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Commentary: Time for UM to take leap forward

COLUMBUS, OHIO -- Our Israel Gutierrez wrote a column this week that was dead on about Saturday's showdown with the second-ranked Buckeyes at the Horseshoe.

In the grand scheme of things, the 12th-ranked Hurricanes don't have to win this game. Ultimately, the real way to measure the success of this season hinges on if this team wins the conference title or reaches a BCS Bowl game. Losing at Ohio State wouldn't cripple those hopes.

But if you bleed orange and green, there is a bigger reason you want the Canes to win Saturday at the Horseshoe. And it shouldn't have anything to do with referee Terry Porter, revenge or what happened the last time these teams met. This game for UM is all about regaining respect.

As much work as Randy Shannon has done to turn this program around, this still isn't The U it used to be. It's not even close. Do you think opponents fear coming to Sun Life Stadium the way they used to when they went to the Orange Bowl? Do you think the Buckeyes are nervous the Canes (who haven't beaten at Top 10 on the road since 2006) are coming to town?

Maybe a little. But not like when Michael Irvin or Ray Lewis or Ed Reed or Ken Dorsey were playing. Why? Those guys knew they could win whenever and wherever they were playing. These Canes have to learn how to do that. They have to make themselves a feared team again -- beyond what national recruiting rankings tell us.

Bringing in highly rated recruiting classes shouldn't be celebrated around The U. It should be expected. South Florida is the richest area in the country at producing high-end talent. The 44 players from Miami-Dade County on NFL rosters at the start of this season -- the most anywhere in the country -- is all the proof you need.

Shannon has done a good job restocking the shelves again in Coral Gables. Larry Coker let things get bad. But it is time for this program to put itself back among the elite. What does that mean? That means winning bowl games and winning tough games on the road. That means ending a losing streak to North Carolina and beating teams they're supposed to beat.

Say what you want about last year's 3-1 start, the road win at Florida State, the blowout of ACC champion Georgia Tech at home and the 21-20 win over Oklahoma. Did any of those victories by the end of the season really make you feel like this program was "back"?

Oklahoma didn't even have its best quarterback under center when it played the Canes. They were 8-5 by the end of the year. Florida State? They finished 7-6 and lost at home to South Florida. Georgia Tech? Ok, the Canes looked great that night. But where was it the next week at Virginia Tech?

This "opportunity" -- as Shannon and his players called it this week -- is too huge to for Miami. Ohio State is a BCS regular, a team that is sure to find itself back in the Rose Bowl if not the National Title game if it wins this one. Remember when the Canes used to beat those kind of teams? Remember when Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Texas, Florida State just couldn't beat the Canes?

The talent between the teams in this game is not that far apart. Sure, the Canes aren't as loaded as the 2000, 2001 or 2002 teams that were all capable of winning national titles. Depth is still a concern in some places and there are still a few holes that need work. Right tackle and that third linebacker spot next to Sean Spence and Colin McCarthy? Those are question marks that need answers. But there is a lot of talent here and enough healthy players available to beat the Buckeyes.

I say enough with the baby steps. It's time for this program to take a big leap forward. Saturday, we find out just how close the Canes are to being elite again. Or, just how far away they still are.

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