PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ten games in, and everything is still on the table for Miami. A perfect season. Its first ACC championship. A spot in the College Football Playoff.
Calling the second-ranked Hurricanes “The U” no longer feels like nostalgia.
Yet for all the progress Miami (10-0, 7-0 ACC) has made in coach Mark Richt’s second season, one misstep against Pittsburgh on Friday and suddenly the bling on the “Turnover Chain”-wearing Hurricanes’ resume doesn’t look quite so shiny. A loss to the Panthers (4-7, 2-5) and the playoff selection committee might have some wiggle room no matter how goes next week’s conference title game showdown with defending national champion Clemson.
No pressure or anything.
“We can’t overlook what’s in front of us, even though we know we have that game coming up against Clemson,” safety Jaquan Johnson said. “The whole team, they know that now.”
Spotting Virginia a two-touchdown lead last week before rallying for a 44-28 win provided a quick education on the pitfalls of peeking too far down the road. While Pitt will miss a bowl game for the first time in 10 years, the Panthers are well versed in throwing more than a scare into national title contenders.
A year ago, the Panthers handed Clemson its only loss with a staggering upset in Death Valley. A decade ago, Pitt went on the road and shattered rival West Virginia’s shot at a spot in the Bowl Championship Series with a 13-9 stunner. Heck, a week ago the Panthers came within two yards of beating Virginia Tech on the road.
While there’s no bowl game for Pitt’s 14 seniors, sending the Hurricanes staggering back home would serve as a pretty sweet send-off.
“History is a great thing, but we live in the now,” senior cornerback Avonte Maddox said. “It’s time to create more history.”
While Miami tries to avoid ending up on the wrong side of it.
“If we lose this, this could knock us out of even the conversation of playing for the national title,” quarterback Malik Rosier said. “Pitt’s a good team. They almost beat a very good Virginia Tech team. They’re an opponent we can’t underestimate. I feel like to a certain degree we were kind of lackadaisical when preparing for Virginia. That can’t happen this week.”
Some things to look for as the Hurricanes attempt to take another step in a renaissance that’s returned the swagger to a program that practically invented it.
LOOKING FOR PERFECTION: Miami is looking for its eighth perfect regular season, and its first since 2002. Miami went 8-0 in 1926, then went six decades before being perfect again. The other unbeaten, untied regular seasons for Miami came in 1986, 1987, 1991, 1992, 2001 and 2002. And this already is Miami’s first double-digit win season since 2003.
KENNY OR BEN?: Pitt’s uneven season has been marked by inconsistent play on offense. Nowhere is that more evident than at quarterback. The carousel that’s seen the Panthers go from graduate Max Browne to sophomore Ben DiNucci back to Browne back to DiNucci figures to take one more turn to freshman Kenny Pickett. Pickett came on in relief of an ineffective DiNucci last week and passed for 242 yards while showcasing the arm strength that won over coach Pat Narduzzi on the recruiting trail.
“Kenny did a nice job,” Narduzzi said. “Kenny threw the ball well, which we thought he could, but you never know in a game. He just gave us a chance.”
DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENTS: Miami allowed a season-high 439 yards against Virginia last week, including a season-high 384 yards through the air. The Hurricanes talked this week about cleaning that up, obviously, but the run defense won’t need much fixing. Miami allowed a season-low 55 yards on the ground last week.
SAYING GOODBYE: Maddox is one of just eight seniors among Pitt’s two-deep chart, making for a relatively short pregame ceremony. Maddox, who is playing through a right arm injury, didn’t want his final year to end so soon but believes Narduzzi has the program heading in the right direction.
“I see it every day,” Maddox said. “You know when guys lose, they throw the towel in. This team hasn’t thrown the towel in yet … These guys (are) willing to lay it all on the line for me and I’m willing to lay it on the line for them. It’s going to be great in the future.”
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