As we patiently wait for the start of the 2018 Canes Football season, I thought it would be a great time to take a look back at where the program was 10 years ago. Just a precaution: the state of the program in 2008 is very unsettling.
To set the stage, the Canes were coming off of a 5-7 season which included the closing of the Orange Bowl. What the Orange Bowl means to Canes fans would make you think that we would celebrate the end of an era in style, but instead it was marked by a 48-0 shellacking by Virginia. VIRGINIA. Heading into their first season at Dolphin Stadium, things were not looking good in Coral Gables.
Falling short of bowl eligibility is unthinkable with this program. The coaching staff understood that, and made strong efforts to rectify the situation. They got off to a great start by pulling the top recruiting class in the nation, including 3 5-stars (Arthur Brown, Marcus Forston, and Brandon Harris) and 13 4-stars. The 2008 Canes would go as far as their talented freshman would take them. Leading the Canes was Miami-lifer (at that time) Randy Shannon, who was entering his second season after taking over for the last coach to win a national championship at the U, Larry Coker.
After easily navigating through their annual cupcake game with a 52-7 win over Charleston Southern, the Canes eperienced their first of many setbacks against a Tim Tebow-led Florida Gator squad in The Swamp. The eventual national champs shut down the Canes offense en route to a 26-3 victory. Despite the disappointing finish, one member of the Canes’ heralded freshman class started making a name for himself with a few iconic hits:
The Canes would recover with a 41-23 road victory over Texas A&M before opening ACC play with a two-game skid. North Carolina and Florida State both pulled out close victories on the road, Miami made a push to salvage their season with a 5-game win streak, knocking off UCF, Duke, Wake Forest, Virginia, and Virginia Tech in succession. Like the end of the 2017 season, the Canes finished with a 3-game losing streak, falling to Georgia Tech, NC State, and finally Cal in the Emerald Bowl to end the season 7-6.
The 2008 season was marked by a lack of team identity. The offensive was neither explosive or smashmouth, and the defense didn’t lock anyone down or have a nasty streak. The offense scored 27 points per game and the defense gave up 24 points per game. The Canes used 2 QBs nearly all season, with Robert Marve and Jacory Harris combining for a very underwhelming 2488 yards, 21 touchdowns and 20 picks with a 57% completion rate. No receiver had over 340 yards or 4 touchdowns. Sophomore tailback Graig Cooper had the most successful season of any member of the offense, rushing for 841 yards and 4 touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry. The defense only forced 15 turnovers all season (they could’ve really used the Turnover Chain), and brought down the quarterback 31 times (compared to 44 in 2017). The bright spot of the season was the performances of the aforementioned Sean Spence, Travis Benjamin and Marcus Robinson, who were named to Phil Steele’s All-Freshman team, as well as Marcus Forston, who was named to Sporting News’ All-Freshman team along with Spence.
An otherwise forgettable season had a noticeable impact on the overall trajectory of the program. The Canes strong recruiting class made the team more competitive in 2009, when the Canes finished 9-4, but that was the pinnacle of the group’s success while in Coral Gables. Player development was not a strength during the Randy Shannon years, which feels like one of the biggest wasted opportunities in recent memory. Miami saw its streak of first round picks end despite having players regularly find their way onto NFL rosters. Players from this team were also caught up in the Nev Shapiro scandal, which cast a cloud over the program for most of the following decade.
While the current Canes are preparing for the 2018 season, a season they will start ranked top-10 in the polls while being considered as one of the most talented programs in the country. We’re no longer hovering around .500, we’ve been to an ACC Championship Game, and we’re currently favored in every game this season. Times are different, be thankful that the state of the program is in a much better place.