Hurricanes can’t be lower than No. 4 after blasting Notre Dame 41-8

The least Miami can do now is to play for their first-ever ACC championship, which in the grand scheme of things is major progress.

And what’s the most that the 9-0 Hurricanes can do?

Well, they could dominate Clemson on Dec. 2 the way they did No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday night, and then they could plow through the College Football Playoff field in the same overpowering fashion and then they could rule college football with an iron fist or a gold Turnover Chain or anything else that suits them.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL -Braxton Berrios of the Miami Hurricanes celebrates a touchdown during a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Hard Rock Stadium on November 11, 2017. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

None of this stuff seemed worth saying or even picturing until Miami stretched its best-in-the-nation winning streak to 14 games and, in doing so, stretched the bounds of the wildest imagination.

How could the CFP committee place the Hurricanes anywhere lower than No. 4, within the potential brackets of the playoff field, with next Tuesday’s vote? What more could they want to see?

This wasn’t a last-minute squeaker against Georgia Tech. It was a 41-8 manhandling of the No. 3 team in the CFP rankings. The last time Miami did anything like this to the Irish it was a 58-7 humiliation of Gerry Faust’s final team, a lackluster 5-6 crew, in 1985.

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Saturday was supposed to be a battle of equals, of playoff contenders, and maybe it would have been a little closer if the game was played somewhere else. Hard Rock Stadium, however, is the place where another supposedly great Notre Dame got steamrolled by Alabama in the 2013 BCS title game, and it’s the place where Miami suddenly can do no wrong under second-year coach Mark Richt.

“We do have some quickness for sure,” Richt said after his guys limited Notre Dame star Josh Adams to 2.5 yards per carry, “but we’ve got some pretty big boys in there, too.”

That’s a combination that Virginia and Pittsburgh really shouldn’t be able to budge the next few weeks in the final regular-season challenges for Miami’s Coastal Division champions. It took a while longer than expected to wear that title, but everything is coming so fast now that it’s almost difficult to process it all.

What ABC’s national broadcast captured Saturday was a blast from Miami’s past and an overpowering whiff of the program’s rejuvenated future.

There will be waves and waves of great defensive players wanting to come to Coral Gables now to change prime-time games in the way this one was, with a 65-yard Trajan Bandy interception return for a touchdown and two more Miami picks converted into 10 additional points and a fumble recovery setting up one last touchdown in garbage time.

There will be fleet running backs, too, who want to be like Oxbridge Academy’s Travis Homer (146 yards on 18 carries against the Irish) and quarterbacks who want to want to step right into the lineup and win their first 10 starts like Malik Rosier has, and receivers who know that fourth down is as good a time as any for a pass to come their way once the Hurricanes get rolling.

That’s how it went in the third quarter of Saturday’s blowout, with Richt leaving the offense on the field on fourth-and-9 at the Notre Dame 36-yard line.

The score already was 27-0. The deed clearly was done. Rosier was cleared to throw for more, however, and Lawrence Cager is most definitely programmed to receive, so the two of them hooked up for a 28-yard gain on a floating pass and a leaping catch that stung like a bee.

Plays like that, and the 90-yard touchdown drive that it advanced, tell the rest of America what it doesn’t want to hear, that Miami will do whatever it wants whenever it wants.

Within the rules this time, for the Hurricanes were penalized just once for 5 yards against Notre Dame. Without further delay, too, for this is merely Richt’s 22nd game coaching at his alma mater.

Kelly, by contrast, has worked the Notre Dame sidelines for 100 games now, reaching a landmark that only Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz have hit before him. All those others won national titles for the Irish. Kelly was pushed off that path by Miami on Saturday and with cruel efficiency.

Can Clemson expect anything less than a frightening pulse of momentum from Miami in the ACC Championship game?

The Tigers are defending national champions, of course, and do not anticipate the Hurricanes or anyone else making them look foolish. There are no programs, however, more confident in their own traditions and talents than the Fighting Irish, who showed up at Hard Rock in helmets so boldly gold that it seemed they had been coated in Turtle Wax.

The Hurricanes bring the bling instead, with Hurricanes legend Ed Reed flashing a national championship ring for the cameras as honorary captain and the Turnover Chain being passed around like treasure among buccaneers as the game progressed.

“I knew this week it was gonna be magical,” said linebacker Shaq Quarterman, and a big part of that was the howling crowd of 65,303, a season high at home.

For hours on Saturday afternoon that mass of Miami fans filled the tailgate lots with charcoal smoke and champagne dreams. Afterwards they honked horns and slapped fives. They feel that “The U” is back, or at least that it’s almost there.

“We’ve got to get a ring first,” Quarterman said when asked for his view on that. “The standard is to get a ring.”

That last happened for Miami in 2001, when 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Kc McDermott was a kindergartner.

“This isn’t something that’s been just a one-year thing,” said McDermott, from Palm Beach Central High School. “it’s something that has taken years and blood, sweat and tears out of multiple classes of recruits.”

Richt and his staff have found the right guys and pushed the right buttons to finally stop the tears.

