The eye of the storm
Everyone in the college football world knows Miami simply as "The U." But these days, that "U" stands for "ugly."
This isn't The U that used to dominate every Saturday. This isn't The U that stockpiled the most talent in the nation. This isn't The U that gave opposing coaches nightmares as they spent days preparing for a sure beatdown.
That Miami is gone. The hurricane has passed, and all that remains are the shattered remains of what the powerhouse used to be.
Just two weeks ago, head coach Al Golden was fired midway through the season after Miami suffered the worst loss in school history, a 58-0 home shellacking to sixth-ranked Clemson.
Already wallowing around in mediocrity, the defeat was far too embarrassing for Golden to survive.
But the futility of the once-proud program has not been a recent phenomenon or something that has happened over night. It has been a constant slide that has only intensified over the past five years.
The program was in this position once. They were barely able to keep their heads above water back in the late 90s.
That's when Butch Davis took over as head coach and embarked on one of the greatest recruiting conquests college football has ever seen. The talent he brought in during a three-year span was mind-blowing.
By 2000, the Hurricanes had a resurgence--finishing 11-1, winning the Sugar Bowl and ending the year as the second-ranked team in the nation.
The next season, we witnessed pure greatness. They went 12-0 and crushed Nebraska to capture the national championship.
In my opinion, it was the greatest college football team of all time. They outscored their opponents by an average margin of 43-10 per game. Their smallest margin of victory was 11 points.
Their roster contained a who's who list of future NFL stars that included: Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr., Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, Ed Reed, D.J. Williams, Phillip Buchanon, Mike Rumph, Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle.
Eleven of those players were taken in the 2002 NFL Draft.
The next year, the Hurricanes went undefeated again and entered the national title game against Ohio State as a huge favorite. However, the Buckeyes upset them in double-overtime.
That was the end of Miami's dominance.
They won at least 10 games for the next three seasons but were never truly in the mix for a national championship.
After an impressive 10-2 regular season in 2005, they faced LSU in the Peach Bowl. That's when the tires fell off for the program.
The Tigers handed the Hurricanes their worst bowl loss in school history, a 40-3 drubbing.
Ever since, Miami has gone just 71-54, and they have not had a 10-win season.
However, the most disturbing trend for the Hurricanes is that they've lost their last six bowl games. The losses have come by a combined margin of 177-81.
If on-the-field defeats weren't bad enough, the school self-imposed a three-year bowl ban when the NCAA began investigating allegations made by a former Miami booster named Nevin Shapiro.
Shapiro claimed that he used insider funds to give donations to the athletic department. This included an estimated $2 million in illegal benefits to at least 72 current or former football and basketball players from 2002-2010.
Even with the program getting a slap on the wrist from the NCAA and finally getting past the bowl ban, things have not gotten back to Miami standards.
In 2011, they went just 6-6, and they finished just 7-5 the next year.
In 2013, they started off 7-0 before finishing 2-4 in their final six contests. This included a 36-9 loss to Louisville in their bowl game.
Just last season, they finished the year with four straight losses.
Even their miraculous victory over Duke this past weekend was marred by the comic incompetence of the ACC officials.
During their last-second victory that was won by an eight-lateral kickoff return, the referees missed multiple blocks in the back and were blind to the image of a Hurricane player obviously being down before tossing the ball to a teammate.
If that wasn't enough, Miami wasn't penalized despite a player running onto the field while the play was still going on.
This instance of divine intervention may end up saving the Hurricanes' season, but things are still bleak. Though, if Miami can ride the storm out, there is still hope.
Just the allure of The U will always carry clout when it comes to high-school prospects. It also helps that Miami has the second-most players on NFL rosters, only behind LSU.
The Hurricanes' 2016 recruiting class is currently ranked 10th, and two of their last three classes have ranked in the top 15.
They have the tradition and the talent. It's just a question of who will they bring in to try to turn things around.
Miami has seen this movie before. They're in the same position they were in back in the late 90s before Davis took the reigns and led them back to greatness.
That can happen again. It just takes the right man at the right time. Until then, the storm rages.