‘Is Miami back?’: Hurricanes may finally have a good answer

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Nell Redmond

Miami coach Manny Diaz congratulates quarterback D'Eriq King (1) after a touchdown pass against Duke during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Durham, N.C. (Nell Redmond/Pool Photo via AP)

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Miami coach Manny Diaz was coming back from a bout with COVID-19, as was quarterback D’Eriq King and several other players. The Hurricanes hadn’t practiced in two weeks, final exams were further limiting football time and a few starters still had to sit out amid health concerns.

Somehow, that all led to Miami’s most lopsided Atlantic Coast Conference win.

The annual question in Coral Gables — “Is Miami back?” — might finally have an answer Hurricanes fans will like. This won’t be the year where No. 9 Miami gets its first ACC championship, a drought that’s now 17 years and counting, but the Hurricanes (8-1, 7-1 ACC, No. 10 CFP) still have plenty to play for the rest of the way.

No. 20 North Carolina (7-3, 6-3 ACC) visits Miami on Saturday. Georgia Tech (3-6, 3-5 ACC with a game Thursday against Pittsburgh pending) is scheduled to play at Miami on Dec. 19. Win both of those, and the Hurricanes could play in the Orange Bowl on their home field on Jan. 2.

“I love this team,” said King, who transferred to Miami from Houston after last season. “I’m so glad I came here. I love the University of Miami. Just finishing the right way, that’s really, really, really important. Trying to get 10 wins this year ... it’s for the taking and, hopefully, a big-time bowl game.”

King passed for 248 yards, threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score in Miami’s 48-0 win Saturday at Duke. It was the biggest victory margin for Miami in its 137 all-time ACC games; the Hurricanes beat Wake Forest by 45 in 2004, Duke by 45 in 2005 and Florida State by 42 earlier this year. The last time Miami won a conference game by more than 48 points was 2001, when the Hurricanes topped Syracuse 59-0 in a Big East matchup.

“This team has a strong connection and they really like playing for each other,” Diaz said. “We were taken away from each other for almost two weeks and didn’t really get back as an entire football team — I mean, not even an entire football team, but anything resembling a football team — until this past Monday. And they wanted to finish.”

A year ago, Miami finished 6-7, lost to crosstown rival FIU and was the only team that went to a bowl game and got shut out.

Everything seems very different now, with the Hurricanes on a five-game ACC winning streak. Odd as this sounds, that’s Miami’s second-longest ACC streak; the Hurricanes won 11 consecutive league games spanning 2016 and 2017.

“If you think they’re having fun, it’s because they are,” Diaz said.

Barring a collapse, Miami should finish the season as part of the AP Top 25 for just the third time in the last 11 seasons. The Hurricanes were No. 13 to close the 2017 season and No. 20 to end 2016.

The last time they ended as a Top 10 team was 2003, when they were No. 5.

A Top 10 spot this year is certainly possible, especially if Miami wins out. And if Miami gets to 10 wins, it would also be only the second time that’s happened since 2003 — when the Hurricanes’ run of 14 double-digit win seasons in a 21-year span came to an end.

So, that question: “Is Miami back?”

Maybe this time it is.

“I just love the school," King said. “I’m going to do everything I can, everything we can as a team, to finish on the right foot.”

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25