There was a time when Miami was an afterthought in the national picture, widely considered to be a mediocre team incapable of contending for anything and with a coach tippy-toeing on the firing line.

Oh, those distant memories of three weeks ago.

These days, the Hurricanes seem to have as much buzz as any team in the country. The intrigue will follow them to Blacksburg, Va. on Saturday, when No. 9 Miami (2-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) visits No. 11 Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0) _ the biggest game for the Hurricanes in years.

Coach Randy Shannon's message: Don't let the cookie crumble.

"It's like an Oreo, with the two black things on the outside. They're dark holes," Shannon said. "Don't venture into those areas. Stand in the middle where you can see the light."

He can see the light, for certain. Shannon rarely reveals any emotion publicly, yet even he acknowledged that it's "flattering" to have the Hurricanes collecting so much attention, from the No. 9 national ranking to talk that quarterback Jacory Harris is a Heisman Trophy contender.

Miami's players, respectfully, couldn't care less.

"A lot of people think, a lot of you guys think, we've done a lot of things or something," left guard Orlando Franklin said. "We're at game three of the season. We haven't really done anything, to be honest with you. We've got to continue gaining strides and continue doing what we're doing week to week."

Harris, who is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, was even more succinct.

"I really don't think I've done anything yet," Harris said. "We've only played two games. We still have, what, 12 more games to go?"

Maybe that was a slip of the tongue. If Miami has 12 games left, that means the Hurricanes will be playing in the ACC title game.

To get there, the Hurricanes _ who could become the fourth team this decade to beat three AP Top 25 opponents in September _ will likely have to win on Saturday.

Sure, it's early. But this is both unspoken and understood by Miami: A win over Virginia Tech gives the Hurricanes the inside track for the Coastal Division title. A loss, the No. 9 ranking goes away, the buzz tails off and Miami's ACC hopes would probably hinge on the Hokies losing twice in conference play.

"Really, really important," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "For both of us."

Tech, a perennial ACC and BCS contender, is used to the pros and cons of attention.

This Miami team, which is only the third program since 1999 to start a season with four ranked opponents, really isn't.

"The bandwagon," Harris said, "is closed."

The Hurricanes haven't played in a Bowl Championship Series game in six seasons, are two years removed from going 5-7 and have a coach who hasn't gotten his contract, which ends in 2010, extended _ prompting speculation that Shannon could be vulnerable if Miami faltered again in 2009.

Harris is making it all seem like no big deal.

The Heisman talk, he shrugs it off. When he's asked about his stats, he starts talking about his receivers or offensive line or the defense. He has the cache of a senior captain, not a sophomore on the cusp of making his fifth collegiate start.

"I don't know what it is about this team," Harris said. "But when we're getting talked about, predicted to go 0-4, that kind of put in the mindset that we must work harder. We know what we have."

When it comes to Harris, the Hokies know what Miami has, too.

"Miami's been Miami. They just missed the trigger man," Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "Now they've got that guy and now all of a sudden they're back again. ... He's making them go."

Not every 'Cane can downplay the notoriety.

Satellite trucks were outside Miami's athletic complex this week, Shannon was worn out by a thick pile of out-of-town interview requests and players reported getting e-mails and texts from friends they didn't even know they had.

It's a nice problem for the Hurricanes to have again.

"It's a great feeling. I can't sit here and lie," safety Randy Phillips said. "We've been working really hard and we just wanted people to pay attention to us and notice us. It's a blessing, but it's overdue. It's time for the University of Miami to get back where it's supposed to be, and that's the top of college football."