NCAA Football Handicapping: Miami Hurricanes Championship Contenders
I thought the Miami Hurricanes were on the right track and that they were going to take a step forward this year. But unbeaten and in control of their playoff destiny? Didn't see that coming. And anyone who says that they did is, at the very least, a wild optimist - and more likely a liar. Yet here they are, a couple of weeks removed from one of the most impressive wins of the season over Notre Dame. They have 10 wins and two manageable games between them and a date with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game that has already been set. So, how are they doing it? Can they keep it up and be a playoff factor? And what does it mean for bettors? Here are five factors to consider when pondering those questions:
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Defense: By a lot of measures the Hurricanes have a pretty average defense. You have to look at it differently in a few ways, though. First of all, they are 10th nationally in points allowed, so the fact they give up a fair number of yards is not a real concern. Second, before Mark Richt arrived this team ranked 86th nationally in yards allowed per play. Now they are 12th. And they are good at creating turnovers as well. The defense was a liability before, and now it is a part of the reason they are where they are. It's an impressive change.
Highly-motivated coaches: When defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was at Mississippi State in 2010 he engineered a serious turnaround and was viewed as a rising genius. He went to Texas the next year, but two weeks into his third season he was fired after BYU ripped the Longhorns apart. It took him awhile to regain credibility, but Richt took a risk on him when he arrived in Miami and it has paid off. Diaz is hungry to prove what he can do. And Richt is hungry, too. His time at Georgia didn't end like he wanted it to, and it seemed for the last couple of years like he had lost his edge. Clearly he hadn't, though, and he is out to prove that here. And offensive coordinator Thomas Brown is only 31, and he was a running back for Richt at Georgia before an NFL career. This is his first shot at being a coordinator, and he is hungry to prove he is worthy. If he can be the coordinator of a playoff team at this age then he's on track to be a young head coach. I love that the team has this much hunger on the coaching staff. A hungry staff is one that will do what it takes to be ready.
Decimation of the Irish: I will fully admit that I wasn't particularly a believer in this team until the Notre Dame game. I didn't like Notre Dame, either, but I thought it would be a close game. Not so much. The Irish were absolutely destroyed. It was a very complete game against a team that was in a playoff position before the setback. And it showed a whole lot of heart, too. QB Malik Rosier found out his dad had had a stroke on the Monday before the game. He was surely distracted and emotional, but instead of letting it get to him he led his team to a career-defining win. Performances like that - from both player and team - are no fluke, and it makes this team easier to believe in.
Path to playoff: The Hurricanes are one of four teams that control their own playoff destiny - if Alabama, Miami, Clemson or Oklahoma win out they are in. Both Clemson and Miami can't win out, though, because they have already both clinched spots in the ACC Championship. They have two potentially-challenging but very-winnable regular-season games remaining. Win those and beat Clemson and they are in. Even if they lose to Clemson but keep it close they would have a chance at a playoff spot. They would have to hold off teams like Wisconsin and Auburn, but they would be well positioned. Basically, if this team finishes the regular season unbeaten, which they should, then they are more likely than not a playoff team.
Betting performance: Despite the surprising 9-0 record, the Hurricanes have not been a great betting team. They are just 5-4 ATS, so no real money has been made betting consistently on or against them. Major money has been sitting there to be made on the total, though - they have gone "under" eight times in their nine games.
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