MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Technically, Miami has played in an Atlantic Coast Conference championship game once before.
It was 2004, the first year that the Hurricanes and Virginia Tech were members of the ACC. They played the last game of the regular season against one another — and the winner would not only capture the ACC but get a spot in a Bowl Championship Series game. Virginia Tech won in Miami that day, the first of its four ACC titles.
Miami is still waiting for its first. Whether the Hurricanes end that drought this season is largely contingent on what happens Saturday night.
No. 9 Miami (7-0, 5-0 ACC, No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings) could clinch a berth in the ACC title game when No. 13 Virginia Tech (7-1, 3-1, No. 13 CFP) visits. The Hurricanes would wrap up the Coastal Division with a win and a victory by Georgia Tech earlier in the day at Virginia; if the Hurricanes lose, their odds of winning the division would take a serious hit.
“We know we have a tremendous challenge as a football team this week,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.
The ACC went to its divisional format and started a championship game in 2005 — and nobody has been there more than Virginia Tech, which has played in six of the 12 true title games. Miami hasn’t even gotten there, and while the Hurricanes won’t be eliminated from contention with a loss they know that getting a win this weekend is practically a prerequisite.
“It’s finally in our hands,” senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “It’s right here. It all comes down to Saturday. This is what you play for.”
Plenty of questions will be answered about Miami, which has the nation’s longest active winning streak (12 games) and has felt like it is hearing undue criticism because each of the Hurricanes’ last four wins have come in close games — including a squeaker last weekend over a 1-8 North Carolina team and last-second wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech.
Beat Virginia Tech, by any margin, and the list of doubters will surely become shorter. The Hokies won’t make that easy.
“We’re going to go play our best football and give ourselves a chance to win the football game,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.
Here’s some of what to know going into Saturday:
DAZZLING DEFENSE: Virginia Tech gives up only 11.5 points per game, second-best in the country behind only Alabama (9.8). The Hokies have given up a total of 20 points in their last three ACC games, and opponents convert a mere 24 percent of their third-down chances. And in the last four Miami-Virginia Tech games where the Hurricanes have entered as a Top 10 team, the Hokies are 3-1 and held Miami to an average of 13.5 points.
STANDINGS WATCH: No matter what, Miami will be alone in first place in the Coastal Division when this game ends. The Hurricanes enter with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Hokies, who would be in control of the division race with a win yet would still technically — and probably temporarily — occupy second place.
SILENT ROSIER: Miami quarterback Malik Rosier is an enigma heading into the week. He wasn’t permitted to speak with reporters after last weekend’s win at North Carolina because he was receiving treatment on his shoulder, and his lone media availability this week was abruptly cancelled without explanation. But he does not appear on Miami’s injury report; no one does, other than three players previously announced as out for the season.
KICK GAME: Virginia Tech kicker Joey Slye has made “only” 65 percent of his field-goal tries this season, but most of his misses came in the season’s first two games. Slye has made 11 of his last 14 attempts — and kickers facing Miami are 16 for 16 on field goals this year.
SECOND HALF TEAMS: Memo to both sides — try to have a halftime lead, because second-half adjustments have been a strength for the Hurricanes and the Hokies this season. Miami has outscored its seven opponents 140-77 after halftime, and Virginia Tech holds an absurd 144-45 edge in third and fourth quarters.
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