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Miami Hurricanes

Former Miami Hurricanes LB Ray Lewis Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

Ari Russell

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(USA Today - Kirby Lee)

Coming as no surprise former Miami Hurricanes and Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The announcement was made on Saturday evening as Lewis was a first ballot hall of fame selection.

This is probably as much as a slam dunk as you can find for someone on the first ballot. After being selected out of Miami as the 26th pick overall in the first round by the Ravens in 1996, his career from then was nothing short as spectacular.

Lewis played in 17 season all for the Ravens where he retired in 2012. He’s a 13 time Pro Bowler and seven time first team All-Pro, and three times second team All-Pro. He’s two time defensive player of the year, won two Super Bowls and a Super Bowl MVP.

He finished his career with 2,061 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 67 pass deflections, 31 INTs, 17 forced fumbles and 3 TDs.

When talking about Ray Lewis, there’s not doubt that he’s certainly one of the best defensive players ever to play in the NFL. You can argue he’s the most dominant MLB in the last 25 years.

While he was at Miami, he was two time first team All-American. Lewis joins, Ted Hendricks, Michael Irving, Jim Kelly, Cortez Kennedy, Jim Otto and Warren Sapp as former Miami players to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Joining Lewis in the Class of 2018 is fellow linebacker and former Chicago Bear Brian Urlacher, Philadelphia Eagles DB Brian Dawkins, Former 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys WR Terrell Owens, and former Vikings, Patriots and Raiders WR Randy Moss. Also former Green Bay Packer great Jerry Kramer finally gets his call. Also former Oilers LB Robert Brazile and former NFL GM Bobby Beathard will get their busts in Canton.

Lewis and Moss were the two obvious picks for this class. The rest was filled with drama. Missing the cut are former Bucs DB and current 49ers GM John Lynch and former Jaguars OL great Tony Boselli.

Born in the Nation’s Capital, Washington D.C., Ari Russell watched the rise of the 1980’s Miami Hurricanes and knew that he had to be part of the “U” someday. After graduating from Coral Gables, Ari rose through the ranks of the former XM Satellite Radio and then Sirius/XM as college football executive producer. He later spent 2 seasons as the publisher of the website “Beyond U Sports” focusing on major college football/basketball. Ari brings a great perspective on everything Miami, including the Dolphins to F.F.I.

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Miami Hurricanes

What must be understood about Miami’s lost 2018 season

Matt Zemek

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Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Three losses. If you told Miami fans The U would lose three games this season, they wouldn’t have been happy… but they wouldn’t have been furious.

A 10-3 season after last year’s… uhhhhhh…

*checks notes*

.. 10-3 season would not have been bad.

Yeah, that’s right — even last year, when Miami returned to prominence and finally won an ACC Coastal Division title, then reaching the Orange Bowl — the Hurricanes lost three times. Yes, one loss was to Clemson. A second loss was to a 13-1 Wisconsin team. Nevertheless, Miami lost three times.

If three losses were all Miami suffered in 2018, it would have been an indication that Mark Richt was on the right track, on the way to sustaining a program.

Three losses? That would have been good… and better than a lot of fans might have first realized.

The problem? Miami has three losses in 2018 before November, not at the end of the full journey. Moreover, the Canes do not appear anywhere close to ready to win at Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech. This looks like a 7-5 team at best, and if the bowl matchup is a nightmare, that’s a 7-6 season, which is pure Al Golden misery The U thought it was about to leave behind.

Not now. Not yet.

The pursuit of sustained, replicated, regularly expected excellence — the fundamental goal at the heart of the 2018 season — led to a dead end in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts Friday night. Boston College ensured that Miami will not play in a good bowl game this year. The Eagles made it highly likely that Miami won’t win the ACC Coastal. The home team in New England plunged a dagger into the idea that this Miami team could turn the corner in any meaningful way.

Now, even if the Canes rally to finish 8-4 or even 9-4, the weak nature of the 2018 ACC Coastal makes it impossible to conclude that Miami has sustained what the 2017 team established. Miami fans have to face the reality that 2018 will not move the program forward. The 2019 season — freighted with even more significance in light of everything which is happening to this program — must be the year in which Richt quiets the grumbling from former Miami players and anyone important inside the program.

It is clear Richt has a lot of work to do to rebuild trust and reestablish Miami as an ACC power.

What is less clear is why this season has been so bad after 2017 was so good.

