In a holiday season unlike any other, the Miami Hurricanes’ fanbase looks forward to just a few more gifts over the next year. Some of these may be last minute stocking stuffers to cap off the year and others will be well thought out presents that will need months of preparation before the 2021 season - after all, it is the thought that counts.
In a 2020 season where the Canes bestowed their fans with an 8-2 season and signed many promising recruits in the early signing period, the most recent matchup - a 62-26 onslaught by UNC - left a lot to be desired. And in an unorthodox year where the Canes’ culture has started to turn a corner, we should be grateful for what Miami has gifted us solely by playing at a competitive clip.
However, as Canes fans, the team is held to a championship standard and there is always a need for more. The program might not be championship-bound right now, but hopes for that resurgence begin with the realistic - and unrealistic - wish list that I have created below:
1) Cheez-It Bowl Victory:
A Cheez-It Bowl win could be classified as a last minute shopping item. And while the upcoming game may not have been the New Year’s Six game we were expecting, it is imperative the Canes make the most of the situation. While Miami will be missing a few starters against 21st-ranked Oklahoma State, including EDGE defenders who recently declared for the 2021 NFL draft, Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche, this will be a good barometer for the future of the DE position.
Miami needs to finish on a strong note to maintain a top-20 ranking and break the three-game bowl losing streak, as well as 1-9 Bowl record since 2008. This includes embarrassing 14-0 and 35-3 losses the past two years to Louisiana Tech and Wisconsin, respectively.
Also, the last Cheez-It Bowl Champion in 2019?* Notre Dame, who is now participating in the College Football Playoff. (*the game was the Camping World Bowl in 2019, which the Cheez-It Bowl replaced as the naming rights sponsor for the Orlando game between ACC & Big 12 Teams).
2) Wrap Up the 2021 Recruiting Cycle In Style:
A strong Bowl performance could also assist with ending the 2021 recruiting cycle in a positive way. In fact, the Canes last bowl victory in 2016 may have partially assisted with the flip of WR Mike Harley from West Virginia to Miami.
The Early Signing Period from December 16-18 was a success as Miami currently ranks 11th in recruiting class according to the 247Sports rankings. At this point, Miami signed 21 incoming freshmen. This includes two five-star prospects, Leonard Taylor and James Williams, as well as Pro Style QB, Jake Garcia, who is the highest ranked QB signee for the U since 2003. Garcia will have ample options as Miami also signed three four-star WRs, but Garcia is continuing the push for additional signees.
The biggest name that could push Miami into the top ten recruiting classes, albeit unlikely, is the nation’s 11th overall recruit, OT Tristan Leigh. The Virginia native has already received an offer from the U but currently has crystal balls predicting he lands in Oklahoma, LSU, and Clemson - he also omitted Miami from his final list. Garcia and StateoftheU contributor, Marsh Thomas, continue to make a heavy last minute push for Leigh as the #LeightotheU hashtag makes its waves on social media.
Where the blue-chip Florida players signed:— David Wilson (@DBWilson2) December 17, 2020
Ole Miss 3
Florida State 3
Texas A&M 2
Notre Dame 2
Arizona State 1
Georgia Tech 1
Outside of Leigh, Miami desperately needs help at two defensive positions: Cornerback and Linebacker (they may also need reinforcements at EDGE with the recent draft departures). At LB, Miami native, Terrence Lewis, has been the most high profile name with possible ties to the U. Lewis, the 16th ranked recruit in the nation, has been all over the place with his recruitment process. So even though the kid is talented, it is unclear if Miami and Lewis’ interests will align. Three-star recruit, Cortez McKenzie, previously de-committed from the U in 2019 but may be worth another look.
Next, Miami currently only has five CBs on the roster. Miami missed out on top prospects, Jason Marshall, Damarius McGhee, Markevious Brown, and Ja’Den McBurrows. Instead, Miami only signed three-star, Malik Curtis, who is technically listed as Athlete. At this point, there are slim pickings. However, two hard commits to Auburn, Tar’varish Dawson and Dontae Balfour, have been linked to Miami as the Tigers experience coaching changes.
3) Transfer Portal Success:
Miami has been a frequent flier of the NCAA Transfer Portal. In 2020, they signed QB D’Eriq King, DE, Quincy Roche, K, Jose Borregales, and OLs, Issiah Walker Jr., and Jarrid Williams. In 2019, Miami procured two notable transfers in DE, Jaelan Phillips and S, Bubba Bolden, both of whom had breakout performances in 2020.
Interestingly, one of the early 2021 transfer portal targets for the U is someone who could experience a Phillips-like rise in 2020. This target also went to the same high school as Bolden and addresses the Canes’ need at LB. USC LB, Palaie Gaoteote IV, ranked 15th nationally in the 2018 recruiting cycle and No. 1 overall ILB according to 247Sports. Gaoteote, similar to Phillips, has been been plagued by injuries, but due to his high ranking, he could become Phillips 2.0 especially under the guise of David Feeley’s Strength and Conditioning Program. The Bishop Gorman High School (Nevada) alum is not only former teammates of Bolden, but also TE Brevin Jordan.
