Before the 2009 season began all anybody wanted to talk about was how tough the first four games on UM's schedule was. Now, the Canes are a road win in Blacksburg, Va. and an inspiring win over Oklahoma at home from a 4-0 start.
I'll tell you what they are also two wins away from: being a serious national title contender. Sounds nuts after what Randy Shannon's program did in his first two years. But why can't the Canes think national title this year? I know. It's early. I'm not trying to say this will happen or cloud any players' thoughts (some of you think that's what I aim to do).
But the blueprint most of us believed didn't call for UM's championship aspirations to truly develop until 2010. You know, when Jacory Harris and all those Miami Northwestern guys and recruits from the Canes No. 1-ranked recruiting class were going to be juniors. But after further review, it almost seems like 2009 might be worth a shot -- maybe even better than 2010. How so? Let me count the ways.
- How could the BCS not love a Canes team that starts the year with four straight wins over ranked opponents and potentially wins on the road against a ranked North Carolina to clinch the ACC Title? The 2010 schedule has a Sept. 11 date at Ohio State. But the other three non-conference games? FAMU, at Pittsburgh and a home date with South Florida. The strength of schedule argument is obviously better for 2009.
- Have you seen how good Miami's offense has been through two games? Do you honestly think the NFL or other teams in college football aren't going to come after offensive coordinator Mark Whipple with a bigger piggy bank than the one The U carries around. Fact: Whipple will be a hot offseason commodity. Just saying...
- The Hurricanes offensive line has been tremendous through two games. They've given up one sack and given Jacory Harris all the time in the world to pick apart Florida State and Georgia Tech. Sadly, Jason Fox, AJ Trump and Matt Pipho -- three of the guys in the current six-man rotation -- are seniors. They need to be replaced. Thursday night, some of their replacements -- Jermaine Johnson and Ben Jones -- were in street clothes on the sideline.
- UM's defense has plenty of young talent and room to grow. But they've also got a special group of senior leaders in Randy Phillips and Eric Moncur who won't be here next year. And who is to say big bad Allen Bailey won't make the jump early to the NFL? Ditto for junior running back Graig Cooper, who keeps displaying some special abilities used all over the field.
I repeat: I'm not trying to throw the Canes off track, put thoughts into their heads that shouldn't be there this early in a young season. The coaches are doing a good job of not allowing that. So, are the players. All Jacory Harris kept talking last night about was "the next game."
I'm just looking down a street I think most of us never though this team, this 2009 team could find themselves on this early: the one that possibly leads to Pasadena for the national championship game. I'm saying it might really be OK for everybody else to start wondering or daydreaming what most us thought was impossible.
REMEMBER THIS: The most poignant thing Randy Shannon talked about in his postgame press conference Thursday night was the focus his team showed leading up to the game. Pregame meal? Quiet. Bus ride to the stadium? Quiet. Pregame locker room? Quiet. Shannon said he and his assistants "didn't need to beg and plead for this team to stay focused. They were focused through the pregame." You definitely got that sense throughout practice last week. I'm not sure you could always say that about this program in Shannon's first two years. When you have leaders like Jacory Harris, Randy Phillips and Jason Fox who keep everyone in line, you put teammates in line -- that's when you could start believing a team could be really special.
GAME BALLS: Offensively, you could give one to Jacory Harris for his near-perfect night (20 of 25 270 yards, 3 TDS) throwing the football. Or, you could give it to LaRon Byrd for bouncing back from his O-fer against Florida State by leading UM in receptions and yards. But I'm handing it to the offensive line for completely shutting down Georgia Tech's pass rush. When I asked Harris if Derrick Morgan had even breathed on him, he said "I saw him early in the game from the corner of my eye. But they picked him and blocked him. I didn't worry about the defensive line the rest of the game." When a quarterback can have that much confidence in his offensive line, he can put up scary numbers. So here is to you Jason Fox, Orlando Franklin, AJ Trump, Harland Gunn, Joel Figueroa and Matt Pipho.
Defensively, Miami's front seven and Brandon Harris can share the love. Huge game by Darryl Sharpton with eight tackles and Harris had his second straight eye-opening performance. He had three pass deflections and looked like a shutdown corner. Oh, by-the-way, Georgia Tech finished with 95 yards rushing. That's a little bit less than the 472 they put up last year.
WORRY ABOUT: The special teams. Alex Uribe is a nice kid. But it looked like someone was standing on the sideline with a football magnet every time he kicked off Thursday. Matt Bosher had two missed field goals from point blank range. Like Shannon said, unacceptable. The Canes have plenty of work to do in kickoff coverage too -- especially with the special teams demons who play for Virginia Tech.
INJURY WATCH: We should find out shortly what the deal with defensive tackle Marcus Forston and running back Lee Chambers is. Both needed help limping off the field Thursday night. Josh Holmes had a tough time walking off on his own too in the second half. Our Susan Miller Degnan should have an update from coach Shannon's press conference later this morning.