That’s what I wish to address after Miami lost its sixth game to a Power 5 conference opponent in its last eight outings, dating back to the Pittsburgh loss late last November.

When anyone calls a team “lucky,” fans get upset. I know the drill. I have written about sports for nearly two decades. No one needs to explain why the word “lucky” sets off fans. Here’s the thing, though: Having a great college football season generally requires some luck. Teams can be great and still need — and receive — luck. Being “lucky” doesn’t negate or deny greatness. The great teams make use of luck. The bad teams do nothing with it. THAT’S the difference.

So, when we look back at Miami’s 2017, we have to realize that while the Canes WERE a great team, they received quite a lot of luck at key moments — at Florida State with the late replay touchdown which could have been ruled down at the 1, with the improbable fourth-down completion against Georgia Tech, with a large number of takeaways at just the right time in various games. Noting that 2017 Miami was lucky did not change the reality that the Canes were a great team. That team was independently great on the merits of what it achieved.

Why even bother to mention the breaks last year’s team received, then? Fair question.

This is why it matters: While last year’s team deserved to be seen as great — and not to be stripped of the greatness it attained — it did exist in a different realm of greatness compared to, for example, 2001 Miami or 1987 Miami, the teams which established greatness at its absolute zenith.

There are great teams which dismantle everyone — or almost everyone — and there are great teams which win a bunch of close games, like the 2002 Ohio State team which (aided by an official’s late call) broke Miami’s heart in the Fiesta Bowl. Those 2002 Buckeyes went 14-0, but they won so many of their games without elegance or imposing, overwhelming superiority. Ohio State won the national title, but is there anyone who thinks OSU would have won a majority of games in a best-of-seven series with The U? Not outside of Columbus, Ohio.

That result in Tempe, Arizona was controversial… and also an upset. Why? Miami — though not the definitively better team that night — was great in a way Ohio State wasn’t, and never could be. Those were different levels of greatness. One can’t use a single word and assume it possesses only one form or example.

This is why we measure and microanalyze greatness in fuller and more precise detail. This is why those of us who write or talk about sports assign tiers and categories to the ideas we put forth in every column, podcast or video.

The bottom line with the 2017 Miami team: All those breaks didn’t remove greatness from last year’s Canes, but they did show that in order to remain great Miami could not count on similar luck this year. The Canes would need to be objectively BETTER just to MAINTAIN the same results.

We can see how much Mark Richt has fallen short in that regard. This team hasn’t merely failed to be better. It hasn’t even been equally good. It has sharply regressed.

We saw why on Friday in New England.

I’m not going to go through all the little details of this game. The biggest thing to point out about this mess you saw against Boston College is that it came AFTER AN OFF WEEK.

Yes, after a chance to rest, regroup and refocus, Miami delivered that clunker in Chestnut Hill. It wasn’t any one man or any one unit, either. It was the pass protection allowing edge rushes to create turnovers and sacks. It was the run game being unable to blow open holes in the red zone. It was a passing game which couldn’t hit downfield plays. It was a defense which didn’t show up until the second quarter started.

It was Malik Rosier (above) throwing the costly interception which enabled B.C. to go up by two scores. It was the play selection which drew up a low-percentage jump ball on fourth down to the short side of the field in the fourth quarter, when The U needed seven points.

Everything about this team was noticeably flawed on a night when at least SOME aspects of this team needed to be great. Getting a supremely deficient performance — with holes and lapses and gaffes in so many facets of play — after an off week is a damning indictment of the head coach and his staff. If Miami had been coming off a grueling double-overtime win over Notre Dame or Virginia Tech, it would have been a lot more understandable… but not in these circumstances.

Understand this, one more time: Miami was lucky last season. That’s not a criticism, but it did mean that Miami couldn’t count on the small margins to work in its favor for a second straight year. The U had to EXPAND its margins by playing a more airtight brand of ball this year, improving in ways which would have reduced the possibility of random bounces turning against the Hurricanes.

The exact opposite has happened, and now, a season lies in ruins, a program immersed in doubt, already forced in late October to look to next year as a moment of truth.

Miami’s 2017 season didn’t end questions about the Hurricanes. If you thought it did, you read last season incorrectly. The 2017 season — as fun and as successful as it was — merely asked a new set of questions about this program, because it didn’t represent a supremely imposing and dominant form of greatness. It required a strong follow-up in 2018.

The regression from last year is a verdict on this year’s team, but it also shows that living with small margins is not a sustainable way of being successful in college football. That is what you need to understand the most about this lost season for The U.

