There was a reason Florida State pushed the Hurricanes around Saturday night like a little brother.
The Seminoles are better, elite in a lot of places: quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive line, secondary. The gap may not have looked that big after two quarters Saturday. But it was on display for the nation to see over the final 30 minutes. Florida State is legit, national championship good. Miami is just getting back into the Top 25 good.
That gap is nothing to be ashamed about if you bleed orange and green. Jimbo Fisher has been building this thing for over five years, since we first heard he would be the guy replacing Bobby Bowden.
Al Golden? He's been trying to rebuild Miami for three years with one arm tied behind his back. It wasn't until two weeks ago tomorrow the 28-month hostage situation with the NCAA really came to an end. Even then, it's been impressive what Golden has been able to accomplish the last couple years.
As fun as it was to see this team start 7-0, climb to No. 7 in the national rankings, ask any talent evaluator and they will tell you these Hurricanes truly were not ready for a Top 10 showdown Saturday. Three recruiting classes into yet another Miami makeover, Golden has restocked the shelves with a few gems (RB Duke Johnson, CB Tracy Howard, DE Tyriq McCord, DE Quan Muhammad, CB Artie Burns, S Deon Bush, OL Ereck Flowers, WR Stacy Coley, LB Jermaine Grace). But really, he's still playing catch-up and only now beginning to fight with both fists free.
I know the thirst has been here for awhile to shout "We're back baby!" But that's really not going to happen until the Hurricanes get to the point where Florida State is. Where you have legit NFL prospects up and down your roster. Fisher had a school-record 11 players taken in last April's NFL Draft. He'll probably have eight more at least this year with half of that taken in the first two rounds.
Miami had two players taken last April (RB Mike James, CB Brandon McGee) and might have four or five this April (LB Denzel Perryman, QB Stephen Morris, OL Brandon Linder, OL Seantrel Henderson) and one of them is a punter. Do the math. Did that sound like a Top 10 matchup Saturday night?
Truth is Golden and his staff over the last three years have taken a bunch of average, leftover talent (DT Curtis Porter, OL Jon Feliciano, S Kacy Rodgers, MLB Jimmy Gaines, WR Allen Hurns, DE Shayon Green, OL Malcolm Bunche, WR Rashawn Scott), coached them up, plugged in a few holes with transfers (DL David Gilbert, DL Justin Renfrow, P Pat O'Donnell) and made this team better year-to-year.
Saturday's game might have been a little closer in the second half had a few guys (LB Eddie Johnson, LB Gionni Paul, CB Thomas Finnie) kept their heads on straight and still been here. But every program has a few knuckleheads who don't seem to get it. Until Saturday, UM hadn't faced a team with superior depth and talent to the them. Florida? The Gators have an elite defense and that's why Miami was in a dog fight. But the Gators are 4-4 now, proof even Will Muschamp (hired at the same time Golden was) isn't having an easy time of it in Gainesville after losing eight draft picks from last year's team.
What the Hurricanes have proven thus far in 2013 is that they are not going to lose games they shouldn't and have the fight in them to rally when they're down. Players are improving. That's what we didn't see enough of during the last regime.
Now, after Saturday's heartbreaking loss (Golden gave the team Sunday off to rest and recover) we'll get to see what this coaching staff and this team is really made of. Duke Johnson is a special talent. But he's not the sole reason Miami is 7-1 and still ranked 14th in the country.
Saturday's opponent, Virginia Tech, a team UM hasn't beaten twice in a row since 2002, is the real benchmark the Hurricanes have to measure themselves against. The Hokies have won the ACC four times since coming over from the Big East with Miami in 2004. Their talent and Miami's talent is and has been much more comparable over the last couple of seasons.
What Golden and his coaches have to prove to us now is that even in the face of adversity (losing his best player) and coming off a humbling defeat against the team you want to catch-up to they can get this football team to re-focus and finish the season strong. As Golden pointed out last year, you can't win the ACC until you win the Coastal Division.
That's really what this season needs to be measured on: Can these Canes continue to beat the teams they are supposed to, win their division and finish the season with momentum for the future?
That's what Randy Shannon's teams couldn't seem to do. UM only had one winning month in November (3-1, 2009) in his four years here. Golden is now 5-4 after Saturday in November. UM finished 3-1 in November last year.
It's going to be challenging without Johnson to finish this November 4-1. But this UM team should be good enough to beat Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2) at home Saturday, Duke (6-2, 2-2 ACC) on the road Nov. 16, Virginia (2-7, 0-5) at home Nov. 23, and win at Pittsburgh (4-4, 2-3 ACC) the day after Thanksgiving.
It's time to finish the mission Canes.