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Is the Hurricanes football program in better shape than 10 years ago?

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Is Miami ready to gain traction under Diaz after spinning its wheels for the last decade?

Like junior Graig Cooper, Deejay Dallas could lead a three-headed monster at running back in 2019.
Todd Forrest / SOTU

Nineteenth-Century French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is credited for coining the phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” And while recently skimming over Phil Steele’s latest college football preview magazine, I recognized the applicability of that expression whenever one examines the last decade of Miami Hurricanes football.

Right off the bat, the conference records of ACC programs over the last three, five and 10 years really caught my attention, resulting in three facts that immediately came to the forefront.

First, and to the surprise of no one, Clemson has owned the ACC over the past decade (66-14) with an incredible 36-4 mark over the last five years.

Second, the next-best record over the last 10 years belongs to Florida State at 55-25 but over the past three seasons, the Noles are barely a middle-of-the-pack team at 11-13 -- placing them one game better than Wake Forest and dead even with Louisville.

Finally, and also not surprising, Miami has remained a consistent, slightly above-average squad for the better part of the new millenium. The Canes are 47-33 over the last 10 years; 24-16 during the last five and 16-8 in its three most recent seasons — each time span averages out to roughly 5-3 per season in the inferior Coastal Division.

While reflecting on the last 10 seasons, one begins in 2009 where the similarities to the present day are worth noting. On one hand, that’s somewhat depressing knowing the decade of mediocrity that followed. On the other, there are areas where this Miami squad has a decided advantage over the roller-coaster ‘09 team, providing a ray of hope to an ever-cautious fan base.

‘09 and ‘19: A Common Thread

Head Coaches - Both teams are under the direction of local products that cut their teeth as a defensive coordinator / linebacker coach under previous regimes before eventually receiving the keys to the kingdom. Yes, Shannon played at The U and already had two years of head coaching experience under his belt entering 2009 but he was still inexperienced and ultimately proved he wasn’t ready to be the head man at a major program.

Prior to Diaz, the previous two coordinators-turned-Miami-head-coach (Shannon included) didn’t pan out. With that said, neither Al Golden or Mark Richt proved to be the answer so any precedent of hiring former head coaches has proven to be an unproven formula, as well.

Quarterback - N’Kosi Perry and Jacory Harris have a lot more in common than just five syllables and a strong right arm.

In 2009, sophomore Jacory Harris became the full-time starter when the previous year’s QB-1, Robert Marve, transferred at season’s end. Like 2018, the Canes were dealing with a bit of quarterback controversy in 2008 with Marve and Harris.

After not signing a Florida Mr. Football since Jammi German in 1992, the Canes landed back-to-back Mr. Football commitments from Marve and Harris, setting Miami up for long-term success under center.

That would not be the case, however, as one year later, the duo was no more when Marve bid adieu to Coral Gables.

Marve wasn’t disliked in South Florida but his popularity was never able to rival the Dade County native, Harris. After starting all but two games in 2008, Marve had a falling out with Shannon, resulting in the quarterback’s eventual transfer to Purdue. Now, fast-forward 10 years where Diaz could hand the offense over to the redshirt-sophomore Perry, who split time with Malik Rosier in 2018 despite the majority of the fan base clamoring for Perry to be named the full-time starter.

With Rosier out of eligibility and a new offensive coordinator taking the reigns -- same as 2009 -- Perry, like Harris, could finally get his chance to shine while opening against an in-state rival in prime time. (Which provides a perfect segue to the next selection.)

Schedule - Both 2009 and 2019 open with a ranked in-state rival away from home while under the direction of two brand new coordinators. Moreover, the Canes entered 2009 unranked and coming off a 7-win season (4-4 in the ACC) that ended with a bowl loss. Sound familiar?

Miami would rocket into the rankings in ‘09 following the season-opening win at Florida State and eventually climb into the top 10 on two separate occasions — reaching as high as ninth in September and No. 8 in mid-October. If the Canes open with a win over Florida on Aug. 24 and ride that wave of momentum to a victory in Chapel Hill, the Canes will be poised for a 4-0 start and a potential top 10 ranking when they welcome Virginia Tech to Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 5.

If that scenario plays out, 2009 comparisons will be front-and-center throughout the week since it was the Hokies that dropped Miami from ninth to 17th by knocking them from the ranks of the unbeaten one-decade earlier.

