PITTSBURGH -- It's hard to believe that today is the last regular-season game for the Hurricanes.
Where did the season go?
It feels like yesterday that Howard Schnellenberger was talking to all of us just before kickoff at the opener on Aug. 30th.
Now it's down to Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, in the bitter-cold of Heinz Field.
Miami opened as a 2.5-point favorite, and is now a 2-point favorite, from what I just saw.
To me, this game is so important because it will cast an overall impression on the season. If the Hurricanes win, they'll have rebounded admirably from that ugly three-game losing streak at FSU (expected), against Virginia Tech (not expected) and at Duke (not expected).
A UM victory also would put Miami in prime position for a decent bowl, such as the Chick-fil-A -- and better yet, for a chance to win the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference should North Carolina beat Duke tomorrow and should Virginia beat Virginia Tech.
I just don't see Virginia beating Virginia Tech, though it's a rivalry game and it is at UVA. However, if all the stars align for the Hurricane, they would meet FSU again in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Charlotte. Can you imagine that?
If the Canes lose, suddenly the 7-0 start is completely overshadowed by ending the season with four losses in five games. The bowl situation becomes murkier, too.
Pittsburgh has won its last two of three games, starting with a 28-21 victory Nov. 9 at home on national television (ABC) against Notre Dame in its coldest home conditions (windy, with temperatures in the 40s) until today (kickoff expected to be in low 30s, dropping to mid-to-high 20s by end). The next week the Panthers lost at home to UNC 34-27. Last Saturday, Pitt beat Syracuse 17-16 on the road.
PItt's total offense and rushing offense are poor statistically. But it has two talented receivers in senior Devin Street (51 catches for 854 yards and seven touchdowns this season) and freshman Tyler Boyd (68 catches for 903 yards and six touchowns). Street, however, hurt his ankle against North Carolina and his elbow at Syracuse and, per Pittsburgh-Post Gazette beat writer Sam Werner, was limited this week in practice. So, we'll see if and how much Street plays today.
The Hurricanes' biggest obstacle in this game is expected to be defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a 6-0, 285-pound senior who is a finalist for just about every national defensive award out there. He is an amazing talent, shedding blocks with ease.
"Aaron Donald has been a one-man wrecking crew,'' Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
Donald leads the nation in tackles for loss, ranks 10th in sacks and 11th in forced fumbles. His blocked PAT last week at Syracuse made the difference in Pitt's 17-16 victory.
The question is, can UM's offensive line hold him off? It's very doubtful UM C Shane McDermott can do it alone.
If the Canes can hold off Donald and hold onto the ball despite the cold, they should win this game.
Happy day-after Thanksgiving to all of you. Enjoy the game.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN