tech (7-1, 3-1): Last Week – W, Duke, 24-3. The Impact – Hokies dominated Duke, but to stay in ACC race they’ll have to survive brutal road tests at Miami and Georgia Tech over next two weeks. Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson has thrown for 17 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
  4. N.C. State (6-2, 4-0): Last Week – L, at Notre Dame. The Impact – After six-game winning streak, Wolfpack were brought back to earth as the Irish ran for 318 yards and limited N.C. State to 50 yards rushing. Dave Doeren’s squad trailed only 21-14 at halftime but was shutout in second half.
  5. Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2): Last Week – L, at Clemson, 24-10. The Impact – Yellow Jackets ran into the double whammy of torrential rain and Clemson’s defense, finishing with just 230 yards of offense. Paul Johnson’s team had been averaging 373 yards rushing.

THE PACK

6. Wake Forest (5-3, 2-3): Last Week – W, Louisville, 42-32. The Impact – Greg Dortch stole the spotlight from Louisville’s Lamar Jackson with 167 yards receiving, including four TDs covering 52, 32, 25 and 4 yards. Also, Malik Coburn, who was snubbed after committing to Louisville in 2015, rushed for 134 yards as the Deacs snapped a three-game skid.

7. Boston College (5-4, 3-3): Last Week – W, Florida S tate, 35-3. The Impact – A.J. Dillon rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown as the Eagles climbed back over .500 on season by winning its annual Red Bandana Game that honors former lacrosse player Welles Crowther, who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 after rescuing at least a dozen coworkers in the South Tower after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

8. Syracuse (4-4, 2-2): Last Week – Idle. The Impact – Something has to give. Dino Babers’ squad has yet to win a road game but travel to Tallahassee to play an FSU team that has yet to win a home game. Don’t count out the Orange, whose three road losses have come by an average of 8.3 points against teams now ranked in the top 25.

9. Louisville (5-4, 2-4): Last Week – L, at Wake Forest, 42-32. The Impact – Lamar Jackson is as explosive as ever, but he’s backed by a defense that is allowing 39.3 points per game against ACC competition. Last week the 2016 Heisman winner had 491 yards of total offense with four touchdowns (three rushing).

10.  Florida State (2-5, 2-4): Last Week – L, at Boston College, 35-3. The Impact – After losing at home to Louisville, Jimbo Fisher lost his temper. Last Friday at BC, Fisher lost his players. They never showed up in a 32-point loss to the suddenly surging Eagles. FSU hasn’t had a record this bad since 1976 and the Seminoles still have road games at Clemson and Florida.

11. Virginia (5-3, 2-2): Last Week – L, at Pittsburgh, 31-14. The Impact – Cavaliers have squandered chance to contend for ACC title with back-to-back losses to BC and Pitt by combined 48 points.

THE UNPROVEN

12. Pittsburgh (4-5, 2-3): Last Week – W, Virginia, 31-14. The Impact – Pat Narduzzi’s “puppies” have learned to bite with an improving defense and a solid running game centered around Darrin Hall. They get an open week to fine-tune for a tough closing stretch.

13. Duke (4-5, 1-5): Last Week – L, at Virginia Tech, 24-3. The Impact –  After 4-0 start to season, Blue Devils have now lost five in a row while being outscored 124 to 57. The good news? Duke’s basketball season is underway its second exhibition game on Saturday.

14. North Carolina (1-8, 0-6): Last Week – L, Miami, 24-19. The Impact – Depite missing 22 players because of injuries, Tar Heels went toe-to-toe with unbeaten Miami. Larry Fedora’s team was ultimately done in by its offensive inefficiency, held to only three points in three trips into red zone in the first half.

 

BEARD’S PICKS

Syracuse at FLORIDA STATE

GEORGIA TECH at Virginia

Wake Forest at NOTRE DAME

CLEMSON at N.C. State

Virginia Tech at MIAMI

Last Week: 5-2

Overall: 54-14 (79.4%)

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