MIAMI’S D’ERIQ KING—CROWN JEWEL OF NIL & NEWEST FACE OF BIOSTEEL


The release came across the wire this morning—BioSteel Sports Nutrition Inc. (“BioSteel”) announced the signing of Division I quarterback D’Eriq King, making him the brand’s first collegiate name, image and likeness (NIL) deal and first college football ambassador.

A couple of quotes followed; King talking up why this product is imperative to his training—smart about what goes into his body and what not—while co-founder and co-CEO John Celenza praise the Miami Hurricanes’ quarterback as being an ideal brand fit, wishing him well on the season.

BioSteel also lists Patrick Mahomes, Luka Dončić, Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey as brand ambassadors—as well as some “smaller sport” athletes and the USA Hockey Team—but King is the first college athlete the hydration specialists have signed.

As of July 1st, King already landed sponsorship deals with College Hunks Moving Company, The Wharf (event venue in Miami), Murphy Auto Group and Dreamfield—as well as creating his own logo—a graffiti-like “D-King”, with an orange “1” representing the “i’ in his name; the mark itself emulating a king’s crown.

Six weeks later, King signed on with the Florida Panthers—where he’ll appear at some games, engage with fans on social media and produce digital content for the local NHL franchise.

Safe to say the whole NIL—name, image and likeness—NCAA ruling has played well in King’s favor; as did his decision to sit out his final season at Houston in 2019 (he played in the first four games, before sitting). The decision paved the way to his one-year transfer to Miami—a bonus season granted in 2021, by way of COVID and last fall’s quirky, quarantine-defined, socially distanced season—where the almost 24-year old King decided to return for a sixth season as a college quarterback.

NIL RULING; BLESSING, CURSE, BOTH, OR NEITHER?

There’s a deeper dive to be done on all things NIL—a long-overdue ruling in the eyes of many, though one that still has its detractors.

Terence Moore, a sports journalist and contributor at Forbes admits the NCAA had no choice to comply—but was quick to follow up with the claim it will damage both football and basketball on the collegiate level.

Moore states that the Transfer Portal “is about to go nuts”—the NCAA announcing that players can now transfer once before graduating, without having to sit out a year.

By mid-May a record 1,500+ basketball players declared for the NCAA’s version of free agency—with football expected to see their own version of a mass exodus; playing time no longer the only key query—where can players go to maximize their financial portfolio, which school, city and fan base will result in more followers than another.

On the surface, it all sounds harmless, but Moore believes the modern athlete with the individual mindset is about to go next-level, with winning becoming secondary.

Moore also pointed out the fine print with some schools, versus others—the University of Georgia now allowing their athletes to use the school’s iconic “Power G” logo for endorsements deals—while the University of Tennessee has zero problem with their players displaying the Volunteers’ logo, or brand. Rocky Top for the win with this advantage-giving decision.

The rest of the argument falls rather flimsy—Moore’s mention that athletes will struggle to figure out how to pay taxes (while stating that universities don’t have the bandwidth to help players figure it out), as well as perceived dissension between teammates—that haves, versus the have-nots who aren’t earning, potentially causing locker room drama.

As for that sea of players transferring—he never explains how this is necessarily an issue—just that it’s happening in larger numbers than before.

What Moore completely ignores, outside of the small competitive advantage Tennessee might’ve given itself over Georgia—or other schools overly-protective of their mark—the different sales pitch universities can give based on their strengths against other’s weaknesses.

KING UNLOCKED CHEAT CODE WHEN CHOOSING MIAMI

As mentioned earlier, King’s transfer from Houston to Miami in spring 2020 is the ultimate reason the quarterback is seeing the type of attention he’s garnering from brands who want to align with him. If he were suiting up for his final season in the AAC with the Cougars, instead of the ACC with the Canes—he’d be prepping for Texas Tech this weekend, instead of a highly-touted showdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Atlanta.

The Cougars will also face Rice, Grambling, Navy, Tulsa, Tulane, Temple and a handful of other scrubs—outside of Memphis and South Florida in September.

Post-Alabama, Miami hosts the Big Ten’s Michigan State mid-September and a standard conference schedule—including what should be a prime-time showdown against a Top 10 North Carolina squad, the in-state annual battle against Florida State and other quality match-ups against Virginia, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke—all pumped out via ESPN, ABC and the ACC Network.

Conference and opponents aside, what about the city of Miami versus Houston—or the likes of Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Columbus, Gainesville, Tallahassee or Baton Rouge, for that matter?

The University of Miami has long been at a disadvantage for decades as a private university in large, diverse metropolitan city.

THE MAGIC CITY; REBIRTH DUE TO NIL SHIFT

Where the typical college town revolves around a successful football program, Miami remains an events-driven environment—as there is tremendous competition for the entertainment dollar and a slew of ways to spend one’s time, other than a stadium on a Saturday afternoon watching a non-championship caliber football team.

Miami’s ascension to the top of the college football world in the early 1980’s was the result of being a cutting-edge, outlier program who tapped into the nation’s best hotbed of athletic talent well before anyone else. Howard Schnellenberger kept local legends home—Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith and others who changed the game—and the Hurricanes were living proof that speed killed; defenses that smashed the wishbone and option, while Miami’s offense left slow and pasty Big Ten defenders choking on their dust.

Over time, other programs made their in-roads to South Florida’s treasure trove of talent—while these public universities who built football factories tapped into big alumni dollars to fuel their rise to glory—something the Hurricanes couldn’t use to their advantage, as the majority of UM supporters are local non-alum who pull for the program as they would the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins or Panthers.

All this to say, the pendulum could swing back in the Hurricanes’ favor as this NIL shift in thinking helps level the playing field. What Miami can’t offer in college town undying support, packed stadiums and big-fish-in-a-little pond adoration—it’s a legitimate paradise with sand, beaches, beautiful people, diverse culture, celebrity and entertainment. Miami Hurricanes players and coaches live in a place other folks pay to experience for a few days on vacation.

There’s a reason celebrities have flocked to the area for years—multi-million dollar homes on Fisher or Star Island, Coconut Grove or Key Biscayne. There’s a reason so many free agent athletes find their way to Miami at some point in their career—knowing it will create a season in life like no other.

Here I am in the place where I come let go—Miami the bass and the sun set low. Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day. No work all play, okay. So we sip a little something, lay to rest the spill. Me an Charlie at the bar runnin’ up a high bill—nothin’ less than ill, when we dress to kill. Every time the ladies pass, they be like “Hi, Will”.

Can y’all feel me, all ages and races, real sweet faces. Every different nation—Spanish, Hatian, Indian, Jamaican, Black, White, Cuban, and Asian. I only came for two days of playing—but every time I come I always wind up stayin’—this the type of town I could spend a few days in. Miami the city that keeps the roof blazin’.

Party in the city where the heat is on. All night, on the beach till the break of dawn. Welcome to Miami…

The old whack-track by Will Smith is a bit dated decades later, but the lyrics and sentiments still hit hard. There isn’t any place in this country like Miami—especially for high-profile athletes looking to live the good life.

THE U: TRANSFER PORTAL DREAM DESTINATION

There’s a reason “The U” has become the hottest transfer destination for college football’s best over the past few seasons. Before King.

Tate Martell didn’t ultimately pan out, but the former Ohio State quarterback and start of Netflix’s QB1 series was considered a crown jewel-type grab in January  2019—and Martell’s decision sparked the transfer of former high school teammate and 5-Start USC safety Bubba Bolden to UM.

Prior to that duo, Miami also reeled in former 5-Star defensive end Jaelan Phillips from UCLA—the oft-injured, underdeveloped talent ultimately playing his way into a first round NFL Draft pick this spring; reeled in by the Dolphins and thrilled to remain in his adopted city.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn found his way to UM in this cycle, as well—followed by Miami nabbing defensive end Quincy Roche, kicker Jose Borregales—as well as two key offensive line pick-ups in Issiah Walker Jr. and Jarrid Williams.

