In their own backyard, in their own home stadium, the Miami Hurricanes saw up close Saturday night the measure of distance between where they are as a football program today and where they want/need/hope to be.
Everybody else outside of two cities was getting the same hard lesson.
In this sport, it’s Alabama and Clemson vs. the world.
And the world is getting it’s a-- kicked.
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Saturday night Nick Saban’s Alabama never trailed in handling Oklahoma 45-34 in the 85th Orange Bowl game, the second of the day’s College Football Playoff semifinal games. That was after Clemson clubbed Notre Dame 30-3 in the other semifinal over in Arlington, Tex. The Crimson Tide and Tigers, both heavy favorites to advance, now will meet a week from Monday in Santa at Clara, Calif. for the championship -- the fourth straight season one or the other will have won it all.
If you hosted a CFP doubleheader watch-party Saturday in anticipation of two great games (or decent games, or even not-awful games), your party could only have been worse if you ran out of beer (at least until Oklahoma’s rally briefly made it a bit interesting).
There is parity in college football. Yes. For now though it just pretty much starts with whatever team is trying to be No. 3.
Top-ranked Alabama stomped to a fast 28-0 lead and it was pretty much “Later, Sooners,” the evening mostly robbed of drama. The teams’ similar colors turned jam-packed Hard Rock Stadium into a sea of crimson/burgundy/dark red. That’s what you saw. All you heard most of the night was half of the crowd chanting, “Roll, Tide!”
This was Miami’s second time hosting a CFP semifinal, after the first in 2015. Two years hence Miami will host its first playoff national championship, crowning the 2020 season’s winner.
That Miami is in the CFP host rotation is a credit to Dolphins and stadium owner Stephen Ross for his dramatic and self-funded facelift of Hard Rock, but mostly it is a credit to the venerable Orange Bowl Committee and the enduring tradition of the OB bowl game. The Orange Bowl Stadium didn’t last, razed to memory, but its namesake game -- a South Florida tradition since the first one on Jan. 1, 1935 -- segued neatly to the newer stadium and is bigger and better than ever.
The only drawback to Miami as a regular CFP host?
What we no longer have as a community is all up in our face. It’s cruel, almost.
I mean, Miami hosted Alabama’s latest coronation-to-be just two days after Hurricanes fans endured their own team’s embarrassing 35-3 loss to an ordinary Wisconsin team in the mid-level Pinstripe Bowl. in New York. That put a 7-6 UM season out of its misery and sent coach Mark Richt reeling into the offseason slapped hard with the realization how much work lay ahead to truly bring The U all the way back.
College football in Miami had all this, once, like few other programs in America have. What Alabama has was us.
A coach on the sideline who’s the best in the business.
A quarterback who is a dynamic playmaker able to change games.
We knew the feeling way back when, back when the Hurricanes were winning four national championships within nine seasons in 1983-91 -- as close to a national dynasty as the sport had then -- and adding a fifth crown in 2001. We felt what it was like to be dominant, to be admired, emulated -- hated simply for being so damned good.
Fans loved wearing Canes colors because they came with a feeling of envy in the stares of other fans. Just as UM players back then liked road games as much as ones at home (maybe more) because in the anger and booing they heard that same jealousy. They felt fuel.
The Canes and Dolphins have been chasing their history and halcyon days most of this century. The Marlins and NHL Panthers are striving for mere relevance in their own market. The Heat mattering suffered a seismic dropoff the moment LeBron James left.
We are starving for a team to give us that feeling again. Of having what others want,.
The curse of five national championships, of UM’s history, of being a fan base that claims to have invented swagger, is that high is the only place left to aim.
The Canes lose if their aim is to be better than Florida State or Virginia Tech (or Wisconsin).
Alabama, ultimately, and Clemson in their own ACC, are the two programs Miami had better be measuring itself against. No use denying it. Better stare that reality down, or you’ll never find a way to close the massive gap.
Start by a finding quarterback. Alabama has two, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, and Oklahoma has one, Kyler Murray, who are appreciably better than the combined best of either Miami guy, Malik Rosier or N’Kosi Perry. (Tagovailoa was 24-for-27 for 318 yards and four TDs Saturday, outplaying the man who’d beaten him for the Heisman Trophy).
You saw the dramatic difference-making Alabama has at that position and what little the Canes got from it this past season and, if you were a UM fan, it had to be enough to make you wince. All over the field ‘Bama was flexing its talent and depth, the harvest of years of great recruiting, player development and coaching.
Most programs wouldn’t dare to think of being Alabama, of dreaming that big, but Miami has been that. Done it..
Now Richt and the Hurricanes have just seen anew where they must go to do it again, and it seems miles from here.