Can’t say that ACC title game disaster was a total dead end, not when Miami clearly is on the right route

CHARLOTTE, NC -Braxton Berrios of the Miami Hurricanes looks on against the Clemson Tigers in the second quarter during the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – You’ve got to be in it to win it. That’s what Miami will take out of Saturday night’s 38-3 collapse in the ACC Championship game, a stage no other Hurricanes team had reached.

There’s no need to think much more about it. Some teams, like Clemson, are built to win national championships, and maybe even to string a few of them together. They start out good and get better as the season goes along, a product of talent and depth and consistent coaching.

Miami should get there soon, if the 10-2 season still in progress counts for more than a shiny new Turnover Chain tradition. I think it does, because of all the fearless freshmen and sophomores out there making plays, and because Mark Richt, a landslide winner in the ACC Coach of the Year voting, is only two years into this project himself.

“I don’t think we’re a team that can line up and just impose our will,” Richt said, as he’s been saying all along. “We’re not there yet. We’ve got some more recruiting to do. We’ve got some more development to do. We’ve got some guys that can play against anybody in America but I don’t know that we’ve got enough of those guys yet.

“In time we’ll catch up to the measuring stick.”

He’s talking about Clemson, which put on Richt the worst postseason drubbing of his career. While the Hurricanes are proud, and rightfully so, of the 15-game win streak they built at the zenith of this season, the Tigers have beaten 11 Top-25 opponents in a row. That’s carrying a big stick, all right, and whoever draws Clemson in the national semifinals will feel it.

So chalk this humiliating loss up to experience, the kind that Florida State and Florida didn’t get this year. They’re starting over with new coaches at both of those places. Meanwhile, the worst you can say for Miami is that the Hurricanes are playing in the Orange Bowl and will open next season in the AP Top Ten.

That may not equal the mountaintop moment of a College Football Playoff appearance, but injuries to touchdown makers like Mark Walton and Ahmmon Richards and Chris Herndon would have made it difficult to make any noise there anyway. Malik Rosier needed those guys on Saturday night the way a sailboat needs a breeze.

He and Miami were dead in the water instead on Saturday, with 64 yards in total offense by halftime and almost as many punts overall (9) as first downs (10).

Clemson’s defense was too powerful. Dabo Swinney’s head start on Richt in stacking and developing of championship players at every position was too great. Four Clemson players rushed for touchdowns, for example. Miami hasn’t had anybody rush for a touchdown in the last two games, including that streak-breaking surprise of a loss at Pittsburgh.

Still, a sizable crowd of UM fans stayed at Bank of America Stadium to see it through. More than 20,000 Hurricanes fans reportedly bought tickets in South Florida to see this game, contributing to a sellout of 74,372 that ranked second in the history of this championship game.

They stomped around uptown Charlotte like they owned the place, which is what every committed fan base for every major program does at title time.

This, too, is a significant development, a sign of real investment and not just an occasional dip into the old Hurricanes memorabilia drawer for a big-game party or two.

Think of Howard Schnellenberger’s original construction project at Miami. That first national championship season was five years in the making, and even then it began with a demoralizing 28-3 loss to Florida.

The celebration of this season lies in the fact that the Hurricanes kept that lightning in the bottle for as long as they did. They got past Virginia Tech and Notre Dame without cracking. They won the close games that too often had slipped away. They beat FSU, for crying out loud, and won the Coastal Division, finally scratching an itch that never should have lasted through this many coaching regimes.

“This season has still been a success,” linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “You’ve seen what’s happening. Year One. Year Two. It’s only gonna get better.”

Not exactly smack talk, but straight talk. The Hurricanes need to keep that going or else it all becomes fool’s gold, like the 10-1 start that Jim McElwain had at Florida and the three-game losing streak that ended that season.

This is tricky business, and that’s why you can forgive Richt for passing on a late fourth-and-inches and taking a short field goal to avoid the first shutout in ACC championship game history. Three points is all that Kent State and the Citadel managed against Clemson in a couple of cupcake games this season. Recruits need to know that Miami, a team that means to win the ACC next year, is at least that competitive when their best players are going against Dabo’s best.

