There are so many reasons for Miami Hurricanes fans to enjoy this 7-0 record and quit fretting how long the unbeaten run might last or parsing how legitimate it is after four anxious wins in a row by a combined 18 points.
Two of those big reasons are happening in Gainesville and Tallahassee, where uncommon turmoil surrounds the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles in stark contrast to the ride UM is on.
It was Howard Schnellenberger in the early 1980s who cultivated the idea of a “state of Florida” rivalry among the Big 3 college football teams, recruiting to results, and never before — not even during Miami’s five national championship runs — have the Canes been in the poll’s top 10 while the Gators and Noles simultaneously had losing records.
So, yeah, this is ... weird.
And I’m not sure which is stranger:
The Gators suddenly being head coached by Randy Shannon, Miami-born and raised, former Hurricanes championship linebacker and UM’s head coach from 2007 to 2010, or the Seminoles, the preseason No. 3-ranked team, sputtering embarrassed at 2-5 and staring at the school’s first losing season since 1976.
(Canes fans should not feel guilty delighting in the misery in Gainesville and Tally, by the way. It’s like a Dolfan wishing ill of New England or a Heat fan happy over Cleveland’s woes. Perfectly normal. Rooting for somebody is only half the fun, right?)
Shannon becomes the first ex-Cane to coach the Gators, which is a little like a Hatfield marrying a McCoy if you will forgive a reference to the late-1800s. (Google it). Of course he’s on an interim basis after the sudden sacking of Jim McElwain followed Saturday’s 42-7 spanking by rival Georgia that left UF 3-4. That had to be McElwain’s lowest moment since having to speak into a microphone that, no, that was not me sprawled naked and grinning on top of a dead shark in a boat. (Although having to apologize more recently for claiming death threats that may or may not have been real — that was a tad embarrassing as well). Shannon, who had been Florida’s linebackers coach, is seen as very unlikely to become the full-time head coach, but it will be a bizarre little chapter in Canes-Gators history in the meantime.
Over in Tally, Jimbo Fisher isn’t facing McElwain’s fate, even at 2-5, but this very likely will be FSU’s worst season since Darrell Mudra rolled 1-10 and 3-8s back-to-back in the 1974-75 quinella that ushered in the Bobby Bowden era.
And how’s this: 2017 could be the first season since 1978 that Florida and Florida State will miss a bowl game the same year. And it could be the first year since pre-Beatles 1961 that both simultaneously had a losing record.
What were the odds, too, that the pedigreed Seminoles and Gators would have the worst records of any of the state’s seven Football Bowl Subdivision (top-level) college teams?
Miami is ranked No. 9 at 7-0, UCF in Orlando is 7-0 and No. 15, South Florida in Tampa is 7-1, FIU is percolating at 5-2 under the rebirth of coach Butch Davis — worthy of more attention but in the perfect shadow of UM — and FAU quietly is 5-3 sparked by new coach Lane Kiffin.
So that’s Noles and Gators a combined 5-9, and all other state FBS teams 31-6. Float that one out there next time somebody tries to complain how sports are so predictable.
Florida and Florida State’s struggles (and they lost by a combined 77-10 on Saturday) should only underline how unequivocally delighted Canes fans should be at 7-0. I say unequivocally because I am hearing a lot of yeah-buts lately — complaints that UM is a “fraud” because of all the narrow wins and no win over a ranked-at-the-time opponent. Even the would-be signature win at FSU is devalued by the Noles’ off-year.
Still, this is only the ninth time Miami has started a season 7-0. The previous time, in 2013, the record withered to a final 9-4 and ended with UM unranked. But the seven times before that ended in three national titles and no post-bowl ranking lower than No. 5.
Miami will validate its unblemished record or prove the skeptics right the next two weeks, hosting No. 13 Virginia Tech this Saturday and then No. 5 Notre Dame.
The Canes might lose one. Might lose both. Might shock everybody.
Either way, UM fans, look up in Gainesville, where the Swamp is drained of excitement, and look at Tallahassee, where that Tomahawk Chop has fallen quiet.
Appreciate the stability Mark Richt has brought.
Appreciate unbeaten. Period.