Eye on the U

Miami Hurricanes take yet another leap of progress as final AP Poll is released

The Miami Hurricanes, shown here on October 15, 2016, before the North Carolina game at Hard Rock Stadium, are ranked in the final 2016 AP Poll (No. 20 on January 10, 2017) for the first time since 2009.
The Miami Hurricanes, shown here on October 15, 2016, before the North Carolina game at Hard Rock Stadium, are ranked in the final 2016 AP Poll (No. 20 on January 10, 2017) for the first time since 2009. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Riding the crest of their first bowl-game victory in 10 years and first five-game winning streak to end a season since their 2001 national championship, the Miami Hurricanes took another leap Tuesday.

After Clemson had upset Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship, the Hurricanes were voted into the AP’s final top 25 poll for the first time since 2009 and only second time since 2005.

Miami (9-4) finished 20th in the poll, although some eyebrows were surely raised after West Virginia (10-3), the team it defeated 31-14 in the Russell Athletic Bowl, finished two spots ahead of UM at No. 18.

Canes run out for last game of season in Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28, 2016

The Amway Coaches Poll had the Hurricanes ranked 23rd in its final release Tuesday, with West Virginia No. 17.

In ’09, the Canes, then coached by Randy Shannon, finished 19th in the final AP Poll, despite losing to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.

In ’05, Miami, coached by Larry Coker, finished 17th with a 9-3 record and 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl that began the Hurricanes’ plunge into mediocrity.

Now, one year after Mark Richt took the helm as UM’s coach, the Canes are trending upward and are expected to be included in most, if not all, 2017 preseason polls.

There are holes to fill in 2017, most visibly quarterback after Brad Kaaya chose to enter the NFL Draft, but enough milestones to celebrate from 2016 to give the Hurricanes plenty of hope — and a defense that should be among the best in the nation.

I feel like we did a lot of great things and we’ve created a good foundation and a good bit of momentum to go into the 2017 season. I’m looking forward to these guys becoming great.

University of Miami coach Mark Richt

“I guess it’s kind of two-fold,’’ Richt said last week in a teleconference when asked for his general impressions of UM’s 2016 season. “In one sense I really feel like we gained a lot of ground on becoming great, a team that could handle adversity and go through the tough time in the midseason and come out of it with five victories and the bowl victory. A lot of positive things happened throughout the season, especially toward the end. I thought that was a very good sign.

“But then you also look back on what could have been and you kind of kick yourself here and there. It’s a learning experience for everybody. I feel like we did a lot of great things and we’ve created a good foundation and a good bit of momentum to go into the 2017 season. I’m looking forward to these guys becoming great.”

UM was one of five Atlantic Coast Conference teams to finish in the top 25, including No. 1 Clemson (14-1), No. 8 Florida State (10-3), No. 16 Virginia Tech (10-4) and No. 21 Louisville (9-4).

In other UM news, receiver Ahmmon Richards was selected to the 2016 Football Writers Association of American (FWAA) Freshman All-America Team.

Richards’ 934 receiving yards broke the 31-year-old UM rookie receiving record formerly set in 1985 by Michael Irvin, who was a redshirt freshman.

Richards’ receiving total was UM’s sixth-most ever in a single season. He finished with 49 catches and three touchdowns, including a career-long 77-yarder at Virginia on Nov. 12.

His latest All-America honor is the seventh Richards has received for the 2016 season. The Wellington native also earned All-ACC second-team honors from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association and third-team honors from the ACC coaches.

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