If there’s a gnawing question from this night that will echo throughout the offseason, it’s what Richt will do with his quarterback position. Rosier, who completed 14 of 29 passes with two interceptions and four sacks, ran out of gas at season’s end, but so did the rest of his unit. If Richt believes that N’Kosi Perry can bring more spark to the offense, he’ll make the switch in 2018.

Neither one is up to the level of Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, who completed his first 15 passes on Saturday and left the game early with 252 passing yards, but Bryant learned behind Deshaun Watson, who’s starting in the NFL these days, and Watson learned behind Tajh Boyd, who is second all-time in ACC career passing yards behind Philip Rivers.

Again, these things don’t happen overnight. Miami fans are never going to want to hear that, not after five national titles in no time flat and about a million first-round draft picks graduated to the NFL, but it’s so, and there is no shame in acknowledging it.

“We are the first team to win the Coastal and get to the ACC Championship game,” said defensive end  Chad Thomas, who was around for the miserable 58-0 loss to Clemson that cost Al Golden his job in 2015. “So we know what it feels like to be here and it won’t be a surprise when we are back. We just have to win. We have to dominate, play like ‘The U.’ “

Playing like Clemson, a defending national champion with a taste for more, might be the better template now, for Miami and for everybody else.

 

 

 

NCAA berths weren’t so automatic during Rick Barry’s golden era at UM

If you’re a Miami basketball fan and disappointed to see the 20-9 Hurricanes rating only about a No. 7 or 8 seed in most of the Bracketology projections out there, just settle down and let it all play out.

There’s a game at Florida State on Saturday night and then the ACC tournament to reset the picture. Remember that Syracuse made it all the way to the Final Four last year as one of the last of eight ACC teams to get into the NCAA field, and the Orange started out with a No. 10 seed.

Jim Larranaga has built quite a reputation on a couple of Sweet 16 appearances at Miami and a shocking Final Four run with George Mason. He’ll get the benefit of every doubt from the bracket-builders based on that history, and on wins over Duke, Virginia and North Carolina this year.

Long-time Miami followers will remember when it was lot tougher than this to get a little national boost.

Rick Barry. File photo: Feb. 1964. RB

Rick Barry, February, 1964. Miami News photo.

The Hurricanes went 23-5 in the 1962-63 season and didn’t even make the NCAA tournament. There were only 25 teams in the field back then and Miami, an independent, didn’t rate one of those spots. Never mind that the Hurricanes upset Duke 71-69 at the Miami Beach Convention Center in December. It just wasn’t happening.

What Miami got instead was an invitation to the NIT, and that’s where the program got its first-ever postseason victory. Miami beat St. Francis 71-70 at Madison Square Garden in New York but lost the next night to Providence, the eventual tournament champion.

It was even tougher to take what happened in 1965. Rick Barry led the nation in scoring with an average of 37.4 points per game and the Hurricanes went 22-4 but they weren’t eligible for the NCAA tournament because of NCAA recruiting violations.

Barry scored 50 or more points six times in that senior season and also averaged 18.3 rebounds per game. That put him at the top of a sensational consensus All-America lineup that also included bill Bradley, Gail Goodrich, Cazzie Russell and a high-scoring big man from Davidson named Fred Hetzel. Barry, Bradley and Goodrich went on to be inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and Hetzel was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1965 draft by the San Francisco Warriors.

As a strong competitor in the ACC, Miami won’t get overlooked like that again.

Overall, it was a long road to achieving the level of recognition that our top state schools have now in basketball, and the Hurricanes got there first.

Miami’s initial appearance in the NCAA tournament was in 1960, followed by FSU in 1968, Jacksonville in 1970, Florida in 1987, South Florida in 1990, Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 and North Florida in 2015.

 

 

Watch live: Matt Porter previews the Miami Hurricanes’ 2016 season

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Don’t miss the excitement as our Matt Porter offers a LIVE preview of Miami Hurricanes football for the 2016 season, only on the ACC’s Facebook page:

Canes Camp Day 12: Practice observations | Video (w/ commentary): LBs at work

[Photos: players, fans at CanesFest]

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