No. 10 Miami fell to sixth-ranked Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl days back—courtesy of a handful of reasons that will get unpacked below.

Some are choosing to blame the offensive play calling of Mark Richt, others are highlighting defense struggles and ramping up their anti-Manny Diaz campaign—while the rest are hammering whoever let a seemingly biased SEC officiating crew in the building, as a handful of plays certainly played a part in the Canes falling, 34-24 on Saturday night.

While there’s some merit in all the above, as always after a tough loss—best suited to spend a few days reflecting, before going off the handle.

In doing so around these parts—and after bucking-in for two Playoff games a day later—the down time helped serve as a reminder that Miami was as good as expected this year, though not as great as most hoped.

Turnover Chain hype. Big takedowns of Florida State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Winning the Coastal, a 10-0 run out the gates, reaching the ACC Championship game and a New Years Six Bowl. All should be judged through the lens of who Miami was when this season began, as well as focused on what those team goals and expectations where when the 2017 campaign kicked off—Richt’s second go-around at “The U”.

This season’s Hurricanes had three goals in mind when the season began; win the Coastal, exact revenge on the four teams who topped Miami in 2016 and grow as a program with championship-level aspirations.

Winning the ACC Championship and reaching the College Football Playoffs were never in the cards—until they inexplicably were, by way of Miami eking out wins week after week. The pipe dream to some, foolishly became reality to others.

Sure, had stars aligned and everything continued exceeding expectations—as can happen sometimes with magical sports runs. But in reality, a tall order for a program entering it’s second season under a new head coach and coming off a disastrous decade that included three different head coaches over a six-year span, culminating with Richt’s hiring 25 months ago.

In reality, Miami’s success this season—coupled with a few thrilling comeback wins—became the Hurricanes’ worst enemy.

Almost immediately, the sports media went with the low-hanging-fruit narrative; “Does this mean Miami is back?” The question was asked every Hurricanes’ broadcast, while national writers took it upon themselves to weigh-in on the topic weekly.

Never mentioned in that discussion; the fact this Hurricanes’ program never claimed to be anything other than what it was—a team under a second-year coach trying to focus on the week-to-week, en route to a Coastal Division title.

ESPN’s College GameDay ran a package during their November 11th broadcast when third-ranked Notre Dame trekked south to take on No. 10 Miami. The “back” question as posed to legendary head coach Jimmy Johnson.

No stranger to success, having won a national championship at UM and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys—Johnson had a clear-cut answer on what “back” meant for his beloved Canes; an undefeated season and a national championship. Period.

Ask any vintage supporter of “The U” and you’d get something similar to that type of answer.

There are several steps in the process regarding the journey to “back”—and to Miami’s credit, it checked off a few of those initial boxes this season.

Ending the losing streak to the Seminoles—despite their record—was high atop that list. For a program that’s oft leaned on the phrase, “It’s Ain’t A Rivalry Until They Beat You”—seven consecutive losses in a row to Florida State took its toll and every year that passed without beating that team from Tallahassee, made every meeting that much tighter down the stretch.

The Seminoles were 1-2 when the Canes rolled north in a pivotal game for both. Had Florida State been able to get that win and back to .500—a safe bet their 2017 takes a different course. A rivalry game win can turn a season around instantaneously. Instead, Miami’s comeback proved to be a knockout-blow for FSU, while UM fed off that removed burden.

In years passed, the Canes completely unraveled after blowing opportunities against the Noles. This time around, that can-do attitude ultimately saved Miami in close wins against Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina the next three weeks—building confidence for Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in early November.

Reaching the ACC title game was another step. Miami approached the game with a belief it could beat top-ranked Clemson, but was ultimately humbled on the big stage.

Understanding and accepting that loss to a defending national champion riding a 43-3 streak dating back to late 2014—and one that whipped the Canes, 58-0 two years back amidst that streak—is not “lowered expectations”, as some meathead-type fans will argue.

It’s simply taking inventory regarding what is, being logical in the rebuild and truly grasping what it takes for a “good” program to become “great”.

Miami just started knocking on the door of “good” again, yet due to some close wins over mid-level conference squads, some wanted to speed up the process and anoint the Canes “great”.

Frustrated as this fan base is with mediocrity and falling out of title contention for well over a decade, that doesn’t allow any speeding up of the comeback process.

Winning big—and often—takes time.

Furthermore, when seeing what Alabama was able to do to Clemson weeks later in the Sugar Bowl should serve as another reminder just how hard it is to compete at this level, against the best the sport currently has to offer.

Lots of quality programs are vying for that top spot annually. The closer one gets to that finale, the more one sees what they’re truly made of.

Miami cut its teeth this year with it’s inaugural ACC Championship game and first big-time postseason appearance in 14 seasons; both necessary steps forward in the comeback. Expressing any next-level disappointment that Miami isn’t yet there a mere two years into Richt’s regime—it’s foolish and undermines the years of work true contenders put into their process and journey.

For those looking for a silver lining or something positive to hang their hat on regarding the future and Miami could look like in the coming years; Richt’s former squad is a good place to start.

