The Miami Hurricanes are one win from an ACC Championship, and an appearance in the College Football Playoffs. They are three wins from a National Championship.
Standing in their way? Just the defending national champions and No. 1 team in the country, the Clemson Tigers. Sometimes things come full circle, and that is certainly the case here, because when Billy Corben eventually directs The U, Part III, it will most certainly begin two years ago with Clemson blasting Miami 58-0, a game immortalized in the blimp view of a deserted (then) Sun Life Stadium.
Miami would never see Al Golden again — and immediately began to rediscover themselves as a program. The miracle finish in Durham was the following week.
The same kids that were freshmen and sophomores during that roller coaster two-week period two years ago are still on this team. Malik Rosier played extensively against Clemson and started the Duke game. They remember those experiences.
When Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, who is now the starter, was coming off the bench two years ago and running through the Canes’ defense, no one on either team could have predicted that just two years later, these teams would be colliding in Charlotte with a possible National Championship on the line.
And that’s not just because of Miami. At that time, Clemson was viewed largely as a good-but-not-great program — a perennial underachiever.
Now? They are quite simply the best program in college football. From 2015 to present, Clemson has played for two National Championships, won one, and lost three games by a total of nine points. They have a record of 42-3 in their last 45 games.
So how does a team that just lost to 5-7 Pitt compete with that monster program? They don’t… if you look at the spread approaching double-digits.
They don’t… if you listen to any of the experts, all of which have uniformly lined up behind Clemson.
And they certainly don’t if you look at all the ACC teams. A fair criticism of the Miami Hurricanes’ fan base is that we’re quick to pull the “disrespect” card or get conspiratorial about the treatment of our team.
But that doesn’t make it untrue…. and the All-ACC teams are far more than a persecution complex. The Miami Hurricanes had one player make First Team All-ACC. ONE! The only team with fewer was Georgia Tech.
Clemson, with the same number of losses, has six.
Even worse, that one player was kicker Michael Badgely. No one on Miami’s vaunted defense was worthy of a first-team selection. None of Miami’s amazing skill players were included. No Jaquan Johnson, no RJ McIntosh, no Chad Thomas, no Chris Herndon, no Shaquille Quarterman, no Michael Pinckey, and no Michael Jackson.
Duke has two First Team All-ACC Defensive players. I guess I must have missed all their greatness when Miami was beating them 31-6.
This is just a continuation of everything this team has faced. From chronically being ranked as low as possible (including this week, where they, of course, moved to the back of the one-loss crowd), to being called “fraudulent” by USA Today’s Dan Wolken (in a now deleted tweet), to having the refs decide that there is no possible way for an opponent to hold Miami (620 plays without a holding penalty called on an opponent, last called on October 7 against FSU), this team has constantly been held to a standard of “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that you should be treated commensurate with your record.
Hilariously, on a kick return last week, the refs called holding on No. 14 on Miami, despite that number having been retired since the 80s. Meanwhile, a headlock on Trent Harris went uncalled.
But you know what? Despite all that, despite everyone writing off this team repeatedly, despite their three best offensive skill players being lost for the year, this Canes team is still standing.
These boys are tough. If anything, they’ve become closer because of the disrespect.
On Saturday, two teams show up with the same number of losses. One has a loss to a 5-7 team and the other has a loss to a 4-8 team.
Yet one is ranked No. 7, while the other is ranked No. 1. One has been chronically disrespected, while the other is assumed college football royalty. These are two programs with very similar seasons, yet very different perceptions.
Hasta El Final
Now is the time when we point out that this is not a vintage Miami Hurricanes team. Compared to some of the great teams from past generations, this team just doesn’t stack up on paper.
But now is also the time to point out that this does not matter, not even a little. When you look back at the history of Miami Hurricanes football over the last 40 years it characterized by 3 things: (1) Insane talent, (2) Blown opportunities, and (3) Winning when everyone says they can’t.
Some of the most talented Miami Hurricanes teams did not win the championship. But two of the five championship teams lost games. The 1983 Championship team lost a game by 25 points and three of their wins were by a combined seven points. And none of that matters now, as that team set a dynasty in motion.
The end of the season, in January, is the time to make judgments on the progress of the program. We all would have signed up for an ACC Coastal championship and an Orange Bowl appearance prior to the season. That is now the worst the Canes can do.
But situations change, and expectations deservedly have risen. Sure, in January, we will be able to look back and say this season was successful, even with a loss to Clemson. Right now, however, greatness awaits.
This team has the opportunity not by luck, but by hard work, by skill, and by performance. They’ve earned this opportunity, and they’ve earned our full-throated support. Come Saturday, it’s time for South Florida to line up behind this team, both in Charlotte and back home in Miami, and push them over the finish line.
The joy this team has given us over the last few months rekindled a feeling many of us remembered but wondered if we would ever experience again. Fifteen years of despair have been wiped away. These kids did that, and now, they have the opportunity to leap over one last hurdle, and to crown an achievement that no one can take away.
This team will keep fighting, as they’ve proven their toughness and their perseverance this year. Hasta el final, until the end, these Miami Hurricanes will still be standing, heads held high, the U restored, the “6th Ring On the Way” slogan no longer a punchline in a joke, but an inevitability.
So, who is going to tell the team that accomplished everything that they can’t beat Clemson?
Not me. Not anyone in Miami. We know what these kids are made of, and it’s now just a matter of translating that out to the entire country. To showing them what we already know…
That it’s Great to be a Miami Hurricane.