The Miami-Duke Fiasco: What It Means For The ACC

Once again, college football never ceases to amaze. With 6 seconds left, Duke scores a touchdown to go up 27-24 and everyone collectively cedes the game to the Blue Devils. A few seconds later, a squib kick is lateraled 8 times and the Miami bench rushes into the end zone in elation. 

Time and time again, fortunes are won and lost in just a few seconds in this sport. Adding to the drama was the fact that officials threw a flag for a block-in-the-back on Miami but decided to pick it up and review the entire play. They deliberated for a few minutes and eventually confirmed the touchdown. 

Flash forward to Sunday afternoon, and the ACC has officially suspended the referees involved for two games. The official statement highlights several mistakes by the officiating crew, including:

      The replay official erred in not overturning the ruling on the field that the Miami player had released the ball prior to his knee being down. If called, this would have ended the game.

      The on-field officials erred by failing to penalize Miami for an illegal block in the back at the Miami 16-yard line. If called, the ball would have been placed at the Miami 8-yard line and the game would have been extended for an untimed down.

      A block in the back foul was called at the Duke 26-yard line. After the officials conferred, which is appropriate, they correctly determined that the block was from the side, which resulted in the flag being picked up. The replay official was not involved in the decision to pick up the flag; however, the referee did not effectively manage communication and properly explain why the flag was picked up.

      In addition, the on-field crew failed to penalize a Miami player for leaving the bench area and entering the field prior to the end of the play. This foul would not have negated the touchdown because it would have been enforced as a dead ball foul.

      Basically, the ACC is coming as close to saying that Miami should not have won the game  as they professionally can without actually saying it. In my opinion, this is an egregious string of errors by the officials. It is absolutely unacceptable that this touchdown was upheld. The ACC is right to suspend the officiating crew. In 99.9% of blown calls, the outcome of the game is not directly affected. 

      Yes, a controversial play can drastically change the landscape of a game, but rarely does it 100% change the outcome of the game with no ability for recovery. This is different. Duke won the game and yet multiple blown calls miraculously gave Miami the victory. 

      While I am of the opinion that Duke should have won the game, they had plenty of chances on the final play to make that certain. This was an absolute breakdown of special-teams defense. There is no reason to allow an 8 lateral touchdown. This is a play we see every few years with grainy footage from a high school game, not two high profile college teams.  

      Multiple Duke defenders had clear shots to tackle Miami ball-carriers, but they couldn’t convert them. Several Duke players appeared to be just standing around on the field, unsure what was happening. If the Blue Devils could’ve maintained focus for just a few more seconds, we wouldn’t still be talking about this game. 

      Either way, whats done is done. So what does this mean for Duke and the ACC? The ACC Coastal Standings are currently as follows:

      1. North Carolina (7-1, 4-0 ACC)

      2. Pittsburgh (6-2, 4-1 ACC)

      3. Duke (6-2, 3-1 ACC)

      4. Miami (5-3, 2-2 ACC)

      5. Virginia (3-5, 2-2 ACC)

      6. Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3 ACC)

      7. Georgia Tech (3-6, 1-5 ACC)

      Now, assuming the officials had correctly overturned the Miami touchdown giving Duke the win, this is what the standings would look like:

      1. North Carolina (7-1, 4-0 ACC)

      1. Duke (7-1, 4-0 ACC)

      3. Pittsburgh (6-2, 4-1 ACC)

      4. Virginia (3-5, 2-2 ACC)

      5. Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3 ACC)

      6. Miami (4-4, 1-3 ACC)

      7. Georgia Tech (3-6, 1-5 ACC)

      While it doesn’t look drastically different, there are a few key differences. Notably, Duke would be tied for first in the division instead of sitting alone in third. While Miami still won't really be competing for the division title at fourth, they would fall all the way to sixth. 

      Duke is impacted the most here, especially with such a tight race between them, UNC, and Pitt for the Coastal crown. Making it more interesting is the fact that Duke and UNC will play each other next week. Obviously, if Duke wins out they will be the division champions. However, a single loss could take them completely out. Being credited with the win against Miami would have given them a comfortable buffer against UNC and Pitt. Consider this scenario:

      • Duke beats UNC, beats Pitt, goes 1-1 against Virginia and Wake Forest

      • Pitt loses to Duke, beats Louisville and Miami

      • UNC loses to Duke, then goes 3-0 to finish

      In the current set-up, the final Coastal Standings would look like this:

      1. North Carolina (7-1 ACC)

      2. Duke (6-2 ACC) *tiebreaker over Pitt

      3 Pittsburgh (6-2 ACC)

      Here, North Carolina gets to play in the ACC Championship. Now consider if Duke was given the win over Miami. The adjusted standings under the same described scenario look like this:

      1. Duke (7-1 ACC) *tiebreaker over UNC

      2. North Carolina (7-1 ACC)

      3. Pittsburgh (6-2 ACC)

      Here, Duke goes to the Championship unhindered by an extra loss to Miami. Now, as stated above, Duke can solve this problem by simply winning out. However, I’d bet anything that they would love to have that one game buffer just in case. Obviously, this is just one possible scenario out of many different ones, but if it comes true Duke should be furious at the ACC for costing them a trip to Charlotte. 

      Depending on how the next few weeks play out, the Miami miracle could live in infamy for Duke fans for years to come. Hopefully Duke can step up and win their last 4 games to win the division, however, the only certain thing in college football is chaos. Anything can happen. 

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