Fresh off a 27-7 victory over UCF, the No. 8 Hurricanes have crossed that bridge at 5-1. And now?
On second thought, Shannon countered Sunday, maybe the best thing is to keep the rankings on the back burner. Leave the number-crunching for others.
“Everybody says it makes a difference. But for me and this football team, not really,” Shannon said before learning that the Hurricanes opened at a rather low No. 10 in the season’s first Bowl Championship Series rankings. “We know we’re back in our conference play now, and conference games are more valuable than anything. We’ve got to keep worrying about our conference games.”
Such tempered enthusiasm, of course, might be more difficult among such UM faithful long itching for a chance to see the Hurricanes reassert a place on the national stage.
With Virginia Tech falling to Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes are the highest-ranked team in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time since the end of the 2005 regular season. UM even has a chance at the BCS title game — Florida opened the BCS rankings at No. 10 last year, coming off its loss to Mississippi.
That’s more of a long shot, though — in the 11-year history of the BCS, all but two title-game teams were among the top six in the first BCS rankings. LSU provided the other exception in 2003, rising from an opening 12th.
UM got a surprisingly unfriendly response from the six computers used in the BCS compilations, with no ranking higher than 13th despite its victories over Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma in the first five weeks.
Of course, it doesn’t help that FSU went from a top-20 ranking to a 2-4 start. Or that banged-up Oklahoma stands 3-3 — its losses by a combined five points.
Shannon suggested that his players learned about the fickleness of the ratings system a month ago when they went from unranked to No. 8 in three weeks, then fell sharply after losing to Virginia Tech.
TALK THE TALK
“I think the whole team understands. Listening to them talk, they always talk about staying focused,” Shannon said. “They’ve been doing it since Virginia Tech.”
The race for a berth in the ACC title game should provide enough intrigue, anyway. Although pesky Virginia stands atop the Coastal Division with a 2-0 conference mark, the troika between UM and the two Techs is the battle to watch.
Those three teams already have played their series among each other, each winning once and losing once. Should each get through the rest of ACC play unscathed, the three-way tiebreaker would present a moving target.
Since all three teams would finish 7-1 in ACC play under that scenario, they would stay tied through the first three tiebreakers. The fourth measures the combined overall record of each team’s three Atlantic Division foes.
UM and Georgia Tech have the same cross-division trio this year — FSU, Clemson and Wake Forest. No matter what happens, they will stay tied. The question is how those stack up against Virginia Tech’s threesome of Boston College, Maryland and North Carolina State.
If the Hokies’ trio combines for a better record, they will return to the ACC title game. A lower finish would eliminate Virginia Tech, creating a two-team tie that would give UM the advantage based on head-to-head results.
â€¢ Shannon is miffed enough at his special teams that he said they will be run at full speed in practice until further notice. A bad punt snap put UM in a bind that required a red-zone save from the defense, and the punt return and coverage teams also have concerns to address.
“Guys didn’t execute what we’ve been doing for the last three weeks,” Shannon said. “I thought our punt return team had an opportunity to get a nice return, and we had a clip. When you evaluate the tape, it should be a touchdown.
“Then you go back to our punt team — snapped the ball high, guys not protecting. Those are things we need corrected.”
â€¢ Although Mike James left in the third quarter with an apparent ankle injury and Tervaris Johnson also was limping, Shannon gave no indication of concern at the fullback/H-back positions.
“We’re fine,” he said.