Everything has been turned up to 11 for this Saturday night showdown. Up until this point, the Miami Hurricanes’ battles have been all their own—under the radar, with folks half paying attention.

A win over wounded Florida State and comebacks against Georgia Tech and Syracuse aren’t enough to move the national needle. Dominating a favored Virginia Tech squad in South Florida certainly raised some eyebrows last weekend, but the event itself was nothing more than a dress rehearsal and appetizer for this weekend’s main course; Notre Dame.

A year ago two vastly different squads met in South Bend— both swimming in a sea of lowered expectations. Miami was getting re-broken in by first-year head coach Mark Richt, while Brian Kelly was living out a nightmare four-win season—never shaking off the ass-kicking Ohio State gave Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl months back on New Year’s Day.

The Canes rode a three-game losing streak into the affair; in this case, Miami never recovering from a one-point home loss to Florida State, which bled over into lackluster losses against North Carolina at home and at Virginia Tech. The Canes blinked and were down 20-0 midway through the second quarter before rattling off 27 unanswered and taking their first lead in the fourth. From there, the Irish scored 10—including a game-winning field goal moments after Miami missed a would-be scoop-and-score opportunity that would’ve sealed the comeback.

A reminder that even when the bar has been lowered, these two long-time rivals can provide fireworks and memorable endings.

All of which brings us to another one of those, “What better place than here, what better time than now” moments Zack de la Rocha and Rage Against The Machine wailed about back in the day. The entire college football universe has its eyes on South Florida this weekend—to the point where College GameDay made its first trek south since the 2001 season and social media feeds have been flooded with all things Canes and Irish.

As big as this game is for both Miami and Notre Dame—long-time powerhouses chasing a coveted slot in the College Football Playoffs—the biggest winner this weekend is actually the sport, itself.

WELCOME (BACK) TO THE BIG TIME, BIG TIMERS

At a time when NFL rankings are reeling due to kneeling, overexposure, a watered-down product and weak-sauce narratives—Miami and Notre Dame has all the hype of a heavyweight title fight. This feels bigger than Game 7 of the recently-wrapped World Series, or Mayweather versus McGregor throwdown back in August.

Love, hate or feel completely different about the Canes or Irish—your ass is watching this game come Saturday night. This is as prime time as it gets.

As big as this showdown looms for the outsider, the history between these two squads makes it personal for all parties involved. When Billy Corben and the Raknotur crew rolled out “The U” documentary in 2009, a healthy chunk of it was dedicated to the Canes and Irish—specifically the 1989 revenge game, where Miami rolled, 27-10 in the Orange Bowl against the defending champs.

Last year, it was a Notre Dame alum taking his crack at a “30 For 30” and choosing to focus on the controversial 1988 game and the Catholics Vs Convicts shirts he and some elitist Irish buddies whipped up—chock full of fabricated hype leading up to that game, while dismissive of the Canes’ then-newfound dominant ways and turning the tables on an Irish program that invented the concept of smacking up patsies and running up the score.

The stylings of both, indicative of both fan bases and their respective styles. Miami rolls in flashy, unapologetic fashion—while image is everything for Notre Dame; the holier-than-thou, and not-so-subtle better-than-you energy always on display. Hurricanes players three decades later still come across with a chip on their shoulder, while the Irish come off all the part of a cult, pushing that Fighting Irish “way”—spewing nonsense about supposed core values and higher standards. It’s the epitome of “fake news”.

As the two long-time rivals converge on Hard Rock Stadium this Saturday night, a tremendous amount of focus surrounds the match-ups. Can the Miami run defense slow down running back Josh Adams or the legs of quarterback Brandon Wimbush? The Canes have been gashed at times on the ground this year—making it a fair question—but where are the queries about an Irish defense that gave up 587 yards to lowly Wake Forest last week—348 through the air and 239 on the ground?

Even bigger than last week’s defensive-less showing—how about the fact that Notre Dame is hardly road-tested and hasn’t seen anything like South Florida will offer this coming weekend? The Irish have been home for three straight and haven’t left the confines of South Bend since an October 7th showdown at North Carolina.

