ORLANDO — One of the stranger Hurricanes seasons in recent memory rolls on.
Miami took another step toward normalcy Saturday, practicing at Disney’s expansive Wide World of Sports Complex in suburban Orlando. It was an hour-long affair heavy on conditioning drills. It was also the team’s first official practice since Sept. 5, an 11-day layoff thanks to Hurricane Irma.
The Hurricanes will practice Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday and return to South Florida for next week’s game at Hard Rock Stadium. UM did not permit reporters to watch Saturday’s practice. Coach Mark Richt will address the media on Sunday.
UM’s next game, Sept. 23 at Hard Rock Stadium against Toledo, comes after a 21-day break. The last time the program had a break that long between games: 1987, when the Hurricanes’ 31-4 win over Florida and 51-7 win at Arkansas sandwiched a 21-day gap.
Miami, as many remember, finished that season 12-0 and won its second national championship by beating Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Clearly, Hurricanes fans hope for a repeat of that magical run of 30 years ago. If you look closely, there are a few parallels between that season and this one.
Miami’s 2017 schedule, like 1987, opened with an in-state team at home, a road game in the state of Arkansas and a Week 3 game in Tallahassee. However, Hurricane Irma forced UM to cancel its Sept. 9 game at Arkansas State, and the ACC to postpone Miami-FSU until Oct. 7.
In 1987, the Hurricanes were coming off an 11-1 season that ended with a bitter Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State. They were breaking in a new quarterback, redshirt sophomore Steve Walsh, and had a coach, Jimmy Johnson, with a reputation for not winning the big one. The defense was expected to be outstanding.
In 2017, fans are optimistic about Richt, who returns a talented group from a 9-4 finish. However, no one knows how new quarterback Malik Rosier, a redshirt junior, will fare in his first year as a starter. The defense should be excellent, but the offense has a lot to prove with a quarterback who has started two games in college.
Miami also hosted Toledo and Notre Dame in 1987, as it will this fall. The parallels, for now, seem to end there.
Irma, which caused widespread damage in South Florida, the Keys and the Caribbean, spurred millions to evacuate. When UM canceled classes Sept. 5, students scattered across the Southeast. By Saturday, UM’s football team migrated to Orlando, where spokesman Carter Toole said “all were present and accounted for” at practice.
As the region continues cleaning up after the storm, the Hurricanes (1-0) try to recapture the momentum from their 41-13 win over Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 2. They also begin to answer a long list of questions about a team that before the season, was considered by many to be the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division.
Now, they have 10 games left in the season, and it’s mid-September. If they’re going to challenge for the Coastal, they’ve got to come along quickly.
Will Rosier, who looked good in his season debut against an FCS team, look rusty or recharged after the break?
Will sophomore standouts Ahmmon Richards and Michael Pinckney be fully recovered from their hamstring injuries, and be able to hit the ground running?
Will UM’s young players, like freshman right guard Navaughn Donaldson, receivers Mike Harley and Jeff Thomas, and cornerback Trajan Bandy, be able to regain their focus and resume key roles on the team?
Will the team use Irma as a rallying point, determined not to let the lengthy distraction linger?
Saturday was their first crack at answering. Sunday is the next.