The standard does not waver. It doesn’t adjust based on talent from year to year. There exists no sliding scale to appeal to altered perspectives. It has never been like that. At Miami, the goal is a national championship—no matter the coach, players, weather, or opponents on the schedule. In 2017, Miami failed to meet that standard once again. For the 16th straight season, actually. However, Miami did not have a failure of a season. This is the part that may be hard to grasp, especially in the wake of a crushing Orange Bowl loss to a team that Miami had all but stomped on in the first quarter.
Miami reached double-digit wins for the first time since 2003, and had the first season of such since joining the ACC in 2004. Miami beat Florida State for the first time in seven seasons, snapping that dreadful streak. Miami had a top-five win (Notre Dame) for the first time since 2005. Miami made it to its first ever ACC Championship game and was back in a NY6 Bowl. These are all positive developments, and accomplishments that should be celebrated, not cast away as you focus all your energy on three poor performances during a 13 game, four month season.
I urge you, during a time when it is tempting to look toward the future and worry about what recruits Miami still has to get on campus, commit, and sign, to look back and reflect on the season that 2017 was. A season that was one of the largest steps forward for this program since the 1998 season that saw the Canes go 9-3 after a 5-6 finish in 1997.
I urge you, while you are counting down the days until the early enrollees get to campus, to look back at the job that these seniors did. Most of which got to campus in 2014, when Miami finished 6-7 and lost in the Independence Bowl. This group weathered the storm of the past staff and administration, stayed true to their commitment to The U and finished with Miami’s best season since joining the ACC. They were recruited during the time when Miami was banned from postseason play, but they wanted to come play for this program because they know it has the potential to be great. On this 2017 edition of the Canes, seniors played major roles. Chad Thomas was a frequent captain and leader of the defense (and Miami’s best defensive lineman). Kc McDermott was staunch on the offensive line and brought a much needed sense of poise to a young and inexperienced bunch in the trenches. Anthony Moten, who went under the radar this year, was Miami’s best reserve interior lineman, and one who provided depth at a position that needs it. Michael Badgley is Miami’s all-time leading scorer and for four years, was one of the most reliable kickers in America. You have Braxton Berrios, who came from Raleigh, North Carolina to play football for The U. It took him a little bit, but in 2017 he was Miami’s most consistent wide receiver and an unquestioned leader of the team. He came to Miami, did his time, and then became a prime option his senior year and is now in line to receive an NFL contract. These seniors gave it their all for this program and came to Coral Gables at a time when it wasn’t cool to come here. They worked and have now left Miami in a better state than they found it in, and in the end, that is all one can really ask for.
There are only a handful of programs that have championship DNA and the inherent ability to become perennial championship contenders. Let it be known that the University of Miami is one of those programs. From the ruins that were left by past staffs and administration, there lay five national titles and the makings of a powerhouse program.
When head coach Mark Richt took over the job following the 2015 season, he knew there was a long road ahead to return Miami to its proper place atop the college football universe. After years and years that had been lost, it is unreasonably expected that teams turn it around in a fifth of the time. I would bet that even Richt is a little surprised about the amount of success that his team had this year. Look at it this way, 2017 was the first year that he had one of his own full recruiting classes at Miami. 2018 will be the first class that he truly had a whole cycle to recruit and plant seeds. With all of that, in the second season of the Richt regime, Miami had a season that had not been seen in over a decade. The excitement around the school and the city was and is palpable. There is a new and refreshing feeling surrounding Miami. Miami is now a place to be—a destination. Kids want to come here because they see what is being built. The infrastructure has been laid. I return back to my earlier point to say: this program that is being rebuilt from the ground-up, is due in large part to the seniors of 2017.
With all of the positive momentum that 2017 brought, some was then lost in the three game skid to close the year. While Miami did finally beat FSU, beat a top-five team, win the coastal division, and return to the Orange Bowl, the last two games in particular show that Miami has a ways to go. Clemson full-out throttled and outclassed the Canes in the ACC Championship in Charlotte. Clemson is the class of the ACC right now and is in a spot that Miami is working to be in, but is clearly a few steps behind. Yes, the Canes need to get bigger along both sides of the line, have more of a TD threat on special teams, have a QB that can take over games, have better overall depth, and continue to get bigger and stronger at the skill positions. While Wisconsin was a closer game, Miami still struggled to keep up with a program that has built a system and runs with it. Right now, there is no part of Miami that is particularly consistently dominant, a characteristic that is essential to national title contenders. This is something that will only begin to take shape in time. The freshman group of 2018 will not be able to come in, however talented, and magically patch all of the wounds sustained by years of administrative incompetence.
2017 was better than 2016, which was better than the year before that. In this age, we all want immediate results. We want to see the fruit of our labor while we are still laboring. What we have to understand, though, is that all great things come at a price and in college football, that price is time (of course, money factors into it as well, I guess). While yes, the standard at Miami is and always will be a national championship, you have to build in order to reach that mountaintop. While we all would love, myself included, to win a national championship next season, what we should all truly hope for is yet another step in the right direction. And soon enough, that one next step will lead to that lofty standard set by years of excellence, may it be 2018, 2019, or after. 2017 did not reach the bar, but it got closer than any other team in recent memory, and has set up the next edition of Miami Hurricanes to get even further.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE U