"Redemption just means you just make a change in your life and you try to do right, versus what you were doing, which was wrong." - Ice T
We're back. College football is here and it's time to pick some winners while simultaneously dissecting the many possibilities for the Miami Hurricanes in 2015. UM fans endured a brutal end to last season and pessimism seemed to reach an all-time high. My picks stumbled through November and bowl season and left me open to ridicule and shame. To quote famous Canes fan Vanilla Ice - "Negativity spreads faster than any Justin Bieber song." If you clicked on this article expecting me to lazily try to answer the hypothetical hot-seat status of Al Golden, you came to the wrong place. If you clicked on this article to mock my picks, do so at your own risk, because I feel very confident in my first one of the season - North Dakota State at Montana this Saturday.
This August has been a breath of fresh air, with limited injuries (KNOCK ON WOOD) and some much-needed positivity coming out of Coral Gables. The Canes will be playing an unfamiliar role this season, as an underrated underdog both in the ACC and nationally. I think this team relishes the opportunity to prove people wrong. For that final pep talk heading into Miami's season, I had a hard time deciding which direction to go in, so here's all six choices. Pick the one that works best for you.
Scenario 1: Donald Trump
Al Golden has heard the demands. He's started to finally build that wall around South Florida and has a great class of verbal commitments for 2016. But he's still a very divisive figure among fans everywhere. Here's hoping he can Make Miami Great Again! Brad Kaaya's a more accurate passer than Marco Rubio so this team should be fine.
Scenario 2: Fate and Destiny
Miami is undefeated while wearing Adidas uniforms and undefeated while playing in a Sun Life Stadium with seats that are actually near the field. Howard Schnellenberger won a National Title in his 5th season at Miami. This is Al Golden's 5th season. Miami's won five national titles, all in odd years - 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, and 2001. Will 2015 be next? Miami hasn't won a bowl game since the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl in Idaho. MPC Computers filed for bankruptcy on November 7th, 2008. Many people believe in seven-year curses, so the Canes should be curse-free in time for kickoff against UVA, allowing Miami to win the last four games.
Scenario 3: Magic 8 Ball
I'd be lying if I told you I was confident about predicting Miami's record in 2015. The Canes have at least six games that are currently considered virtual toss-ups in Las Vegas. Here's the question everyone is asking. - "If Miami was 6-7 last season and lost so much NFL talent, how could the Canes be better in 2015?" This is a team game, but the Canes are depending on unproven players to step up this season. Miami doesn't have many returning starters compared to other teams, but according to the advanced stats the Canes are a Top 30 team heading into 2015. There is a fair argument for nearly every result, from UM going 5-7, 6-6, 7-5, 8-4, 9-3, 10-2, or 11-1/12-0 (Never say Never). Just be thankful football is upon us, enjoy the emotional swings, and support this team to the best of your ability.
Scenario 4: Shock the World
No one is expecting anything from Miami this season. Many media members are picking Miami to fall short of bowl eligibility. From a few weeks ago in camp - "We don't listen to it, WR Braxton Berrios said. "We're not worried about them. We know we're going to be good. That's all that matters to us." The Canes will use the doubters as motivation and rise to the occasion, taking control of the ACC Coastal at long last. Miami doesn't have a player being given a chance to be an All-American, let alone first team All-ACC. Expect that to change by November. Brad Kaaya will emerge as one of college football's brightest young stars. Miami's defense will finally be a unit fans can be proud of, with the best depth we've seen in years. The talent is there, the wins will come. 2015 will launch the reemergence of this program as a powerhouse on the national stage. Media members, I'm warning you. Start dusting off those "Is the U back" columns. You just might need them again this fall.
Scenario 5: Armageddon
For reasons I struggle to understand, some Miami fans are actually actively rooting for this one. I don't think the following events are likely (other than the play-call complaints), but here we go. The Canes stumble out of the gates, lose to FSU and Clemson, and enter the last five games at 3-4. All anyone can talk about is Al Golden's buyout. Money is wasted on planes with banners, embarrassing the program. Every fan sitting behind me at games screams obscenities at James Coley after every running play that doesn't gain ten yards or more. Miami either just misses a bowl or ends up at 6-6, continuing the mediocrity we've seen in recent years. Recruits from #Swag16 bail and look for other opportunities. I crawl into a hole and cry for the next nine months until Fall 2016.
