Mark Richt’s toughest challenge this week may be convincing his University of Miami football players that they are still quite capable of beating themselves.
Coming off a dominating 41-8 rout of Notre Dame last Saturday night in front of a national audience on ABC, it would be easy for the Hurricanes (9-0, 6-0) to be overconfident going into this Saturday’s game against a 17-point underdog like Virginia (6-4, 3-3). And it probably doesn’t help that the game is scheduled for a noon ET kickoff – even if it will be the second straight week the Hurricanes will be televised to a national audience by ABC.
Richt, of course, has a season’s worth of close calls to use to remind his players that they haven’t been a dominating football team every week. Indeed, three of the Hurricanes’ ACC wins were by eight or fewer points, including a 25-24 win just five weeks ago against Georgia Tech.
Richt has reminded his players that they can’t afford to relax even if they have clinched a spot in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 2 in Charlotte, N.C. against defending national champion Clemson.
The win over the Fighting Irish elevated Miami four spots to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings. But Richt told his players on Monday “we are the same team that started this season that was grinding and fighting and trying to find ways to win games. We’re the same team and if we forget that, then we are going to find ourselves being in trouble.”
Still, he wants them to enjoy the excitement they have generated in Miami. For the first time in years, there’s a buzz around the Hurricanes’ program.
And he’s having fun, too. Things like UM’s “Turnover Chain” feed into that narrative that college football is a game to enjoy by players and fans alike.
Putting the fun back into his job was one thing Richt said he was determined to do when he decided to get back into coaching after being forced out at Georgia after 15 years.
“Sometimes after a game, you’re thankful you won and that’s about all you can muster, but I’m like, forget being thankful,” said Richt. “Let’s celebrate. So I wanted to celebrate all the good things along the way and that’s really what the turnover chain is about.
“It’s about celebrating a great play and doing it in a big way, and doing it, quite frankly, in a fun way. We’ve got guys sprinting off the field on to the sideline to pop their helmet off to be able to get the chain and be able to celebrate with teammates and coaches and fans. I think it’s good, clean fun. There’s not anybody taunting anybody with it.”
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
(All times Central)
Delaware State (2-8) at Florida State (3-6), Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ACC Network
Virginia (6-4) at Miami (9-0), Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ABC
The Citadel (5-5) at Clemson (9-1), Saturday 11:20 a.m. CT, ACC Network
Pittsburgh (4-6) at Virginia Tech (7-3), Saturday 11:20 a.m. CT, ACC Network
Western Carolina (7-4) at North Carolina (2-8), Saturday 2 p.m. CT, ACC Network
Georgia Tech (5-4) at Duke (4-6), Saturday 2:30 p.m., ACC Network
Syracuse (4-6) at Louisville (6-4), Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPNU
Boston College (5-5) at Connecticut (3-7), Saturday 6 p.m. CT, CBS Sports Network
N.C. State (7-3) at Wake Forest (6-4), Saturday 6:30 p.m. CT, ESPNU
1 Miami (9-0, 6-0): Last Week – W, Notre Dame, 41-8. The Impact – Mark Richt’s unbeaten Hurricanes locked up a spot in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 2 and put themselves into the national championship conversation by jumping into the third spot in the CFP rankings. After losing to FSU, UNC, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame last season, UM has beaten all four this season.
2. Clemson (9-1, 7-1): Last Week – W, Florida State, 31-14. The Impact – Dabo Swinney’s Tigers clinched the ACC Atlantic Division to set up conference championship game with Miami on Dec. 2, but had to survive a second-half scare from FSU before tacking on two late touchdowns. Tigers will need to sort out its offensive issues if they are going to have a chance to defend national title.
3. N. C. State (7-3, 5-1): Last Week – W, at Boston College, 17-14. The Impact – After two consecutive losses crushed what was looking like a dream season for Dave Doeren’s squad, the Wolfpack earned their fifth conference win for first time in seven seasons. Nyheim Hines scored on a 50-yard run with 8:22 left for the winning score.
4. Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3): Last Week – W, at Syracuse, 64-43. The Impact – Trailing 41-27 late in the third quarter, the Demon Deacons outscored Syracuse 37-2 the rest of the way to clinch their sixth win. QB John Wolford ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more during the second half surge. He finished with 363 yards passing and 136 rushing while scoring six TDs. He now has the Deacons’ school record for touchdowns with 69.
