The Miami Hurricanes are a day away from the program’s biggest bowl game in a dozen years and for UM’s sake, here’s hoping the hometown squad makes the most of the short commute for another Orange Bowl Classic.

Across the field; a Wisconsin Badgers squad that like Miami, was one win from reaching the College Football Playoff.

Where the Canes were dismantled by a superior Clemson squad in the ACC Championship, the Badgers’ undefeated season came to an end when a faster, more-athletic Ohio State team upended them in the Big Ten conference showdown.

Despite both programs hoping for college football’s crème de la crème postseason payoff—a ticket punched to the sport’s final four—an invite to a former BCS game and premier bowl remains a quality consolation prize.

While both programs want to end the season on a high note, the stakes are higher for a Miami program on the mend, year two under Mark Richt.

TWO SOLID PROGRAMS; TWO VERY DIFFERENT PATHS

The Canes and Badgers last went at it in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl, with Wisconsin prevailing, 20-14 in a game not as close as the final score; Miami trailing 20-7 until the final minutes after going up 7-0, early.

For those who recall the showdown, commentators praised both squads and mentioned in-game that the two could meet again with higher stakes the next year; Wisconsin holding up its end of the bargain with an 11-2 season, Rose Bowl berth and No. 7 final ranking.

Miami? Not so much.

The 2010 season saw the Canes going 7-6, firing Randy Shannon, welcoming Al Golden and ultimately enduring another five years of misery—on the heels of what had already been a rough five-year run.

Wisconsin went 11-3 a year later, made it back to another Rose Bowl and finished No. 10. Miami stumbled to 6-6 and self-imposed a postseason ban to get ahead of an NCAA investigation and any sanctions.

The point in that quick trip down pathetic memory lane for the Canes; to underscore what’s been endured in the not-so-distant past and why this Orange Bowl berth is in a sense “must-win”.

PARADISE LOST: MIAMI’S DECADE-LONG SKID

A big part of Miami’s climb back to championship-level football is rooted in winning the type of games it found ways to lose under its past three head coaches. Be those regular season conference games, rivalry-type showdowns or mid-tier bowl match-ups against inferior programs; the Canes who owned the “four fingers” and fourth quarter domination became the program that wilted with the game on the line.

Year one under Richt, four losses occurred—a few winnable games, again slipping away. Frustrating as it was, the setbacks served as a reminder Miami had a lot of bad habits and broken ways to flush out.

Come 2017, that new attitude, approach and ability to close were firmly on display.

While the Turnover Chain was a motivator for the Canes—so was revenge. Miami players wanted to pay back those who got the better of them last year. One by one, those opponents were picked off.

Florida State. North Carolina. Virginia Tech. Notre Dame. The process itself so cathartic and almost storybook, it was easy to let the emotion lead to dreams of something bigger.

Miami finally won the Coastal Division and reached the ACC Championship—0-for-12 since joining the conference up to that point—earning a rematch against the defending national champs and a Clemson squad that laid down a 58-0 beating on the Canes two years ago, leading to Golden’s firing and Richt’s serendipitous hiring.

Unfortunately, that inaugural trek to Charlotte served as a reminder that there’s a difference between the good that Miami has achieved, versus the great that Clemson has become over the past three seasons—and that’s all right, for now.

CANES FINALLY HAVE A PROCESS WORTH TRUSTING

The word “process” has become an ugly one in Canes Country, due to Golden’s overuse, coupled with the fact he had no blueprint or game plan for any success in Miami; but that’s on the head coach. It doesn’t negate the validity of there being a roadmap regarding the journey from where one is to where they aspire to be.

The next step in the Hurricanes’ “process”; showing up prepared for the Orange Bowl as if it were a College Football Playoffs semifinals game. The trophy and meaning might not be as big as what will take place in Atlanta a few weeks from now—but one doesn’t get there without bringing it here.

Win, or lose—this Miami squad must roll in prepared for Wisconsin and play with purpose.

Luckily for the Hurricanes, the Badgers aren’t a tough nut to crack. What you see is essentially what you get with Wisconsin and Big Ten football. Big lines on both sides of the ball, quality ground game and fundamentally-sound all around—yet without those next-level athletes a program like Ohio State might boast.

That Orlando-hosted bowl game seven years ago; sophomore tailback John Clay pounded the Hurricanes’ defense for 121 yards and two touchdowns en route to bowl MVP, while quarterback Scott Tolzien threw for 260 yards. Meanwhile, the Badgers defense sacked Jacory Harris five times and knocked down several times outside of that as the Canes offensive line was smacked around all night.

Fail to prepare and a similar narrative could be in the cards; Miami losing a one-score game, with Badgers’ running back Jonathan Taylor taking MVP honors, while quarterback Alex Hornibrook pulls a Tolzien and does enough to keep his team balanced and out of trouble.

Malik Rosier could also spend much of the evening getting harassed of the Canes’ offensive line can’t protect the junior quarterback; especially if the running game and Travis Homer struggle to set a tone. Miami will also need receivers to make up for the loss of Ahmmon Richards and tight end Chris Herndon; both lost for the season between Pittsburgh and Clemson.