There will be blood, though. This Miami resurgence is just getting serious now, and with No. 1 Georgia going down and the rankings in shuffle mode, the search begins in earnest now to find someone who can stop it.

Miami Hurricanes vs. Notre Dame still a huge rivalry (as any dude can attest)

UM linebacker Shaq Quarterman (right) chases Notre Dame’s Torii Hunter Jr. during last season’s meeting, a 30-27 Irish victory in South Bend. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

CORAL GABLES — The fans are fired up for UM-Notre Dame. The players are fired up, too. But, Hurricanes left tackle Kc McDermott was asked, how can this be a rivalry when these teams no longer meet regularly? When the Hurricanes and Irish have played only four times in the past 27 years?

Faced with blasphemy, McDermott could hardly contain himself.

“There’s absolutely a rivalry,” McDermott said. “This is Miami-Notre Dame, dude. They did a ’30 for 30’ about this. This is a rivalry — there’s no questions about it.”

McDermott is right, dude. ESPN did do a “30 for 30” special on this rivalry entitled “Catholics vs. Convicts,” and if you’re too young to recall the meaning behind that phrase, just know that the Hurricanes weren’t the guys with the more flattering label of the two. And you should also know that to hype Saturday night’s UM-Notre Dame game at Hard Rock Stadium, ESPN is replaying that special so many times this week, you can’t avoid it regardless of how many Hail Marys you say.

UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown will try. Having arrived at UM last season, he’s new to this rivalry but not ignorant to it. Although he managed to avoid mentioning the “convict” label specifically, he made it clear how much he takes exception to any derogatory terms about his players.

“I get irritated hearing some comments that people make about our players, historically, our players, currently, using the words like ‘thug,’ ” Brown said.  “That’s idiotic people. You don’t know our kids at all. Because they enjoy it, they show up and have a good time in a respectful way. We don’t get flags. We don’t do disrespectful stuff outside the football field. Judge us by that, instead of giving your own notion about what you think a thug is — because I could direct your attention toward the true thugs around this country that aren’t our guys at all.”

In this image from "Catholics vs. Convicts," Brent Musberger, who called Miami-Notre Dame in 1988, holds up the infamous t-shirt. (ESPN)
In this image from “Catholics vs. Convicts,” Brent Musberger, who called Miami-Notre Dame in 1988, holds up the infamous t-shirt. (ESPN)

Catholics vs. Convicts traces back to the heated 1988 meeting of these teams, when T-shirts with that slogan became a hot item in South Bend. The Irish won that meeting 31-30 but emotions ran so high that the schools decided to wipe the series from their schedules following the 1990 game.

At the time, no one would have questioned whether this was a rivalry. The schools had met for 14 straight years starting in 1972 and by the late ‘80s, the games were carrying extra meaning, not just in Indiana and Florida, but nationally.

UM coach Mark Richt needs no history lesson. He was a UM quarterback starting in 1978 and on Tuesday recalled memories of the rivalry.

Or at least he tried to.

“That’s a long time ago, when I was a player,” Richt said. “I got my heart broken in South Bend one time. Well, actually, one time I went there and got knocked out.”

Richt stayed upright for his final game in South Bend as a player. Not that he came away with a memory any more pleasant than before. Rather than a KO, Richt suffered something more akin to a 15-round split-decision defeat, 16-14.

“I think Blair Kiel was the quarterback and had, I think, a last-minute drive to set them in field-goal range to beat us. … Had a chance to win it. I remember checking to a quarterback sneak on third or fourth down and getting stuffed and gave them the ball and they got a chance to go down and score.”

That is how it played out. The Irish’s defensive alignment baited Richt into calling the audible. At the last second, the Irish defense shifted, which didn’t afford Richt a chance to kill the sneak call. Next thing Richt knew, Kiel was driving Notre Dame to the Miami 15, setting up the winning kick with 11 seconds left.

Today’s Hurricanes know little about those details. This is a need-to-know business, and with so many Hurricanes alums popping into town for this one, the most-pressing fact is being drilled into these Hurricanes.

“Once a Cane, always a Cane,” linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “I know they’re looking down at us. Ed Reed was out here today, just watching practice. It’s a Canes family. So whenever it comes to Florida State or even the Fighting Irish, we have to win.”

Reed addressed some defensive players, so Brown wasn’t in the room to hear him speak. He didn’t need to be to know if the alums are “educating” the current players on the idea that Miami isn’t permitted to lose to Notre Dame.

“I can’t say personally I heard anybody say that,” Brown joked, “but I would doubt they didn’t mention a few words here or there.”

It’s a rivalry of streaks, like the 11 straight the Irish won from 1972-80, Miami’s four straight and six of eight starting in 1981, and Notre Dame’s current four in a row, including 30-27 last year in South Bend.

“It’s not a lot of great feelings between the two teams historically,” Brown said. “And I understand that. I understand why. But it’s a great matchup, two great football teams that take great pride in their programs.”

[Miami-Notre Dame thoughts give this Cane ‘chills

[Ed Reed helping Miami safeties this week]

[Updates from Richt’s press conference Tuesday]