That picture above. Yes. That one with Mark Richt holding up the trophy after winning an effectively meaningless second-tier bowl. That’s something that has eluded Miami for far too long. Miami’s lone bowl win since squeaking by the Nevada Wolfpack on a freezing December 2006 Boise evening represents everything that has been wrong with this program over the past 16+ years. Getting up for a game with plenty of time to prep (and little to play for) has been a MONSTROUS hurdle for Manny Diaz and his post-glory-days predecessors to leap. Falling on their faces has been the constant result of trying to get over that hurdle. Whether it was the Emerald Nut Bowl, the Independence Bowl, or the heralded Orange Bowl, Miami has failed to enter the offseason on a positive note since the 2005 season only TWICE. That’s absolutely abysmal.
Last year’s farcical shutout loss to Louisiana Tech was not a total shocker in that Miami was sliding from losses to FIU and Duke, but the absolute failure to even show up almost literally and definitely figuratively was shocking in its futility. Sure, Dan Enos was canned shortly after, but the mess falls at the feet of the head coach.
At the end of his second full season, has he learned enough to get his team motivated and prepared for a tilt with a talented and challenging opponent in a ranked Oklahoma State squad? I’m going to say I hope so, but believe it when I see it. That said, there are a couple of reasons for optimism.
1) First, D’Eriq King is back, baby. The King is back for 2021 in Miami, and fans, players, and coaches couldn’t be happier. Look, Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips were on their way out. They both made themselves A LOT of money this year as the most dominant DE duo in the ACC, if not the country (second-team ACC my backside.....go fly a kite, ACC). They’re going to be high draft picks and should have bounced. But players like Mike Harley, Jr., Brevin Jordan, and Cam Harris have tougher decisions. King was in this category, I felt. His return should galvanize the direction of a program that had its bell rung and was left totally rudderless after the UNC dismantling. Yes, it was that bad. And yes, King’s return is that much of a positive to give said rudderless ship a big push in the right direction. Aside from the obvious optimal performance on the field at the QB position he provides, it will show the players that Miami is worth staying and playing for. That can only be a good thing.
2) Also, Oklahoma State is a team that’s at least trending in the wrong direction as the year has gone on. They started off with wins over Tulsa and Iowa State, but have slipped in the latter part of the year. They lost close games to Texas and TCU, squeaked by Texas Tech and Kansas State, and got their doors blown off by Oklahoma. It seems like they allow points a plenty, which should bode well for a bounce back opportunity for Miami’s offense. They’re also a team now without all-world RB Chuba Hubbard, who has opted out of the bowl game and will head to the NFL. That’s nice.
3) Prediction: Before the regular season ended, the best player in this game might have been Hubbard. However, his departure likely leaves King as the best player on either sideline come Tuesday. Oklahoma State has given up plenty of yards and points to lesser opponents down the stretch, as referenced earlier, and a game Miami offense should be able to produce enough points to have a good chance. However, as far as preparation and focus, Mike Gundy has his players ready on bowl game days, with the Cowboys winning 3 of their last 4 bowls. That’s hard to understate the importance of having your team focused and prepared, regardless of the talent edge on either sideline. Conversely, I don’t have nearly that confidence in a head coach who opined on his team was emotionally exhausted before the biggest home game in three years. I know it’s been a long year for everyone, and COVID-19 wreaked havoc on Miami, but if it was honestly a matter of being up for a game emotionally.....man, I find a lot of things to be concerned about here.
My brain and gut says Oklahoma State wins this game, which Vegas has Okie State as a 1-point favorite. My heart says Miami finally finds some pride and rallies behind their leader and wins a squeaker. I guess I’ll follow my heart...barely. Miami 34, Okie State 31.