In this most-recent off-season, the bounty continued with defensive end Deandre Johnson—a Southridge product who opted for Tennessee out of high school—returning to the hometown program to run it back, as well as offensive lineman Justice Oluwaseun of UNLV. The Canes also nabbed veteran Oklahoma wide receivers Charleston Rambo, who is expected to start against the Crimson Tide this weekend—as well former Georgia cornerback and Southridge grad, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.

All the aforementioned players took their talents to Coral Gables to play for Miami—simply for the football and the city and prior-to the NIL rule was put into place.

If this was the type of damage third-year head coach Manny Diaz and staff could do on the portal recruiting trail—just imagine the sales pitch when the city of Miami is now also part of the package as a money-making playground for college football players who moonlight as influencers?

The King Effect showed on the field last year, as Miami worked its way to 8-3 in the shortened season—as well as the locker room, where the transfer quarterback’s charisma, winning attitude and leadership skills helped cut through a long-time toxic culture at “The U”.

Next up, for the Texas native—laying and providing a blueprint for current and future teammates to follow in regards to image creation. pitching product, social media strategizing and laying the first building block in a personal-brand empire—with Miami the perfect backdrop for the journey.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

MIAMI HURRICANES SURVIVE ANOTHER GRIND-IT-OUT WIN OVER VIRGINIA


It wasn’t the game Miami Hurricanes faithful were looking for, but it’s the game everyone got—the Canes surviving the Virginia Cavaliers, 19-14 on Saturday night, under the lights at HardRock Stadium.

Even the bookies expected more out of this one—Miami a two-touchdown favorite—the Canes scoring over 30 points in every win this season, while even squeaking out 17 in a lopsided loss to Clemson.

All that to say, anyone who’s watched this rivalry over the years—especially since head coach Bronco Mendenhall found his footing in Charlottesville the past couple of seasons—they’re well aware the Cavaliers reinvent ways to play the Hurricanes tough.

Last year, a match-up similar to this most-recent showdown—Miami hanging on for a 17-9 win, fueled by several key red zone stops and holding the ‘Hoos to three field goals.

Back in 2018, a 16-13 road loss one week after a thrilling comeback win over Florida State—a backbreaking type of game that ended a five-game win-streak and saw the Canes dropping four in a row, embroiled in a quarterback controversy, before picking up two late season regular season wins to close out.

Miami almost went letdown-mode in the 2017 version of this game—9-0 after back-to-back primetime wins against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, yet twice falling behind—14-0 and 28-14—before pulling away big time in the second half, 44-28.

FAST START, SLOW MIDDLE, RESPECTABLE FINISH

This go-around looked like Vegas was right, early on—Miami on the board with a two-play touchdown drive less than a minute into the contest—a 32-yard strike to Will Mallory, followed by a deep ball to the wide open Mike Harley, who scampered 43 years for the touchdown.

High fives all around, as few expected the Hurricanes to only score 12 more points the rest of the evening—yet that’s precisely how this one shook out. Virginia answered with an 11-play, 64-yard drive—using three different quarterbacks employing a whatever-it-takes approach—which makes sense for a 1-3 team on the road against a 4-1 favorite.

By night’s end, Brennan Armstrong remained Mendenhall’s go-to under center—16-of-30 for 181 yards and two touchdowns—while also leaning on Armstrong’s legs for 15 carries and 91 yards.

Keytaon Thomspon and Iraken Armstead both saw a handful of snaps as well—but between the two of them, rushed nine times for 46 yards and only attempted one pass attempt, which fell incomplete. Even knowing these two were decoys, the Miami defense still defended against the pass, instead selling out and stuffing the run.

The Cavaliers threw for 181 yards on the night—35 of which came on a late touchdown from Armstrong to Ra’Shaun Henry with 5:27 remaining—Al Blades Jr. inexplicably out of place, allowing Henry to get wide open for what could’ve been a brutal scenario for Miami had Dee Wiggins not drawn a pass interference play on a 3rd-and-8 deep ball with 2:56 remaining.

The fresh set of downs allowed the Canes to bleed another two-and-a-half-minutes off the clock—the Cavaliers taking over at their own 20-yard line with :23 remaining and no timeouts—relying on a last ditch lateral, which resulted in the game’s lone turnover with Quincy Roche recovering the fumble.

No doubt many are growing wary of these survival-type games, as well as Miami finding ways to play down, instead of up. Truth be told, the offense hasn’t looked the same since Clemson exposed the Hurricanes porous offensive line—which resulted in D’Eriq King looking mortal, opposed to unstoppable—as he was against UAB, Louisville and Florida State.

King was an effective 21-of-30 for 322 yards and a touchdown against Virginia—but 14 carries for 28 yards kept him one-dimensions against the Cavaliers’ dense; similarly to the 11 attempts for 32 yards versus Pittsburgh last week.

King averaged 6.9 yards-per-carry in the opener against UAB—as well as 8.1 yards-per-carry in the rout of Florida State. That dropped to 2.1 against Clemson (if taking away the one 56-yarder), 2.9 against the Panthers and 2.0 this past Saturday night.

GROUND GAME RELATIVELY STIFLED SINCE CLEMSON LOSS

As a whole, the Hurricanes have been restrained on the ground as of late, considering the stable of running backs—Cam’Ron Harris, Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney, Jr.—as well as the mobility at quarterback with an athlete of King’s caliber.

Three games into the season—against lesser defenses like the Blazers, Cardinals and Seminoles—some big runs padded the stats, to the point many were pushing a false narrative about the Hurricanes’ offensive line turning a corner.

Commentators in wins over Louisville and Florida State were fast to point out that Miami’s offensive line gave up a whopping 51 sacks in 2019, but looked to be a renewed unit in 2020 under first year coach Garin Justice—none making reference to the competition, or the fact that the college football world should reevaluate the Canes’ line at the halfway point of this quirky season, after showdowns against defensive-minded programs like Clemson, Pittsburgh and Virginia.

Much was made about Miami racking up 337 yards on the ground against UAB—including the 66-yard score by Harris, route to a 134 yard performance. Harris topped himself a week later with a 75-yard score at Louisville—while Knighton caught a quick screen and scampered 75 yards to pay dirt, as well–a reception, but still a running back going the distance on a play where the offensive line its job.

King led all rushers with 65 yards against the Noles, while Harris, Chaney Jr. and Knighton ran for a combined 99 yards and four touchdowns.

Two weeks later, Clemson’s front seven set up show in Miami’s backfield all night—the offensive line out-manned, out-matched and out-played—the Canes only rushing for 89 yards on the night (again 56 of which came from King on one play—Miami still settling for three on the possession; -3 rushing yards net on the next three plays.)

Pat Narduzzi and Pitt pounced on the exposed weakness and kept Miami’s ground attack in check all afternoon—109 yard combined between King and four different running backs—and it was obvious Mendenhall was content to do the same; make King one-dimensional and force him to beat you with his arm, which will be the modus operandi of all ACC defensive coordinators the rest of this season, barring the have the personnel to do so.

OFFENSIVE LINE STRUGGLES SINCE EXPOSED

Prior to the Clemson showdown, Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel offered up a detailed piece regarding Miami being “back” and questioning if the Canes could hang with the Tigers. A big part of his piece; some back-and-forth with unnamed ACC assistants and position coaches sharing their thoughts on Miami, circa 2020.

Regarding the offensive line—during a time when ESPN talking heads were hyping a better, more mature front five—the inarguable sentiment was shared:

“They are still a below-average offensive line,” said another opposing assistant. “Their quarterbacks slipperiness allows them not to take sacks and make plays. They haven’t played a good defense and they haven’t played a good defensive line.”

Miami has now played one great defense, two pretty good ones—and while there’s been some improvement, especially regarding tempo in this new spread offense—these Hurricanes are still fielding an offensive line that is a huge liability, and will be for the rest of this football season.

The million dollar question—to what degree with this level of exposure hurt Miami with five games remaining?

Going back to that 10-0 start in 2017, where the Canes managed to eke out their share of early wins—before utter dominance against the Hokies and Fighting Irish—quarterback Malik Rosier was exposed in a regular season loss to a four-win Pittsburgh team and Miami never recovered.

