Greg Cote

What we learned: Canes look really great against a team that’s really bad

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt thumbs up after University of Miami defeats Florida A&M 70-3 at Hard Rock Stadium on Sat., Sept. 3, 2016.
Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt thumbs up after University of Miami defeats Florida A&M 70-3 at Hard Rock Stadium on Sat., Sept. 3, 2016.

You just don’t get nights like this in other major sports, and thanks for that. You rarely get these occasions of such lopsided competition that the outcome is foregone and somebody’s humiliation is all but guaranteed. Imagine if you did? Picture the Golden State Warriors’ NBA opener coming against a mediocre junior-college team. Or Usain Bolt running 100 meters against the sprinter from McGillicutty Middle School. The sports are the same, except, well, not really.

That was Saturday night’s opening of the Miami Hurricanes’ 91st season of college football. UM is not on the Warriors’ or Bolt’s level, no. But poor Florida A&M made the Hurricanes look that dominant Saturday night in a 70-3 home rout that opened the Mark Richt Era with a feel-good fiesta but proved next to nada about how good these Canes actually are or might be.

Two nights after the Dolphins marked the unveiling of this refurbished, renamed stadium they share, the Canes christened it Saturday in front of a nearly sold-out crowd of 60,703 with a sanctioned bullying that reminded me of when an older sibling beats up his kid brother … only, Mom wasn’t around to break it up. FAMU is a lower-level Football College Subdivision school that went 1-10 last season, and this was embarrassing. The Rattlers are so bad that actual rattlesnakes feel guilt by association. In nine consecutive previous wins, Miami had beaten A&M by an average score of 49-6, so Saturday was even less of a nail-biter than usual. Why are these two schools even playing each other? It would be like the United States declaring war on Chad. On the bright side, FAMU’s marching band is really, really good.

Florida A&M inexplicably wore white uniforms with white numerals Saturday, which effectively meant no Rattlers players could be easily identified. As the night wore on, the idea they were incognito didn’t seem like such a bad idea as the Canes rolled to the third-largest margin of victory in program history.

FAMU could hardly be worse, but here’s why the Canes impressed nonetheless — and this shouldn’t get lost. You still have to perform. No. 9 Tennessee was lucky to not lose to smaller Appalachian State this week. The No. 25 Florida Gators had their paws full with lightweight UMass on Saturday night. Yes, A&M was terrible, but Miami still was impressive in the way it won.

It hasn’t been all carefree and smooth for Richt in the preamble to this season. Two prominent defensive players including last year’s leading tackler were booted from the team by Richt related to the luxury-cars scandal. A walk-on scout-team quarterback was arrested for DUI and cocaine. A freshman receiver was suspended for the first three games.

But nights like Saturday work to push the bad thoughts from the mind and allow you to think the players doing right are good enough.

“I’ll say this: I really, really like it here,” Richt said after his maiden UM triumph. “I like these players. I like this university.”

Quarterback Brad Kaaya celebrated his 21st birthday with four touchdown passes. He’s legal now. Also, he’s very, very good. Mark Walton, Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards all topped 100 yards rushing — first time since 1987 UM’s had three in one game. The defense had two interceptions and a near shutout. Braxton Berrios had a punt-return score. Kaaya and other starters were out by late in the third quarter. That was prudent. Also, sportsmanlike.

UM’s first season under Richt is designed, literally scheduled, to let us know by gradual degrees how good this team really is (or isn’t).

You knew the opener would be no contest.

Next week’s home game against Florida Atlantic will be more competitive but shouldn’t test Miami all that much.

Game No. 3 at Appalachian State? Well, the team from Boone, North Carolina, just took No. 9 Tennessee to overtime before losing, but it’s still a smaller program I still see the Canes handling.

After that comes Miami’s first game against somebody its own size and first Atlantic Coast Conference challenge, at Georgia Tech, but UM has won six of the past seven in that series.

So, against an escalating caliber of opposition, there is a bona fide chance the Hurricanes could start the Richt Era 4-0 and embedded in the Top 25 polls.

And that’s when the season will really start — the part of it that will declare the state of the program.

Even if UM is 4-0 then, we’ll truly know little about the Canes until, back to back in October, they play No. 4 Florida State and then No. 22 North Carolina — both games here. There is your litmus test of a doubleheader, Canes fans. There is where you really settle in and put a stamp on your early work, Mr. Richt.

FSU, dreaming national championship, is the ACC nemesis that seems to beat Miami every year. North Carolina is the roadblock to UM winning the conference’s weaker Coastal Division and reaching the ACC title game — which is the simplest definition of what will make this a successful season or leave that debatable.

Richt, the former Hurricanes player who spent the past 15 seasons at Georgia, was hired to lead UM back to the promised land — that promise broken or delayed ever since Miami won its last of five national championships in 2001.

We’ll know better in a month, after that FSU/North Carolina double challenge, how far that road back really is.

Saturday told us little, but what it did tell us sure wasn’t bad:

The new coach’s debut was a huge one. The fans left thrilled. And that’s plenty, for starters.

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