Translation: If Virginia Tech loses to Miami on Saturday, the Hokies' chances of a third consecutive ACC championship are bleak.
While seven of the conference's 12 teams, including Virginia Tech and Virginia, have yet to take a league test, Miami has aced two.
Crazy thing is, when the ACC released the schedule last spring, the Hurricanes appeared hosed.
Their first four opponents — Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma — were a combined 40-14 last season and resided in everyone's preseason top 25. Conversely, Miami was an uninspiring 7-6 in 2008 and began '09 unranked.
But halfway through a stretch that's saltier than beef jerky, the Hurricanes are unscathed. They survived Florida State on the road, smacked Georgia Tech at home and rocketed to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, two spots ahead of Virginia Tech (2-1).
Not to say this Miami bunch rates with the camouflage-wearing, smack-talking, championship-winning Canes of yore. But the gradual accumulation of talent and the off-season additions of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and defensive coordinator John Lovett certainly are cause for optimism in Coral Gables.
Sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, the architect of Miami's come-from-behind overtime victory last season at Virginia, slings the ball with velocity and touch; his stable of running backs and receivers is sinfully deep, while the defensive line skews both heavy (tackle Joe Joseph) and fast (ends Marcus Robinson and Eric Moncur).
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said Wednesday that he thinks the Hurricanes' defense is faster and better than the Nebraska crew that limited the Hokies to 278 yards and 16 points last week. Bet he's right, too.
Win Saturday in Blacksburg and Miami not only moves to 3-0 in the ACC, but also saddles Virginia Tech with an 0-1 conference start that history says would be fatal to its title aspirations.
Think about it. The Canes would have arguably their three toughest league games behind them. Plus, they'd own Coastal Division tiebreakers against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
Ranked 22nd by AP and off to its first 3-0 start in 12 years, North Carolina could challenge Miami in the Coastal. But the Tar Heels don't open their ACC season until Saturday at Georgia Tech.
Indeed, a victory Saturday would make the Hurricanes solid favorites in each of their five remaining conference outings, with the possible exception of Nov. 14 at North Carolina.
Wake Forest, Duke and Virginia? Barring famine and pestilence, can't see Miami losing to any of them.
Clemson? We'll know more about the Tigers after Saturday's home game against No. 15 Texas Christian, but they dropped their ACC opener at Georgia Tech and play the Hurricanes in Miami.
Don't misunderstand. Defeat Saturday wouldn't prevent Virginia Tech from extending its streak of 10-win seasons to six, tormenting rival Virginia and competing in a nice bowl. Chances of another conference championship, however, would virtually vanish.
But enough doom and gloom about Virginia Tech. The Hokies were nearly unanimous choices to win the ACC for good reason, and the return of cornerback Stephan Virgil (sprained knee) from a two-game absence should help against Miami's fleet of receivers — four have caught passes of at least 30 yards, with Travis Benjamin and Leonard Hankerson averaging more than 20 yards per catch.
And don't forget that Tech has won 10 consecutive home games since the Matt Ryan Miracle of 2007.
If the Hokies prevail Saturday, they pierce Miami's aura and, with subsequent dates against Duke and Boston College, set themselves up for a 3-0 ACC start. Virginia Tech then would commence a defining two-game stretch against Georgia Tech in Atlanta and home versus North Carolina on a Thursday night.
The significance of Saturday's collision is evident in history. This marks the first time since 1989 against Clemson that Virginia Tech has welcomed a top-10 opponent to Lane Stadium in September.
"There's no questioning," Beamer said, "the importance of this football game."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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