The day was wet and dreary on the University of Miami campus, but the Canes’ future looked promising: No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, with a CFP semifinal on tap if they can pull off three consecutive victories.
“We know we’re in the top four,” UM coach Mark Richt said Wednesday, when asked if he’s trying to temper the playoff story line. “We know the top four get to go. But we also know how we got here. We got here by being that team that was grinding away trying to find ways to win and being successful in doing it.
“Not always the most beautiful thing doing it. We’re not really a different team now, I don’t think. We’re still trying to stay humble and trying to earn everything we get.”
With a nation-leading 14 consecutive wins behind them — nine this season — Richt reminisced about how last season’s struggles were a “turning point’’ in the program’s rebound. After starting 4-0 in 2016, consecutive losses to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame helped the Hurricanes grow and transform into a winner.
Winning afterward, including UM’s first bowl victory in 10 years, made them taste enough to want to stay there.
“Winning four in a row was good and then losing four in a row was not very good,’’ Richt said. “That might have been the turning point of this tenure so far — how did we react when we lost four in a row? Guys could have started doubting the coaching staff, but that never really happened. We did a good job of establishing team unity and work ethic and trust going into the season and when things got rough, the adversity hit, we held up well.
“And then we started winning again and people started to believe probably a little bit more. Winning the bowl was a landmark. It hadn’t been done in a long time and guys knew that,” he said of the victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. “Becoming Coastal Division champs was another historical moment — truly historical moment — for the program.”
Senior captain Chad Thomas, who has a team-lead-tying 7 1/2 tackles for loss and three sacks, said his teammates were well aware of the playoff standings.
“You can’t miss it,’’ said 6-6, 275-pound Thomas, who helped lead Miami Booker T. Washington High to state titles as a junior and senior. “It’ll be on social media. It’s going to be right there. But we just gotta focus on our season, focus on every week, not the next one.
“Last year we recognized how not focusing could mess you up. This year we just paid attention, followed all our coaches’ lead. Most of the seniors, we’re leading, and I guess the young guys they just went under our wings.”
Leading receiver Braxton Berrios, another captain for Senior Day on Saturday against Virginia (6-4, 3-3), didn’t elaborate about UM being ranked No. 3, below also undefeated Alabama and one-loss Clemson, UM’s opponent Dec. 2 in the ACC title game.
“At the end of the day if we keep on winning, we’ll keep going up and if we lose, we’ll go down,” he said, echoing Richt. “There’s not much else to say. We’re not in that [CFP committee] room so we don’t know what goes on. We have to take care of what we can control.”
Asked if Wednesday had a “different vibe’’ to it, Berrios said, “not at all.’’
“Just us getting back to work and focusing on what we need to focus on. ... No different vibe, no different tempo, [no] different intensity. It was all status quo. We’re doing what we’ve been doing all season.”
Though the Hurricanes, including Berrios, have expressed their frustration about being disrespected, Berrios said it was important not to listen to the noise now, “whether it’s good or bad.”
“As everybody knows, Miami is under a bit of a microscope, when we’re doing bad and when we’re doing good. You hear different things flip very fast. All of a sudden everybody thinks we’re doing really good now and maybe two weeks ago it wasn’t that case. So we understand that comes with being here.”
▪ Richt said he had a less intense practice Wednesday. “It rained hard today,’’ he said. “The stuff we normally do against each other I decided not to do because it was really soggy and I didn’t want to get anybody hurt. We focused mostly on special teams and scout team work.”
▪ Safety Jaquan Johnson, UM’s top defensive back, was named a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. The five finalists will be named Nov. 29.
▪ Tight end Christopher Herndon was named a semifinalist for the Mackey Award that goes to the top tight end in college football at the end of the season.