It’s been more than a week now since Miami’s 21-16 upset win over the Florida Gators but the optimism in South Florida is still the highest that it’s been in recent memory. And why not? Miami hasn’t won a game of this magnitude since Al Golden took over as head coach in 2011.
Last season Miami faced three ranked opponents but wilted under the pressure each time. They were blown out against Kansas State, Notre Dame, and Florida State and many began to wonder if Miami would ever regain the status as one of the nation’s powerhouse programs, a status it held when it won five national championships in 19 seasons from 1983-2001.
Miami has been trying to turn the corner for almost a decade now. Many thought Randy Shannon was the man for the job but he could muster just one season in four years of more than seven wins. After Shannon was fired in 2011 Miami was hit with the Nevin Shapiro scandal and you couldn’t help but wonder how far away the corner really was.
But Miami showed huge growth against Florida, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Miami’s defense couldn’t stop anybody a season ago but they forced five turnovers against the Gators. Four of Florida’s five turnovers came inside Miami territory, three of which were in the red zone. Miami made the biggest plays at the biggest moments of the game, something we haven’t seen out of this program in a long time.
Al Golden even told the Miami Herald after the game, “You guys watched us grow. We couldn’t handle this setting a year ago.”
So now we arrive at the question, has Miami finally started to turn that vaunted corner?
Miami is 2-0 for the first time since 2009. That was the last time fans in South Florida thought Miami was finally turning the corner. Fans have been chomping at the bit to finally claim, “Miami is back! Miami is back!” They thought it was finally going to happen in 2009.
If you recall, Miami started that season 5-1 and was ranked as high as number ten in the Associated Press Top 25. However, the Hurricanes were upset the following week at home against an unranked Clemson team in overtime and later lost to an unranked North Carolina team in Chapel Hill. Miami finished the season 9-3 without a Coastal Division title and were manhandled by Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. The Hurricanes haven’t won more than seven games in a season since.
In fact, Miami hasn’t even started 3-0 since 2004, a feat that is all but inevitable this Saturday when the Hurricanes face Savannah State at Sun Life Stadium. Miami hasn’t even won ten games since 2003.
But there is plenty of reason for optimism in Coral Gables. After Savannah State the Hurricanes face woeful South Florida, who just lost to Florida Atlantic 28-10, a team Miami defeated 34-6 in its season opener (not to mention USF also lost to an FCS school, McNeese State, 53-21 in its opener). Miami should be 4-0 before it faces its first Atlantic Coast Conference game on October 5th against Georgia Tech and Miami has had its number in recent years. The Hurricanes have beaten them four straight times and the game is in Miami. The first true road test comes 12 days later when they travel to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina on a Thursday night.
The Hurricanes should then be 5-0 heading into Chapel Hill, and if they are, you’ll get a pretty good idea by the time the clock reads zero if this program has really started to turn the corner. Over the past decade Miami has lost countless games to unranked teams they should have defeated yet somehow found a way to lose to. There was North Carolina and Clemson in 2004. Georgia Tech in 2005. Clemson and North Carolina again in 2009. Those loses have cost Miami ACC titles since it joined the conference back in 2004.
Miami is a superior team to North Carolina. It is a superior team to Georgia Tech. It is a superior team to everyone on its schedule through October until it faces Florida State in Tallahassee on November 2nd. The victory over Florida was a much-needed stepping-stone for this team, one they desperately needed. Everyone in the program knew they needed it. But it was just that, a stepping-stone. Georgia Tech and North Carolina are two more stones on the staircase that weigh just as much as this last one, steps that could propel this program to a place it hasn’t been in ten years. Many Miami teams over the past decade have tripped and fallen back down the staircase with the corner in sight and never recovered. But this Miami team feels different. You could feel in in the stadium last Saturday as they made stop after stop. You could see it as Al Golden ran across the field after the game. These Hurricanes are capable of winning ten games and playing in the ACC title-game, maybe even in a BCS bowl game.
As long as they take each stone step by step these Hurricanes might just find themselves turning that elusive corner atop of a decade long staircase.