Georgia took down second-ranked Oklahoma in dramatic (overtime) fashion to advance to this year’s national championship game; the Bulldogs’ first since the 1980 season. They did so with a team mostly built by Richt and with the type of offense the man who spent 15 years in Athens is looking to build in Miami.

Next up; an Alabama squad that’s owned the SEC and been a thorn in Georgia’s side for longer than the Dawgs care to remember.

Still, that two-headed, power running game with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Solid offensive line play. A hard-hitting defense, as well as quarterback who is accurate; minimizing mistakes and not giving the game away, despite his true freshman status—a reminder what it takes to reach that final two; yet the Bulldogs still have a huge uphill battle when it comes to dethroning a dynasty like the Crimson Tide’s.

While many in Miami bought into fool’s gold regarding the ceiling for Malik Rosier this season, a reminder that Richt was adamant from the get-go that No. 12 wasn’t his guy at the quarterback position—but like Hurricanes fans supporting this program, the second year head coach had to play the hand he was dealt.

Aside from telling the 3-star product from Alabama early-on that he’d never start for him, Richt remained critical of his quarterback’s play all season—right down to pulling Rosier in the season finale at Pittsburgh, despite a 10-0 start and several late-game heroics throughout the year.

Rosier’s last three outings for Miami absolutely snuffed out what had been an exciting season for the Hurricanes. While that may come off as a dig, that’s not how it’s intended. Like Miami itself this year, Rosier overachieved with these Hurricanes.

Never intended to be “the guy”, Rosier was a back-up option Richt and Miami hoped wouldn’t get leaned-on in a starting role capacity.

Brad Kaaya
left a year early, N’Kosi Perry arrived on campus too late and due to sub-par recruiting by the Hurricanes—a lethal dose of Al Golden, coupled with a three-year NCAA investigation—the depth chart wasn’t where it needed to be; that bottom 40 on the roster nowhere near the likes of what a Alabama or Clemson has been fielding for years.

Can Rosier improve? Does Perry have enough of a playbook understanding to beat the senior out? Will true freshman Jarren Williams be the wild card in the equation? How that shakes out in spring, time will tell—but let the roster holes serve as a reminder that Miami still has its work cut out for it in ways the current greats don’t.

Shifting back to the Orange Bowl loss, nothing damned the Canes more than Rosier’s three interceptions—the most-glaring box score difference in comparison to Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who threw four touchdowns and was named MVP.

Yes, a no-call hold on Lawrence Cager led to an end zone interception midway through the third quarter with the Canes trailing, 24-21—but the bigger issue with the play was Rosier’s decision-making; taking too long to get the ball out of his hand and getting it where it needed to be.

If thrown on time, Cager hauls in a 24-yard touchdown, Miami takes a 28-24 lead with 8:48 remaining in the third and it’s a different ballgame. Instead, the Badgers chewed five minutes off the clock with a 10-play drive, settled for a field goal and pushed their lead to six.

Even more egregious, Rosier’s first cough-up of the game; the Canes leading 14-3 with full momentum after forcing a Badgers’ punt. On the opening play of the second quarter, Rosier looked for Braxton Berrios, but missed Wisconsin linebacker Alex Van Ginkel—who caught an errant pass that pretty much hit him in his stomach.

Be it too late on one, or too soon on the next—that split-second decision-making is everything at this level. Just look at Hornibrook’s laser-sharp throws into tight man-to-man coverage where he got the ball into a small window, on time, for game-defining scores.

In defense of Miami’s offense, going into those two final match-ups without tight end Chris Herndon and the Canes best receiver Ahmmon Richards—after already losing running back Mark Walton for the year—was asking a lot even with a more-accurate passer.

But damned if those big-time Rosier misses against Pittsburgh and Wisconsin weren’t the difference between 10-3 and 12-1 this season, based on how those final three weeks played out.

The flip-side to that, of course—a 10-0 start could’ve just as easily have been 8-2 without some big time breaks against Florida State and Georgia Tech; losses that would’ve been brutal going into showdowns against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, resulting in a lack of confidence and swag that proved to be difference-makers against both the Hokies and Fight-less Irish.

Without that undefeated run, Miami arguably doesn’t get the benefit of primetime games, nor does ESPN roll its College GameDay set to Coral Gables. Early mistakes were covered up against lesser foes, but when talking the likes of Clemson and Wisconsin, the margin for error narrowed big time.

The talk has forever been that a bowl win offers some much-needed momentum going into the off-season. To a point, sure—but based on this Miami program, what was accomplished this year, what was left on the table and a fanbase clamoring to see the Hurricanes truly “back”; how big a difference is 11-2 versus 10-3, when so many were hellbent on 14-0?

Not to mention all the general noise and hype that surrounds the post season with 40 bowl games taking place between mid-December and early-January? Whereas the Orange, Rose, Fiesta and Sugar used to hold much more clout—these days it’s the final four and a national championship, versus the field.

Translation; win or lose, the bowl game is in the rearview—with focus shifting towards a recruiting class that was just signed, more that will be added early February and the countdown to see which current juniors leave early.

Like everybody else that’s not Alabama or Georgia, it’s officially back-to-work time—with Miami looking for find ways to improve before we do it all over again next September.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties and launched soon thereafter. After being poached away by BleacherReport as a featured columnist, Bello launched 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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