CHAMPIONS MUST BE BUILT POST-SEASON TOUGH

A bonus for today’s Hurricanes versus the version of Miami that’s struggled this past decade-plus; Richt’s success in the post-season. In 14 bowl appearances with Georgia, the former Bulldogs’ head coach assembled a 9-5 post-season record—winning his tenth last season at Miami when the Canes smacked up West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl, 31-14

Translation; Richt is UM’s best bowl-ready coach since the program’s last reach leader—Butch Davis. The million-dollar question; how will he have his Canes prepared for the Badgers?

On paper, Notre Dame is probably the closest thing Miami has seen to Wisconsin all season. Prior to that mid-November match-up, all the hype surrounded running back Josh Adams and the damage he was set to inflict on the Hurricanes’ defense, while Brandon Wimbush hoped to keep Miami honest under center, with both his arm and legs.

The Fighting Irish boasted solid line play, as well—rolling into South Florida as a touchdown favorite … before leaving on the wrong end of a, 41-8 ass kicking.

Miami’s speed, conditioning and overall talent left Notre Dame looking like they were playing in slow-motion—while The U was in turbo-mode. It was a mismatch that only got worse once the Canes took a lead and HardRock Stadium rose to the occasion, backing the home team.

SOUTH FLORIDA ATHLETES BELIEVE THAT SPEED KILLS

The environment won’t be quite the same for a bowl setting against a Wisconsin program with a loyal fan base that travels well and will make their presence felt; but the similarities between the Badgers and Fighting Irish regarding style of play and athlete should have Miami semi-confident in the game plan an execution it delivered for Notre Dame weeks back.

Canes defensive tackle Chad Thomas shared those sentiments on opponents like the Fighting Irish or Badgers.

“We like it. We played a lot of powerful teams and they couldn’t keep up with the speed,” said Thomas during Orange Bowl media week, in regards to beating Notre Dame and prepping for Wisconsin.

“It’s hard to adjust to speed. We can adjust the power because we go in the weight room just like them and we get ready just like them. We’re not a weak team. We’re probably a little smaller than them, but they’ve got to adjust to us. Playing with power, we just go out there and be physical. That’s a part of the football game; if you’re not physical, you don’t have a chance, so going out there and being physical, that’s all we’ve got to do.”

Wisconsin boasts an offensive line with three All-American candidates who will give Miami’s front seven fits, as will the legs and decision-making for Taylor. For the Canes to succeed, slowing down the running game and forcing turnover-prone Hornibrook into some bad decisions—it’s a must early-on where the tone of the game will be set.

Another bonus for Miami’s defense; Hornibrook will be without his best receiving threat, Qunitez Cephus—helping negate the Canes’ loss of both Richards and Herndon.

RESTED, PREPPED & READY, IT’S OFFICIALLY SHOWTIME

Some much-needed rest is something that both squads needed based on how the schedule played out. Wisconsin’s bye came September 23rd, while Miami’s was September 16th; in the midst of a 21-day layoff from Hurricane Irma that saw UM relocation it’s football operation to Orlando for weeks as normalcy resumed down south.

Big game energy, primetime showdowns and hometown love helped carry the Canes against the Hokies and Irish; eight forced turnovers, while outscoring both by a combined score of, 69-18. From there the adrenaline that had fueled Miami seemed to fade—as proven by two comebacks needed against a sub-par Virginia squad a week later, before rattling off 30 unanswered.

Where Miami looked to be in mid-season form against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame early November—with other programs looking late-season at the time—the lack of a spark showed the Friday after Thanksgiving when Miami fell at Pittsburgh for its first loss of the season.

The hangover from that loss coupled with the talent Clemson boasts; it made for a lackluster, one-sided ACC Championship. Thankfully, Miami got a 28-day layoff to serve as a hard reset, as well as the comforts of home and a short commute for the postseason.

That—with a solid game plan an effort—could be a difference-maker.

X’s and O’s aside, motivation and desire are the ultimate key for these Hurricanes. How ready is Richt’s squad? How fueled will this bunch be to play in their home stadium? How big does Miami view this game against Wisconsin—and how badly do they crave 11-2 and Orange Bowl champs, versus 10-3 and riding a three-game losing streak into next year?

The Canes are down a few offensive horses, but with a solid game plan for Rosier—through the air and on the ground—while minimizing mistakes and tossing in a few wrinkles (DeeJay Dallas, please—while relying heavily on Braxton Berrios in his final game), Miami’s offense simply can’t lose the game by way of incompetence.

That said, it’s going to take at least two or three Turnover Chain appearances and a defense that contains Taylor—putting Hornibrook in third-and-long situations—for clock management-sake and field-flipping for Miami to play its game.

Either team is capable of taking this one, but have to believe the Canes show up big at “home”—feeding off the crowd and atmosphere, while letting speed and athleticism work its magic.

Miami 24, Wisconsin 20

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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