Another tight fourth quarter, another rise-up moment for Mark Richt and his Hurricanes. Nailbiters are the new norm, but in a way that would make the late, great legendary Al Davis proud—this Miami team just wins, baby.

Comebacks were necessary against the likes of Florida State and Georgia Tech, whereas this latest tussle with upset-minded Syracuse—fresh off a takedown of second-ranked Clemson—had the Canes relying on a late-game score for some breathing room against the Orange in an eventual, 27-19 victory.

The win marked Miami’s 11th in a row—second-best in the nation and something that couldn’t have been more foreign under the last two coaching regimes in Coral Gables.

Next up, a road trip to Chapel Hill in a revenge-fueled showdown against a reeling North Carolina squad, which should push the win-streak to a dozen. After that, the dress rehearsal is over and the real season begins.

Miami’s ascension to No. 8 in the nation deserves a hearty applause and a genuine pat on the back for a program that had forgotten how to win consistently over the years. The lone drawback to the Canes’ recent success—a portion of the fanbase getting a bit ahead of itself regarding where the final month of the season is poised to go.

NO MORE CRYSTAL BALL PREDICTIONS; ENJOY THE RIDE

Scroll the message boards or check in on social media and College Football Playoffs chatter has made its way front and center; Miami faithful playing out losing scenarios regarding the seven squads currently ranked ahead of the Canes.

Meanwhile, wins over No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 9 Notre Dame are almost seen as fait accompli to some—mere formalities for on-the-rise Miami, who hasn’t lost since October 29th last year in South Bend.

“If Georgia and Alabama cancel each other out, Penn State can lose on the road to Ohio State or Michigan State, Oklahoma can knock off TCU, Wisconsin will fall to somebody … and all Miami has to do it beat Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, not choke against Virginia or Pittsburgh and then top defending national champion Clemson in the Canes’ first ACC Championship game in school’s history!”

Took some paraphrasing liberties with that last paragraph, but the sentiment remains on point; if the Canes can just knock off its three most-difficult opponents of the season—while remaining focused down the stretch against lesser foes—sky’s the limit.

Thankfully this super-fan assessment isn’t shared by Richt or the Miami coaching staff as the second-year leader takes every opportunity he can to use the media has his bullhorn regarding the Canes not being “back”, nor having the depth and identity to complete at a championship level … yet.

“If we were rolling everybody, we’re whupping everybody by three touchdowns, no drama. If we were having that kind of a roll, maybe, but we’re just finding ways to win at the end of games. We’re not foolish enough to think that we’ve arrived yet. I don’t think they believe that. They know they’ve got to earn it,” Richt told the Miami Herald.

“Good things are happening but it takes time in recruiting over time to get your roster deep enough with guys that can really play at a championship level.”

Richt doubled-down with a reminder that while some are focuses on the postseason and brass ring, overcoming a decade’s worth of broken ways is the ultimate goal this fall.

“Trying to get used to a winning culture, that’s hopefully being developed. A winning culture is really more of how you go about your business every day than actual wins sometimes. Sometimes they don’t show up right away,” Richt cautioned.

Every time the media pushes the is-Miami-back narrative, Richt is fast to bring up that the Canes aren’t playing at a consistent, elite level—though he remains generally excited about his team’s find-a-way abilities.

“I’ve always said that teams that win close games have the chance to be champions. We’re still in the running,” Richt shared with Joe Rose on WQAM-560 days back.

“We know we have a lot of meat on the bone, so to speak, before we can start claiming that we’re going to go to Charlotte [for the ACC Championship Game]. But that’s where we want to go and when we get there, we want to win it. But you have to earn it every week.”

WINNING CURES ALL; BUT TAKES DEPTH TO BE “BACK”

To Richt’s point, yes, despite some of Miami’s depth-related deficiencies, winning close games is a characteristic of championship-caliber teams. Every week the Hurricanes have backs to the wall, come out swinging, never flinch and find a way to persevere. In some ways, it’s like a mini-master’s degree or real-time crash course in resiliency and success.

No, Florida State isn’t a world-beater this season, while Georgia Tech is a good-not-great squad—but those comeback victories gave Miami a long-forgotten belief. Should the Canes be in a bind late against the Hokies or Fighting Irish—that experience and muscle memory from game-winning drives will serve as fuel and can-do reminders.

Where Richt’s assessment is undeniable; everything related to depth and having a loaded roster to go blow-for-blow with those who would be considered the nation’s elite programs.

Any way you slice or dice it, the Miami Hurricanes are absolutely and unequivocally overachieving this season. That doesn’t mean a magical finish couldn’t somehow be in the cards—but when judging the 2016 version of “The U”, supporters must remove the orange and green blinders, seeing things for what they really are.

This is merely the beginning of something special with Richt in Coral Gables and plans are simply ahead of schedule.

