Back-to-back wins to close to the regular season didn’t make much of a difference with a frustrated fan base—but the distinction between 7-5 and 6-6 when it came to bowl season definitely had an impact for the New York-bound Miami Hurricanes.

Sitting at .500 with two to play, on the heels of a frustrating home loss to Duke—bowl eligibility itself was in question as Miami prepared for a road trip to Virginia Tech and closed with a home finale against Coastal Division winner Pittsburgh; the Panthers spoiling the Canes’ undefeated regular season bid last year with a 24-14 upset at Heinz Field.

Both the Canes and Hokies were reeling mid-November, but Miami outshined a struggling Virginia Tech squad, 38-14 in Blacksburg—before rolling Pittsburgh, 24-3—seemingly fueled by revenge and a desire to take out some frustration in front of a home crowd on Senior Day.

The Canes will need that same mojo to carry over to the Pinstripe Bowl on December 27th at Yankee Stadium when closing 2018 with Wisconsin, albeit in a lower-stakes affair than last season’s Orange Bowl where the Badgers capitalized on Hurricanes’ turnovers and held on for a, 34-24 victory.

Some have already dubbed this match-up the Disappointment Bowl, as both Miami and Wisconsin had higher expectations program-wise this season—failing to live up to the hype.

CANES & BADGERS BOTH WITH STEP BACKWARDS THIS SEASON

The Badgers rolled in with a No. 4 ranking, on the heels of last year’s 13-1 campaign and Big Ten West division title—while the Canes were No. 8 after a 10-3 campaign in 2017, which had Miami winning the Coastal Division for the first time in 14 tries. Despite those high hopes, both stumbled to 7-5 seasons in 2018 and are simply looking to stop the bleeding this post-season.

Miami was tagged by a better-than-advertised LSU squad in the season opener, while Wisconsin’s first setback came at home late September when BYU upset the Badgers. Momentum was seemingly gained in back-to-back wins over Iowa and lowly Nebraska—but Michigan rolled 38-13 at home in primetime mid-October and Wisconsin never recovered from the setback; falling at Northwestern and Penn State before ending the season with a disappointing home loss to Minnesota.

The Canes’ trajectory was different; winning five in a row after loss to the Tigers in Dallas—momentum seemingly shifting after a home victory and 20-point comeback against rival Florida State, who Miami hadn’t topped at home since 2004—but a road loss at Virginia the following weekend, coupled with a quarterback quandary put Miami in a tailspin, with UM dropping four in a row.

A lot of foolish chatter was sparked in the wake of the losing streak; some going as far as to hope Miami didn’t win out and failed to reach a bowl, believing that doing so would expedite the Mark Richt retirement process—which was never an option year three. Still, that contingent of the fan base held strong in their desire to see 5-7 and a six-game losing streak becoming a reality, rooted in desire for change—and little regard for what is, versus what they wish were the case.

WHAT IS, VERSUS WHAT ONE WANTS OR HOPES FOR

The frustration topic has been beat up everywhere this season—at allCanesBlog, as well as any Canes-themed message board or U-themed social media pages. So it seems to go with a once-great program that was next-level dominant decades back, in many ways changing the way the game was played, opposed to Miami’s current fight for relevancy and to again become a contender.

A common theme on this site; expectations versus reality—and how an inability to rectify one’s thought process has a direct result on their ability to handle what currently is.

That 10-0 start in 2017; exciting as it unfolded, but also something that needed reexamination as Miami closed with three consecutive losses—manhandled by No. 1 Clemson in the ACC title game, followed by that Orange Bowl loss to No. 6 Wisconsin. Toss in a few too-close-for-comfort wins against Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Syracuse—Miami could’ve had a record similar to the one it’s sporting in 2018, had a few lucky breaks gone the other way.

Equally as important; the fact that last season’s most-glaring issue—suspect quarterback play—wasn’t solved prior to this year’s opener against LSU. Both N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon redshirted last season and were tasked with learning the playbook, allowing them both to compete for the starting job this past spring; which didn’t seem like the tallest of orders based on how the overachieving Malik Rosier faltered down the stretch.

Despite the colossal question mark at quarterback entering the season—not to mention a young offensive line that’s been reshuffled since spring—heightened expectations were in full force, which is the biggest reason so many were triggered by the mid-season backsliding.

The way the division shook out, had Miami knocked off Georgia Tech and either Duke or Virginia, the Canes would’ve won the Coastal (owning the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh) at 9-3—setting up a rematch against Clemson in the ACC Championship.

Based on Miami’s offensive woes—right up through the anemic performance against the Panthers—one couldn’t expect much better than last season’s 38-3 beatdown by the Tigers in Charlotte, which would’ve left the Hurricanes 9-4 entering bowl season—and with a better bowl, could’ve easily found UM sitting with five losses for 2018, albeit via a more scenic route.

Instead, Miami is faced with a chance to close the season with a three-game win-streak, opposed to losing three in a row, which put a real damper on last year’s 10-0 start. The one-loss Badgers got the better of the Canes in the Orange Bowl last season—but this isn’t the same Wisconsin team; a broken down bunch also dealing with coming up short. Much like Miami’s road trip to Virginia Tech weeks back—it sets up to be a battle for pride and the team looking most to avoid another loss in a downer of a season.

