The Miami Hurricanes failed royally when last they had this opportunity — a chance to finally hit the “Canes Are Back” jackpot and show the nation a five-time national championship football program was ready to be top-tier relevant again.
You remember. It was only three years ago, less a month. UM was 7-0 and ranked No. 7 in the nation. It was the short-lived pinnacle of the Canes’ falsely advertised new Golden Age. Coach Al Golden was so popular, right then, that frat boys wore white dress shirts and orange neckties to games, just like Al.
The Hurricanes were back!
Except, no they weren’t.
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A 41-14 loss to No. 3-ranked nemesis Florida State began a collapse of three consecutive defeats in which the crumbling Miami defense allowed 131 points. The orange neckties disappeared from the crowd. Golden (UM career epitaph: “But He Couldn’t Beat The Seminoles”) was fired not quite two years later.
Now here we are again.
But things are different now.
This time, after six losses in a row to the Seminoles, Miami is poised to finally win its Litmus test challenge and move a large step closer to “back.”
This time, the game is in Miami, Saturday night at 8 on ABC, not in Tallahassee like it was in ’13.
This time, unlike then, Miami is higher ranked in The Associated Press poll, 10th to FSU’s 23rd, and the betting favorite, albeit by a modest two or three points. (This also is the first time since 2010 UM has been higher-ranked than both the Noles and Florida Gators, itself a neat little milestone.)
This time, too, Miami has a better quarterback than it did then (Brad Kaaya instead of Stephen Morris), while FSU clearly does not (freshman Deondre Francois instead of Jamesis Winston in the midst of winning a Heisman Trophy).
This time, the Noles do not have the defensive talent to stop the Canes.
And this time — sorry, Al, but for the first time since FSU began its six-year mastery in this series — Miami has a coach, in Mark Richt, who has the heft of résumé and the talent to equal FSU coach Jimbo Fisher.
None of it guarantees Miami will win Saturday. But all of it gives The U a great chance to finally turn tables on its biggest rival.
I heard my pal Dan LeBatard say on his radio show Monday, “Even if Miami wins Saturday they still will have not beaten anybody. Florida State is not good.”
Nope. Wrong. Dan has nay-saying tendencies, but even taking that into account, Florida State is good, of course. The Seminoles might not be great, but they certainly are good — powered by the difference-making running back Dalvin Cook out of Miami Central. FSU didn’t go from being a preseason national-championship contender to being “not good” just because it lost to highly ranked Louisville and then saw a North Carolina kicker happen to hit a career-long 54-yard field goal as time expired Saturday. C’mon.
Following this past week’s 35-21 UM victory at Georgia Tech, FSU on deck will be the first of three consecutive ranked opponents Miami will face, followed by a trip to Notre Dame. A month from today, then, the Canes will have run a pretty rugged gauntlet that will either suggest proof they’re back or offer evidence of something less.
I’ll go this far. We hear the phrase “path to the presidency“ a lot these days. Well, Miami has a path to 12-0. It is not impossible, and it will grow in plausibility if the FSU hurdle is cleared.
Notice I am not touting a national-championship shot here, because UM’s presumptive roadblock in the ACC Championship Game, current No. 3-ranked Clemson, would be a clear favorite. So would 1-2 Alabama or Ohio State if UM somehow played up into the four-team College Football Playoff.
But Miami reaching the conference title game, and perhaps even doing so with a record unblemished, is, while obviously unlikely, not crazy to fathom. Consider: ESPN’s computerized Football Power Index currently projects the Hurricanes as a favorite to likely win all seven games that remain after the FSU meeting.
Yes, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Ain’t no crime. Dreaming is free. I know the proving is really just getting started for Miami, and that FSU will continue to be the nemesis the Canes can’t beat until the moment they prove they can.
This week feels much different, though, than the last time we were here, in 2013.
For the Hurricanes, it feels like the time is finally right. And right now.