Scenario 6: A Fresh Start
In his career at Miami, Al Golden is 16-16 in the ACC. Last season, I was 119-119-3 picking games on StateoftheU.com during the regular season. Both Coach Golden and I have unfortunately become familiar with the term that I coined last year - Precise Mediocrity. Once there are signs of adversity and struggle, many fans lose hope and become disenchanted. After a strong start to my season last September, my bandwagon was full. As Miami and I stumbled our way to the finish line, only the true loyal believers stayed with us. But we refuse to quit. The past few years have been difficult, but a foundation has been formed. 2015 is the year of opportunity.
Does Miami have a tough stretch of games in October? Absolutely. Does winning 55% of my picks this season seem unlikely? Recent history might suggest so. But this is August and it's the time to demonstrate a quiet, yet focused confidence.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
THE GOLDEN PICK - Miami wins at least 9 games
That's right, you heard it here first. The Canes will win at least 9 games, with a decent chance for 10-2 and a Coastal Division Title. I realize I'm as neutral as a Ted Wells investigation, but I truly expect great things from the Canes this season. Call me a cockeyed optimist all you want, but I won't face the same downfall as Billy Mumphrey.
Miami's schedule is well-designed for success. From my article in June: "In Al Golden's first four seasons, Miami always played a tough opponent in the first two weeks: Ohio State (2011), Kansas State (2012), Florida (2013), and Louisville (2014). This is a welcome change in 2015. The Canes will be a young team this fall and many players will be playing leading roles for the first time in their careers. The games against Bethune and FAU will allow Miami to gain some momentum and confidence, which will be crucial once Nebraska comes to town in Week 3."
Nebraska just lost arguably their best playmaker on offense, WR De'Mornay Pierson-El, to an injury. I expect the Canes to take care of business at home in front of what might be the best crowd at Sun Life this season. The Cincinnati game on Thursday night on the road is a tricky one, but the Bearcats had no answers for Miami's offense last season. If the Canes enter conference play at 4-0, the sky is the limit. Having the ACC schedule as the last eight games of the season is exciting, especially considering the last five are against Coastal opponents. The next three-game stretch (at FSU, vs VT, and vs Clemson) will be a significant challenge, but at least two games are at home. If Miami can find a way to win two out of three, this can be a special season.
Stacy Coley had a miserable year in 2014, but all reports have him dominating camp this August. Miami's success this year depends on less-experienced players eager to prove themselves at the collegiate level. Just to name a few, guys like Chad Thomas, Gus Edwards, Joe Yearby, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Jermaine Grace, Jamal Carter, and Artie Burns are much better players than most national writers seem to think. For what seems like first time in years, Miami has elite freshmen like Lawrence Cager, Sheldrick Redwine, Mark Walton, and Jaquan Johnson that are good enough to contribute right away, but have to work their way through the depth chart. Brad Kaaya is truly one of the elite players in the country and I expect him to be a legitimate Heisman candidate in 2016. Miami's defense did improve last year and should be even better this fall, with a deeper defensive line and an underrated secondary that features several NFL prospects.
Enjoy the season, come to a revamped Sun Life Stadium, support this team, and most importantly, Go Canes.
Inaugural Pick of 2015
My first football game of the season is really on Friday night, when I make the short trip to watch St. Thomas take on Booker T. Washington, a game that will be televised on ESPN. Can't wait to watch Miami verbal commits WR Sam Bruce and TE Michael Irvin Jr. play in person. On Saturday, college football actually begins with a great matchup between two ranked FCS teams. North Dakota State has won four straight national championships and is a significant favorite.
In recent years, I've tried to give you reasons why my picks have been so average. I've offered more excuses than a government official whose email showed up on Ashley Madison. All of that ends today. It's time to put up or shut up.
MONTANA +14.5 vs North Dakota State 330pm - ESPN - Saturday
Montana HC Bob Stitt will be coaching his first game at the FCS level, after spending 15 years at Colorado School of Mines. Stitt is well known inside college football for his innovative offensive system that has baffled opponents over the years. He isn't afraid to go for it on fourth down and will stay aggressive throughout this season opener, especially as the underdog. Montana has a star in WR Jamaal Jones and new starting QB Brady Gustafson has size and talent. NDSU returns 12 starters from the national championship team a year ago and QB Carson Wentz is quietly gaining recognition as a potential NFL draft pick. These two teams played a tight game in Fargo last season. After leading 12-10 at halftime, NDSU scored the final ten points to win 22-10. This year's matchup should feature a lot more points and excitement. Montana hangs around enough for me to start the season on a positive note, but NDSU wins by a touchdown.