After a weekend full of upsets, the Miami Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0 ACC) are ranked No. 10 in the latest AP poll. The ‘Canes rank ninth in the country in points for (45.2) and points against (16) per game and have yet to trail an opponent this season.
Miami has scored 70 points in a game, a 77-7 dismantling of Savannah State University on Sept. 21. They’ve toppled a top 15 team, No. 12 Florida (21-16), to earn bragging rights in the sunshine state and reenter the national CFB consciousness. Fresh off a bye, the ‘Canes are well rested and off to their best start since they began the season 6-0 in 2004.
And we haven’t seen the best the Hurricanes have to offer, yet.
Miami will play next at North Carolina (1-4, 0-2 ACC) Thursday and will host Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2 ACC) on Oct. 26. Neither team can be entirely looked past, and yet it isn’t hard to envision a Nov. 2 matchup with No. 5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0) as a battle between resurgent (and potentially undefeated) Florida powers with major ACC and BCS implications in the balance.
If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that the Miami Hurricanes would a be a national title player, I would have asked what console you were playing NCAA 2003 on to simulate your predictions – Playstation 2 or Game Cube?
Then again, why go back in time a decade when a precedent for Miami’s 2013 season can be found just last year? The ‘Canes could be this year’s Notre Dame.
In many respects, Miami and Notre Dame couldn’t be more different as football programs and the schools represent two distinct brands of college football. Miami; bold and brash. Notre Dame; bland and historic. Both storied and iconic.
The ‘convicts v. the catholics’ game played Oct. 15, 1988 between No.1 Miami, defending champs and winners of 36 straight regular season games, and No. 4 Notre Dame, celebrated these differences and the manifested the two football programs as opposites, but behind the facade, the similarities are striking, now more than ever.
Beyond the success, the championships, the highly regarded and recognizable uniforms and helmets, Miami and Notre Dame are recovering powers. Teams who used to be prominent features upon the face of college football and had faded into undistinguishable marks – like freckles lost from view from too much sun.
Notre Dame took it’s biggest strides back towards reviving national prominence since the earlier nineties last year. Miami is poised to do similarly in 2013.
A coach in the third year of his tenure, working to restore a program – check. Al Golden didn’t come to Coral Gables with the fanfare that followed Brian Kelly to South Bend, but what he lacks in flash as a head coach, he makes up for with ties as distinctive to his sideline presence as Howard Schellenberger’s pipes.
An opportunistically stout defense that has occasionally bent, but rarely breaks – check. Miami defense has remained relatively nameless, as did Notre Dames 2012 offense, but has done its part to help win games.
An offense that operates with balance and versatility with plenty upside for growth – check. Where as Notre Dames 2012 defense pulled the wagon, Miami’s offense does the lifting, or should, and has only just begun to dig in its legs.
Quarterback Stephen Morris threw for 222 yards Sept. 28 against South Florida, moving ahead of Steve Walsh and into ninth place on Miami’s career passing list. Although he’s maintained statistical modesty so far this year, Morris has the ability to climb higher up the charts.
Running back Duke Johnson Johnson accumulated 325 all-purpose yards ran for 184 yards on 22 carries Oct. 5 against Georgia Tech, two yards shy of his career high marked earlier in the season against FAU. Johnson’s ‘eight consecutive games with a touchdown’ streak concluded, but few players in college football are more dynamic, as proven by a 7.4 yard-per-touch average.
Together Morris and Johnson compose one of the most talented backfields in the country. Combined with a deep receiver corp, headlined by Allen Hurns , and an offensive line that has allowed the ninth fewest sacks off any FBS school in the nation, it’s a potent recipe.
All the fixings are there, save one. The missing ingredient? Manti Te’o, and the dish might be best served without any imaginary girlfriends invited to the feast.
Te’o excelled on the field and helped to foster along the Notre Dame narrative, but also flipped the script with a post Heisman ceremony debacle that in many ways became defining for both Te’o and his team. Perhaps someday Duke Johnson will travel to New York to represent the ‘Canes as a Heisman candidate, but for now, the cliche’ ‘no one bigger than the team’ applies for an under-the-radar Miami squad.
Where Notre Dame was picked up along the wire as a national storyline quickly in the early 2012 season, Miami’s ascent towards national recognition has been much more gradual, even slow.
“I don’t think we’ve achieved anything yet,” Golden said.
And he’s right, they haven’t. Not yet.
Golden might remember that it wasn’t until an Oct. 6 41-3 demolition displayed at Solider Field that the Irish truly returned as a national player. How could he forget? Miami was the opponent. North Carolina will be Miami’s sixth opponent of the season and a similar opportunity will be at hand.
Notre Dame had the eighth strongest schedule in 2012. Miami has the 62nd strongest schedule of 2013, and here in lies the end of the comparison. Even if the ‘Canes were to finish undefeated as the Irish did last year, it would take more than a little prayer to win entry into this year’s BCS title game. Even still, if Miami’s prayers were answered, it’d be just as unlikely that they’d fair any better against Alabama than Notre Dame did.
Then again, who expected Notre Dame to play for a national title last year? Who expected Miami to be undefeated and top 10 ranked halfway through the season this year? People who still play Game Cubes wearing ‘Convicts v. Catholic’ t-shirts, that’s who.
Miami might still be a year or two away from being ready to take the next step, and that’s alright – building is a process. If they are however, 2013′s signature story is still waiting to be told – and Miami won’t need a top five ranking at the end of the season to have penned a few pages.