Update: In the original posting of this article, I left the “why” behind these loss rankings somewhat vague. The rankings are based on Miami having a one loss season and how the Hurricane’s playoff chances would look to the committee after finishing the regular season 11-1. Not every 11-1 record is the same however, ie finishing 11-1 with a loss against Virginia Tech would look different, and worse, than 11-1 with a loss against LSU. For this reason, non-conference games are generally ranked as “better losses” than ACC games. After all, it’s hard to get to the playoff if you aren’t even in your conference’s championship.
There’s no more mistaking it; Miami is entering 2018 with big aspirations. After reaching the ACC Championship game last season, the expectation is to have a repeat appearance. Higher up on the expectation chart; playoff appearance, bowl game victory and, of course, national championship. But in the regular season, what would postseason aspirations look like with a loss? Assuming Miami does not go undefeated, a sure-fire way to be highly-ranked, or loses more than one regular season game, a sure-fire way to be left out of the playoff, here is what each potential loss would look like, ranked.
vs LSU, vs FIU
These are losses that Miami could definitely weather in the eyes of the playoff committee. Miami would need to really you-know-what the bed to lose against FIU in Hard Rock but it wouldn’t be the death knell to a playoff berth if the Canes finish the rest of the season on an eight game win streak. Losing early in the season is always preferable to losing later on when the microscope is fine-tuned on the nation’s best teams. If Miami takes care of FSU, VT and GT and drops one early, don’t you think the committee would be more willing to overlook it?
@ Toledo, vs North Carolina, @ Boston College, vs Duke
A loss to any of these four teams would hurt a lot and could lead Miami to being ranked in the lower half of the top 10 come championship weekend. However, one loss to an ACC rival or non-conference bowl team that won’t be in the playoff hunt isn’t the end of the world. These are all games where Miami will be favored and the committee has proven time and again that they will forgive “should-win” games if the team in question has a good record against top competition.
For instance, Clemson lost to Pitt in 2016 and Syracuse in 2017 and didn’t have trouble making it into the playoff. Auburn was in a likely “win and in” game against Georgia in the SEC Championship game despite loses to both Clemson and LSU. However, being able to defeat UGA and Bama in the regular season made them no. 2 in the nation for championship weekend. As long as Miami takes care of business against the big boys, they could weather a one loss season if that one defeat is against a middling team.
@ Virginia, @ Georgia Tech, vs Pitt
Losses to one of these three squads could very well end Miami’s hopes of a playoff appearance. These are three Coastal rivals who figure to be five or more point underdogs when they square off with the Hurricanes. Miami needs to show up and take care of each of them in order to have the best chance of making the playoff, instead of having to rely on tiebreakers and other teams mucking it up.
vs Savannah State, vs FSU, @ Virginia Tech
Miami isn’t going to lose to Savannah State. Yes it would be a disaster, but it’s not going to happen. It would be a bigger upset than App State over Michigan in 2007 and leave everyone in the college football universe scratching their head. Moving on to reality...
Miami can’t lose these two ACC games and expect to find themselves with a shot at the playoff. Virginia Tech loses some playmakers on both sides of the ball but gets Justin Jackson back with another year of experience under his belt. Pulling off a victory in Blacksburg is always tough but if Miami wants to show it’s a playoff team, it will beat its main Coastal rival in what figures to be a primetime, winner-takes-all type of game. If Miami loses to the Hokies, late in the season, they would need VT to end with two ACC loses just for a chance to sniff the ACC Championship. Losing to VT gives Miami almost no room for error in an 11-1 season.
FSU gets the most serious rating because of the psychological effect it has had in the past. Yes, the majority of these losses have been under guys not named Mark Richt but in 2016, Miami’s first loss came to the Noles and the Canes dropped three more games afterward. Losing to a Seminole team that would be better than 2017’s outfit but worse than some of the other Jimbo Fisher-led squads would be devastating. Doing it at home may be downright demoralizing. On the other hand, a big victory against FSU could jumpstart Miami and trigger a deep 2018 run, like it kinda-sorta did last season.