Clemson attacked the Canes in the ACC Championship, rolling 38-3 and snuffing out anything Miami’s offense tried to run—while Wisconsin forced Rosier into three interceptions in the Orange Bowl weeks later.

The Rosier hangover carried into a 7-6 run in 2018, as well—LSU aggressively getting after Rosier— the senior throwing two interceptions and struggling to move the ball all day behind an outmatched offensive line.

Fast-forwarding back to 2020—some upside, receiver play is starting to improve—which should get the running game on a better trajectory.

Harley’s career-high 10-reception, 170-yard outing against Virginia was the most yards for a Canes’ receiver since Phillip Dorsett posted a 201-yard outing against Arkansas State in 2014—and was the most against a conference foe since Allen Hurns put up 173 yards against Pittsburgh the season prior.

It was the type of breakout game many expected from Harley, prior to the midway point of his senior season—his slump seemly breaking with that acrobatic 38-yard touchdown haul-in early third quarter last week against Pittsburgh—and it carried over to the opening possession with the big score against Virginia.

Mark Pope had three grabs for 48 yards—38 coming on one acrobatic grab that was initially called incomplete, but reversed—thought had Miami not held on to win, two crucial back-to-back drops late in the game would’ve defined his evening.

Despite all receivers putting in extra work this past week at Greentree, Harley was truly the only one who looked significantly improved and much more consistent—challenge both Pope and Dee Wiggins to up their game, or Manny Diaz and first-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to start looking towards younger players to show if they’re up for the challenge.

DIAZ; CREDIT—AND KNOCKS—WHERE DUE

As for Diaz, the second-year head coach deserves credit for guiding these Hurricanes to a 5-1 start—after a 6-7 run last fall, including a three-game losing streak to end the season.

In years passed, a Clemson-like loss would’ve carried over and destroyed morale—much like last year’s unforgivable loss to Florida International; Miami dropping the regular season finale to Duke and getting shut out by Louisiana Tech in a third-tier bowl in the following weeks.

Flaws and setbacks aside these past two weeks, the Hurricanes showed-up against the Panthers and Cavaliers—which sounds like a gimme, but for whatever reason hasn’t been in recent memory—lest anyone forget falling into 28-0 hole against the Hokies last October, or sleepwalking in an overtime loss to a 1-5 Yellow Jackets team that finished 3-9, with an early loss to The Citadel.

Diaz has been masterful in robbing the Transfer Portal—reeling in Bubba Bolden and Jaelan Phillips two years ago and Roche this off-season; all three of which are currently the Canes’ best defenders—not to mention King; Miami’s most mature and capable quarterback in 15 seasons, which is more of and indictment on the state of the program, than over-the-top praise for the Houston grad transfer.

Diaz also addressed special teams woes the past two seasons, landing Lou Hedley at punter and the game-changing Jose Borregales at kicker—who has been almost flawless this season—a year after the Canes were relying on two walk-ons and a head case that cost Miami at least 2-3 games last fall.

Salvaging the 2019 recruiting class wasn’t doable, due to the timing of Richt’s late December departure in 2018—but the 2020 class brought in instant-impact guys like Chaney Jr. and Knighton—as well as several others who will be the building block for the future.

The 2021 class is currently sitting just outside the Top 10 and second-best in the ACC with 22 “hard commits” and hopefully more to come if Miami can close this season strong.

Recruiting aside, the development, attitude and overall mindset of these players is what will define both Diaz and the program moving forward. Richt, Al Golden and even Randy Shannon all had some National Signing Day wins notched under their belts—but never a next-level program did those wins make.

The Hurricanes had scattered talent across the board, but never a team that morphed into a balanced competitor—while all these units ultimate took on the personality and demeanor of their respective leaders.

FEARED & RESPECTED, VERSUS LIKED & ACCEPTED

If there’s one big knock on Diaz at this point—it would be in his overall 46-year old approach to be relatable to his team and a players’ coach. Diaz comes off in year two as a guy who would prefer to be liked and deemed cool, opposed to having the type of separation that results in a healthy fear and respect  via his players.

When looking back at the Butch Davis era in Miami—those Hurricanes feared Davis in the way a Private would a Master Sergeant. There was nothing overly-friendly about the relationship; everyone understood the hierarchy and properly fell into line—no mistaking Davis at the general and adult in the room.

Davis was a wise-beyond his years 42 years old when he took over the Hurricanes program in 1995 and 47 when he left for the NFL in 2001—Diaz was 44 when he became Miami’s 25 head coach at the end of 2018.

Zero doubt that spending 14 seasons under Jimmy Johnson—winning a national title at ‘The U’ and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys—definitely puts some mileage on the odometer and takes some tread off the tires.

Granted the world has changed over the past quarter century—look at the national championship caliber head coaches who have won and dominated at the highest level; a list mostly made up of hard-asses who were feared and respected, opposed to coaches who overtly tried to relate to their players and get on their level—guys like Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and Urban Meyer—all cutthroat, no bullshit and all business.

All that to say, Saban, Swinney and Meyer didn’t just wake up one day—pissing excellence, with the profession completely figured out. All eventually morphed and experienced growing pains when becoming great.

Go back and watch Swinney aw-shucksing his way through halftime of the 2012 Orange Bowl—down 40-29 to West Virginia in an eventual 70-33 ass-kicking. Relive a downtrodden Saban in 2007 after Alabama was upset at home by Louisiana-Monroe—four years after he’d won a national championship with LSU, but failed with the Miami Dolphins.

Most think of these two championship caliber head coaches in their present-day form—forgetting how both reacted and responded before they’d officially arrived.

Diaz is still young and is only two years into this head coaching game—one he took over after three successful year’s as Miami’s defensive coordinators. Conversely, Swinney never held a position higher than wide receivers coach when at 38 years old he took over for the maligned Tommy Bowden during the 2008 season.

The hard-ass snapping at the media after rolling Syracuse this past weekend sure-as-shit isn’t the same rookie he was a dozen years ago—having a lifetime, by college football head coaching standards, to find himself and his style.

Diaz’s youthful energy is a plus, but over-celebrating routine ACC wins is part of a cultural problem at Miami.

Diaz entered the 2019 season taking over for a program Richt saw go 7-9 over a two-year span after that 10-o start in 2017—a youthful up-and-coming coordinator whose passion and personality were always worn on his sleeve.

That first order of business when promoted to head coach; a questionable WWE-style set-up at UM’s Soffer Indoor Practice facility—where players were encouraged to wrestle, beat-up and take out their “frustrations” in tackling dummies sporting 7-6 jerseys reflecting Miami’s 2018 record.

Diaz even got in on the action—tackling and beating up the dummies like his players—all of which left fans in wait-and-see mode. Would this approach work—or fall flat? It proved to be the latter after the Canes backslid with a 6-7 season—low-lighted with that FIU embarrassment and bowl game shutout; the program slipping to 13-16 since that out-the-gate run in 2017.

This season, Diaz broke out victory cigars after Miami laid it’s biggest win on Florida State since 1976—scoring the most-every points the Canes ever have on the Noles as well, in the 52-10 smackdown—an act that can be bought or sold either way, depending on the angle one wants to take.

Was it wrong to stop and smell the roses along the way—enjoying a big win over a rival? Probably not, though the fact Miami rolled out sloppy early-on at Clemson after the post-FSU bye week—it puts the celebratory gesture a bit more under the microscope.

Fact remains, the Canes had zero business losing to the Noles at any point over the past four tries—an thankfully have prevailed against a Florida State program that’s gone 18-21 dating back to the beginning of 2017 and is on their third head coach in four seasons.

So what makes more sense here—a business-as-usual approach attitude and we-expect-to-win-these-games-vibe—or a little gloating … which truthfully comes off a little overzealous on the heels of 6-7 and the tackling dummy event falling flat out the gate.

