Thrilling comebacks. Climbing the rankings. Moments of survival. Debates regarding how the College Football Playoffs are going to shake out. The sub-plots are endless as the Miami Hurricanes prepare for their finale at Pittsburgh on Friday; a would-be 11-0 run giving head coach Mark Richt his first undefeated regular season in 17 tries.

While sights remain on what comes next; Thanksgiving seems an optimum time to put some focus on what’s taken place around this program over the past few years. Up to four games remain for the Canes this season—and however it shakes out, some perspective is necessary. Miami is ahead of schedule—year two under Richt 2.0 and doing things most never dreamed were in the cards this season.

A shot at an ACC crown and Coastal Division title were the goal; as has been the past dozen years, with the Canes coming up short. The schedule seemed favorable for something along the lines of 10-2—a mid-September loss at Tallahassee with a first-year quarterback against a Florida State team seemed destined for greatness this season, with payback coming December in Charlotte.

Outside of that, a Miami-esque mid-season setback against an average conference foe was something this fan base had gotten used to. Who, when or where was to be determined—but any notion of rolling though the division unscathed … it simply hadn’t been in the cards for this program and based on recent failures, still seemed a year or so away.

Instead, a Shangri-La type season where stars aligned and magic happened. No better time to stop and drink that in than today.

A SPECIAL SEASON IN THE CARDS SINCE THE GET-GO

That 21-day natural disaster-fueled layoff felt like purgatory at the time—but instead proved to be a blessing in disguise as Miami is looking mid-season form in November, while others look a tad road-worn down the stretch.

Instead of facing the Noles mid-September, the showdown was pushed to early-October. Miami saw a road trip to Arkansas State cancelled—a week after looking rusty in the opener to Bethune-Cookman. From there, a home showdown against Toledo—where the Canes started sluggish, but blew out the Rockets, 42-14 in the second half.

Durham wound up the first road game of the season for first-year quarterback Malik Rosier—not Jonesboro or Tallahassee. The lone start of the junior’s career came at Duke in 2015, capped with an eight-lateral miracle finish—resulting in familiarity two years later, as well as a convincing, 31-6 victory and no late rally necessary.

That Friday night showdown gave the Canes an extra day of rest before the trek to the panhandle for what proved to be an Instant Classic against Florida State; Miami ultimately needing two game-winning drives for a 24-20 victory, in a battle that saw the Canes trailing, 3-0 at the half.

The magic continued against Georgia Tech; receiver Darrell Langham—the hero at Doak a week earlier—hauling in what has since proved to be a season-saving 4th-and-10 grab against the Yellow Jackets, setting up a game-winning field goal by Michael Badgley for the, 25-24 comeback win.

Bonus points to Mother Nature for a fourth quarter mini-monsoon that played in Miami’s home-cooking favor—a game originally schedule for Thursday night, but bumped as a ripple effect from Hurricane Irma.

Travis Homer rushed for 170 yards and a score—as well as a receiving touchdown—in his first start for the injured Mark Walton, who suffered a season-ending injury at Florida State. Down four key starters, the Canes survived a trap game that would’ve been a backbreaker and division-destroyer in years passed.

As a starter, Homer has rushed for 642 yards and four touchdowns—keeping Miami’s offense multi-dimensional and hard-nosed on the ground.

Upset-minded Syracuse provided yet another scare, one week after the Orange took down national champion Clemson. The Canes picked off starting quarterback Eric Dungey four times in the first half, but couldn’t cash in—leading 13-3 at the half.

A one-point Miami lead with 5:42 remaining, Homer tore off a 33-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to eight—while the Orange was stopped on downs the ensuing possession.

Six-and-oh-and-on-the-go, the Hurricanes rolled into Durham—ekeing out a five-point win against a North Carolina squad that has owned Miami in their house over the years. 7-6 at the half, the Canes put together their second of four consecutive four-turnover games—the now-legendary Turnover Chain serving as the 12th Man at the most-crucial of times as a late Tar Heels fumble, courtesy of Joe Jackson, who got one back for Homer after his untimely cough-up.

7-0 and feeling the flow—but going into the teeth of the schedule, where it was go-for-broke time for The U.

THE MEAT OF THE SCHEDULE … AND MIAMI FEASTED

A loss to No. 13 Virginia Tech—7-1 at the time; their lone stumble against Clemson—Miami would’ve been out of the Coastal Division hunt, let alone anything at the national level. Instead, pure dominance.

