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Is Miami finally back? The case for and against UM, heading into the Florida State matchup

Every few years, we’re professionally obligated to ask and answer whether the U is back. Here’s our latest attempt.
If nothing else, the Miami Hurricanes still have the swagger that helped make the U a national powerhouse.
If nothing else, the Miami Hurricanes still have the swagger that helped make the U a national powerhouse. [ AL DIAZ | AP ]
Published Sep. 23, 2020

The question surfaces every few years, usually after a hot start, a big win or both: Is Miami back?

We last explored the issue in 2017, after the Hurricanes blew out Notre Dame and as Hard Rock Stadium rocked with every appearance by the turnover chain. The answer, it turned out, was no.

Because it’s the only question that matters surrounding one of the sport’s most historic programs, we’re professionally obligated to re-examine the question. Is Miami back now, as the 2-0 'Canes return from a double-digit win over then-No. 18 Louisville for their second straight College GameDay appearance and a primetime, ABC-televised matchup with rival Florida State?

Related: D’Eriq King and Kyle Trask battled as Texas high school quarterbacks. Now they’re 1A and 1B in Florida.

Here’s the case for and against Miami as “back,” whatever that means to you:

The case for

UM Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King runs into UAB Blazers linebacker Noah Wilder during the first quarter of their game, Thursday, September 10, 2020.
UM Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King runs into UAB Blazers linebacker Noah Wilder during the first quarter of their game, Thursday, September 10, 2020. [ MICHAEL LAUGHLIN | Sun Sentinel ]

After years of searching, Miami has finally solved its issues at quarterback. D’Eriq King’s 561 yards of offense rank seventh in the country — and he would be higher, had opponents not been keyed in on stopping his rushing ability through the first two games. But his presence has opened up running lanes for a ground game ranked seventh nationally in yards per rush (6.06).

Related: Why Miami’s D’Eriq King is the most important player in the state

First-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee seems to have the right system in place. He spreads the field and pushes the tempo to let Miami’s playmakers make plays. It’s working; Miami’s eight plays of at least 30 yards are tied for third nationally. That offense, combined with Manny Diaz’s strong defense, looks like the right recipe for long-term success.

The 2-0 start includes a three-score win over a traditionally strong defense (Alabama Birmingham) and a two-score triumph over a good conference opponent.

As importantly, Miami has the swagger that made the U a national power. The touchdown rings and turnover chain remain in full force, and recruits are buying in. The Hurricanes' 2021 class sits eighth nationally with a pair of five-star commits, including Plantation American Heritage’s James Williams, the country’s No. 1 athlete.

The case against

Louisville defensive back Isaiah Hayes (33) tackles Miami tight end Will Mallory (85) during the first half of play last week.
Louisville defensive back Isaiah Hayes (33) tackles Miami tight end Will Mallory (85) during the first half of play last week. [ JAMIE RHODES | ACC Pool ]

Miami has won five national championships and holds two of the longest win streaks in college football history (34 straight from 2000-02 and 29 in a row from 1990-92). That’s the standard in Coral Gables. But a 2-0 start is enough to force us to start thinking Miami is back among the nation’s elite?

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Pollsters view Miami as a top-15 team; the 'Canes are 12th in the Associated Press poll and 14th in the coaches poll. That’s good, but good shouldn’t be the bar that Miami must clear to be back — especially considering how advanced metrics view the U.

ESPN’s SP+ (which includes Big Ten teams that have yet to play) ranks Miami 21st. The Sagarin ratings, which include the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West, has the Hurricanes even lower, at 36th.

Even if you’re enamored with the new offense and believe the program is back, remember this: We’ve seen this before.

Related: How Mike Norvell is still leading Florida State football after positive coronavirus test

Miami looked “back” in 2017, too, after consecutive beatdowns of Virginia Tech and Notre Dame vaulted the 'Canes to second in the country. Then Miami lost its final three games, including an ACC championship blowout by Clemson that didn’t even feel as close as the final score indicated (38-3). The Hurricanes also had top-10 flashes in 2009 and 2013 that fizzled out.

Through two games, Diaz clearly has his team headed in the right direction. But let’s see how Miami handles FSU this weekend and Clemson two weeks later before we start using the B word.

Florida State (0-1, 0-1 ACC) at No. 12 Miami (2-0, 1-0)

7:30 pm. Saturday, Hard Rock Stadium

TV: ABC

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