Since then, Notre Dame smacked up Southern Cal—another soft road team—while keeping North Carolina State in check, prior to last week’s go-around with the Demon Deacons.

FIGHTING IRISH OVERRATED; HURRICANES UNDERRATED?

Stepping back from that coveted No. 3 slot the Irish ascended to in the first College Football Playoffs ranking—it’s worth deep-diving into Notre Dame’s fast-tracked rise back to ultimate relevancy. On the heels of a four-win campaign last season, the Fighting Irish opened this year in the “Others Receiving Votes” category.

Kelly made some massive personnel moves in the off-season, so a healthy wait-and-see was the name of the game back in September. The Irish jumped to No. 24 after beating up on Temple, but dropped back out a week later when falling to Georgia, 20-19.

Notre Dame remained unranked at 1-2 after a convincing win at Boston College but reappeared a week later at No. 22 after a win at Michigan State—which is where the rankings rise gets. Up to No. 21 the next week after a win over Miami of Ohio and then to No. 16 after a road win over lowly North Carolina. A rout of the Trojans made for a three-spot jump to No. 13 days later, while a takedown of the Wolfpack had the Irish sitting at No. 9.

From that point on, the College Football Playoffs poll were all that mattered—and a supernatural act somehow jumped one-loss Notre Dame six slots to No. 3, with Wake Forest on deck.

Meanwhile, Miami—who keeps finding ways to win—is penalized for a lack of style points and not enough double-digit victories. The Canes opened the season at No. 18, have rattled off eight wins since—while riding a nation’s best 13-game win-streak—and have only climbed 11 spots to No. 7, with four one-loss squads ahead of UM.

As much have narrow victories have been put under a microscope in effort to diminish what Miami has accomplished—a convincing win over favored Virginia Tech has been brushed off. The Canes held to the Hokies to a season-low 299 yards and 10 points on the heels of a three-week run where Virginia Tech outscored opponents 106-17 and racked up 1,201 yards against Boston College, North Carolina and Duke.

The talking heads picked the Canes to lose, yet Miami rolled convincingly against a Playoffs dark horse—with a Coastal Division title on the line—yet just as soon as the clock hit 0:00, the win was forgotten. Immediately, all media focus shifted to this weekend’s showdown while the rolling of Virginia Tech failed to register nationally—proven by the lack of movement in the polls; the Canes easing forward one measly spot, failing to leapfrog one-loss TCU, who bounced back from a loss at Iowa State with a home-win over a five-loss Texas squad.

MEMO TO MIAMI FAITHFUL; SOAK IT UP & RELISH THE MOMENT

While days on end could be spent case-building against any perceived injustices, the easier move—and vintage Miami play—is to shake it off and bask in the glow. Why? Let’s count the reasons:

College GameDay made its first trek south in 16 seasons for what truly is the game of the season, thus far. As mentioned earlier, “30 For 30″ stories have been told about Miami and Notre Dame throwing down in the past and the fact both are in the Top 10 and fighting for more—it’s an undeniable late season college football narrative; to the point where GameDay had no choice to head to the 305.

What the University of Miami lacks in student body size as a private school, or a lack of an on-campus stadium—the picture-perfect landscape in Coral Gables and 82˚ temperature come Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m.; it’ll serve as a three-hour informercial for “The U” and the Canes will be all the talk of college football.

That’s not to diminish the game itself. It’s simply to serve as a reminder that something bigger is at play here than just beating Notre Dame. Miami is putting itself back on the college football map as a contender; and in a year Florida and Florida State are unraveling, no better time for the Canes to be in the spotlight. Soak it up and make it count.

A comment was made somewhere this week that Miami isn’t a “sports town”, but is most-certainly an “event town”. The rah-rah sports nerd might see that as an indictment, but those who understand the culture realize what this means. Syracuse or Georgia Tech are coming to town in October for mid-day games? Meh. This is Miami and there’s more going on Saturdays in fall than you’re average old college football conference game.

