Miami Hurricanes playing for possible berth in ACC title game

CORAL GABLES — A five-game winning streak has the Hurricanes feeling like the "Miami of old," when championship aspirations were as routine as the local heat and humidity.

The Hurricanes' 16-14 victory over ACC rival Virginia Tech one week ago produced their first Top 25 ranking since 2006. The No. 23 Hurricanes also have inched closer to a possible conference championship.

In fact, if certain scenarios play out this weekend, the Hurricanes (7-3, 4-2) could advance to the ACC title game Dec. 6 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Miami has failed to reach the championship game since it joined the league in 2004.

It can clinch the Coastal Division with a victory tonight at Georgia Tech and a North Carolina loss against North Carolina State or if North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech all win Saturday. If Miami loses tonight, the scenarios become much more complicated.

"We still have a lot of work to do," running back Javarris James said. "Obviously, every team in America wants to be ranked in the Top 25. This accomplishment, we have to put behind us and focus on Georgia Tech."

Randy Shannon, Miami's second-year coach whose 2007 team finished 5-7, doesn't want his players absorbed in national rankings or talk of a potential conference championship.

"The only thing that matters right now is we have an opponent on the road, which is playing very well," Shannon said. "They are very good at home. They run the football and have good defensive players.

"We have to focus on the game and nothing else. We just have to worry about Georgia Tech."

For obvious reasons.

The Yellow Jackets have defeated the Hurricanes three consecutive seasons and lead the all-time series 9-4.

"We can't do anything about what happened the last two years," said James, a junior. "These guys come out and play us real well. They have a lot of confidence.

"This is a big game for us, a Thursday night game. It gives us a chance to play on college football prime time again. It just gives us another chance to show the nation what we've got."

Yet some upperclassmen recall the previous losses against the Yellow Jackets.

"The past few years they've been getting us," offensive tackle Reggie Youngblood said. "We owe them this year."

Youngblood is one of 23 seniors trying to avoid a winless career against Georgia Tech.

"It makes me want it even more," he said. "I have never beaten Georgia Tech. I really want this game — real bad."

Junior offensive lineman A.J. Trump also acknowledges Miami's frustrations against Georgia Tech but finds incentive through a bigger prize than revenge.

"I don't think we need any motivation this week because we're playing for exactly what we wanted," he said. "We think about that, but it's not much of a rivalry game for us.

"The whole time I've been thinking of win out. Our goal is the ACC championship. We're focused on getting 11 wins."

Under first-year coach Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets are 7-3 overall, 4-3 in the ACC. The former Navy coach installed a triple-option offense, which has produced a conference-leading 250 rushing yards per game.

"Every time they have three or four running backs in the backfield it's going to be tough," Miami defensive tackle Marcus Forston said. "You never know who's going to have the ball.

"This is assignment football. Everybody on the defense has to believe that the next man is going to take care of his responsibility. It's all about trust and believing in the man next to you."

Four consecutive conference victories after a 0-2 league start also has the Hurricanes believing in a return to national prominence.

"You can taste it; it's right there at the door," Youngblood said of playing into a possible conference title. "We can't get ahead of ourselves right now. We just have to focus on Georgia Tech and that's it."

Tonight

No. 23 Miami at Georgia Tech, 7:30, ESPN

The Hurricanes (7-3, 4-2 ACC) hope to add to a five-game win streak and secure their hold on first in the Coastal Division race tonight against the Yellow Jackets (7-3, 4-3). It marks the first of two road contests to end the regular season (N.C. State), games that will determine if Miami earns a berth to the ACC title game Dec. 6 in Tampa. Plant alumnus Robert Marve has thrown for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns to lead Miami in passing. Georgia Tech, which is 5-1 at home, is one of four teams trying to catch Miami in the division standings. The Yellow Jackets have won three straight against the Hurricanes. However, Georgia Tech has dropped two of its past three, including a 28-7 loss to North Carolina on Nov. 8. Tech RB Jonathan Dwyer has rushed for 1,056 yards and eight touchdowns and has seven 100-yard rushing games this season. The 'Canes returned to the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time in two years. The last time they were ranked was Sept. 16, 2006, when they were No. 17 before a 31-7 loss to Louisville.

Izzy Gould, Times staff writer

Miami Hurricanes playing for possible berth in ACC title game 11/19/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:01am]

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