Holiday wishes for our UFAMILY. What a special season this turned out to be. Expectations were on the rise as Mark Richt prepared for his second season in Coral Gables, but how high these Miami Hurricanes would climb remained an unknown.

The ACC’s Coastal Division looked somewhat open from the get-go; Virginia Tech being the most-formidable foe, with Georgia Tech always pesky due to that triple-option, clock-chewig offense. Toss in the fact the Canes got both the Hokies and Yellow Jackets at home; all signs pointed towards Miami ending their divisional drought—leading to an inaugural ACC Championship game berth.

Back-to-back losses—a road game at Pittsburgh for the regular season finale, as well as a conference title game showdown against Clemson—certainly came with some sting. Still, the previous 10 games more than ensured a successful season; one that will be capped off with an Orange Bowl berth against a formidable foe in Wisconsin.

Miami also reaped the rewards of an early National Signing Day period days back; locking down 19-of-20 verbal commitments for the highly-touted #Storm18 class. Come February, all signs are pointing to a Top Five class, which the Canes haven’t seen in upwards of a decade.

FOCUS ON WHAT IS, NOT WHAT COULD’VE BEEN

As commercials for the College Football Playoffs continue getting pumped hourly on ESPN—hyping the showdowns between Clemson and Alabama, as well as Oklahoma and Georgia—it’s easy to play the “what if” game. Had the Canes just “found a way” to topple Clemson, or had Miami not lost to Pittsburgh—maybe that Final Four would’ve been in the cards.

Of course, few play the flip-side in moments like this—forgetting those close calls against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, North Carolina and Virginia. That 10-0 start could’ve just as easliy have been 8-2 or 7-3—taking the luster off of a few big time, primetime match-ups against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, that truly put the Canes on the national map this season.

Not to mention some must-see-TV when ESPN sent College GameDay down to Coral Gables as part of a magical November 11th, culminating with Miami destroying Notre Dame, 41-8 for all the world to see.

Perspective. So difficult to have in the moment, but if we work harder at understanding it—it can change everything. This season isn’t about what wasn’t, but what was. Any frustration with not taking down the defending national champions weeks back in the ACC title game; hopefully it was short-lived as there simply too much to be excited about this season.

Clemson’s journey to the top wasn’t an overnight success. Four years back, the third-ranked Tigers were on the wrong end of a 51-14 ass-kicking, courtesy of Florida State—who went on to win the 2013 national championship. A year later, the Noles again topped the Tigers, won the ACC and reached the Playoffs.

Meanwhile, Clemson took their lumps, kept swinging and got better. By 2015, it was the Tigers’ turn to roll up the Atlantic, reach the Playoffs and scrap their way into the national championship, where they fell to Alabama. The following year, same title game match-up—with Clemson winning the whole thing. This year, another Playoffs berth; this time as a top seed. Three ACC titles in a row, too.

BAR WAS SET WHERE IT SHOULD’VE BEEN & CANES SUCCEEDED

Basing the Hurricanes’ season success on how they matched-up against a next-level Clemson squad—beyond foolish. This year’s goal was to finally win the Coastal and to reach the conference title game after going 0-for-12 in that department since the ACC instituted a conference championship in 2005.

None of that reeks of lowered expectations or settling. One must walk before they can run and for Miami, a lot of necessary boxes were checked off this season.

Ending a seven-game losing streak to arch-rival Florida State. Check.

Completing the “Revenge Tour” against those four squads who beat Miami last season; Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Check.

Winning those games against conference rivals that usually resulted in losses the past few years. Teams Miami was better than on paper, but found ways to fall to with the game on the line. Check.

Shining on the sport’s brightest regular season stages in those ABC primetime battles with Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. All eyes were on Miami and in both cases, the Canes did the opposite of folding. “The U” rose to the challenge; locking down the Coastal, while smacking around a national power that was still gloating over last year’s biased “Catholics Versus Convicts” documentary.

As this year draws to a close—and the Orange Bowl still a few days out—seems a good time to relive and appreciate all that was this 2017 football season.

ANSWER TO “BACK” QUESTION; TO BE DETERMINED IN 2018

The question was oft posed this year, is Miami “back”; with varying definitions of what “back” looked like. During an ESPN packaged during GameDay, former head coach Jimmy Johnson called “back” an undefeated season and national championship.

On one level, a fair and understandable sentiment. Johnson’s Canes were the team to beat in 1986, but lost a disastrous, sloppy Fiesta Bowl to second-ranked Penn State—leaving one of the best teams in Miami history title-less.

A year later, with a new quarterback under center and some other big time personnel changes, the Canes rolled to an undefeated season and a coveted championship. When looking to defend, another good-enough-to-win-it-all Miami squad was screwed on a bogus call in South Bend and had to settle for No. 2.

The point in that rant; Johnson’s standards are based on what he lived, coached and experienced three decades ago when Miami dominated a much different-looking college football landscape.

That era of, national-championship-or-bust is no more. Not with so many good teams capable of winning it all every year, not with the weight of conference title games or jockeying for Playoffs position.

CLOSING STRONG ERASES LATE SEASON STRUGGLES

The Canes aren’t yet “back”—but an 11-2 run with an Orange Bowl win is certainly step closer to better days.

Last time Miami would’ve accomplished that same feat; 2003—wrapping 11-2 after an Orange Bowl win over rival Florida State. That season was a small step back from the 2000-2002 era, with Miami slipping more and more the next few years—whereas that finish in 2017 represents another rung in the comeback ladder this program is climbing.

Thankful for this season. Thankful to have a pro like Richt 2.0 running this program—especially in an era where lots of turnover and marginal hires permeate the sport.

Thankful that a 10-win run and Turnover Chain appearance helped pave the way to a solid recruiting class and thankful for one more game—the Orange Bowl, no less. Not too far removed from .500-win seasons and Miami’s self-imposed postseason bans as the NCAA was breathing down this program’s collective neck.

It’s all how you look at things, Hurricane Nation. It wasn’t a perfect season, but perfection wasn’t expected. It was a year to grow and take a giant step towards being a true contender again—and based on that, Miami is truly on its way back.

Thank you all for the support and patronage this season. Let’s make the Orange Bowl the home game it deserves to be, sending these seniors out on a high and taking down a good-enough Wisconsin squad en route to the best run this program has seen in a long while.

It’s great to be…

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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