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Miami Hurricanes

Parrying the thrusts of “Perry Pushers” at Miami

Matt Zemek

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Look, Miami fans: You have a point. You do. However, you don’t have an AIRTIGHT point, and there is a difference between having a reasonable argument and an unassailable one.

Yes, in the second half of the 2018 season, the Miami Hurricanes WILL need to give N’Kosi Perry more playing time. How much is the real question, but yes, Perry is the future of the program. Accordingly, he needs to get meaningful repetitions in live games to set the stage for 2019 at The U. I get it. We agree. We are not speaking past each other on that issue.

However: Can we settle down a little bit in our reactions to Mark Richt’s handling of the quarterback situation on this roster? Wanting Perry to play a reasonable amount — a proper and logical inclination — is not the only consideration Richt must account for.

There is still a 2018 season to deal with.

As poorly as this season has gone for Richt and Miami, the Hurricanes are still just one game behind Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division race. They will get their chance to play Virginia Tech soon enough. The season is not lost. It is CLOSE to being lost, but it is not a done deal. Not yet. As long as that is the case, the idea of playing Perry with 2019 in mind isn’t yet something which should be at the very top of Richt’s concerns. It should be on his radar screen, but it is not a top-three priority.

This tweet from longtime Miami-based Associated Press writer Tim Reynolds neatly underscores the point that there is no surefire answer for the Canes at quarterback — not right now:

The notion that N’Kosi Perry is OBVIOUSLY the better quarterback than Malik Rosier is flawed. Perry has more upside, but as you can see, he is not profoundly more accurate as a passer, and he has surrendered more interceptions. If Florida State had not had a touchdown wiped away by an officiating call in the second half of the FSU-Miami game, Perry would have eaten the loss in that contest, which preceded Rosier’s stumble against Virginia this past weekend.

Before the ACC season began, the intensity and fervor surrounding the desire for Perry were already conspicuous. Rosier’s disaster against LSU in the season opener began the Perry bandwagon movement in earnest. Yet, Perry has hardly done enough to warrant continued bandwagon support. It’s not as though he has clearly wrested the job away from Rosier on the merits. He is struggling to find himself just as much as Rosier. He is also searching for solutions and the rhythm good quarterbacks need.

Let’s be blunt about this larger issue: Virginia Tech plays Miami on November 17. If the Coastal title is still in play by then, Richt ought to do whatever he sees fit in the attempt to win that game, presuming the Hokies don’t collapse before then and shake up an already volatile division race even more. If, however, Miami loses one of its upcoming games and falls two games out of contention in the division, such that high-end aspirations are no longer realistic, then the rationale behind Perry’s ascension makes total sense.

If Miami loses before the Virginia Tech game and can no longer maintain a prominent presence in the Coastal race, THAT is the time when the “play Perry for 2019” argument must win the day. That is when Richt has to give up this season in order to prepare for the next one…

.. but not until then.

Yes, N’Kosi Perry needs more playing time, but Miami and its coaching staff shouldn’t give up on 2018 just yet. It is a little too early for that.

Rosier can start. Perry could play a few drives or even a quarter. As long as Miami stays in the Coastal race, Richt owes this year’s team his best shot. Only if things get worse should Richt think about sacrificing what is left of 2018 in service of 2019.

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Miami Hurricanes

Miami loss casts dark cloud over Mark Richt

Matt Zemek

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It is true that in 2017, Mark Richt did more for Miami football than his two immediate predecessors did in nearly a full decade. In one resplendent season — ending in an Orange Bowl bid — Richt eclipsed both Randy Shannon and Al Golden. For a brief time, “The U” was back. For that alone, Richt has given his alma mater a gift.

However, the mandate for any coach at Miami is not to have one great season, but to keep the program at the top of the college football pyramid, to make big games and splashy occasions a regular annual part of fall Saturdays.

Why is Miami’s loss to Virginia in Week 7 of the 2018 season so painful? Sure, it’s the loss of a game in the standings to ACC Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech. Yes, it’s the loss of a game which basically forces Miami to win out to have any chance of making a “New Year’s Six” bowl this season — good luck with that. Of course, the loss stings because a 10-win regular season is now extremely unlikely. This team will have to be flawless over the next several weeks to make that happen.

Yet, what is by far the most damaging aspect of this major setback in Charlottesville — a sloppy, feeble and dumb 16-13 decision endured at the hands of the Cavaliers — is that it reinforced every last doubt about the 2018 Canes and the larger Miami program.

