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Miami’s Redemption

By Carlos Pineda
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Saturday’s ACC Championship game represents the Hurricanes’ resurgence.

Miami’s stock took a tumble following an uninspiring performance against Pitt in the regular season finale last week.

The loss, the team’s first going back to last October, dropped the Hurricanes (10-1) from second to seventh in the last College Football Playoff rankings.

But all isn’t lost as the general consensus is that a win Saturday night over Clemson should be enough to land Miami in the four-team playoff for the first time.

Even if they lose Saturday, the Hurricanes are guaranteed to play in their first major bowl game (Orange) since 2003.

Saturday’s ACC Championship game represents the Hurricanes’ resurgence.

Mediocre for the better part of 12 years, the Canes hit rock bottom two years ago against the very team they’ll be facing Saturday.

The 2015 season is not fondly remembered for airplane banners at home games and away games calling for the dismissal of then-head coach Al Golden. Consecutive losses to Cincinnati and Florida State (sixth straight loss) heightened the fan base’s frustration with the embattled coach.

On Oct. 24, 2015, the Canes faced a Clemson squad that would go on to play Alabama for the national title.

Clemson handed Miami its worst loss in program history, a 58-0 thrashing, after taking a 42-0 lead into the half.

Golden was fired the following the day ending his failed tenure in Coral Gables. He finished with a 32-25 record at Miami. The Hurricanes, under interim coach Larry Scott ended the season winning four of their next five. After departing Athens after 15 years, former UM quarterback Mark Richt came back to Coral Gables.

In Mark Richt’s first year at his alma mater, his team won nine games – including its first bowl win since 2006.

Richt was named the 2017 ACC Coach of the Year after leading Miami to its first 10-win campaign since 2003, and its first division title as a member of the ACC.

As the Hurricanes head into Saturday’s prime time bout against the top-ranked Tigers (11-1), players on this team still remember the 2015 Clemson game.

“To a certain extent, yeah, with that game happening, Coach Richt got hired and it’s put us to where we are now,” quarterback Malik Rosier told reporters this week. “The big thing I learned from that game is always be prepared.”

Rosier, who lost his first game as a starting quarterback last week, entered the game during the early part of the second quarter after Brad Kaaya was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Rosier threw for 42 yards with two interceptions against a speedy Clemson defense.

“I learned that Clemson is a very fast and physical team that year, just like they are this year,” he said. “So, the big thing is, just taking what they give me and try to make the least amount of mistakes, because that’s what they live on. They live on QBs making mistakes.”

The same can easily be said of Miami’s defense.

The famed “Turnover Chain” which is worn by a player that creates a turnover has been a catalyst for Miami’s vicious defense, all while attracting national attention.

The Hurricanes are tied for first in the country in turnover margin (17).

With its aggressiveness and physicality, Miami has returned to playing with the swagger that took the college football world by storm in the 1980s and early 90s.

“That’s night and day. The last time we played them, they had a lot of talent, but they just for whatever reason that day, everything kind of went our way,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said this week. “Listen, give Mark [Richt] a lot of credit. He’s come in there and really pulled it all together and given them a clear identity.

“They’re playing with great energy, great effort. They’re just impressive.”

For the first time since its inception in 2005, the ACC title game will have both of its participants vying for the national championship.

It should be a good one.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.