Payback was in the air when Pittsburgh rolled south the Saturday after Thanksgiving; the Hurricanes’ defense clamping down, holding the Panthers to 200 total yards—69 on the ground two weeks after Pitt rushed for 492 yards against Virginia Tech.

Offensively, Miami rushed for 293 yards behind Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and freshman Cam’Ron Davis—whose tough-running will be needed in the cold against the Badgers. Especially with the Hurricanes’ air attack grounded; Perry only 6-for-24 for 52 yards—stifled by at least a half dozen drops from his receivers.

Another spirited ground effort will be the key as Miami moved the ball semi-well against Wisconsin last go-around—174 yards combined from Dallas, Homer and Rosier—though three crucial interceptions by No. 12 were the difference-maker; especially as his counterpart Alex Hornibrook was 23-of-34 for 258 yards, with four touchdowns and zero picks, en route to Orange Bowl MVP.

WORSE PLACES TO BE THAN NEW YORK CITY AT YEAR’S END

Sitting at 7-5 and tied for third in the Coastal Division, hard to complain about a Pinstripe Bowl showdown against a solid Big Ten program—especially considering some of the other destinations being floated around. Some had Miami headed to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport against University of Alabama-Birmingham, which would’ve been a nightmarish scenario with a lot of “how the mighty have fallen” type trolling.

The Gator Bowl was also said to be an option; a showdown against Missouri; while others pegged Miami to hit the Music City Bowl against Mississippi State or Texas A&M—both awful in regards to fan support as Hurricanes fans wouldn’t have descended on either that close to the new year, no to mention going up against two decent SEC squads when UM is struggling offensively.

The Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa against South Florida was another option; playing the Bulls on their home turf—a winnable game for the Canes as USF has been a hot mess on both offense and defense.

Weighing out bowl options based on beatable foes opposed to higher stakes—it’s not the Miami way, but in an era when the Canes haven’t looked like the Canes in a hot minute, the goal right now is a manageable present that helps with the long term.

When all is said and done regarding a disappointing 2018, an 8-5 finish and three-game win streak feel better riding into recruiting season—than 7-6 and “getting a crack at an SEC team”, just to say the Canes did.

All of that “anybody, anytime, anyplace” stuff—that’s not just a foregone era, it’s also a type of player, attitude and approach that no longer exists in college football. The game itself has completely changed—a game that the University of Miami was able to turn on its collective ear three decades back, bringing new levels of speed, athleticism and swag that simply didn’t exist in the wishbone / option (Big8) or three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust (Big Ten) eras.

CANES REBUILDING FOR THE FUTURE; NOT CHASING THE PAST

There’s no getting *back* to that era of out-talenting that the Hurricanes saw in the 80′s, early 90′s and even in the new millennium. Talent and speed are everywhere in the game, parity has taken over and competition is around every corner.

Where the State of Florida used just have “The Big Three”; there’s now Central Florida, South Florida, Florida Atlantic and Florida International—not to mention quality coaches and solid recruiters at all stops; Josh Heupel, Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin and UM legend Butch Davis—who also has Ken Dorsey as his assistant athletic director, just for grins.

Toss in Dan Mullen at Florida and Willie Taggart at Florida State (rough year and all, Taggart is still a very solid recruiter)—and that whole “State of Miami” thing that started on the watch of Howard Schnellenberger and continued through the Davis era—long gone.

One plus in this modern era; Miami at least having the money to work back towards competing—something that looked dire a dozen years back; to a point where then-head coach Randy Shannon made a point to harp on it with ESPN when on campus all week for the season finale against Boston College (the Canes pulling out the win on a night where Bryan Pata was honored and Coker’s dismissal announced the following morning.)

Kirk Herbstreit hammered Miami’s facilities all broadcast—something that is no longer an issue a dozen years later. The infrastructure to build a contender is there. No, not at the state school, or big booster-level—but with UM’s intangibles, enough for the Canes to do it right.

The ACC’s revenue share—fueled by TV rights—and hefty adidas contract helped with an indoor practice facility and new football office, as well as a $4M annual salary for a head coach. Weeks back, the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson mentioned a Board of Trustees member stating that UM was willing to pay in the neighborhood of $1M for a new offensive coordinator, arming Richt with what he needs to bring in a quality guy.

Whether he does, or doesn’t—that will be on the head coach, but the tools are there at Miami to succeed, which wasn’t the case for past coaches.

CLOSE STRONG AND GET BACK TO WORK

With all the negativity this season, maybe Wisconsin is just what the doctor ordered—the Canes needing that “revenge” angle to motivate for a “lesser”bowl—and a chance to end on a three-game winning streak, opposed to dropping just as many last year.

From there, “The Decision” and a pivotal moment in Richt’s legacy at his alma mater. Stay the course, or make a few perceived home-run moves this off-season—success better be found, whichever is chosen.

For an offense that struggled all fall and is limping into the post-season—hard not to believe a few coaching upgrades on that side of the ball wouldn’t have an immediate impact on the recruiting trail as the race to close the 2019 class is coming down the stretch.

The next 60 days will be very telling for University of Miami football; leaving us feeling either good, bad or completely indifferent.

Whatever that looks like, getting one against Wisconsin seems like the best way to start.

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