After the win over Virginia, Diaz again seemed overly-hyped for a game the Canes eked out against a one-win Cavaliers squad—even sliding in the rain in celebratory fashion, like players would, when all was said and done.

Some might love this player-friendly approach—others might loathe it; feeling a head coach in Diaz’s position should be setting at tone that wins like these over Pittsburgh and Virginia are the standard at Miami and that it should be treated in a business-as-usual mindset.

DAMAGED UPPERCLASSMEN VERSUS FRESH-START FRESHMEN

Fact remains, the Hurricanes’ program has lived with a loser’s mentality for too long now—13-16 entering this fall, going back to the end of 2017. Those losing ways have impacted this 2020 class—many of which bailed on the program before this year even got underway; another aspect of this broken culture—DeeJay Dallas, Jon Garvin and Trajan Bandy going pro, while Michael Irvin II and Scott Patchan transferred out.

All that’s left are the finally-turning-a-corner Harley, safety Amari Carter, who gets tossed every other week for targeting—as well as offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson, who redshirted to rehab a knee injury. Hardly the type of senior leadership championship caliber programs are accustomed to.

The flip side to this frustrating trend; the King effect this season and a grad transfer that has injected some life into the program. Despite any of King’s limitations—the 23-year old quarterback is a winner and in six short games he has raised the level of play of those around him.

It’s been a while since Miami has seen a veteran leader of this caliber—especially one at the most-important position on the field.

All those in the 2020 recruiting class; they’re getting a front row seat to the King show and are starting their Miami careers in a year where the Canes are winning the types of games they used to lose, en route to a 5-1 start and Top 15 ranking with five games remaining.

Closing strong—both on the field and the recruiting trail— might be the shot in the arm Miami needs. From there, another strong showing with the Transfer Portal—it could set up for another step forward in 2021.

Outside of that, Diaz and staff must revamp their approach to recruiting the offensive line—starting with tapping into Big Ten and Big 12 country and working to sell some big boys on getting out of the Northeast and Midwest. It is really that hard of a sales pitch to get those guys down to South Florida for some fun in the sun, nightlife, beach proximity and girls in bikinis? Sounds like a no-brainer.

Long-term, time will tell where things go with both Diaz and this program—but in the short term, Miami is doing the most-important thing it can do to help it’s overall sales pitch right now; it’s winning football games, while remaining in the conference race.

Next up; a bye and then a Friday night road challenge at North Carolina State—the same Wolfpack team that North Carolina demolished, 48-21 in bounce-back this past weekend—a week after the Tar Heels were upset at Florida State.

Virginia Tech,Georgia Tech and Wake Forest will then be all that remain before the Coastal clash of the season on December 5th, when North Carolina visits Miami.

The showdown will be the Canes’ highest-stakes game this season, outside of Clemson—and one worthy of a well-earned, season ending victory cigar—or a loss that leaves Diaz as punching bag and tackling dummy until 2021.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

HURRICANES ARE AGAIN OFF-SEASON KINGS; NOW WHAT?


After a three-game skid and 6-7 finish to last season, there has been little good to say about the Miami Hurricanes and a once-proud football program wallowing in mediocrity for a decade and a half.

No mincing words; year one was a complete and utter disaster for Manny Diaz at the University of Miami—on every level. It’s impossible to sugarcoat anything about a losing season; especially the fashion and manner in which the Hurricanes reinvented ways to the shit the bed.

Thrice losing as a two-touchdown favorite; the first time this embarrassing feat had been accomplished in a season in almost four decades—as well as the who, why and how regarding a three-game skid to end the season; Miami shown-up by a cross-town commuter college, a basketball school and the third-best football team in the Bayou State.

It was a worst-case scenario that quickly became a reality—on the heels of the Canes seemingly turning the corner with a late comeback at Pittsburgh, a convincing win in Tallahassee and a Senior Day rout of Louisville.

Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”—and unfortunately for Diaz, he’d been spittin’ chiclets since his catching that 0-2 uppercut that launched his inaugural season. The result; rock bottom. Deja vu all over again, yet different as this program has been punch-drunk for way too long.

None of this what anyone prepared for year one after last year’s Transfer Portal heist, an Alabama assistant taking over an anemic offense, Diaz’s swag-a-licious social media game—as well as that whole yacht-to-a-booster-event thing—but let’s be honest; that’s on the buyer’s naivete, not the salesman’s pitch.

WHO’S THE FOOL WHEN FOOLISHLY BUYING FOOL’S GOLD?

Anyone delusional enough to call for 12-0 last fall—as well as expecting to roll Florida in the opener, while begging for a crack at Clemson and treating the Coastal like it was a gimme—those rubes deserve everything they got last fall, and then some.

Diaz was Miami’s fifth hire in 14 seasons; taking over a program 16 years into it’s move to the ACC, with nothing more than one lowly divisional title, after being poached from the Big East to bring more football cred to the basketball conference.

Those stuck in yesteryear can bitch-moan-and-complain about the expectation level; it doesn’t change the fact these Hurricanes are 97-71 dating back to that Peach Bowl ass-kicking—40-3—courtesy of LSU back in 2005, and a 35-3 massacre in the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl. It was a Brooklyn-beatdown so bad, veteran head coach Mark Richt called it a career within 24 hours of Wisconsin owning Miami a second post-season in a row.

Richt survived a decade in the SEC, dealing with pent-up Georgia fans itching for their first championship since 1980; yet not one  title game appearance—yet three seasons in that Coral Gables meat-grinder; an instantaneous decision that retirement sounded more optimum than a fourth go-around at rebuilding The U.

Miami hasn’t had a next-level quarterback since the 2004 season; D’Eriq King’s addition can’t be understated.

ALL THESE RECENT MOVES, NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP

One year in Diaz just might’ve gotten the worst out of the way—courtesy of the type of humiliating debut that forces fast change. Even the most-stubborn leader couldn’t double-down on what he just witnessed out the gate; his hand immediately forced.

When one can officially get past the Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech debacles—it’s easier to fall into that blessing-in-disguise place, as the past six weeks Diaz has been aces with literally every move he’s made; all made possible by the horrific nature in how year one played out.

Going back to the final week of last December, the following has occurred for Miami, just after that post-season shutout in Shreveport was in the books:

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos was “relieved of his duties”; the news leaking before the the bowl game even kicked off. 9-4 and winning out arguably would’ve staved off that execution, but it’d have been a ruse of a season, as Enos was off-brand and not wired for the Miami job from the get-go. This had to be done and it was; the former Alabama assistant not even lasting a full calendar year at UM.

A byproduct of this move also sent offensive line coach Butch Barry packing, as well—Barry with ties to Enos from their Central Michigan days, and equally as useless, as the only thing worse than Miami’s quarterbacks room in 2019 was anything having to do with an offensive line looked as terrible in December as it did late August.

Any preconceived notions about what Diaz thought Miami’s offense could and should look like; shattered by Enos’ incompetence—to the point where the spread offense was finally welcomed at UM and a guy with a strong acumen for running it was hired in SMU’s Rhett Lashlee.

Losing seasons don’t often produce great hires, but Diaz appears to have landed a good one in Lashlee; whose stock went up even more the moment his presence helped Miami reel in Houston quarterback D’Eriq King as a one-year transfer—far and away the top Portal quarterback option this cycle.

In an off-season where it was reported the Hurricanes’ three gunslingers got lost in a THC-induced fog—the entire dynamic was flipped on its ear when UM landed King; to the point last year’s starter Jarren Williams bolted for the Portal, while N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell quietly became afterthoughts; No. 5 most-likely the back-up, while No. 18 will probably move to wide receiver for good.

While the mere mention of Martell will prompt chatter about Diaz’s off-season efforts in 2019 not yielding the intended efforts—if one is deluded to the point they see the move as nothing more than just “bringing on another quarterback”—opposed to the difference between an inexperienced kid with potential, versus a bonafide Heisman candidate; again, there’s no fixing stupid.

Hardly a stretch if one were to say Miami literally lost three games last season by way of the kicking game—Florida, North Carolina and Georgia Tech fast come to mind—leaving the name Bubba Baxa painfully carved into UM folklore; payback for all those years of trashing FSU kickers.

