It might be a little early to start thinking about how the 2020 season may unfold for Miami, given we don’t even know if there will be a season, but here was an interesting debate going on Twitter the other day regarding expectations for the season that generated some engaging conversation. What would be considered a successful season? As one would expect, the answers skewed all over the place. Some are (somehow, for reasons I don’t understand) championship or bust. Others are 10+ wins or bust.
I see a nine wins as a realistic goal of progress, given the incredibly forgiving schedule, certain glaring holes potentially filled, certain players who have departed, and the departure and replacement of certain coaches. Maybe. Really, it depends on how they get there. And yes, I think there is a difference. Start off with a loss at Michigan State, drop a couple of competitive contests to a coastal teams, finish strong, qualify for a solid bowl and win it, and you’ve suddenly jump started something to build on for a pivotal yet promising year 3 under Manny.
However, drop one to either Temple or UAB, rebound, but then drop a stinker to Duke and the bowl game, then questions will remain as to whether Diaz is getting the most out of what can only be described as superior talent to teams they keep losing to. That’s the first thing that must change to be successful, beating the teams that Miami should never be losing to. That’s the floor for success.
I think it’s worth looking back at some of Miami’s more recent nine-win seasons and see how they played out. In 2005, Miami started off with a gut-wrenching loss at FSU after a botched hold on a 28-yard field goal try killed Miami’s chances of extending it’s winning streak over the Noles to seven. However, the Canes won some very memorable games that season at #20 Clemson in triple OT 36-30 and later at #3 V Tech in dominating fashion 27-7. A 14-10 loss to unranked Georgia Tech cost Miami any shot at qualifying for the BCS title game, and took the wind out of their sails, as a listless Miami team was shellacked 40-3 by LSU in the Peach Bowl. Still, that was a team, in my mind, that was at least competitive and provided some classic moments.
The 2009 and 2013 Canes felt similar in some ways, as they were both led by explosive yet enigmatic quarterbacks in Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris, but lost games late in the year against teams it should’ve have (bombed 48-30 by Duke in 2013) before folding in their bowl games and limping into an offseason before a major letdown of a following season. The 2016 team arrived at the 9-win mark following a three-act play, four straight wins, including memorable ones over App State and at Georgia Tech before a four-game slide highlighted by the blocked extra point against FSU. Then, a four game winning streak heading into the Champs Sports bowl against West Virginia, which Miami would go on to win. Nine wins, a strong finish, and a rare bowl win. And Miami went on to have a successful 2017 season, coming one win short of qualifying for its first ever playoff appearance. I’m not sure it was a coincidence that they happened to win their first bowl game in a decade leading into that season.
For me, the bottom line is this: is Miami winning the games it should win, getting the most out of its talents, and competing in losses, even if the results don’t go their way? THAT, to me, is the sign of maturity I’m hoping to see from a young team looking to replace a number of departed leaders and still trying to learn how to win. If they can reach nine wins (or more) by accomplishing that along the way, that’s the sign of a successful season. Ultimately 2005, 2009, 2013 turned out to be failed projections of some perceived progress, but 2016 was a sign of a team that came together, finished strong and trended up for most of the next season.
That’s at least what I’m hoping to see in 2020.....a step forward towards real progress and development. If that comes in a nine-win season, I’ll take it.