One such game hollered from way down southernmost, even on a Saturday when the playoff puzzle lost its gaudy Oregon (9-2) and its admirable Penn State (9-2). Sure, nine candidates remain for the four playoff spots; and Arizona State’s Herm Edwards and Danny Gonzales reminded us they know how to cook up enough defense to foil even a Justin Herbert Oregon; and Baylor (10-1) impressed deeply in surpassing its Oklahoma sigh to give Texas its latest reminder that its superiority is bygone; and Alabama (10-1) started its new paradigm with Mac Jones at quarterback; and Utah (10-1) looks like one of those rare teams where we must consider scoring margin (conference wins: 38-13, 52-7, 21-3, 35-0, 33-28, 49-3 and 35-7).
But wait! What’s this from the long-forgotten, international city of Miami?
What the heck?
It might take a volume to explain the resonance of FIU’s 30-24 win over Miami on Saturday night at Marlins Park, where the Orange Bowl once sat. That victory by a 20-point underdog took all known history and left it upturned. FIU Coach Butch Davis even told reporters, “There’s maybe a little bit of those spirits that stay in that ground that kind of helped take care of us tonight.”
With that, the man who coached Miami from 1995 to 2000 surmised that even those dwelling beneath the ground might have helped hex the Hurricanes.
Holy Howard Schnellenberger.
Meanwhile, in a quote rich in candor, native Miamian and first-year Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz said: “Obviously, a very, very dark night. One of the lowest points ever in this proud program’s history.”
Holy Ed Reed.
Miami, of course, is that rare program that popped up out of the depths to start hurling around the royalty. It up and won five national championships and got within inches of others between 1983 and 2001. It also got to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings just two Novembers ago. Yes, it has gone 13-14 since, but this?
Holy Ray Lewis.
FIU, the brand name for Florida International University — which is not to be confused with Florida Atlantic University, which beat FIU, 37-7, just two weeks ago — began playing football in 2002. It did so coached by one of the central figures in arguably the greatest game in NFL history, Don Strock, who wore a Dolphins uniform to complete 29 of 43 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-38 loss-but-non-loss to San Diego in that playoff game of Jan. 2, 1982.
On Aug. 29, 2002, FIU beat Saint Peter’s, 27-3, before 17,314 to lift the lid on the football habit two days before defending national champion Miami, across town, stretched its winning streak to 23 (along the way to 34) with a 63-17 win over Florida A&M in the Orange Bowl before 68,548. Right after that on Saturday, Sept. 7, FIU lost, 23-22, at Elon, while Miami went to Gainesville and blasted No. 7 Florida, 41-16.
FIU has existed as a place for only 54 years, and in a world with so many places, that’s a blip of time. So, for your information, the mascot is Panthers. The actual performing mascot is Roary the Panther, who hasn’t yet attained the historic status of, say, Uga. The fine history of bowl games through FIU’s mere 18 seasons includes the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (win), the 2011 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (loss), the 2017 Gasparilla Bowl (loss) and the 2018 Bahamas Bowl (win), bowls the program relished even if the names serve as a reminder that we are all insane.
How in the world it ever got to this shift in football plate tectonics, on Saturday night, before 27,339, at a baseball stadium, on an old football ground, is one of those how-in-the-worlds in which college football does specialize. Suddenly, 11 minutes of reporters’ questions and four FIU players’ answers from a dais wrapped up with linebacker Sage Lewis saying this: “We wasn’t even calling them ‘University of Miami’ during the week. We were calling them ‘University of Coral Gables’ [which is technically Miami’s address]. We’re the true Miami school. Think about it. We have more students. International. Everything.”
Holy Michael Irvin, what improbable words.
Jose Borregales, the kicker from Miami’s own Booker T. Washington High, said this: “I mean, I think it carries a lot [of meaning] to any player that was playing football down here in Miami. You know, being overlooked and just having that chip on your shoulder. You know, beating the team that, I think I’m speaking for everybody in Miami, that used to be our dream school. You know, everybody knew Miami. So beating them today is like, ‘Yeah, we’re here,’ you know.”
Used to be . . .
Holy Warren Sapp.
Davis had come back to coach on the ground where he once got Miami to the cusp of a national title before leaving for the Cleveland Browns, and he spoke of his arrival at the stadium Saturday night via the familiar old-town roads: “Driving down 826 to 836, until you got off the [road], and then when you got off, there’s no rusty stadium there with only five bathrooms and only two of them for women.”
There was a gorgeous urban baseball stadium, and FIU played as the home team, and FIU got booed on entry, and FIU relished that the way athletes generally do. Then FIU won, and it reached nowhere near the College Football Playoff selection committee but reached back across the years such as 1983 (when Schnellenberger’s Miami broke through) and 2002 (when FIU started up), and it shook the humid ground a bit.
Meanwhile, that 13-member committee will meet again early in the week, and the speculative questions of November carry on. If LSU beats Georgia narrowly in the SEC championship game Dec. 7, might the committee still make Georgia the first two-loss team ever in the playoff? If Utah beats Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 6, will Oregon’s 31-28 loss after a 24-7 fourth-quarter deficit wind up putting a dent in Utah’s credibility?
What might it do with Alabama, if the Crimson Tide can go into Auburn and ruin one of the game’s great spectacles, the toilet paper in the trees? Does Ohio State at Michigan even matter, given that if Ohio State (11-0) loses but wins the Big Ten it probably still makes the playoff?
Well, of course it matters! It’s Ohio State vs. Michigan! November matters in too many layers to count, even those you wake up on a Saturday thinking you might not even notice all day and all night, until something wild comes barreling at you, maybe even from a baseball stadium on an old football ground with ghosts.