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U turnaround: Big opportunity awaits Hurricanes

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

Young football fans must wonder why commentators often fuss over the University of Miami football program. From the outside, Miami’s program looks like a classic underachiever, rather average.

The better part of a generation has passed since the Hurricanes truly were in the hunt for a national title. It has been that long since Miami was, well, MIAMI!

The Hurricanes haven’t won a conference title since they were in the old Big East. They have gone 0-for-the-ACC, no rings, no championship game appearances, not much at all.

Can first-year Coach Mark Richt change that trajectory? That’s why he was hired.

The time to begin Miami’s road back is Saturday night, when the Florida State Seminoles (3-2) visit the largely unproven Hurricanes (4-0).

Miami hasn’t beaten the Seminoles since Bobby Bowden was FSU’s head coach. Yes, Jimbo Fisher is 6-0 against the Hurricanes, the longest FSU winning streak in a series that has done more to influence the national championship than just about any other rivalry over the past 30 years of college football.

As the saying goes, it’s not a rivalry when one team wins all the games. To restore that old-time feeling — and give the Hurricanes some semblance of an identity — it’s essential that Miami prevails.

Fisher remembers his first FSU head-coaching season in 2010, when his Seminoles visited Miami as an underdog and won in smashing fashion, 45-17.

“When you play well against your rival, it’s always a great thing,’’ Fisher said. “Miami has always been a really big game for Florida State and at times Miami has had a lot of domination on (FSU) at different times.

“That was a really good win for us and it helped us to keep pushing the program forward to where we’ve gotten it now.’’

Miami should view Saturday night’s game through a similar prism.

It could be the kind of game to jump start a program — and maybe just the impetus Miami needs to reach a new level, an old-time level.

Richt might be in his first year as UM’s head coach, but he knows the rivalry well — from both sides. He’s a former Hurricanes quarterback, having started the 1982 game (losing against FSU 24-7). He was FSU’s longtime offensive coordinator, having helped to shape two national championship teams and a pair of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.

He has experienced the joy — and more often, the pain — of the rivalry.

“It’s mutual respect,’’ Richt said. “When I was at Florida State as a coach, we knew Miami was the real deal. And I think Miami knew Florida State was (the real deal) as well.

“There were some monumental wars that were not just determining a conference championship, but whether you were going to play in the BCS National Championship game. It was something to behold.’’

Indeed it was.

The Seminoles have veered far off their national-championship projections, having already lost ACC games against Louisville and North Carolina. They are desperate.

Miami, meanwhile, has eased to four victories against the non-murderer’s row of Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Appalachian State and Georgia Tech.

Without question, it’s going to get more difficult. After this weekend, the Hurricanes face North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh in succession.

A win against the Seminoles would provide confidence and belief, justifying Miami’s No. 10 national ranking.

The Hurricanes dodge Clemson and Louisville on their league schedule, so there’s a definite opportunity to contend for the Coastal Division title and play for the program’s first ACC title.

If they can defeat the Seminoles.

It will take an old-time effort. If you ask me, Miami really hasn’t been Miami since the 2002 season, when the Hurricanes lost an epic double-overtime decision against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl’s national-championship game. The Hurricanes seemingly were robbed of their invincible aura that night and they’ve never quite recovered.

Now here’s a prime opportunity.

Are the Hurricanes on the way back?

Saturday night’s effort against the Seminoles will provide the answer.

U turnaround: Big opportunity awaits Hurricanes

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