In a welcomed twist of fate, the same Jose Borregales who played a part in FIU upsetting Miami—he’s now a Hurricane and an immediate upgrade to one of UM’s most-troubled positions.Toss in the addition of Temple defensive end Quincy Roche as an immediate starter, as well as last year’s west coast transfers—Jaelan Phillips and Bubba Bolden—this Canes’ defense is primed to be a feisty bunch come fall.

Lots of early-year chatter about Alonzo Highsmith returning to his alma mater; a name that sounded ideal out the gate, but less feasible when picturing a 54-year old with eight years of NFL experience, working towards a GM-type role—taking a step back into an assistant athletic director-type position which has become en vogue in college football, as the head coaching position has become a bigger beast.

The knee-jerk go-to—present company included; a dig that neither Diaz or Miami’s admin wanted an alpha-type dog in the position. The notion was quickly dispelled when former safety Ed Reed was brought home in a Chief of Staff role.

The most-jaded were quick to call the Reed hire a PR move; funny, as this same contingent roasts UM for “not caring about football”. If the latter is true, why bother with making moves to appease the fan base—and when has Miami’s athletic department ever proven PR-savvy?

Fact remains, Reed is as much an alpha as Highsmith—and the the Hall of Fame safety wouldn’t have returned to his alma mater for a fluff role.

Yes, the 41-year old will answer to Diaz, per the org chart, but Reed already has a finger on the pulse—much like Highsmith did when discussing UM—especially in regards to the ongoing theme of a broken culture.

“It’s not a complicated thing,” Reed shared soon after his hiring. “These kids just have to humble themselves … The problem is the people they are surrounding themselves with are the people who are giving them the glory when they haven’t done anything … It’s about being with your teammates and having that accountability. I am not telling you not have fun, because we did have a lot if fun—but we did it together.”

Regarding the job itself, Reed will serve in an advisory role to Diaz—involved in strategic planning, quality control, operations, player evaluations and their development—as well as team building, student-athlete mentorship and recruiting, “as permissible under NCAA rules”.

It will take a few years to truly measure the effects of the Reed hire and the overall impact it has on the program, but in an era where lots of college football programs are adding a position like this—it’s hard to have anything negative to say about the return of an all-time Hurricanes great, as well as the de facto head coach of the 2001 national champs.

Wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield was poached by Penn State weeks back, which no one seemed to care about, as Miami’s wide receiving corps was a mixed bag in 2019 under the first-year position coach.The departure proved to be addition by subtraction for the Hurricanes when Diaz replaced him with veteran Rob Likens; last seen as Arizona State’s offensive coordinator—but with a strong resume across the board.

Likens pent seven years under Sonny Dykes; a proponent of the Air Raid offense, which fits the mold regarding the staff Diaz wanted to hire with this move to the spread.

Last, but hardly least—a National Signing Day surprise with the last-minute addition of 4-Star safety Avantae Williams to the 2020 class. Williams was a former Canes verbal commit a ways back and appeared to be a full-blown Gators lock, before a change of heart and arguably one of the biggest surprises that first Wednesday of February.

Williams was ultimately the highest-ranked player of the class; the top safety in the nation, according to some—and the move itself vaulted Miami from the 18th-ranked class, to 13th—as well as second-best in the ACC, only behind Clemson.The Canes also benefitted from a coaching change at Washington State, nabbing wide receiver Keyshawn Smith late in the process, after Mike Leach left the Cougars for Mississippi State—as well as picking up cornerback Isaiah Dunson days before NSD.

Combined with the addition of the top running backs in Dade and Broward County—Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton, respectively—as well as Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback, Jalen Rivers on the offensive line and a defensive line trio including Chantz Williams, Quentin Williams and Elijah Roberts—it was a hell of a haul, considering 6-7 and the way Miami faded down the stretch.

Anyone who thinks Ed Reed retuned to ‘The U’ in a lackey-type role—they simply don’t know Ed Reed.

SIX WEEKS OF CHANGE; THE REMEDY?

When taking full stock in the past month and a half, it’s impossible to not praise the efforts of Diaz and the moves that have been made. Things felt beyond dismal as 2019 came to a close—to the point where most already had an understandable stick-a-fork-in-2020 approach to year two and were counting the minutes until the newbie head coach would be fired.

Instead, a handful of moves that not only can breathe life into this stagnant program—but can serve as a true jumpstart that turns things around rather quickly.

The work still has to be done—and yes, there were some off-season moves made this time last year that didn’t translate to wins in fall—but again, even on-paper, the upgrades were nowhere near as impressive as this latest haul.

Also in Diaz’s and Miami’s favor; the softest schedule the Hurricanes have seen in a good while—unlike 2021, where the Hurricanes open the season against Alabama. This coming season, the opposite as Miami starts off against Temple, Wagner and University of Alabama-Birmingham—all at home.

WEAK 2020 SCHEDULE COMES AT IDEAL TIME

The first road trip takes place late September when Miami heads to East Lansing to take on a Michigan State program that’s been in a downward spiral for years—and just experienced head coaching change, which should play to the Hurricanes’ favor.

Pittsburgh at home, at Wake Forest a few days later and then North Carolina in Miami—a much easier out than facing the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. The Canes head to Virginia on Halloween; Charlottesville always a tough spot—but without Bryce Perkins under center, the Cavaliers are also in rebuild-mode on some level.

Florida State treks south early November, Miami heads to Virginia Tech the following week and close the regular season with a road trip to Georgia Tech, before taking on Duke in the home finale.

Hardly a Murder’s Row schedule for the Hurricanes—and one that affords some early breathing room for King, Lashlee, Justice and a revamped offensive line to get their footing—opposed to opening with a Florida (2019) or LSU (2018), getting tagged in the nose and struggling to regain composure.

September is a lifetime away and the next measuring stick for the Hurricanes will be spring football, where the goal is for Greentree to continue morphing back into that place that breeds competition and brings out the best in Miami kids.

From there, summertime—when coaches are hands-off, but players must take on a leadership role and guys need to self-motivate out of nothing more than a desire to be the best—which is what championship programs do.

FIND IDENTITY; EMULATE OTHERS WHO GET IT DONE

A prime example; Clemson players adopted an in-season, team-wide social media hiatus years back—and it remains in place as the Tigers continue chasing titles. Meanwhile, Miami has literally had to discipline players for social media conduct and has to many me-first guys posting individual moments of glory to the platforms from games the Hurricanes lost as a team.

Clemson is now 101-12 since adopting this player-driven social media policy—”We don’t have time to be on social media, to be honest—so it’s no big deal,” senior defensive end Austin Bryant shared a week prior to the 2018 season, where the Tigers went 15-0 and won the national title—so safe to say, it has merit.

Champions don’t become champions overnight, nor are high-caliber coaches all winners out the gate; Dabo Swinney having his struggles early on in Clemson, before finding his footing, creating his team’s identity and becoming the top-tier guy today.

The road to success is always paved with failures; but it’s those setback moments where growth occurs. Diaz and his Canes certainly stumbled out the gate—but many of those potholes got smoothed over this off-season, giving reason for optimism in 2020 and a logical, legitimate step forward year two for Miami’s homegrown head coach.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

MIAMI HURRICANES COME TOGETHER ON SENIOR DAY; SMOKE LOUISVILLE


The Miami Hurricanes passed their final home test of the season, overwhelming the Louisville Cardinals, 52-27 on Senior Day and homecoming at HardRock Stadium.

This was the type of game that the Canes easily could’ve let slip away due to a slew of reasons—but none bigger than showing up unprepared and not bringing the fight; which thankfully hasn’t been the case the majority of this inaugural season for Manny Diaz and staff. Even in early losses to Florida, North Carolina and Virginia Tech—Miami played scrappy, overcame early error and was in position to win all three games late, before ultimately not getting it done.

