There’s nothing to suggest that the Miami Hurricanes are anything other than a better than average college football team.
But that doesn’t mean the season hasn’t been a success.
The Hurricanes’ 45-26 win Saturday over Virginia in Sun Life Stadium pushed them to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the ACC, and they’re all but out from under the penalties resulting from a booster-related scandal that darkened and damaged the program for too long.
They could have a nine-win regular season with a victory Friday at Pitt, and still hold a long shot’s chance to play in the ACC title game as Coastal Division champions.
A bowl invitation of the respectable variety (Chick-fil-A, Champs Sports, Hyundai Sun?) is a sure thing.
That’s all good stuff.
“None of these guys were part of the problem, but every one of them was part of the solution,” Miami coach Al Golden said of the need to cope with the self-imposed penalties and the drawn-out NCAA investigation. “They took an issue that was really bad. It was toxic. They adopted the problem as their own, and delivered us out of it.”
There is credit due where it is deserved for those leaders, who, in senior quarterback Stephen Morris’ words, “stuck together” through the storm.
“I came in as a kid, but I’m leaving as a better man,” Morris said.
That’s of monumental real-life importance.
But in the harsh light of competition, never were the Canes as good as their 7-0 start and — astonishingly — a No. 7 national ranking might have intimated. A three-game losing streak that came next resulted in Miami’s precipitous fall, even though Florida State, Virginia Tech and, yes, Duke are all demonstrably better teams than the Hurricanes … and proved as much in convincing victories.
Miami got the soft touch it needed in a visit from Virginia (2-9 overall), which is winless in seven conference games.
The Canes, hardly dominant, were ravaged for 483 yards but won in a rout.
The style points matter not.
The intriguing question beyond the upcoming assignment against Pitt is: Where do the Hurricanes go from here?
Golden will be in his fourth year as UM head coach next season and will have steered his team through the roughest of off-field waters. He’ll have what is regarded as a high-quality recruiting class coming in to complement what will be an experienced group of returning starters.
The standard of measurement for the Hurricanes, in other words, should be more stringent next season than it has been recently. It’s not that a return to a place among the nation’s elite should be a mandate, necessarily, but Miami ought to be able to carve out a more prominent reputation within the ACC.
“We never want to drop our expectations,” Golden said. “There are so many things we have to fix on the field. No one is satisfied.”
Nor should anyone be.
Golden, while not looking beyond Pitt, sees a grand long-term opportunity.
“We get a chance to move our program forward, finally,” he said.
That’s as optimistic a point of view as has been uttered about UM football in quite a while, and it was another senior — safety Kacy Rodgers — who underscored the point. He knows the remaining games against Pitt and a bowl opponent and the overall record won’t define these Hurricanes as much as how well they handled adversity will.
“We are men of our word,” Rodgers said. “We’re tough, basically. We’ve been through a lot. We could have transferred. We could have blamed people. But we didn’t. We took it on the chin, but didn’t quit.”
An 8-3 record doesn’t mean much in comparison to the most hallowed days of Hurricanes glory, but that doesn’t concern Golden in the least.
“These seniors have never been 8-3,” he said. “To do it on the back end of what they’ve been through says a lot about them. They paid a dear price. Obviously, it’s been tough — the courage to keep mustering it up and all that.”
It’s why something as ordinary as better than average can be special.