BETTER LUCKY THAN GOOD; ASPIRE FOR LUCKY AND GOOD

Miami hasn’t gotten the lucky breaks or bounces over the past decade. If anything, all that could go wrong, did. From disastrous head coaching decisions post-Butch Davis, to the administration, athletic budget, “Shapirogate” and a three year NCAA witch hunt—a dark cloud was cast over Hurricanes Football and there was no sliver of light until Richt’s arrival in December 2015.

Year one was serviceable as Miami went 9-4 and won a bowl game, but closes losses to Florida State, North Carolina and Notre Dame by a combined 11 points—the result of what happens when miracle finishes go the other way.

A missed extra point against the Seminoles. A slow start and bogus touchdown given up to the Tar Heels. A chance for a defensive scoop-and-score in South Bend goes awry and the Irish kick a game-winning field goal a play later.

Three Miami losses last year could’ve just as easily have been wins—the same as the Canes’ last three victories this season could’ve gone the other way.

Malik Rosier
to Braxton Berrios on 3rd-and-10 for 11 yards with :11 remaining set up the game-winner to Darrell Langham. Without that, it’s most-likely overtime and new life for the Noles.

Rosier-to-Langham a week later on 4th-and-10 set up a gimme Michael Badgley field goal for the one-point win, while a missed sure-fire interception by a third-string Syracuse linebacker was followed by a 33-yard touchdown run by Travis Homer, extending the lead to eight.

Turn it over and it’s Orange ball on their own 20-yard line, trailing by one with 2:54 remaining, Eric Dungey under center and only needed a field goal for the upset.

Last year’s 8-4 regular season could’ve realistically have been 10-2 or 11-1, while this year’s 6-0 start could just as easily be 4-2 or 3-3. The slimmest of margins determined victories in or against the Canes’ favor six of the past 14 games and while losses proved completely demoralizing over the past several years, this recent string of victories has been equally as invigorating—which explains the thinking ahead to the postseason, or allows loyalists to block out Richt’s comments about a lack of depth, or being a true contender.

That said, the wins do lend credibility to Richt’s sentiments regarding teams that win close games having the chance to become champions—as there’s something to be said for a deep-rooted belief that losing isn’t an option, which ultimately results in finding a way to prevail.

One of the most-exciting aspects of this current Canes’ squad; the fact that these don’t know what they don’t know and hold a steadfast belief that no matter what the circumstances, victory will be theirs.

The little faith in Rosier entering this season and assuming the role of “place holder” until N’Kosi Perry is ready—someone forgot to tell No. 12 that, as he overcomes weekly adversity and slow starts en route to wins, clutch throws, true leadership and next-level success.

Mark Walton lost for the season to a broken ankle in Tallahassee; Homer stepped in at running back without missing a beat and looks all the part of capable starter for the second half of this special season. Ahmmon Richards banged up and sidelined in key moments; leave it to the inexperienced Langham to shine in the biggest, brightest moments.

CLICHE, BUT STILL TRUE—ONE GAME AT A TIME

Luck plays a big part in every good team’s run towards something greater—and the Canes have nothing to apologize for regarding a few fourth quarter rallies. That said, now is no time to run ahead of the cloud. Fact is, everything Miami is experiencing currently is gravy; some form of football gods payback for the awfulness this program endured over the past dozen years.

Undefeated in late October in Richt’s second year? See it for the bonus it is. Measurable success was expected, but knocking off Florida State in Tallahassee and jumping out to a program-best, 4-0 run in the ACC—no one was predicting that during the preseason. If anything, the conversation was centered on winning the division for a rematch with the Seminoles in Charlotte.

Coastal-or-bust was the rallying cry early on; Miami breaking 12-year drought regarding an ACC Championship game appearance—yet now, after a 6-0 start, including three late-game wins by a total of 13 points, folks are going “A Beautiful Mind” and trying to figure out Playoffs scenarios.

Harmless, on one hand—though it does set the Canes up for a bigger fall—while also keeping fans from enjoy the ride and finding contentment in simply being relevant and on-the-move, again.

For now, less chatter about the end game and more focus on taking things week by week.

Beat a one-win North Carolina squad that is reeling with 16 starters out. The Tar Heels hurt the Canes the past two seasons and have taken a few shots since becoming ACC rivals. Exact some revenge there, play with purpose, hope for a big lead, rest starters and get some back-up some much-needed playing time.

From there, put everything into a showdown with thirteenth-ranked Virginia Tech, as that is truly the game of the year and will decide the Coastal—and ultimately the season. The Hokies smashed the Canes in Blacksburg last year, so again, a little bit if payback as well as divisional supremacy on the line here. Losing this game is not an option.

A mid-November showdown with ninth-ranked Notre Dame is a big one rankings-wise, a well as for history-sake in a storied rivalry—but as of late-October, no one should be thinking about the Irish, outside of securing tickets to what should be a prime time game.

Survive all that and the regular season will end with a lesson in surviving while on top and not giving away winnable games, which has been the norm over the past decade. Virginia and Pittsburgh are middle-of-the-road squads the Canes need to get back to handling proper.

Of course, none of that means anything without kicking things up a notch in Chapel Hill this weekend. Take care of North Carolina and then the convo can shift to the rest.

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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