Next step toward greatness starts now
There comes a moment in every good plan, every building dream, when you realize the time for dreaming is done. A flag of reality must be planted. The moment comes for the Miami Hurricanes as the season kicks off tonight against Louisiana State in Dallas.
This is their moment to progress to the next stage, to find the national platform. No one thinks Mark Richt’s program is at the tip-top level of Alabama or Clemson in Year 3.
But this is the first year Richt’s program enters a season with the fun promise, and occasional burden, of high expectations. The next step is clear: A big bowl win? Top-10 finish?
On the front end of that comes this national game against a known program in LSU.
“This is exactly what we were hoping for when we all came here,” linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “It’s been the idea every year, really.”
For those inside, you see, the bar isn’t higher this year. That’s because the standard never changed, they say.
“If you come to Miami, there are things demanded of you,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “You have to beat Florida State. You have to win your division, got to win the conference and you have to compete for a national championship.
“So from the first day we got here in January of 2016, no matter what the outside thought about what we had to do, we told players in a meeting this is things you must do when you come to Miami. That doesn’t mean you’re going to accomplish them all right away.
“But the standard of expectation has always been set from when coach Richt arrived. Our players are aware of it. Now once you set those expectations, how do you get there?
“That in itself can’t be a goal,” Diaz continued. “But you have to figure how to work toward them, what you need to do to get there. That gets back to how we play, what our goals are on defense — if you do that, you’ll win and accomplish what you want.
“What our guys figured out, when we play well, we win. When we don’t play well, we don’t win. That’s what it comes down to. We can get beat by anyone on our schedule.”
Here’s the larger point: They’re expected to play well most Saturdays now (or Sunday, as this opener is). They took a good, progressive step last year. Now comes this third year where Richt’s meth program
ods are set, his roster is developing, his way is clearing moving the forward.
“We’re progressing, but we can’t just beat our chests and say, ‘Here we are,’ ” Diaz said. “I think everyone understands that.”
Win tonight against a name program, if not a highly ranked one at No. 25, and No. 8 Miami takes another step. Win, and the needed start gets scripted. Win, and it means the rest of September against Savannah State, Toledo, FIU and North Carolina could vault Miami into a top-five ranking heading into Florida State.
Lose, and it will take the first half of the season to dig out of.
Tonight, in other words, sets up the early season for Miami. It arrives with the questions, as any new season does: Is quarterback Malik Rosier better? Are the defensive tackles capable?
Is some of the magic needed to start 10-0 last year more grounded in fundamental development and some of the warts to finish 0-3 gone, too? Again, no one expects Miami to be there for a national title game. But is the margin reduced to get there?
A few weeks ago at the start of his August practices, Richt was asked about his program facing high-end expectations for the first time. He didn’t understand that view. Richt, you see, faced these expectations every year at Georgia.
But for his players these expectations are a new thing. It means they’re ready to win. Starting tonight comes the next step: They have to go out and do just that.
There are many high expectations at Miami Manny Diaz said.