ORLANDO -- Miami Hurricanes football fans awaken from Saturday night’s nightmare here to confront the mind-bending choice of what’s worse: Losing a bowl game, badly. (Make that very badly.) Or the latest wave of speculation about maybe losing a head coach, too.
Wait. Wasn’t everything supposed to finally calm down with the end at long last of that endless NCAA investigation and resulting postseason bans? Haven’t we had enough drama out of UM football for a while?
Saturday’s embarrassing 36-9 Canes loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl surely has UM fans lighting torches and looking for somebody to blame or punch, even though the season’s final record of 9-4, by most sober measures, amounted to a pretty fair year despite its sour ending.
The result will test Miami fans’ vision. Do they see an overall positive season? Or is all they see the way it ended?
“There’s no excuses right now. But we just won nine games for [only] the third time in a decade,” Miami coach Al Golden said afterward. “I wish we’d won 10, but we’re going to keep moving this thing forward. We’ll keep fighting our asses off until we get it done.”
That doesn’t sound like a coach thinking about anything else but Miami, and yet we might now prepare for the inevitable torrent of speculation that would have Golden perhaps leaving Coral Gables for his alma mater, Penn State. Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien reportedly will move to the NFL as the Houston Texans’ next coach, and the TV talking heads Saturday were already gently shoving Miami’s guy to Happy Valley, as if that should be seen as inevitable.
Golden demonstrated his loyalty to UM pretty clearly the past three years simply by sticking with a program most would not have blamed him for bolting, after he’d taken the job only to be blindsided by the NCAA mess borne of runaway booster Nevin Shapiro.
Now Golden must demonstrate his loyalty again, only more explicitly, by responding to the Penn State speculation. But, to some, nothing he says will be convincing until which time Penn State hires somebody who isn’t Al.
What a miserable evening when so much might have been different.
The perfect ending, the storybook night, was out there waiting for the Canes, begging to be written by Golden’s team. It was supposed to go something like this:
“After almost three years of pent-up anxiety, frustration and waiting, it was as if a dam broke for the Hurricanes and emotion poured out. A shackled UM football program bust loose and triumphantly celebrated its freedom.”
Yes, there would have been requisite Gatorade bath for Golden as the seconds wound down — heck, maybe even a brief, rocking ride on the shoulder of joyous players.
It was all too perfect, of course, this fairy tale.
It was too good to be true, largely because a kid named Teddy Bridgewater was too good to be stopped.
Miami got obliterated Saturday largely because Bridgewater, of Miami, made it happen. He looked like the Heisman Trophy candidate he was before a late-season slump. He threw three touchdown passes, ran for another and passed for a career-best 447 yards. He was Teddy Ballgame. He looked like the future NFL top-10 draft pick — possibly No. 1 overall — that he is speculated to be when he inevitably turns pro early.
That Teddy was named this bowl’s MVP broke the all-time record for “no duh.”
UM stopping Bridgewater in triumph would have been another element of that fairy tale. After all, Bridgewater had committed to Miami before changing his mind when UM fired Randy Shannon. In effect, Bridgewater forsook his hometown school and by extension turned his back on the incoming Golden.
Alas, instead of one-upping the kid who spurned them, the Canes could only watch as Bridgewater, celebrating after a late touchdown, mocked Miami by making the “U” sign with his hands before turning that into what looked like a throat-slitting gesture.
The kid might be the greatest Teddy since Roosevelt, but he has had classier moments.
To his credit, Bridgewater apologized afterward, saying, “I was out of line doing that,.”
Louisville should be ashamed for that and for still throwing so late in the game.
But not as embarrassed as Miami should be for its overall performance.
So many reasons stacked up to give Miami so much incentive.
Louisville is joining UM in the Atlantic Coast Conference next year, and recruits heavily in South Florida. A 10-win season would have been Miami’s first since 2003, and seen the Canes in all the final post-bowl polls. It would have been the school’s first bowl victory since 2006.
A win would have been a palpable affirmation that the troubles are past — Full Speed Ahead, as the school’s motto goes.
Instead: A monumental letdown. It wasn’t the losing that was embarrassing. Louisville was favored. The Cardinals were ranked 18th in the polls, they ended 12-1. There is no shame in losing to Louisville when Bridgewater is this dominant.
The Canes got thoroughly handled, though. They were dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. And if Miami’s defense was bad, its offense was worse.
Golden had spoken during the week of his program finally being able to move forward “without handcuffs on” — meaning no more NCAA cloud, no more bowl bans.
Different handcuffs were still on Saturday, though.
Miami’s futile offense dearly missed injured star running back Duke Johnson, and also was hampered by a limited top receiver Allen Hurns, who obviously wasn’t himself and caught only two short passes.
That wasn’t the difference, though. Not nearly.
Teddy Bridgewater was.
And all the Canes could do, helpless and hopeless, was watch.