Miami cracks the top 10 of College Football Playoff rankings, needs to keep winning

Susan Miller Degnan
·5 min read

The Miami Hurricanes are primed for a New Year’s Six bowl game — if they keep winning.

The Canes are No. 10 of 25 teams included in the first of five weekly 2020 College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night during an ESPN telecast. It is the first time since 2017 that Miami (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has been ranked in the system that ultimately determines the four teams in the College Football Playoff semifinals, which send the two winners to the CFP National Championship — this season set for Monday, Jan. 11, at Hard Rock Stadium.

Manny Diaz: ‘We’re about to go through week unlike any I’ve had in my coaching career’

The top four teams in Tuesday’s initial rankings: No. 1 Alabama (7-0), 2 Notre Dame (8-0), No. 3 Clemson (7-1) and No. 4 Ohio State (4-0), with No. 5 Texas A&M (5-1) on the outside looking in. But be assured much will change from week to week as teams win or lose through the final CFP rankings Dec. 20.

The Florida Gators (6-1) are No. 6, with Cincinnati (8-0) No. 7, Northwestern (5-0) No. 8, Georgia (5-2) No. 9 and the Canes at 10.

“We embraced the chaos,’’ CFP selection committee chairman Gary Barta said, “and really had a good time putting this first ranking together.’’

Each of the league champions from the Power Five conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference) and the highest ranked team from the Group of Five conferences (American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) in the final rankings earn automatic berths into one of the New Year’s Six bowls.

The other slots are filled by at-large or highly ranked conference teams affiliated with the major bowls.

The CFP semifinals will be played Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The remaining New Year’s Six bowls are the Capital One Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

The Canes, as an ACC member, could possibly land in the Orange Bowl, or maybe in the Peach. Should they lose, however, there’s a good chance they’d drop to a lower tier bowl.

Win and they’re in

“If Miami wins the rest of their games they will definitely get in a New Year’s Six bowl,’’ CBS.com College Football Playoff expert Jerry Palm told the Miami Herald. “If they don’t win the rest of their games then their only hope is for Clemson and Notre Dame to both be in the playoffs so they can sneak into the Orange Bowl.

“And even that doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s their only chance.”

Miami could also conceivably sneak into the four-team playoff should the Canes reach the ACC title game, defeat either Notre Dame or Clemson and finish among the top four in the rankings.

The CFP rankings are determined by a 13-member committee whose job is to ensure the top four teams in the final rankings are the nation’s best. The rankings, however, will be debated even more than usual as four leagues are playing conference-only games, some leagues started considerably later than others and many programs, including the Hurricanes, are dealing with COVID-19 and have had games canceled or rescheduled.

“It’s going to be highly subjective this year,’’ Palm said. “People can disagree with them, but neither the committee members nor people who disagree have any data to back up their arguments. The problem is that four conferences, including three of the Power conferences, are not playing conference games at all. So there is no analytical tool you can use, for example, to compare a team in the SEC with a team from any other league.’’

The last and only time Miami, ranked 10th in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and No. 9 in the Amway Coaches Poll, was included in the CFP rankings was when the Canes started 10-0 and finished 10-3 in 2017. That year, they also started as No. 10 with a 7-0 record and rose to No. 7 (8-0), No. 3 (9-0) and No. 2 (10-0) before falling to No. 10 (10-2) in the final CFP rankings. They went on to lose to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl for their final record.

Coronavirus problems

The Canes’ coronavirus outbreak, which includes a recent positive test for coach Manny Diaz, caused Miami to take off the originally scheduled Nov. 21 and 28 games and stretch its regular season. Miami’s updated schedule has it playing at Wake Forest (4-3) on Dec. 5 and continuing Dec. 12 at home against North Carolina (6-2 and CFP No. 19) and finally at home Dec. 19 against Georgia Tech (2-5). The Georgia Tech game will only be played if the Canes don’t qualify for the ACC title game, to be played that evening, or if the Georgia Tech-UM game wouldn’t affect who qualifies for the league title game.

Because of the pandemic, selection committee members will take into account how a team might have been affected by a player or players missing a game after testing positive or isolating through contact tracing. The highest profile example is Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who missed two games (including a loss at Notre Dame) after testing positive.

“If a key player misses a game, the committee will know and consider whether the absence affects the on-field performance,’’ the CFP committee said in a news release on Sunday.