With Thanksgiving having just passed, there was a lot of talk about what we were thankful for. This past Friday, many Miami fans found it difficult to express gratitude after the Canes' abysmal performance in Pittsburgh. All of us were fixated on an undefeated season, which would have been our first since 2002. The defeat was hard to swallow, but I found that the response from the people around me with no attachment to the program was far more dramatic than what I was initially feeling. I received comments such as, "So sorry it had to end this way," or "They were doing pretty well this year." Everything I was hearing was set in the past tense, as if our moment had come and gone, or as if this season was something we could look back on but we weren't likely to see again. Normally, the fans of the losing team should be the most hurt by a loss, not the impartial observers who are just trying to sympathize. I realized that the responses I was receiving were a result of the knee-jerk reaction of many college football fans that one loss by the Canes would push them out of the Playoff, with no shot of getting back in anytime soon. While this opinion would often make sense in the high stakes world of College Football, especially this late in the season, examining the real state of the playoff right now should give clear indication that our shot at finishing in the top 4 is far from over.
All Canes fans know that the disconnect from the college football world and The U has existed for some time now. I'm sure all of you have seen a blind test like this at some point this season:
Team 1 Resume: 11-1, loss to a 4-8 conference opponent, 3 wins over currently ranked opponents
Team 2 Resume: 10-1, loss to a 5-7 conference opponent, 2 wins over currently ranked opponents
One of those teams is #1 in the country and the other was described as "exposed" and "sure to fall out of the top 4." You can figure out who is who. The loss to Pittsburgh was particularly unsettling because of how long it took Miami to get into the top 4. We spent 2 weeks in the spotlight before everyone who incorrectly predicted us losing for 10 weeks finally felt justified. The good news is that we theoretically control our own destiny, which you can read more about here: Miami Hurricanes Football: Despite late loss, Miami still controls their own destiny
With a clear path to the playoff, things could be way worse, yet you will still likely find yourself sifting through hot sports opinions that neglect to even mention Miami in the conversation. Trying to address the bias against the U is not a great way to spend your time, especially in the week leading up to our first appearance in a conference championship game. However, looking into the roots of the bias can help you feel proud of our team and appreciate the current state of the program.
Miami's football program had struggled in the 70s to the point where the school struggled to fill the seats at their games. Free tickets were given out at local Burger King restaurants in order to boost attendance. The school then brought in Howard Schnellenberger, followed by Jimmy Johnson, and then Dennis Erickson who managed to turn the laughingstock of a program into a dynasty that would win 4 national championships in 8 years. They accomplished this by embracing players from the local communities and creating a culture change within the administration and local fan base that energized a city that was marred with crime (mostly drug related) and violence. Miami was in the national spotlight as a city for its flaws, and when the football team was thrust onto the national scene, many viewers had trouble separating the two, and had an issue with the new demographic of players dominating their sacred sport. From that point on, The U has been a polarizing figure in the overall picture of college football. We've had our share of scandals (which many large programs have had) that have justified those opposing views in the eyes of the naysayers (even Sports Illustrated called for the death penalty). Despite the challenges that this program has faced, The U has always managed to come back stronger. Whether it was Schnellenberger winning that first title in '83, or Jimmy Johnson overcoming his many obstacles to bring home titles in '87 and '89, or Butch Davis rebuilding a dismantled program, leading up to the greatest team in college football history in 2001, the Canes have endured and delivered. Since our last trip to the Championship game in 2002, the program had been stuck in mediocrity despite lofty expectations from the teams of the 80's and 90's, and was once again threatened by a major scandal in 2011. All of this came to a head in 2015, when Miami suffered its greatest loss in school history and fired head coach Al Golden. You can read more about that game here: Miami and Clemson: An Interconnected Past and a Bright Future
That moment paved the way for the program to bring back one of its own, Mark Richt. That hire will go down in history as a turning point for Miami football, and we are experiencing the benefits of that move as we speak. Over a decade of mediocrity and somewhat of a loss of identity has been turned around in less than two years. We now have one of the best coaching staffs in the country, and the Turnover Chain, a bold symbol of this team, has become a national phenomenon. Despite the loss last weekend, things are still great in Coral Gables.
When Miami is up, we are a huge story for all of college football. We hosted one of the greatest College Gameday shows in its history, and our primetime performances have drawn huge TV ratings. But the rest of the country sees us as a trendy story, asking over and over again "Is the U back?" only to drop the discussion as soon as we drop a game. Ahmmon Richards summed it up well with this tweet:
They hate you when you winning but they love I️t when you break...it’s the price of being GREAT !!! @MeekMill— AR (@AhmmonR2) November 26, 2017
If we don't want to be considered a trendy program, we can't be a trendy fan base. We are the program that excels in spite of what the general landscape of college football looks like. We likely won't ever be considered a blue blood program (despite our 5 national championships), so we can't dwell over how we're perceived. We are a program that represents our community, we create swag, and we produce top talent. This weekend is still an opportunity to force the issue. We can make the rest of the country respect this team whether they want to or not. ESPN Radio Host Paul Finebaum called Miami a "black mark on college football" and said that "Miami is known for all the wrong things," statements that can only be made with no regard for any of the players or coaches currently on Miami's roster (He has since flip flopped, but whatever.) Finebaum surely isn't the only person in the country to feel this way about the Canes. But as many alumni stated at the end of ESPN's best 30 for 30 film (watch from 1:08)
This season has gone a long way to bring relevance back to Miami, if not for the whole country, at least for our fan base. Winning an ACC Championship, or winning the Orange Bowl would be an enormous step in the right direction for this program, and way ahead of schedule for this coaching staff. As Miami fans, we shouldn't have to carry our own doubts to Charlotte, because this isn't the Miami of 2004-2015. We are no longer steeped in mediocrity. We haven't been perfect, but we have returned to the upper echelon. Let's appreciate that we belong back in the national conversations, whether everyone else includes us or not. Let's believe in the Canes this week, let's believe that we should beat Clemson, let's believe that we should be conference champs, let's believe that we belong in the playoff, let's believe that we can be on top of it all again. And the next time you hear someone question the Turnover Chain, our vaunted defense, or our big-play offense (yes, our offense can get the job done), just remember: it's a Canes thing. They wouldn't understand.