5. Virginia Tech (7-3, 3-3): Last Week – L, at Georgia Tech, 28-22. The Impact – A lack of big plays the past two weeks have the Hokies looking to regroup. Justin Fuente’s team was outgained on the ground 262 to 105
6. Louisville (6-4, 3-4): Last Week – W, Virginia, 38-21. The Impact – Lamar Jackson added 342 yards of total offense and four more touchdowns to his legacy while becoming the first player in NCAA history to have two seasons with 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. The Cardinals’ four losses will prevent him from winning a second straight Heisman.
7. Boston College (5-5, 3-4): Last Week – L, N.C. State, 17-14. The Impact – Eagles lost starting quarterback Anthony Brown to a knee injury in the first half against N.C. State and backup Darius Wade was sacked five times. BC compensated with their rushing attack as AJ Dillon had nearly 200 yards, including a 66-yarder for a score. Thadd Smith added a 12-yard TD run
8. Georgia Tech (5-4, 4-3): Last Week – W, Virginia Tech, 28-22. The Impact – QB TaQuon Marshall completed just two passes but both went for touchdowns covering a combined 140 yards, including 60 yards to Brad Stewart and 80 to Ricky Jeune. Marshall, who also had two scoring run, had a huge mistake with a late Pick-6 that gave the Hokies a late lead. The win kep the Yellow Jackets’ bowl hopes alive.
9. Florida State (3-6, 3-5): Last Week – L, at Clemson, 31-14. The Impact – With five of their six losses in conference action, the Seminoles finished with their first losing record in the ACC since 2006. In a desperate attempt to qualify for a bowl game, FSU has rescheduled a game against Louisiana-Monroe that had been postponed by Hurricane Irma. With another “guaranteed win” with Delaware State this week, the Seminoles will need to win at Florida next week.
10. Virginia (6-4, 3-3): Last Week – L, at Louisville, 38-21. The Impact – With three losses in last four games while surrendering at least 31 points in each of those games, the Cavaliers are in need of a defensive fix heading into Saturday’s game at Miami.
11. Syracuse (4-6, 2-4): Last Week – L, Wake Forest, 64-43. The Impact – Dino Babers’ Orange have been in a freefall since upsetting Clemson, losing three in a row. Syracuse would now have to win its final two games to become bowl eligible. QB Zach Mahoney did pass for 384 yards and three touchdowns but was picked off twice.
12. Pittsburgh (4-6, 2-4): Last Week – L, North Carolina, 34-31. The Impact – Panthers squandered a chance to get to .500 for the first time since Week 2 when UNC rallied late. The pivotal play came late in the first half when receiver Quadree Henderson was stripped of the football right before the goal line and the Tar Heels instead added a field goal.
13. Duke (4-6, 1-5): Last Week – L, at Army, 21-16. The Impact – Needing a stop in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils didn’t get one until Army had marched 75 yards on 18 plays while burning more than 12 minutes. David Cutcliffe’s bunch did block the ensuing field goal attempt but failed to mount a drive of their own in the final two minutes. The loss extended Duke’s skid to six games, including four losses by seven or fewer points.
14. North Carolina (2-8, 1-6): Last Week – W, at Pittsburgh, 34-31.The Impact – Larry Fedora’s travel squad to Pittsburgh included a welcome playmaker as receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams returned the opening kickoff for one score, threw for another and then caught a go-ahead TD pass in the final six minutes. The effort was enough to give the Tar Heels an ACC win this season. Interestingly enough, UNC is 5-0 against the Panthers since they joined the ACC.
(Predicted winners in bold caps)
Delaware State at FLORIDA STATE
Virginia at MIAMI
The Citadel at CLEMSON
Pittsburgh at VIRGINIA TECH
WESTERN CAROLINA at North Carolina
GEORGIA TECH at Duke
Syracuse at LOUISIVILLE
BOSTON COLLEGE at Connecticut
N.C. State at WAKE FOREST
Last Week: 4-4
Overall: 62-19 (76.5%)