To Louisville’s credit, it brought the fight, as well—496 yards on the day, while dominating time of possession—but three turnovers, sloppy-as-hell play (14 penalties for 121 yards) and an inability to stop Miami’s offense, ultimately led to the 31-point blowout.

MIAMI OFFENSE ROLLED ALL DAY; CANES’ D LIMITED CARDS

Early on, it appeared nobody was going to stop anybody; the Canes marching 92 yards on its opening drive—highlighted by a 41 yard hook-up from Jarren Williams to Mike Harley; low-lighted by back-to-back face-mask penalties on the Cardinals that set DeeJay Dallas up for any easy five-yard punch-in on 1st-and-Goal.

Louisville answered with an 80-yard strike to speedster Tutu Atwell; the former Miami Northwestern product shining early back home in front of the local crowd, tying things back up—despite some early self-implosion from the Cards.

If there was any oh-shit-type-feeling that Miami was in for a shootout and questions about the offense bringing it, they were quickly answered when Williams went back to Dee Wiggins on a 67-yard touchdown strike on first down—a play similar to last weekend’s dagger in Tallahassee; the 56-yard early fourth quarter strike that pushed the Canes’ lead over the Noles to, 24-10.

Special teams delivered for Miami, as well—K.J. Osborn helping flip the field in the return game, while Al Blades Jr. partially blocked a punt—both leading to short fields and quick scores—which was ultimately the theme of the day; the Hurricanes showing up in “all three phases of the game”, which coaches especially love to go on about in the wake of a lopsided win.

Diaz touched on this, as well as what finally sparked a turnaround after a slow start to the season.

“The best part is the players get it. They know it is all about their accountability and connections to one another. It is in the little things. We see it in practice. It is like parenting a child. At some point they have to learn and they have to mature,” Diaz explained post-game.

“We have a very young football team. We did not honor very many seniors. We have some young guys that are maturing and starting to get it and they recognize what wins. That has been the most encouraging part.”

CANES TURNED A CORNER AT PITT; HAVEN’T FLINCHED SINCE

After a loss to Virginia Tech, followed by a gritty win over Virginia, only to backslide with an inexplicable loss to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—this season was in disarray, leaving many to openly wonder when these aforementioned young guys were going to mature, get it or recognize what wins. Thankfully that flip soon switched.

The same DJ Ivey that was caught slipping on two plays against the Yellow Jackets that directly cost the Canes 14 points—strutted into Pittsburgh the following week and hauled in game-changing interceptions in a 16-12 slug-fest that Miami pulled out. That road game against the Panthers is also where the season changed at quarterback, with Williams re-entering for a ceiling-hitting N’Kosi Perry, tossing the game-winning touchdown to Osborn; a 32-yard strike with under a minute remaining—Williams coming in cold and delivering.

Where Miami looked like it might’ve turned a corner that Friday night against the Cavaliers, it took two more weeks for things to finally come together—setting the stage for that “perfect storm” moment in Tallahassee the first weekend of November. Florida State’s rough season aside, Miami finally put together what was its most-perfect performance to date; improved offensive line play, Williams hitting the deep ball and a spirited defensive performance—highlight by Greg Rousseau, the one-man wrecking crew.

The Canes took another step forward against the Seminoles, showing they could handle not just adversity, but prosperity—winning a key rivalry game and coming in hot off the comeback at Pittsburgh, opposed to flat, like it did against lowly Georgia Tech days after topping Virginia.

This win over Louisville—again, not a perfect outing—was another big moment for this rebuilding-type season under a first-year head coach. The Cardinals aren’t world-beaters, coming off a 2-10 run last fall that saw the second coming of the Bobby Petrino era coming to an end late in year five.

POTENTIAL TO GET ‘OUT-COACHED’, DIAZ & CREW CAME WITH A PLAN

Scott Satterfield was tossed the keys in the off-season—after a successful five-year stint at Appalachian State, where he won the Sun Belt Conference title three years in a row. A combined 29-9 record over that successful run and known as one of the more-successful, on-the-rise offensive minds in the game, Satterfield had an immediate impact at Louisville his inaugural season—bringing a 5-3 record to HardRock this past weekend; those three losses coming against Notre Dame, at Florida State and Clemson.

Based on recent history and Hurricanes’ muscle memory; it was hardly a stretch to think Miami might not roll in prepared against Louisville. Despite some solid defensive play by Diaz’s squad the past few weeks, the Cardinals’ offense was averaging just over 444 yards-per-game going into this showdown—meaning this wasn’t the week the Canes could afford to struggle moving the ball—and they didn’t.

Five of six offensive possessions in the first half, Miami scored touchdowns—only punting once, with 9:24 remaining in the second quarter, after an incompletion on 3rd-and-7. Leading 28-14 at the time, the defense forced a quick three-and-out and the offense stayed aggressive—Williams scrambling for 12 yards on a 3rd-and-9, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass to back-up tight end Will Mallory on a 3rd-and-8.

When the Cardinals got back after it, trying to trim the lead before halftime—a seven-play, 57-yard drive was thwarted by way of an end zone interception by the surging Ivey, on 1st-and-Goal from the UM 18-yard line; a ten-yard holding call the play prior, putting Louisville and quarterback Micale Cunningham in a lurch.

Up 35-14, the Hurricanes received the opening second half kickoff—driving 66 yards on six plays, for another score; a 36-yard strike from Williams to Harley—made possible by offensive coordinator Dan Enos finally committing to the run these past few weeks; Dallas scampering for 20 yards on the first play from scrimmage and Cam Harris picking up 12 more, two plays later.

The Cardinals answered on the ensuing drive and the Canes punted, only to be bailed out by more clutch special teams play; this time Jimmy Murphy diving on a ball muffed by Atwell—the fan-favorite, senior walk-on getting his first Turnover Chain moment in his final home game. Three plays later on a 3rd-and-15, Williams found Harley again—this time for a 28-yard score, that proved to be the dagger, putting Miami up 49-21 with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter.

Camden Price tacked on a field goal for good measure in the waning moments of the third quarter—getting the Hurricanes to a nice looking total of 52 in the box score—though a 58-yard touchdown run by Hassan Hall middle fourth quarter gave the Cardinals a meaningless score, making things look slightly less lopsided.

POTENTIAL TO WIN FIVE STRAIGHT; CLOSE BOWL SEASON STRONG

With two games remaining—a bye this weekend before Florida International at Marlins Park and a road finale at Duke—Miami is in very good position to finish 8-4, which seemed almost unthinkable late day on October 19th after the Hurricanes slipped to 3-4 after falling in overtime to the Yellow Jackets.

There were a few different trains of thought coming into the 2019 and year one of the Diaz era—those who expected #TheNewMiami to be some instant-fix, screaming about an undefeated season and rolling Florida game one—and then the more-logical crowd; frustrated with 15 years of irrelevance, but realizing nothing was getting fixed overnight.

For the latter, the season goals weren’t as clear-cut definition-wise—win x-amount of games, win the Coastal and beat both in-state rivals, as anything less is unacceptable—or things of that nature the win-now crowd was demanding. Progress can get lost or ignored in a loss, just as a win can mask deficiencies few (outside the coaching staff and players) take time to dissect when basking in the glow of victory.

Realistically speaking, the goal for this year needed to be growth, progress and the Hurricanes taking steps towards looking like the Miami of old. Yes, there were still three conference losses in the books by late October; the Canes still carrying on the annual tradition of reinventing new ways to drop winnable ACC match-ups—but the recent habit of fading down the stretch after those disheartening Coastal Division setbacks has dissipated.

Miami won four of its past five conference games, against the meat of the schedule most expected to be the most-troubling—Virginia on a short week, at Pittsburgh, at Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of a rivalry game.

All that’s left to do now is close strong; putting in on Florida International—former head coach Butch Davis on the other sideline, in a monstrosity of a stadium built on the hallowed grounds of the beloved Orange Bowl—and taking care of a Duke team that’s lost four of its past five games going into this weekend; the Blue Devils most-likely 5-6 for the finale against the Canes, needing a win for bowl eligibility.