Homer’s late second quarter 64-yard touchdown run gave Miami a 14-0 lead, which Virginia Tech made, 14-10 early third quarter—Canes’ backs to the wall after another Rosier interception. Instead of crumbing, the resilient signal-caller found tight end Chris Herndon for a 43-yard score the ensuing drive, pushing the lead to 11.

Ball-hawk Jaquan Johnson snuffed out any notion of a comeback late in the fourth, setting up a 13-yard Rosier touchdown run as the dagger.

With the Coastal seemingly locked up, a pivotal moment for Canes fans as the narrative began to shift from micro to macro. Could something bigger be in store than just making some in-conference noise as newly-crowned No. 3 Notre Dame was headed south?

A four-win team the season prior, a rematch against the Irish seemed like nothing more than revenge-fueled when checking the schedule in September—the Canes losing a 30-27 heartbreaker in South Bend a year prior. Playoffs chatter surrounded the Golden Domers, while Miami was catching a whirlwind of grief for close calls and a lack of dominance.

The critics picked against the Canes—while those old schoolers in the 3-0-5 felt something in the air all week; an intangible the critics would never have seen coming a million miles away. This showdown represented something bigger and the set-up couldn’t have been more in Miami’s favor; a primetime, nationally-televised showdown—at home, when feeling disrespected—against the perfect mark in Notre Dame; who hadn’t played a road game in almost a month.

The buzzsaw game South Florida hoped for; it unfolded in vintage fashion—a dominant, 41-8 ass-kicking for all the college football world to see. The Irish plummeted, while Miami climbed the rankings and assumed the No. 3 spot in the second CFP rankings.

Virginia followed—a letdown game if there ever was one after two nighttime, big time showdowns. The crowd showed up for Senior Day and a noon kickoff—but that still wasn’t enough to manufacture next-level hype against a Cavaliers squad who could save their season with an upset.

The Canes’ defense was stifled early—down 14-0, tying things up and giving up a cheap score before the half, making for a 21-14 deficit. Early third quarter, a blocked punt and brilliant pass again at the Canes down two touchdowns—but a :07 changed everything.

Rosier found Braxton Berrios for a necessary 24-yard grab on 3rd-and-9, setting up a nine-yard touchdown to Lawrence Cager. The next play from scrimmage; Johnson read the eyes of on-fire Kurt Benkert and dropped a pick-six that turned HardRock on its ear.

28-28 with 9:57 remaining, Miami never looked back—rattling off 30 points unanswered for a dominant home finale—and first double-digit win season since 2003.

DREAM BIGGER, BUT APPRECIATE ALL THAT’S TAKEN PLACE

Human nature has us all wanting more—and more could absolutely be in store for the Canes. A four-win Pittsburgh squad stands in the way of Miami’s first undefeated regular season since 2002, setting up a rather improbable showdown against Clemson on December 2nd for the ACC Championship game.

Last year saw the Tigers knocking off the Crimson Tide for the national championship—a year after losing to Alabama in the same situation a season prior. Another footnote from Clemson’s run in 2015; handing Miami a 58-0 home beat-down that ultimately led to the firing of Al Golden in a true bottoming-out moment for the proud program.

Golden—who should’ve been gone after a lackluster run in 2014—staved off his execution, which led to a mid-season firing the following October. Two months later, Georgia cut ties with Richt—for what was deemed a great run in Athens, though not enough as there was no national title in 15 tries.

Facing an early retirement, or a career change that would’ve most-likely meant missionary work for the head coach with such deep-rooted faith—in instead sparked a rebirth. Perfect timing that brought the Boca Raton native back to his alma mater with one last go-around in a more-comfortable environment.

The only surprise; not Richt’s success at Miami—but how quickly he turned the Canes into contenders again. A shot at revenge against Clemson two years after the wheels completely fell off in Coral Gables? It’s nothing short of storybook—the final chapter yet to be written.

Four games; three of which would be against next-level talent—with the ultimate prize at the end. So hard to fathom, yet so wonderful to bathe in; the Canes jumping the Tigers in the latest CFP rankings that left Miami at No. 2 and Clemson at No. 3.

With Thanksgiving officially upon us, let’s all use today to appreciate what’s been—and come tomorrow get back to dreaming about what could be.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, U Family.

Beat Pitt on Friday and get back to dreaming bigger come Saturday.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties and launched allCanesBlog.com soon thereafter. After being poached away by BleacherReport as a featured columnist, Bello launched ItsAUThing.com to scratch that orange and green itch. In his day-to-day Bello works with icon Bill Murray and humor website theCHIVE on the William Murray golf apparel line—but all free time is spent reminding the masses that it’s a Canes thing and they wouldn’t understand.

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