2009 & 2019: The Contrasts

Quarterback depth: Harris and Perry may have a few things in common, but as a whole, the quarterback room is very different animal this time around. It’s no secret that Coach Shannon was ride or die for his sophomore signal caller, leading to the premature anointment of Harris as the program’s savior. Don’t forget, Harris already had a “suit” picked out for the Heisman ceremony in December. Although, in the early going of 2009, it appeared “J12” was just what the doctor ordered for the once-proud program.

That was until the interceptions began to pile up and questions were raised regarding whether Harris suffered from not having a backup quarterback pushing for reps. Without the threat of getting yanked, Harris labored through a 17-pick season -- including four interceptions apiece in losses to Clemson and at UNC. Then, in 2010, when the unthinkable happened and Harris went down with a concussion, the Miami coaching staff was left scrambling. It was instantly clear that backup quarterbacks A.J. Highsmith and Spencer Whipple were not the answer, forcing Shannon to burn Stephen Morris’ redshirt. Costing Morris a year of eligibility would make waves throughout the quarterback room for years to come, even impacting the decision to start Brad Kaaya as a true-freshman in 2014.

One could argue that Kaaya might have stayed for his senior year in 2017 if he doesn’t see the field until his sophomore season of 2015. That scenario would then provide a transition straight from Kaaya to Perry where Rosier is never named QB-1 at the University of Miami. (But that’s another piece for another day.)

Back to the present day, this season’s QB unit has the potential to be one of the deepest in a very long time. Coming out of the spring, Perry is the frontrunner, but unlike Harris, Perry will be forced to earn his starting job. There’s nothing I can add in this piece that hasn’t already been said about Tate Martell and Jarren Williams. All three quarterbacks possess 4 and 5-star talent and are capable of winning the job this fall. Regardless of who gets the nod and who’s left holding a clipboard, any of the three would present a viable Plan B should Perry underperform or Heaven forbid, suffer a significant injury.

Defense: Guys like Allen Bailey and Sean Spence had excellent careers at Miami, but overall, the units fielded under defensive coordinator John Lovett were average at best statistically.

In 2009, the Canes ranked 76th nationally in turnovers forced, 61st in sacks, 38th in scoring defense and 18th in tackles for loss. In three seasons with Diaz leading the defense, Miami was 18th, 28th and 12th in scoring defense; 16th, third, and 63rd in turnovers forced; 11th, fourth and 22nd in sacks and first, fifth and eighth in tackles for loss.

I don’t see the Hurricanes’ defense falling off all that much in 2019. With the loss of three starting defensive backs, it will be difficult to lead the nation in pass defense for a second-straight year but I doubt they suffer a significant drop. The 2018 defense, however, did see a decrease in turnovers from the year before, so I expect them to bounce back with 2019 producing an uptick in takeaways.

Expectations: Miami finished 2009 with a 9-4 record, failed to reach the ACC Championship Game and lost a bowl game to Wisconsin (gag!). Despite the disappointing end, fans were optimistic as ever. Message boards were filled comparisons to 1999 (“we’re going to party like its 1999” was a popular saying on the CaneSport forums during the 2009 season). Like the aforementioned ‘99 Canes, some expected The U to contend for a National Championship the following year but we all know how 2010 turned out for the University of Miami and its head coach.

This season, anything short of a December appearance in Charlotte — and I’m not talking about the Belk Bowl — would be considered a bust and no one is more aware of the stakes than Coach Diaz. If he wanted to top-out at eight or nine wins while appearing in middling bowl games with no expectations or pressure he would have stayed in Philadelphia.

The Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech programs (ranked 13th and 11th, respectively, when Miami played them 10 years ago) have fallen quite a bit since 2009 and North Carolina is no longer anchored by a Butch Davis defense loaded with first rounders. This year’s slate sets up perfectly for a return trip to the ACC title game and a New Year’s Six bowl game.

The only question is will they falter down the stretch like 2009 and 2017, resulting in a carryover effect that spills into the following season? Or will the Diaz-era build some momentum in year one, allowing the program to move forward into the new decade instead of searching for answers to the same exhausting questions that have haunted the program for the last 10 years?

Is Miami looking at another 47-33 stretch or are they ready to separate themselves from the pack and offer Clemson with a legitimate contender that the ACC has sorely lacked in recent years?

What do you think about using the 2009 season as a barometer in 2019? Should Canes fans be content with not reaching the ACC title game if Miami wins nine regular season games? Do you believe the program is in better shape than it was a decade ago? Tell us in the comments below.