While the Coastal Division is still a mess, Miami’s three losses mean at least a half dozen things have to fall into place for the Canes to back into a match-up with Clemson—something that’s completely moot without a win at Duke, so no reason to put any pointless energies towards what is nothing more than a pipe dream right now.

Crazily, the Hurricanes might actually be in better shape by not winning the division—as an 8-4 record is prettier than 8-5, which most-likely is the result of a showdown with the defending national champions—leaving Miami an outside shot at reaching the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl; insane as that sounds.

If no ACC team is ranked in the College Football Playoff Committee’s Top 25, sans Clemson—the Orange Bowl gets to choose its ACC team to face a foe from the Big Ten, the SEC, or Notre Dame—and the way things are playing out, Wake Forest doesn’t look like it will be ranked (barring an upset of Clemson this weekend); all of which would leave the hometown Hurricanes the most-attractive ACC match-up for the Orange Bowl, despite a four-loss season (should UM win out.)

Improve, get better and look more like Miami. It didn’t seem like that would be the case as recently as a month ago—but credit to Diaz, the staff and these Hurricanes players for a mid-season hard-reset that looks set to save year one, setting up for a strong recruiting haul and step forward in 2020—which is precisely what the University of Miami needs to (finally) get back to contending ways.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

‘THE NEW MIAMI’ READY FOR DEBUT; FLORIDA GATORS AWAIT

After months of anticipation, game day is finally here; college football getting the ultimate kickoff in 2019 for the sports’s 150th anniversary; Miami versus Florida—in primetime, with all eyes on this big-time showdown.

The Gators roll in No. 8 in the country, while the Hurricanes are in that all-too-familiar Others Receiving Votes category; understandable and expected on the heels of a six-loss season, a head coaching change and no proven quarterback—though it doesn’t properly speak to the overall talent level of this squad.

Most have Florida tabbed to take care of business on Saturday night—albeit in much closer fashion than the Gators’ delusional fan base and some of their players are predicting. All that to say, games aren’t played on paper, because if so, last season’s eighth-ranked preseason team—Miami—wouldn’t have gotten boat-raced by LSU in 2018’s season-opener.

PRESEASON RANKINGS BASED ON YESTERDAY’S NEWS; NOT TODAY’S

Preseason predictions are a fickle beast. For the most part, Miami earned a Top 10 ranking going into last fall due to a 10-0 start that included a primetime massacre of then-No. 3 Notre Dame. A regular season-ending loss at Pitt was swept under the rug as the Canes locked up their first Coastal Division title in 14 tries—while a loss to defending national champion Clemson in the ACC title game was expected and also forgiven.

A one-loss Wisconsin squad outlasted Miami in the Orange Bowl; which also wasn’t completely held against the Canes when going into 2018, as a 10-3 record—just as Florida posted in last year—looked good on paper and fit an on-the-rise narrative.

In reality, Miami still had some glaring weaknesses that were fast-exposed against LSU in Dallas, while the Tigers ultimately surprised with a brand new quarterback—Ohio State transfer, Joe Burrow—and a head coach few were expecting to turn a corner so quickly; Ed Orgeron, a perennial assistant who’d struggled in all previous head coaching stints, but ultimately had a break-through season.

That’s not to say Miami is—or isn’t—this year’s LSU, that Manny Diaz is destined to get everything right in his first game leading the Canes, or that r-freshman quarterback Jarren Williams can do game one what Burrow did in his first start; the Tigers’ quarterback cutting his teeth as a back-up the year prior. This is simply a reminder that when a team believes its own hype, as well as those preseason accolades bestowed upon them—things can sometimes go south quickly. Last year’s Canes are living proof and the jury’s out regarding how the Gators respond to their early positioning.

Entering Saturday’s opener, it’s hardly a shock that Florida thinks they’re hot shit—with an air of superiority like it’s 200 and not 2019; when Dan Mullen was calling plays under Urban Meyer and rolling into a new year as defending national champs, opposed to the former offensive coordinator entering year two with an inaugural season that truthfully wasn’t as strong as the 10-3 record it posted.

DEEP-DIVING THE GATORS’ 2018 CAMPAIGN & STUMBLES

Give Florida props for a convincing bowl win over Michigan; though one would be remised to not acknowledge the 62 points the Ohio State laid on the Wolverines in the regular season finale for a seventh-straight series win, which certainly took the piss out of the *other* UM and left them flat  for bowl season.

Those three losses? Falling to Kentucky at home (for the first time in 31 years), an understandable 19-point loss to rival Georgia (a title contender and pride of the SEC East) and a 21-point home loss to Missouri; a game that saw starting quarterback Feleipe Franks benched in favor of Kyle Trask— thought it was a short-lived move as the r-sophomore broke his foot in practice days later, allowing Franks to return by default for a home showdown against South Carolina.

The Gators trailed by 17 late in the third quarter before scoring 21 unanswered to avoid the upset against the Gamecocks; who finished 7-6 and fell to Virginia in the postseason, 28-0.

The point in this quick history lesson; Florida’s perceived invincibility and the supreme confidence in Franks both seem built on a similar house of cards to last year’s Miami hype. Maybe the Gators are the real-deal and will prove it Saturday night—but there’s at least room to question if this team is as good as they believe they are.

Miami’s off-season approach has been the exact opposite—and with good reason as one can’t run their mouths when on the wrong end of a 35-3 post-season ass-kicking; on that forced former head coach Mark Richt into early retirement; the keys tossed to his former defensive coordinator who was 18 days into his new stint as head coach at Temple University.

Diaz drove home the we-have-no-business-talking mantra home from early on, when he posted 7-6 signs on tackling dummies all over UM’s new indoor practice facility and encouraged his players to take out their frustration there—not on their smartphones, offering up any bulletin board material.

Hurricanes players have been suspiciously quiet and even-keeled these past few months, while the Gators are spewing noise any time a microphone is stuck in one of their smug faces.

“I don’t really see them as a challenge. I just see them as another team really, because I feel like my whole team—we face big-boy teams,” defensive end and linebacker Andrew Chatfield said about Miami months back. “They faced one SEC team and got smashed by LSU last time I checked. But whatever though, it’s just another game.”

A spirited rivalry dating back to 1938—of which the Hurricanes have taken seven of the past eight is, “just another game”. Upperclassmen should’ve thought about muzzling the r-freshman, but instead many chose to pile-on when given the opportunity.

HOW FAR APART ARE MIAMI & FLORIDA AS NEW SEASON GETS ROLLING?

Regarding Miami, there’s been understandable outside focus on the setbacks of 2018—yet a short memory regarding what this program successfully managed to do in 2017; the same way few recall that four only managed to win four games while the Canes were rolling heads en route to winning the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Simply put; the Canes are as far removed from a successful 10-win season as the Gators are dropping six of their final seven in 2017.

Also ignored; as quick as Miami ascended, it crashed down hard the following year—and as bad as Florida was two years back, it won 10 games year one with Mullen; begging the question, are these two teams really as far apart as the way the narrative is being written for 2019’s opener?

What about the monster hit the Gators have taken to an offensive line that was masterful in protecting Franks; buying him time and opening up holes for Lamical Perine and other running backs? Long gone are Martez Ivey, Jawaan Taylor, Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson—paving the way for a lot of youth on the Gators’ line, similar to what Miami is dealing with up front. Any way you slice it, it’s a step back for Florida—while despite the young line, Miami can only improve based on the offense they fielded a year ago.

For both Miami and Florida, each taking on a team of this caliber for an opener deserves the tip of a hat—as it’s always advantageous to work out the kinks against a doormat, or two. Neither gets that luxury this season; both putting their balls and pride on the line Week 0.

Of course facing a foe like each will face this early in the schedule will also alter overall game plans; both head coaches well aware early match-ups like these are usually lost more than they’re actually won. Translation; whoever eliminates mistakes, excels in special teams and get a few fortunate bounces is usually the team that prevails in what should be a low-scoring affair with its share of three-and-outs and rusty timing.

