December 30, 2005.

The Canes entered a neutral site game against LSU ranked #8 in the Final BCS Poll. They promptly lost 40-3 and spent 12 years trying to recover.

It seems like a distance memory, the last decade a nightmare. But at the time, Miami was the pre-eminent program in the country.

Yes, those dominant teams from 2000-2002 had faded…but every season’s National Championship discussion had to include Miami.

And 2005 was no different. Miami blew a game against FSU to open the season, recovered with several big wins (including at Clemson and a blowout win at Virginia Tech), ascended to #3 in the country, and were in pole position to play for the National Championship if USC or Texas slipped up when an upset loss at home against Georgia Tech ended those hopes.

Still, entering that faithful Peach Bowl, the Canes were considered one of the nation’s best. And then the game happened. There are times when a game just gets away from you. When you don’t have your best day, a few bad breaks pile up, you collapse under a slew of turnovers, and the score just goes lopsided.

That is NOT what happened here:

For years, Miami had been the team distributing this level punishment. The losses that were more than just a loss, instead crippling programs for years to come. The losses that made once proud programs whine about “running up the score” and vow to never play the Canes again.

The loss was years in the making. Years of poor recruiting, lackluster player development, and poor game planning came together that night. And yet it was still surreal to see Miami on the other end of that sort of game.

Soon, many of the assistant coaches were gone. A year later, the head coach followed and we went from Coker to Shannon to He Who Shall Not Be Named. A decade in exile.

2017: A Fairy Tale

2017 was the year the nightmare ended and the dream re-awoke. The accomplishments are plentiful:

  • Won 10 games for the first time since 2003.
  • Won the ACC Coastal for the first time.
  • Went to a “Big” bowl game (with the ever-evolving definition of what that means) for the first time since 2003.
  • Reached a #2 ranking nationally in the last week of the season.

All of this lead to the re-awakening of a fan base that had more than a decade of pent up underachievement and rage. More than a decade of sub-par play on the field, and sometimes comically embarrassing behavior off the field (no, not “extra benefits,” but things like this).

This much maligned fanbase dealt with attendance jokes, and Starship Trooper speeches, as if anyone but the ultimate die-hard fans would have stuck with this. But the fans watched…watched as 600 yards were repeatedly given up, watch as the head coach essentially defaced and defamed everything this program stood for. There is being bad at football, and then there is what the Canes fans (and players, for that matter) endured. But they persevered over a coach that seemed to not only be a bad coach, but also hate the very existence of the program.

Which is what made last season so satisfying. Everything came flooding back, as if the DeLorean hit 88 MPH and went back in time. Last minute win against Florida State. Destroying teams at home in huge primetime clashes. College Gameday coming to town.

Crawled through a river of &*#^ and came out clean the other side, with an alum at the helm dedicated to restoring the icon.  And to a large degree he has done that. The U is not only nationally relevant again, but looks like a real football team. We see Miami football played. Aggressive play. Fast play.

The program feels like it is in a good place, but….

A history lesson about what this program should be. In 1990, a 2-loss regular season (a season sandwiched between 2 National Championships) was such a disappointment that the Canes kind of lost their mind in an awesome way in the bowl demolition of Texas.

Perhaps that is the most surprising part of the recent Canes’ resurgence. This should have been the easy part. Take South Florida talent, throw them into the ACC, and to win 9 or 10 games should be normal. LSU, for example, with all their seeming ups and downs over the last decade has won at least 8 games every year since 1999.

It took the over a decade to get to this point.

So We Meet Again

And it is with a poetic brilliance that sometimes only coincidence provides that the Canes enter the season with national hype for the first time since 2005 and see LSU on the opposite sideline.

There is no vengeance or revenge for that 2005 game. You don’t lose by 37 points and then get revenge by winning 13 years later.

But in the same way that 2005 game was the culmination of years of erosion and symbolized a bookend to an era, this game has the potential to be the opposite as years of growth culminate in the symbolic opening of a new era of dominance.

Miami has spent the past 2 years growing under Mark Richt to reach the point where they should win this game. ESPN Analytics, which is a neutral, if not accurate measure, lists Miami as one of 14 teams with a chance of winning the championship (albeit Miami is 13th on the list, with only a 1% chance). That might not be the best measure, but it certainly is something.

And this team can be something. Teams in Miami’s position with steady growth over multiple years and several key returning players tend to do well.

It’s been a long and anxious offseason, impatiently waiting for the Canes to return, for the Canes to show that the end of last season was merely a blip on the road to ultimate victory.

On Sunday, with the whole nation watching, Miami can make a statement that last year was not a fluke, but part of a larger story of deliverance from the brink of utter collapse. It’s time to see these Canes seize the day, and take a step towards the 6th ring.