When Miami joined the ACC, it was assumed the Hurricanes would be mainstays in the ACC Championship Game.
In fact, there was much debate over how to align the divisions, and the settled-upon solution purposely split Miami and Florida State just so they could meet in the conference title game.
In Year 1 of the new ACC (2004) Miami hosted Virginia Tech with the winner clinching the conference outright (Boston College was still a year away from joining the conference, so there was no conference championship game).
The Canes lost that game 16-10, and have not been close to an ACC Championship since (2005 was the next closest shot, where a late season upset home loss to Georgia Tech sunk the Canes’ chances. In 2012, the Canes at 7-5 technically tied for the Coastal championship, but were banned from playing in the postseason and also would have lost the tiebreaker without that ban).
The early history of the expanded ACC has seen the Hokies play the role that was designated for Miami. The Canes and the Hokies have played 13 seasons in the ACC (12 with divisions). Virginia Tech has won the ACC Coastal six times and the ACC four times. We all know Miami’s results.
For most of Miami’s time in the ACC, they were trying to find themselves. First, turning inward to an inexperienced head coach (Randy Shannon), then outward to an ignoramus (Al Golden). Finally, after toiling for more than a decade with no chance of success, the Canes found just the right mix: a head coach from Miami with big-time college experience.
Mark Richt brought stability to this endeavor, and with that, Miami can be Miami again. The seedlings have been planted and are starting to bloom.
Baby Cause I’m a Thug
And yet the Canes’ renaissance is being underplayed. I’m not delusional about the quality of this team. This is not the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Squeaking out win after win is admirable, but qualitatively not as impressive as repeated blowouts.
But what has really surprised me is the complete dismissal. We’re all used to the double standards when it comes to Miami, but that usually is limited to off the field. Miami was pioneering in the 80s, largely because they allowed their players to express themselves. And while they were reviled for this, there was respect for the on-field accomplishments.
That revulsion is precisely why some players getting free steaks at a restaurant is viewed more harshly than systemic suppression of rape or child molestation at other schools. It’s why FIU starting a brawl by tackling Miami’s walk-on kick holder becomes about how Miami is out of control. It’s why anytime a Miami player jaywalks, pundits can’t get in front of a camera fast enough to start flippantly throwing around the words “death penalty.”
The word “thugs” quickly makes an appearance, and every Miami fan knows exactly what “thug” means in this context (they really want to use a word that starts with an “n”).
In some sort of sick PTSD, while that prejudice is maddening, we’re used to it. But this outright dismissal of the Canes on the field? That’s a new one. And it’s based on a series of lazy half-truths.
If someone wants to ding the Canes for not winning impressively enough, that is certainly a legitimate criticism. The Canes, seemingly regardless of the opponent, find themselves in tight games on a weekly basis. But that is only half of it, because results must matter, and even in today’s new era of alternative facts, real facts matter.
And here are some facts:
• The nation’s longest winning streak: Miami
• The only undefeated team in the ACC: Los Huracanes
• Strength of Schedule: Miami, 36; Alabama, 38; Wisconsin, 62
• Malik Rosier’s career losses as a starter: 0
• Miami’s strength of record (measured by the percent chance an average team would be undefeated on a team’s schedule): 2
Now, can you imagine any other program with Miami’s pedigree and those metrics being ranked 10th? Of course not. But that isn’t the problem.
You can justifiably say, “when a team plays 1-7 North Carolina, I want to see them win in a blowout to rank them higher.” You can make a qualitative argument against Miami. And some people are doing that.
But a quantitative argument? Not really. And certainly not with flippant arguments like this:
No. 9 Wisconsin
No. 10 Miami
The undefeateds with the weak schedules.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 31, 2017
Miami and Wisconsin have not played similar schedules. But somewhere, the narrative developed that Miami and Wisconsin are the “weak schedule” undefeated teams even though that is quantifiably false, and now it has been repeated so many times that no one even bothers to actually check it, even though it is a number.
Why does this matter? In one sense, it doesn’t. Miami controls its own destiny in the ACC Coastal and for the playoff.
But what it does highlight is the burden of being Miami. That is real. It takes a special type of player to accept that challenge, and a special type of coach. And now that the Canes have finally gotten the mix of those two correct, they can compete in the conference and nationally.
“Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen”
And so in Year 14 of the Canes’ ACC odyssey, they’ve come full circle. A home win over Virginia Tech away from the division title — the Canes would clinch the ACC Coastal with a win and an expected UVA loss to Georgia Tech.
They can finally, once and for all, get this monkey off their back, loosen their ties (or discard them entirely), and just get back to having fun. Miami, at its height, is about being fun and winning. There has been precious little of that, and as time has gone on, the weight of having not accomplished anything since joining the ACC has continued to grow.
The Canes have flashed potential over the last 13 years in the ACC. They’ve put players in the NFL at a rate consistent with being one of the better teams in college football. Yet it hadn’t come together with any consistency.
And it is with no sense of irony that with this team, a team that has struggled to find any offensive consistency, has finally found consistency in the win-loss column. That there is something to this team, something that showed up in a late touchdown pass against FSU, a late catch and field goal against Georgia Tech, a game-icing touchdown against Syracuse, and a huge forced fumble against UNC.
This Canes team might not be the most talented, but they are tough as hell and a joy to root for.
I don’t know where this season ends. Virginia Tech is a good team, could easily win on Saturday, and this balloon could deflate. But you don’t accidentally win 12 games in a row, you don’t repeatedly perform under intense pressure, and come out on the right side without being special.
Everything the Canes do is part of building towards eventually returning to the top of college football. It’s hard to believe we’re two years removed from 58-0 and are now nearing the precipice. If they fall short here, there will be the word “fraud” thrown around, and if they win, there will be a debate over whether or not Virginia Tech is actually good.
Again, the burden of being Miami.
But regardless of outcome, we shouldn’t lose sight of how far this team has come, what they’ve accomplished, and where this program is headed. They’ve already avenged two of last year’s four losses (to teams that beat the Canes in Miami last year). There are two left, at home, over the next two weeks.
These Miami Hurricanes have done everything asked of them, while being doubted along the way and overcoming actual natural disasters. Saturday is the reward: a stage that they’ve had to earn, a chance to show out.
And with the resolve this team has already showcased, anything is possible.