INTANGIBLES OUTWEIGH OVERALL GAME PLANS & STRATEGIES

As far as an X’s and O’s breakdown goes for this one; throw it all out the window for this one as there are simply too many unknown in a late August match-up like this.

Yes, Florida has an advantage with Franks under center—but how will the junior quarterback respond behind his young and green offensive line in the face of UM’s pass rush? Last year #13 had the benefit of protection that he simply won’t have against a Miami fronts seven that has some talent on the defensive line, as well as some of the best linebackers in the nation in Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pinckney—heavily-relied upon seniors who only returned when Diaz was handed the keys to the kingdom.

Williams will deal with the same pressure on his end as the Canes’ line is also inexperienced—though a safe bet new offensive coordinator Dan Enos keeps the newbie reeled in a bit; whereas Franks and his blend of confidence and experience could lead to him taking more chances that might backfire. Miami, and new defensive coordinator Blake Baker, also have years’ worth of film on Franks and know his tendencies, while Williams is an unknown and expectations are low in regards to his carrying the Canes—which could be also blessing in disguise if this game somehow goes UM’s way.

Back to last year’s opener at LSU; Burrow was the biggest question mark for the Tigers—the Canes banking on the transfer turning the ball over. Instead, he had a clean outing (11-of-24 for 140 yards) and played all the part of game manager. By season’s end; Burrow was the MVP of the Fiesta Bowl in LSU’s win over Central Florida—the unknown signal caller playing a big part in a 10-3 season.

Special teams should also have a massive impact on this season opener. For Miami’s sake, it better hope kicker Bubba Baxa has shaken off any of last year’s freshman jitters that left points on the field—while the punting game immediately got an upgrade when former Australian football player Lou Hedley transferred to Coral Gables (by way of City College of San Francisco); a move that could prove MVP-worthy based on the UM’s punting woes the past few seasons.

While it’d be a disservice to LSU—and a handful of the teams that beat Miami last season—it’s impossible to not bring up how often the Canes lost field position battles due to the inept Zach Feagles, as well as his replacement Jack Spicer. Against the Tigers, Feagles first three punts were short, giving LSU the ball at mid-field—which led to 13 first half points. Toss in Baxa having a 45-yard field goal attempts blocked and quarterback Malik Rosier coughing up a painful-to-watch pick-six and it’s no mystery the Canes were in a 27-3 halftime hole they couldn’t dig out of.

Miami looked outmatched by LSU; not so much talent versus talent—but due to holes at quarterback, offensive play calling and shoddy special teams play; all of which continued into ACC play and were a common theme en route to 7-6. If nothing else, simple addition-by-subtraction will play into the Hurricanes’ favor as Richt has yielded to Diaz, Enos has installed a more up-to-date offense and Rosier made way for Williams; who realistically should’ve been given his shot last season based on upside and potential, versus Rosier’s experience and Richt going the “safe” route in a weak Coastal Division.

Aside from all those aforementioned intangibles, it can’t be ignored that literally all the pressure here is on the eighth-ranked Gators; Florida expected to take a step forward this fall, while Miami comes in a bit more stealth and undetected—on the heels of a six-loss season, a new head coach, an entirely new offensive staff and a brand new quarterback. Attention has already been paid to UM’s favorable schedule this year and many have the Canes continuing to improve as the year rolls on; earning them a division title and a crack at defending national champion Clemson in the ACC title game.

With no real pressure on Miami to perform game one—it can afford to play loose and to pleasantly surprise the nation should it pull off an upset that really isn’t all that unthinkable.

ALL THE PRESSURE ON THAT TEAM FROM UP NORTH; THE GATOR

Florida—like Miami last season—is coming off a step-forward season and is expected to go to the next level this fall; hence the overconfidence and belief pouring out of Gainesville; something the Canes are familiar with after so many false starts the past few years, which begged all the, “Is ‘The U’ back?” queries by the media and college football analysts anytime UM did something noteworthy.

There’s a different type of pressure when you’re on the mend and expected to grow year two under a new head coach—versus year one; proven by the fact there were no real expectations for Mullen in 2018 having taken over a four-win team. Anything he did was gravy, but after reaching the 10-win mark—Florida faithful have high expectations for his second act.

Conversely, everything for Miami has come up roses since the morning after losing the Pinstripe Bowl last December—starting the moment Richt abruptly retired and walked away from a multi-million dollar buyout; not wanting to hold his alma mater over a barrel. Had Richt stuck around for a fourth season, the following would most-likely be true as the Canes roll into Camping World Stadium on Saturday night:

— Diaz would be the head coach at Temple University and two former defensive assistants would be running the Canes defense this season; barring either Ephraim Banda and Jonathan Patke didn’t ultimately follow him to Philadelphia as the Owls’ new staff came together. Morale was low after that Wisconsin-sized beat-down. Instead, Banda is co-defensive coordinator and continued working with safeties, Patke handles strikers and special teams and Diaz brought in Blake Baker to run the defense, opposed to simply promoting from with in.

— Quarterman and Pinckney would’ve left for the NFL a year early and the Canes would be breaking in a young, inexperienced group of linebackers this fall—instead of that position being rock-solid and the soul of the defense. The Canes would also be without the services of speedster and special teams demon Jeff Thomas; who was dismissed by Richt, appeared Illinois-bound but earned his way back on to the team through a sit-down with Diaz.

— Richt would’ve made minimal changes to his offensive philosophy—under protest; his hand forced by UM’s administration and the Board of Trustees—which would’ve created some form of contention as coaches don’t like pencil-pushers and suits telling them how to run their program.

Gus Felder would still be Miami’s strength and conditioning coach instead of David Feely; who’s had an immediate impact on this team since his arrival—getting this Hurricanes’ program in the best shape it’s been in for over a decade.

– The much-criticized Stacy Searels would still be coaching UM’s offensive line instead of NFL veteran Butch Barry; another immediate-impact guy who is getting underclassmen to play above their level, resulting in true freshman Zion Campbell winning the left tackle job while r-freshman John Campbell turned heads in his quest to lock down the right tackle position.

— Miami also wouldn’t have robbed the Transfer Portal blind, reeling in Tate Martell, Trevon Hill, K.J. Osborn, Chigoze NnorukaBubba Bolden and few other immediate-impact kids who are going to be difference makers this season.

Even scarier, all signs were pointing towards William transferring out between the end of the regular season and the bowl game last year; leaving the Canes with with N’Kosi Perry, who would’ve gotten the job by default (over freshman Peyton Matocha)—opposed to the spirited competition on Greentree where Williams came on strong late, beating out both Martell and Perry; all three of them better for it.

— Lastly, there wouldn’t be The New Miami and this new-yet-old-school attitude that Diaz has been infusing. The new head coach kept things rolling defensively, while injecting some life and swag into his offensive players—with links to the past and a focus on competition; pushing players’ buttons in the style of greats like Jimmy Johnson—who Diaz is leaning on as a mentor and bringing around to inform his current players about the way it was done during that Decade Of Dominance.

While none of these feel-good reminders necessary mean the Hurricanes are going to upset the Gators on Saturday night—they are all worth mention as important pieces to this storyline; one that seems to have been reduced to, “7-6 last year, a new head coach and a quarterback playing his first game”. Seems everyone is overlooking Miami; which is just fine as the Canes are definitely relishing the opportunity to fly-under-the-radar for this one.

Again, on paper—Florida should prevail as they’re one year ahead in their rebuild—but dammit if it doesn’t feel like something special is brewing in Coral Gables since Diaz took the reins.

Maybe it’s all that TNM hype, this renewed energy, former players and coaches buying in—coupled with a slew of off-season victories for a program out of the spotlight for way too long—but there’s a nagging sentiment that UM is being devalued here and that the Canes are going to play off of and respond to that.

On the 27th anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Andrew—it seems like another type of storm is fittingly brewing.

Logic says Gators—but the intangibles are saying the Canes pull a fast one on an unsuspecting Florida team that isn’t giving Miami its due, and doesn’t seem as good as their current hype.

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Miami 23, Florida 20

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Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.