There’s nothing new about that, either. Back in 2001, barely 30,000 showed up to see top-ranked Miami take on Temple in the beloved Orange Bowl in early November. The Canes were finally back after a long-time drought and despite being 6-0, it didn’t move the needle. There were bigger things going on in an events-driven town.

Last weekend with Virginia Tech in town; the game was truly considered an “event”—the Canes’ most-meaningful showdown in years—and 64,000 of Miami’s rowdiest showed up for the party. Hard Rock was shaking like the old Orange Bowl days and the evening felt more like an NFL Playoffs game than an in-conference tussle.

Coaches and players were supremely vocal post-game, making it clear—the crowd noise and support mattered, with the team feeding off it and putting on a show while winning a football game.

Virginia Tech has played Miami annually dating back to the Big East era. Ask anyone with ties to that program the last time they’ve seen a home Canes game come alive like that.

“I have been to a bunch of games here,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said post-game. “I think the closest to the atmosphere they had here tonight was when [Michael] Vick came in his sophomore year. They beat us. We were a top-five football program at that time. I have not seen the atmosphere here like this in a long, long time. It was a good night for the Canes.”

For those who get off taking pot-shots at Miami’s attendance for lesser games; that won’t be the case come Saturday night. Whatever Virginia Tech just dealt with last weekend—Notre Dame will see it amplified.

While it goes without saying, it deserves mention here—don’t underestimate the special nature of this program in regards to its football alumni and the big brother energy former players are having on this squad in the Richt era.

Seeing the legend Ed Reed back on campus—motivating kids and rolling in as honorary captain on Saturday night—to all the other greats roaming around and letting these kids know what’s on the line legacy-wise; beyond unique.

Larry Coker, Randy Shannon and Al Golden were clueless regarding how to incorporate former players into their present day versions of Miami—all for different reasons—while Richt is playing his thing like the leader of an Afro-Cuban jazz band.

Part of the Magic City rising up and joining these Canes in the fight; former Miami all-time greats inserting themselves in the current narrative. Again, Notre Dame has zero clue what they’re in for Saturday night. None. They’ve never seen anything like this.

Lastly, for now—all of this is gravy; a bonus. More than anyone expected at this point of the rebuild. The goal when this season kicked off for the Hurricanes; win the Coastal Division and reach the ACC Championship for the first time in school history. The win over the Hokies all but clinched it for the Canes—with a Virginia loss at Louisville this weekend officially locking things up.

To sit undefeated early-November—having exorcised the Florida State demon earlier in the year, while taking out Virginia Tech in dominating fashion—now in position to battle Clemson on December 2nd in Charlotte for a conference crown? That’s some next-level growth year two under Richt and a mini-dream come true for a program in-repair for too long.

Toss in GameDay on campus and a third-ranked Notre Dame squad for a nationally televised night game, with massive implications? As a Miami enthusiast who just suffered through the past dozen years; it’s almost prompts a laugh-out-loud moment.

Whoever says they expected this to be the set-up, backdrop, overall narrative with this insane subplots entering Notre Dame weekend … they’re full of it. At most, this was a best-case scenario Canes’ enthusiasts hoped come to life—but after a decade of disappointment, never would’ve gone as far as to predict it.

The Canes roll in disrespected and underrated, while the Irish are properly puffed up, full of themselves and underestimating all that lies ahead on Saturday night. It’s anybody’s game to win—but in a season where Miami keeps finding a way, until someone stops it, you have to stick with it.

Saturday night might not hold a candle to the energy that pumped through the Orange Bowl back in November of 1989—but it will come damned close. The City of Miami is backed up and a town that rises up in big moments is starved for a champion and reason to believe, again. The Canes have been tapped as the hometown savior and with the 305 beyond them, will rise to the occasion in thrilling fashion … again.

Miami 34, Notre Dame 21

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties and launched allCanesBlog.com soon thereafter. After being poached away by BleacherReport as a featured columnist, Bello launched ItsAUThing.com to scratch that orange and green itch. In his day-to-day Bello works with icon Bill Murray and humor website theCHIVE on the William Murray golf apparel line—but all free time is spent reminding the masses that it’s a Canes thing and they wouldn’t understand.

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