5-star USC transfer who just entered transfer portal is buddies with Bolden, Jordan: "I'm considering Miami" - don't miss what Palaie Gaoteote is telling CaneSport ... https://t.co/UcDrWqxUyK pic.twitter.com/8zY8RfOuGv— CaneSport Miami Hurricanes (@CaneSport) December 8, 2020
Miami needs to get at least one CB through the Portal. It may be too early to make predictions here until students start exploring their options and prospects continually enter the portal, but Tampa native and South Carolina CB, John Dixon, took an official visit during his recruiting process, but Miami may not forget this stunt. 6-3, 178-pound Miami native, Antwan Collier, might make sense from UCF, but this is completely contingent on the outcome of some serious potential red flags as he is facing legal issues stemming from an arrest last month.
4) Retain As Many Seniors/Draft-Eligible Prospects As Possible:
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA voted to grant all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility. That is, seniors and graduate fifth/sixth-year seniors, can return to play in 2021. For those keeping track at home, Gregory Rousseau, Quincy Roche, Jaelan Phillips, and Jose Borregales have already declared for the NFL Draft.
Miami still awaits the decisions of Brevin Jordan, Bubba Bolden, D’Eriq King, Cam’Ron Harris (expected January 1st), Mike Harley, Jonathan Ford, Zach McCloud, and Amari Carter, but Coach Manny Diaz has made it clear every senior would be welcome back in 2021. The biggest one to monitor is King, which could dictate the tone for the future of the QB position at the U.
P, Lou Hedley, announced he will be returning, and has been an integral part of field position as he is a Ray Guy Award finalist.
5) Success For ProCanes Who Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft:
Hey, if we can’t keep them, then we need to root for their success at the next level. The residual effect of NFL success and draft picks for Canes’ products makes for stronger recruiting cycles and increased desire to be the next guy up at the college level.
Rousseau and Phillips are being projected as first round picks, and Roche should land anywhere between the late-first to third round. Borregales is arguably the best kicker in college football so could anticipate being picked anywhere between the 5th round to undrafted free agent - unless a team pulls an Al Davis and drafts him 17th overall like the Raiders did for Sebastian Janikowski in 2000. Jordan and Bolden could see mid-round projections. King, Harley, and Harris are big question marks and should anticipate late round to undrafted free agent draft value.
Regardless, the earlier they go, the more U players drafted, and the more success at the NFL level, the better it is for the future of the Canes’ program.
6) Beat Bama in 2021 Season Opener (or a dragon):
With this wish, I think we’d be better off asking Santa for a dragon. However, if we can at least not get embarrassed out of the stadium similar to and/or worse than the 1993 Sugar Bowl (the teams’ last matchup), it’d be a moral victory against the nation’s best team. More realistic out-of-conference wins include sealing the deal when we host Michigan State and respected Group of 5 opponent, Appalachian State.
7) Proper Staffing and Personnel Decisions:
I’m not calling for firing everyone after the 62-26 UNC loss. I mean, c’mon, it’s the holiday season. However, the Canes need to do everything in their power to retain OC Rhett Lashlee. The spread offense just started to make waves as WRs were beginning to breakout. Based on the incoming recruiting class and crop of rising Sophomore, the skill positions should only get better. Lashlee is a likely candidate for many coaching openings but is a must-keep.
8) A Normal 2021 Season:
Look, outside of wins and losses, it’s been a tough year for everyone. Nothing has been normal, including the state of college football and the state of the Canes’ program, as many games were disrupted by suspected and confirmed COVID-19 issues. And if 2020 has taught us one thing, there are many problems in this world that are more important than football.
Football, and sports in general, generally serve as a nice distraction. And, until the UNC game, Miami football gave us a top ten national product to look forward to every week (minus the cancelled weeks). It was a pleasure watching them all season, despite many preseason rumblings that the entire NCAA slate could be cancelled.
With that being said, the season has seemed odd. I’ve personally missed the camaraderie of attending games with packed crowds, tailgating, annual trips for out-of-town games, the slew of potential College GameDay games at Miami this year, and going to bars/restaurants, undeterred by the pandemic. In due time, and hopefully for this upcoming 2021 fall season, we can reconvene to cheer on our Miami Hurricanes and welcome back some semblance of normalcy.
In the meantime, Happy Holidays. Hopefully you are enjoying whatever holidays you celebrate with family and/or friends. And hopefully you, and the U, will get everything on your wish list. Feel free to add any other wishes in the comments section, and, as always, Go Canes.