Expectations are soaring for the Miami Hurricanes as they enter Mark Richt‘s second season.

Fresh off a crushing double-digit bowl victory over West Virginia and ending last season on a five-game winning streak with an average margin of victory of 21 points, Miami carries significant momentum into the 2017 season.

The Canes tick all the boxes for a team that gets overhyped:

  • Big name school
  • Underachieved for years
  • Finished the last year on a win streak
  • Well-respected coach

When you combine those factors, it’s very easy for media to get carried away. And so they have, culminating in Desmond Howard predicting that the Canes will go the playoffs and Paul Finebaum proclaiming “the U is back.”

Miami is so relevant to the ethos of college football that they’ve been omnipresent in college football over the last decade while never factoring in the championship race. The numbers are staggering in terms of futility:

  • Miami last played in a major bowl game in 2004, winning the Orange Bowl. (There was a Peach Bowl appearance, but at that time that bowl was not the major bowl it is now.)
  • Miami last beat chief rival Florida State in 2009, and last beat them at home in 2004.
  • Miami last genuinely factored in the National Championship race late into the year during the 2005 season when Larry Coker was the head coach.
  • Miami last won the ACC Coastal… never.

And yet the program is still relevant, always on TV and always spoken about. It does not seem outlandish to predict that Miami will win big this year because Miami is Miami.

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings

The Canes enter the 2017 season as heavy favorites to win the ACC Coastal, and perhaps that is the fairest way to set expectations. That level is something that must be achieved for this season to be successful. While this would be Miami’s first ACC Coastal title, it is the next logical step in the program’s progression.

Beyond that? Miami’s incoming freshman were 4 years old the last time the Canes won a conference, and that conference was the Big East. The cliche is that you must crawl before you can walk, before you can run. The Canes have just begun to crawl, and we want them to jump straight past the running stage to flying.

But here’s the thing: They absolutely can.

There is a difference between expecting something and having it be a possibility. While expectations should be set around the ACC Coastal level, dreams can be set sky high. And for the first time in over a decade, those dreams are not delusional.

That’s what Mark Richt brings to the table. While these players are not old enough to remember Miami in its glory, Richt has witnessed successful college football programs at their highest level as a player, as an assistant, and as a head coach.

The last two head coaches at Miami were similarly but distinctly afflicted with fatal flaws. One coach was not yet ready to be a head coach and while he seemed to conceptually understand what needed to be done to compete at the highest levels, he was completely incapable of implementing it. The other was completely incapable of even conceptualizing a successful strategy. To go from that to a coach that not only knows what he’s doing, but also has been successful is going from Death Valley to Mount Everest.

Richt knows how to win and we saw the beginnings of that last year. With him steering the ship, maybe these Canes can get ahead of reasonable projections, and learn to fly having never walked or run.

Well the good ol’ days may not return

The Miami Hurricanes football program from 1983to 1994 went on an insane run that we should not reasonably expect to be replicate replicated. Everyone knows the high-level numbers: four national championships under three head coaches, which is what made that era so insane.

We look at Alabama’s current success and it is inexorably linked with Nick Saban. If he were to leave, it is likely that the Crimson Tide would see a dip in quality. The Canes replaced Hall of Fame coaches in the 80s — twice — and they still kept winning championships.

But the numbers are even more impressive if you look beyond the championships. The Canes won at least 10 games in every season from 1983-1994 except 1984 and 1993. And this was in an era when less games were played.

They also played for the championship and/or finished the year with first place votes (the modern equivalent would be making the playoffs) in every season except 1984, 1985, and 1993. That is absolutely bonkers — 10 out of 13 seasons winning or playing for the championship.

ESPN doesn’t make multiple documentaries about normal programs. And this program not only culturally redefined college football, but also reached a level of success the likes of which no program can measure against in spite of massive, repeated turnover at the coaching position.

We should appreciate that era for what it was. A historic moment in time.

I guess I’ll know when I get there

And that’s why the talk of the Canes being “back” is always spurious. Because there are essentially 2 camps on this subject: (1) Miami is never coming back and (2) Miami is back. Of course, no one ever defines what “back” even means.

If we define “back” as playing for the national championship 10 times in 13 years, then Miami will probably never be back and it is not fair to judge them by that standard.

But if we define “back” as winning national championships, then the Canes will be back. It’s a matter of when, not if. Because the underlying reason for the Canes success in the 80s was not temporary, but permanent.

South Florida as a community is loaded with talent and South Florida is inextricably linked with the University of Miami football program. More so than most schools, the university represents the metropolis.

This is not high school kids from all over the state or country deciding to go to a specific college town that they would otherwise have no ties to.

The University of Miami’s story is a story not about a university, but about a community. And that is why it is such a polarizing program. When national media members unleash on the University of Miami, it quickly becomes personal because they are not just criticizing a school, but an entire region.

And it is that symbiotic relationship between the region denoted by the “State of Miami” and the school itself that guarantees that the Canes can only lay dormant for so long before rising back to the top of college football.

That is the legacy of those untouchable 80s Canes that still permeates today. That was the era where the community and program were tied together, a bond formed that will never go away.

As we enter the 2017 season, fresh off the school’s most successful year in more than a decade, with a nationally successful but locally tied head coach, the Canes have come full circle and might be poised to be backBut we won’t see it coming. No one saw 1983 coming.

We won’t know the Canes are back until after they’re back. 

We can dream without delusion. There are ifs surrounding this team. The quarterback, the offensive line, the secondary… but last year, the linebackers were an if and, despite a slew of freshmen, bloomed into one of the finest units in college football.

That’s what this program has now: The ability to reach maximum potential. The ability to take up to 11. And positive answers to this year’s open questions do potentially lead to the playoffs.

It’s not what we should expect.

But with South Florida firmly behind this program, with top-level coaching and player development in place, and with the 2017 Canes poised at the precipice, anything is possible.

For a program built on doing things people said were impossible, and one that’s been through so much over the last decade, hope itself is a welcome respite, and these Miami Hurricanes can deliver so much more than that.