Earlier this week Sports Illustrated released “anonymous, unfiltered’ analysis of each team in its preseason top 25 poll, from opposing coaches. If you keep scrolling down, eventually you’ll land on number 20 anddddddd oh God not this again.
Wash, rinse repeat.
It seems like nearly every year for more than a decade Miami is “almost back”, and for over a decade they’ve never followed through. Since 2006, the Hurricanes have finished ranked in the AP poll twice – never higher than 19th. Yet still to this day Miami remains a national brand, and after any big win (rare as they may be), the hype comes rushing back in waves.
I tried to pinpoint the exact moment the Miami dynasty came to an end. For most people, the 2002 Fiesta Bowl comes to mind. After all, it was the last national championship game that featured Miami, in a game the ‘Canes had no business losing, and did so in such dramatic fashion ESPN already turned that team/era into a 30 for 30. After Willis McGahee blew his knee into 1,000 pieces, it seemed like the magic of Miami erupted with it.
That 2002 team was the last truly great Miami team, but the collapse really didn’t start until a few years later. In 2004, Miami was 6-0 and ranked third in the country when it went into Chapel Hill for what should have been a cakewalk against 3-4 UNC. Somehow this game doesn’t get remembered despite household names like Brock Berlin and Darian Durant trading blows, but it ended with Conor Barth drilling a 42-yard field goal as time expired to upset Miami. Conor Barth killed Miami.
Miami still almost won the ACC that season before losing at home to Virginia Tech in the season finale, but the week before, Virginia Tech taunted the Hurricanes by holding up “ACC CHAMPS” signs after beating Virginia. The Hokies were so confident going into the de facto conference title game against Miami that they guaranteed victory on national TV a week before. Yeah, that Miami mystique? Long gone.
Miami began the following season ranked ninth; finishing 17th. In 2006 the ‘Canes started the year 11th; they finished unranked. The bottom fell out in 2007, Randy Shannon’s first year as head coach, when they finished 5-7, including a 48-0 loss to Virginia in the team’s last-ever game in the Orange Bowl – a game that will live in infamy. They had finally hit rock bottom.
Ever since that moment, the media has wanted so badly for Miami to return to glory that it has taken any sliver of hope it can get to try and vault the Hurricanes right back to prominence.
In 2009, with Jacory Harris at quarterback, Miami came out of the gates with two national TV wins in a row. They survived Florida State with a goal line stand as time expired, and then beat No. 14 Georgia Tech at home on a Thursday night 10 days later and woooooo boy was Miami back, baby. The ‘Canes strolled into Blacksburg a week later to take on 11th-ranked Virginia Tech. Harris had already won the infamous “September Heisman” in a runaway…until Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams led a 31-7 trouncing by the Hokies in the pouring rain.
Miami was still Not Back.
In 2013, the ‘Canes started 7-0, with wins over powerhouses like Florida Atlantic, Savannah State and Wake Forest, which vaulted them to No. 7 entering a showdown with third-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee. All Jameis Winston did that night was blow the doors of Miami again, 41-14.
Miami: Not Back.
Just last season, with their favorite son Mark Richt back on the sidelines, Miami opened with four straight wins against a murderer’s row featuring Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic (again), Appalachian State and Georgia Tech. Surviving that gauntlet launched the Hurricanes from unranked to – wait for it – number 10! Next up – you guessed it – Florida State. Yet again, the Seminoles ended Miami’s unbeaten season, this time by a single point after Michael Badgley shanked an extra point in the final minutes.
After three straight losses to follow that, Miami was still…Not Back.
So of course, after a 9-4 season in which Miami finished tied for second in a very pedestrian ACC Coastal Division, and losing three-year starter Brad Kaaya at quarterback, why wouldn’t this be Miami’s year?
The 2017 Miami team has plenty of talent. It’s just that talent has never been the issue at Miami. From 2005 until 2015, the Hurricanes produced the eighth-most NFL players of any school in the country. This year’s team has an All-American caliber running back with Mark Walton, not to mention a potential breakout star in Ahmmon Richards. But it’s the defense that has everyone excited in Coral Gables. Shaq Quarterman leads one of the best linebacking corps in the country. Chad Thomas and Joe Jackson are forces of nature as pass-rushers…blah blah blah blah.
I’m tired of hearing about all the weapons Miami is ready to set loose on the ACC. Sure, the law of averages says sooner or later they’ll win a Coastal Division – it’s only been 13 years after all. Mark Richt won a lot of games at Georgia, but also rarely if ever did he overachieve. He won big when he had big talent, and rarely if ever outperformed expectations. In nine of his 15 seasons at Georgia, his teams finished at or below .500 against the spread.
The problem in Miami, as is true across college football, is distractions. How many colleges in major cities have won big in college football? I can think of two – Miami and USC. What do they both have in common? Turns out they were cheating to do it.
The less distractions you have, the more insulated the community, the better chance you have to win in college football. Tuscaloosa. Tallahassee. Clemson. Ann Arbor. Happy Valley.
Miami’s always had the same distractions. The only time they’ve won is when they had SO MUCH NFL TALENT it wasn’t even funny. Can this year’s Miami team say that? Hell no.
Until the Hurricanes line up with a half-dozen first round picks in the orange and green, I’m calling their bluff every single time.
Miami will have its moments again this year, but if you’re betting on Richt to solve the Hurricanes’ puzzle and restore the glory in 2017, prepare to be disappointed. Again.