MIAMI +9.5 vs Clemson - 8pm Saturday
It’s hard to find many people nationally who think Miami has a chance to beat Clemson. The loss to Pitt was reason enough, but the injuries to Chris Herndon and Ahmmon Richards certainly help the Tigers’ chances on Saturday night. Clemson is the defending national champion and a team with very few weaknesses. Dabo Swinney has a dominant defensive line, explosive playmakers on offense, and a talented dual-threat quarterback in Kelly Bryant. I won’t pretend Miami has a significant advantage in one area in this matchup. Clemson has more experience in big games and probably should be favored by the 7-10 points we’ve seen this week. If Miami and Clemson met in Charlotte 10 weeks in a row, Miami probably only wins 1-3 times. But... “That’s Why They Play The Game.”
Miami is playing with house money at this point. If the Canes lose to Clemson, a 10-2 season, a Coastal Division title, and a chance to play at home in the Orange Bowl would be a very successful season by any measure. Fans, players, and coaches would’ve been thrilled with that result when the year began.
The Canes have thrived all year in an underdog role, and it wasn’t a coincidence their worst performance came after being bumped up to #2 in the Playoff rankings. Miami should enter the stadium relaxed, willing to take chances, and eager to prove their doubters wrong. Clemson is the team with all the pressure on Saturday night. Nothing short of repeating as national champions will be viewed as a success for the Tigers.
Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post wrote a great article this week that featured the memories of Miami fans from the last time Miami played Clemson - the infamous 58-0 debacle in 2015. The Canes were at rock bottom and the game cost Al Golden his job. Clemson was becoming a juggernaut in college football and used the performance as a springboard to back-to-back appearances in the national championship game. Here was my tweet that he included: “I was there for every play. I learned from my dad - can’t ever leave a game early. Experiencing that loss has made every exciting moment this season that much better. It was all worth it.”
Take a moment to appreciate how quickly things have changed for Miami. The Canes are relevant on a national stage. Miami is playing the #1 team in the nation, the defending champs, for a spot in the college football playoff. When Miami joined the ACC, I expected to be attending games like this year after year. I am very confident in the upward trajectory of this program in the years to come. If the Canes upset Clemson, I’ll be the happiest person in the stadium. If the Canes fall short, it won’t change my expectations for 2018, a year when Miami’s roster will be one of the best in the country.
All that being said, I’m not about to pick Miami to lose. I’ve written all season about how this feels like a team of destiny, one that responds to adversity and finds a way to win close games. Maybe the Pittsburgh loss was the wake-up call Miami needed.
The Canes defense didn’t have a single player make 1st-Team All-ACC - Clemson had three of the four defensive linemen - Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, and Clelin Ferrell. Mark Richt and Manny Diaz are surely using that as a motivational tool all week. Miami QB Malik Rosier might frustrate fans sometimes, but I love his composure under pressure. From all reports this week, his leadership and focus has been impressive, bouncing back after the loss to Pitt.
Clemson played a perfect game last week in a blowout win against South Carolina, but struggled to pull away against NCST and FSU in November. If Miami can make a few plays early, this game will be close throughout. We need the Miami defense we saw against Notre Dame to show up on Saturday night. The Canes force 2-3 turnovers, Clemson misses a few field goals, and Miami wins a close one in Charlotte - 20-17. I’ll see all of you at the Rose/Sugar Bowl.
I finished Miami’s regular season with a 54% winning percentage. My picks fell off a bit at the end of the year, but I’m still satisfied with my results. It’s hard to even joke about the coaching searches in college football because I’ll never be able to compete with Lane Kiffin’s twitter account. I certainly won’t mind if Jimbo Fisher ends up leaving Tallahassee and I also look forward to Tennessee fans enduring more years of disappointment. UCF has been underappreciated by the playoff committee and I hope the Knights win another statement game on Saturday. Here are my last few winners until I triumphantly return to dominate bowl season.