Typically, a win over Florida State — especially after being down by 20 points in the second half — would send Miami soaring with confidence into the rest of its season. In a context when Miami-FSU mattered, the outcome of that game would represent a springboard for the winner. If one of college football’s most important rivalries from 1987 through 2005 had truly regained in 2018 the importance it once owned, Miami would have become not just a new team this season; it would have become the team it was meant to be, the team it was expected to be at the start of this season.

If Miami beating Florida State truly was the in-season catapult to greatness it annually proved to be back in The U’s glory days, this season would become a lot like last season:

Double-digit wins. A division title at a time when chief competitor Virginia Tech is in a down year. Another date with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. A big bowl game — the “New Year’s Six.”

If beating Florida State still contained the stature and cachet and value of the olden days, Miami would have turned its attention to Virginia, brought its working boots, and kicked the ever-loving daylights out of the Cavaliers, who are not terrible, but hardly rate anywhere close to their best years under George Welsh nearly 30 years ago.

If Miami was still MIAMI — the way it was last year — and if beating Florida State still carried anything close the level of resonance and importance it once did, this game on Saturday night in Charlottesville would have been taken care of with businesslike efficiency.

Miami would have gotten off to a solid, decisive start, or at the very least, punched back if UVA landed an early blow. Miami would have prevented a sluggish first three quarters, removing the burden of having to scramble desperately in the fourth quarter to make something happen. Miami would have been sharper on offense, with better play from either N’Kosi Perry or Malik Rosier, whoever was given the keys to the offense.

Miami would have served notice that it was a restored team. It would have shown that the Florida State game snapped the Canes back into a state of focus… and the look and feel of a high-quality team which had found its bearings.

Instead, Miami did……… THAT.

Whatever THAT was.

Instead, Miami didn’t control the line of scrimmage. Instead, Miami tossed three interceptions. Instead, Miami dug itself a familiar hole heading into the fourth quarter. Instead, Mark Richt didn’t make any profound adjustments. Instead, brain-dead decisions and penalties doomed the Canes just when they were on the cusp of giving themselves a chance to steal another win in the final minutes.

This was so reminiscent of Richt’s days at Georgia, when any big win — any sign of improvement and restoration — was immediately followed by a deflating loss which shattered aspirations of playing in the most important games of the year: a conference title game and a prestigious bowl game. So often at the University of Georgia, Richt would stub his toe on a game like this. His team might still have gone 9-3, but that meant an Outback Bowl instead of the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl. Georgia played in a largely irrelevant bowl game and did not reach its highest goals, the goals the fan base and the national pundits both expected.

It is true that even the best coaches have a tough time winning big every single season. There will be individual years which slip through the fingers of programs. The pieces of the puzzle simply aren’t found in time to maximize results. It happens… and only three programs right now — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State — seem to exist above that level of organic chaos.

Yet, this year seemed to give Richt a roster talented enough to sustain what had been built last year. This year offered Miami and its fans the promise of consolidating 2017’s gains and making Miami a more entrenched power, a program which could stick around as opposed to making an appearance but then reverting to its previous decade of mediocrity under Randy Shannon and Al Golden.

Maybe Miami will still bounce back. Maybe Miami will still win at Virginia Tech and make a late surge to steal the Coastal Division. Those scenarios are still within the realm of possibility. That much can and should be acknowledged at this point.

However, this past Saturday against Virginia was so important because Miami needed to show itself — more than the rest of the nation — that the Florida State game was a turning point and a sign of real growth. Miami needed to prove that it was ready to take hold of the ACC Coastal and its season in general. Miami needed to demonstrate that it had rounded into form or, at the very least, was on the cusp of doing so. Such a demonstration would have been more than enough to beat Virginia.

Miami fell short. Well short.

The Canes basically have to run the table over the next month and a half — let’s not think they have a snowball’s chance in hell against Clemson in December — to get anywhere close to where they want to go.

Given what we have seen all season, and given what we just saw in Charlottesville against UVA, is that a realistic expectation? Not right now.

This looks like an 8-4 season at best, the kind of season which all too often emerged for Mark Richt at Georgia, precisely when his teams were expected to do better.

This is not how The U becomes the annual powerhouse it used to be. This is not how the restoration of the juggernaut of Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis, and early-period Larry Coker returns to the scene.

This was a loss which casts a shadow over a program. Mark Richt has a lot of work to do to make the sun shine brightly again in Coral Gables.

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