Don’t look now, but the 1980s are calling college football fans.
That’s the feel around Saturday night’s clash between Notre Dame and Miami in the Hurricanes’ Hard Rock Stadium home. The teams are ranked No. 3 and No. 7, respectively, in the latest College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday.
It is the first time since 1989 that both teams have been ranked in the top 10 at the time of their meeting (though there have been only four meetings since then). That season marked the third consecutive year they had met as top 10 teams. Miami was No. 7 and won 27-10 over then-No. 1 Notre Dame in the final game of the regular season.
That win propelled Miami to the No. 2 national ranking going into bowl season, and the Hurricanes won their third national championship of the decade by beating Alabama 33-25 in the Sugar Bowl.
Interestingly, the Hurricanes (8-0) are hoping a victory in this meeting with the Irish (8-1) will have a similar impact. It wouldn’t put them in the national title game or even assure them of one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. But it will keep them going in the right direction.
That’s pretty much all coach Mark Richt could expect.
Even before the second week’s CFP rankings were announced Tuesday night, Richt was taking a pragmatic approach to the whole situation.
“It’s like last week,” he said. “If you win, you move up. If you lose, you move down. It’s really pretty simple right now. There are so many games to be played yet. That’s really all there is to it.
“We’re really focusing on whether we get in the top four. It doesn’t matter. Even if we got in the top four tonight, which we won’t, it doesn’t matter if we lose. We just need to focus on Notre Dame and try to win.”
The Irish have won seven in a row since dropping a one-point decision at home to Georgia, and all of their wins, including their opener against Temple before the loss to Georgia, have come by double digits. Their “closest call” was an 11-point win over Wake Forest last week.
Even then the Irish amassed 710 yards in total offense, but they did let a 41-16 cushion late in the third quarter melt down to a 48-37 final.
“Preparation needs to be better,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
The physical match-ups in this one would seem to favor the Irish. They are one of the nation’s best rushing teams, No. 5 in the country with an average of nearly 325 yards a game. Running back Josh Adams has averaged 132.3 yards per game rushing (No. 9 nationally), quarterback Brandon Wimbush nearly 80.
“And this isn’t just triple-option football,” Richt said. “This is just line up and physically move people off the ball — kick-your-tail type offensive line. Great runners.”
Miami’s defense, on the other hand, may be coming off a strong effort against Virginia Tech in limiting the Hokies to just 102 yards rushing, but for the season the Hurricanes have had their problems stopping the run. They gave up 264 rushing yards to Syracuse, 226 to Georgia Tech, 203 to Florida State, and 176 to North Carolina before the effort against Virginia Tech.
Still, Kelly had good words about the job defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has done in just his second year at Miami and the effort he gets out of his players.
“They run to the ball. They’re athletic,” Kelly said. “It’s a group that’s excited to be playing. So you can see that energy. There is great energy.”
On the other side of the ball, Miami’s offense has gained much of its success with long strikes such as running back Trevor Homer’s 64-yard touchdown run and tight end Christopher Herndon’s 43-yard touchdown reception against the Hokies.
That goes against Notre Dame’s defensive strength.
“They don’t give up big plays,” Richt said. “You’re going to have to earn it. We haven’t been very good at that. We haven’t been good at long drives.
“We’ve hit some shots here and there and made some big plays, and every so often we’ll have a drive that will last more than six or seven or eight plays, but we haven’t done a lot of that.”
The intangibles would seem to break even. Miami is playing to move up into the top four in the rankings. Notre Dame, with one loss, is playing to stay there.
“This part of the season, obviously in November, all the teams that are in contention are focused on one game at a time,” Kelly said. “It’s single-elimination for both teams.”