A grueling third of their regular season completed, the Hurricanes return home to Sun Life Stadium at noon Saturday with a 3-1 record, a first-place standing in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division and their only loss to seventh-ranked Kansas State.
Now, after three of four games on the road, the Canes can savor the comfort of home against a North Carolina State team that also is 3-1. But whether the home fans will be there to welcome Miami back is as much a mystery as the final score.
In the noon home opener against Bethune-Cookman — on the heels of UM’s blowout loss — the announced attendance of 39,435 (tickets distributed) seemed at least twice as large as the actual number.
Sun Life Stadium seats 75,540, according to the Dolphins media guide.
“I am hopeful there will be noticeable improvement,” said UM associate athletic director for marketing and communications Chris Freet, who said he hopes for a crowd of 45,000 on Saturday. “It’s a totally different dynamic coming off a loss to Kansas State and facing a I-AA [Football Championship Subdivision] opponent as opposed to coming off a marquee win for Al Golden’s tenure and facing an ACC opponent.
“A lot of the marketing in this town for sports fans — right, wrong or indifferent — is based on the buzz around the team. And the buzz around the Hurricanes is very good now.”
Golden, ever the steady barometer as UM coach, has said repeatedly that the fans will come when his players win consistently. A victory Saturday would mark Miami’s first three-game winning streak since October 2009 (Oklahoma, Florida A&M, UCF).
It also would be only the second time Miami has started the season 3-0 in the conference since 2004, the year UM joined the ACC. UM hasn’t faced N.C. State since a 2008 loss in Raleigh, N.C.
“I hope more fans will come because they know we’re growing a team that they can be proud of and will fight,” Golden said a day after UM’s 42-36 comeback victory over Georgia Tech last week.
When he was asked Wednesday if he has “taken any steps” in making Sun Life Stadium “a more intimidating venue,” Golden again refused to put the blame on anything but results.
“We’ve got to get back to being the type of team that Floridians and the Miami faithful are accustomed to,” he said. “Once we do that, the rest will take care of itself.
“We have a great stadium. They’ve played the World Series there. They’ve played Super Bowls there. They’ve played national championships there. The stadium is not the problem. We’ve got to take care of our business. We can’t make any excuses.
“The fans will come out. … The way you make [games] meaningful is you win, right?”
No one is arguing about this game being meaningful. A 4-1 start for UM not only could move it into the rankings, but it would set up a huge game next weekend at Soldier Field in Chicago, where UM will face undefeated Notre Dame (4-0). The Irish have off Saturday.
N.C. State will be opening its conference schedule after losing to Tennessee, then defeating Connecticut, South Alabama and The Citadel. The Canes, according to Jeff Sagarin’s NCAA Football Ratings, are No. 18 in current strength of schedule compared with No. 100 for the Wolfpack.