CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — The last time things were going this well for the Miami Hurricanes, they were dominating the Big East and playing home games in the Orange Bowl.
That league no longer has football.
That stadium was demolished years ago.
But the Hurricanes, after years of waiting, might finally be back. Miami (9-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) rose to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday, the Hurricanes’ highest ranking since 2003 coming one day after an emphatic 41-8 win over Notre Dame only helped solidify their status as a team in the mix for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“People ask me all the time if we’re back,” Miami athletic director Blake James said Sunday. “I don’t know how to answer that question. As the optimist and the athletic director, I never thought we left. But we are building something … we’re making it happen on game day.”
Miami was No. 7 last week in the AP poll and the CFP ranking . The next CFP list will be released Tuesday night.
“When I came back, or when I decided to continue to coach, I really did want to enjoy it,” said Miami coach Mark Richt, who is 18-4 at his alma mater after getting hired 23 months ago. “I wanted to have fun. And what better place than Miami can you have some fun? Gosh, it’s been a blast.”
The Hurricanes’ last No. 2 ranking was 230 polls ago, and mediocrity was normal in the 14 years that have passed since Miami’s previous time occupying this lofty a perch on the college football ladder. Forget contending: Miami was unranked in 59 percent of the polls taken in that span, an era filled with struggles, troubles, firings and an NCAA scandal that nearly brought the program to its knees.
Those days are gone.
Miami has swagger again.
“We came out this season and said `Let’s prove people wrong,’” offensive lineman KC McDermott said.
So far, so good, on both sides of the ball. The Hurricanes have gotten four turnovers in each of the past four weeks — which means their turnover chain is getting about as much airtime as anything in sports — and shut down a Notre Dame offense on Saturday that was coming in after a 710-yard wrecking ball of a performance a week earlier against Wake Forest.
The Irish managed 261 against the Hurricanes, punting the ball or turning it over on each of their first eight possessions. The stage was set on the first snap Saturday night , when Notre Dame running back Josh Adams — a Heisman contender — got hit by Chad Thomas, Zach McCloud, Joe Jackson and Kendrick Norton in a span of two seconds.
That was more than a half-ton of Hurricanes, setting the tone for a dominant night.
“This is, to me, natural order restored,” Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.
Quarterback Malik Rosier is 10-0 in his career as a starter, the 14-game winning streak is the longest in the country right now and the fourth-best in Miami history, and Travis Homer — who started the season as the Hurricanes’ backup running back — is averaging 6.7 yards per carry, tops in the ACC among those with at least 10 rushes per game.
“They’re a great group,” Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey said, “and they proved it.”
Miami is already assured of playing for one championship this season. The Hurricanes won the ACC’s Coastal Division, and will meet Clemson on Dec. 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the conference title. Win that game, as well as remaining regular-season matchups with Virginia and Pittsburgh that precede the ACC title tilt, and Miami will surely have one of the spots in the four-team CFP field.
The Coastal was the first priority. The ACC is the new priority.
But forgive the Hurricanes if they’re starting to think about bigger prizes.
“The U is back,” Miami star wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “I don’t think anybody can say that they’re not. I don’t think we can get disrespected anymore. We still have to go out and play two teams, then we have to go out and win the ACC championship game. There’s still a long road ahead, but I don’t think they can say we’re a fluke anymore.”